Rinus Baak Photography: Blog https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Rinus Baak Photography (Rinus Baak Photography) Wed, 13 Jul 2022 17:33:00 GMT Wed, 13 Jul 2022 17:33:00 GMT https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u608719352-o443440908-50.jpg Rinus Baak Photography: Blog https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog 120 90 Europe 2022 https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2022/7/europe-2022 Planes, trains and automobiles provided transit for our month long excursion to the Swiss and Italian Alps.  It was American Airlines that transported us from Albuquerque to Amsterdam, KLM that carried us to Zürich, then, the ever efficient and punctual Swiss train system glided us to Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn, and back to Zürich, from where Swiss Air took us to Venice and a rented car got us to the Italian Dolomite Alps.  Along the way, we used trams, funiculars, cable cars, cogwheel railroads, and chair lifts to reach some of our destinations, not to mention shanks pony. 

It all started on Memorial Day, May 30th, when our neighbor gave us a ride to the Albuquerque airport.  With our TSA PreCheck boarding passes, security was a breeze and we were soon on our way, via DFW, to Amsterdam, very much enjoying the comfort of our Business Class cubicles.  A visit with my older brother Dick is always an included stop when traveling to Europe.  This trip was originally planned for 2020 the year Dick turned 95, so this year he had turned 97 and we were certainly looking forward to seeing him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our nephew Wim picked us up at Schiphol and being a very tall person, he was easy to spot in the crowded arrivals area.  Wim lives with his girlfriend, Marina, in Middelburg, a small picturesque town about two hours south of Amsterdam.  On the way to Middelburg we stopped in Spykenisse where Dick lives, still in his own home.  At 97, Dick still looked good, a bit frail and using a walker, but mentally sharp and a good sense of humor.  After our visit with Dick we continued on to Middelburg where we stayed three nights at the Fletcher Hotel near the city center.  Wim and Marina entertained us with walks along the North Sea dunes and a sail on De Arne waterway in a rented motorboat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On June 4th, we had a morning flight from Schiphol to Zürich.  In order to avoid any potential traffic problems driving from Middelburg, we spent the night before the flight at the airport Citizen M Hotel.  By this time we had become aware of the extreme labor shortages at Schiphol, including baggage handlers.  So that night, at the Citizen M Hotel, we repacked our bags making sure we had all essential items in our carry-ons.  We also took time to walk from the hotel to the departing passenger check-in counters so we would know exactly where to go in the morning.  We also decided to leave plenty early in the morning to battle the long check-in and security lines.  During our reconnoitering, we had observed insanely long lines of people queued up to check-in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We left the hotel at 5:30 AM with our bags in tow.  When we approached the long queue, we were directed by a friendly KLM staffer to follow the signed priority path that bypassed the long line of disgruntled travelers.  It turned out that Jane had had the foresight to purchase the priority boarding option that came with the economy ticket.  That saved us hours of waiting in line.  Instead, we got to wait several hours at the departure gate, but we were able to relax a bit in the crowded gate area and read our books.  The wait at the gate turned out to be a bit longer than expected, however, because the KLM flight to Zürich was delayed an hour.  That created some anxiety because we had only a short window of time to catch our train from the Zürich airport to Zermatt.  But it all worked out fine.  Our single checked bag was the very first bag to arrive on the baggage carousel.  After quickly retrieving the bag, we hustled from the baggage claim area down an escalator to the train platform and were comfortably seated in a designated first class quiet car with time to spare for our journey to Zermatt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1865, the British mountaineer Edward Whymper became the first person to scale the Matterhorn.  This feat turned Zermatt from a small agricultural village into a Mecca for climbers, skiers, and hikers.  For me, the objective was to photograph the iconic, pyramidal peak of the Matterhorn.  Geologists call this unique shape a glacial horn.  Originally, when collision of the African and European tectonic plates created the Alps, the Matterhorn was a dome shaped mountain.  Subsequent ice ages covered the dome shaped mountain with glaciers.  These glaciers eroded cirques on three sides of the mountain creating the unique shape of today’s Matterhorn.

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At 14,690 feet, the Matterhorn creates its own weather and is often shrouded in clouds.  We were fortunate during our five-night stay in Zermatt with the photogenic mountain being visible about half the time, mostly in the mornings before obscuring clouds would form.  From Zermatt, there are several ways to traverse higher up the mountain to obtain different views of this glacier formed horn.  Not all the lifts were operating yet during our stay, so some of the photo locations I wanted to visit were not available.   However, the Gornergrat cogwheel railway was available to take us up to 10,000 feet in elevation.  We used this unique train several times to take us to different trailheads along the route.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane had gotten us a fantastic accommodation in Zermatt, a two room suite, with balcony, at the Perren Hotel, very close to the train station.  Some of our best views of the Matterhorn were from the balcony.  Lifts going up the mountain did not start running until about 8:00 AM well after sunrise at 5:30 preventing alpenglow photography.  Early on several mornings, however, we watched sunlight descend on the rocky face of the mountain from the comfort of our room.  Of course, I was out on the balcony with my camera.

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From Zermatt, we trained back to Zürich for a five-night stay at the Marktgasse Hotel in the city’s historic old town district of  Niederdorf.  We explored much of old Zürich on foot.  The hotel was near the Zürichsee, a large lake in Zürich, where throngs of people gathered to stroll along the waterfront and frequented sidewalk cafés. The opera house was also located near the lake and provided free performances on an outdoor screen where people gathered with folding chairs and spread blankets to watch an opera.  We actually had tickets for an indoors performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Ballet at the opera house.  It was a non-traditional, avant-garde, production with colorful costuming, great choreography, and superb dancing.  During our stay in Zürich we also enjoyed a day-trip by train to Bern, the capital of Switzerland.

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Our time in the Swiss Alps ended when we packed our bags, boarded a tram to the bahnhof (train station), trained to the Zürich airport, and flew via Swiss Air to Venice to start the next phase of our European excursion.  At the Venice airport we rented a Fiat 500, stick shift, compact car with just enough trunk space to hold all our bags.  With the help of Google maps Jane navigated us through the maze of airport roads to get us to the autobahn and on our way to Cortina d’Ampezzo, our first destination in the Italian Alps.  Jane had rented us an apartment in Cortina d’Ampezzo for five nights and we day-tripped from there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dolomites are part of the Southern Alps and are uniquely different from the rest of the Alps due to the lighter color of the dolomite base rock.  When the Alps were formed, millions of years ago, this area of uplift had been coral reefs in a tropical see.  Like the Matterhorn, ice age glaciers eroded the uplifted mountain range into the spectacular peaks, pinnacles and escarpments visible today.  Elevation wise, the highest peaks in the Dolomites only range just over 10,000 feet or so.  At approximately 5,500 square miles, the Dolomite area is about one and a half times the size of Yellowstone National Park.

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I had done my research and developed a detailed itinerary of places to photograph in the Dolomites.  We drove to some of location, including some picturesque lakes, but mostly we used cable cars and chair lifts to reach the higher alpine valleys where the bare Dolomite peaks and massive cliffs were impressively close.  Although the trails are well marked, the trail markers are not always easy to spot.  We found ourselves turned around and going somewhat it circles at times, but we were never really lost.  The trails were well groomed and easy to navigate but I found that, no matter where you started or what your destination was, there was always an uphill grade to conquer.

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After our stay in Cortina d’Ampezzo, we moved to Ortisei for a five night stay at the grand Hotel Stetteneck.  We found the Stetteneck more conveniently situated than the apartment in Cortina for walking into the village.  Ortisei is a very popular destination and we observed many groups of hikers, young and not so young, walk through the pedestrians-only village to the chair lifts.  The age range of hikers we passed on the trails was amazing, from young families with toddlers and baby-carrier backpacks, and a dog, to men and woman obviously at least my age, or older.  The Dolomites are riddled with cable cars and chair lifts.  Every high alpine meadow we visited had numerous lifts going in all directions on the mountain.  I told Jane that if we were to ski here, we would need a GPS to find our way off the mountain.  We enjoyed Ortisei a lot and had some wonderful day-trips from there with amazing mountain views.

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From Ortisei we traveled to Corvara for our last four nights in the Dolomites.  We stayed in the Hotel Italia where we also had a two room suite but the décor was very stark and we did not “warm up” to the suite.  One of the longest and steepest cable cars we rode was in Corvara and the views at the top were spectacular.  I spent a lot of time working on panoramic compositions there.  Also, there was a regional “Bike Day” while we in Corvara where cyclists were given free reign and roads were closed to vehicular traffic.  That day we embarked on long hike and ended up in the village of Colfosco where we took a cable car to an alpine rifugio for a much needed lunch break.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Like the Swiss Alps, the recreational infrastructure in the Dolomites is exceptional.  There are cable cars and lifts everywhere.  Trails are well maintained and signed.  Signage in the Dolomites, however, can be confusing.  A trail or roadway sign may appear to indicate direction to three different locations when it fact it is only one location in three languages, German, Ladin, and Italian. At the top of every lift there is a café or rifugio offering food, drink, and often rooms.  Roads throughout the Dolomites are steep, narrow and winding.  They are a magnet for speeding sport cars and daredevil motorcycles.  We encountered those continuously as we traveled to our photo destinations, not to mention cyclists slowly peddling up the steep grades or coasting extremely fast downhill.

On our fifteenth day in the Dolomites we left Corvara, turned south, and headed back towards Venice.  That night we stayed at the Marriott Hotel at the Venice Airport.  We repacked our bags again for the journey home.  On the morning June 28th we boarded our American Airlines flight back to Albuquerque, again enjoying our business class cubicles, and arriving in Albuquerque near midnight after a twenty hour travel day.  It is always good to be home again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see some additional photos of the Matterhorn and Dolomites, return to the homepage and go the Europe Gallery to Switzerland and Italy.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2022/7/europe-2022 Wed, 13 Jul 2022 17:33:17 GMT
SPRING 2022 https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2022/4/spring-2022 Our travels for 2022 started in February with a fantastic private photo adventure of Costa Rica that exceeded expectations (See previous Blog).  This spring, our travels continued first with an attempt to escape Albuquerque’s cold weather followed by a trip to actually embrace the cold.  In mid-March we ventured south hoping for warmer temperatures. That did not happen but the conditions were much better than in Albuquerque where it snowed while we were gone.  One of our “Friday Happy Hour” neighbors, Jim Barnes, had gone out after the snowstorm to take some pictures around the neighborhood, including one of our house. 

The objective of our trip south was to photograph spring wildflowers at various locations.  Unfortunately the continuing drought in the southwest spoiled that. We did stumble upon some early blooming trees that were host to swarming pipevine swallowtail butterflies feeding on the blossom’s nectar.  During our random motoring along country roads we were also able to photograph some unidentified flowers growing along the shoulders of the road along with some birds and a field of cultivated bright yellow flowers that we assumed to be rapeseed.  So, all was not in vain for this short trip south.

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Continuing our Spring 2022 travels, in early-April, Jane and I ventured to Fairbanks, Alaska, to observe and photograph the Aurora Borealis. We knew it would be cold and it was very cold.  Fairbanks had endured more snowfall this winter than it had for several decades and massive drifts of snow had been plowed along sides of the roads.  I had signed us up for three consecutive nights of aurora watching. As it turned out I did not need the “insurance policy” of three tours as we watched in awe at the spectacular display of the aurora each night.

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For three consecutive nights, the routine went like this.  Dinner around six (fortunately there were several restaurants to select from around our hotel, including a Japanese restaurant where we had dinner several nights), then back to the hotel where we would receive an email around seven each night letting us know at what time we would be picked up by the tour guide.  The pickup time was usually sometime just before ten o’clock.  We would grab a short snooze between seven and nine each night before bundling up in our cold weather gear.  And bundle up we did with multiple layers of warm clothing topped with heavy parkas and chemical warmers in our gloves and boots.

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Each night there were ten clients in the van heading out for the aurora.  Before starting, our guide would check the weather cams located around Fairbanks to find where there were clear skies.  Then we would set out driving about sixty miles or so out of town where there was no light pollution from Fairbanks.  The aurora is most vivid when the night is darkest and that was normally around one to two in the morning.  At that time, with clear skies, temperatures ranged from 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit making us very happy with our extreme attire.  We would get back to the hotel close to 4 AM each morning where we would unbundle ourselves and crawl into bed.

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Jane and I rated this trip a most definite success.  Images from the trip have been added to the Aurora Borealis gallery.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2022/4/spring-2022 Tue, 12 Apr 2022 14:37:00 GMT
COSTA RICA 2022 https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2022/3/costa-rica-2022 It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.  It was supposed to be simple, a routine winter getaway to warm Costa Rica. Bags were packed and we were ready for an early morning departure.  But then, much to our surprise, Winter Storm Landon appeared on the scene and everything became complicated.  As we were getting ready to retire for the night, a text message from the airline informed us that our morning flight had been cancelled.  Complication after complication followed that initial text.  Eventually, in the middle of the night, we were able to purchase tickets on another airline for the next day, the day after our originally scheduled departure.  But we made it to Costa Rica even if it was a day late.

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In preparation for our trip, we had arranged a customized itinerary with a local tour company Costa Rica Focus, which also included a private naturalist guide/driver.  The itinerary consisted of extended stays at three different locations, Manual Antonio National Park on the southern Pacific Coast, Arenal Volcano National Park in the highland rainforest, and the Sarapiqui region of the Caribbean lowlands.  At each of these locations, Costa Rica Focus had arranged for private wildlife viewing and photography at various ecological reserves and private biological conservation sanctuaries.  This was a twelve day, all-inclusive tour for just the two of us with Minor Hidalgo, our guide/driver, taking care of everything.

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After all the turmoil dealing with airline issues it was a relief to settle in at the Hotel Playa Espadilla adjacent to Manual Antonio National Park.  We were more than ready to enjoy the warm humid air, appreciate the remote jungle setting, and marvel at the diversity of wildlife.  Most of Costa Rica’s wildlife consists of birds with 850 species.  During our travels, Minor Hidalgo helped us locate and identify 155 species and I was able to photograph more than a hundred of those, with about half being species I had not photographed before.

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Arrangements for this Costa Rica adventure were made well in advance of the actual trip.  So it came as a bit of a surprise to us that the trip coincided with my 83rd birthday.  We celebrated with dinner at El Avión, a very unique eatery at Manual Antonio where a C-123 Fairchild cargo plane had been converted into a pub and restaurant.  Now the pressure is on me to contrive a similar birthday experience for Jane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Manual Antonio, Costa Rica Focus’ itinerary included a private mangrove boat tour.  This excursion was tide dependent and required a pre-dawn departure from the hotel.   Jane and I had kayaked through a mangrove before in Baja California but that was nothing like the Costa Rica mangrove.  Here the various mangrove tree species were huge with a dense jumble of tangled roots reaching up from the water.  The narrow water ways gave the impression of boating through a jungle.  We encountered several new bird species including the diminutive American pygmy kingfisher and the very large bare-throated tiger heron.

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Our next destination was Arenal Volcano National Park where we stayed four nights at the Arenal Observatory Lodge.  Outings from here included Ecocentro Danaus, a private ecological reserve, Mistico Hanging Bridges, with its 16 bridges suspended through the rainforest canopy, and Arenal Natura, where we were able to photograph tropical frogs and reptiles.  All these were private visits for just the two of us and our own guides.  We also spent a lot of time searching for and photographing birds around the Arenal Observatory Lodge.  Playing birds songs recorded on the Merlin app on his smart phone, Minor was able to entice small songbirds to approach close enough to be photographed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ara Ambigua Lodge, a friendly family run hotel, was our last accommodation.  In addition to photographing birds feeding on melons and bananas provided by the lodge staff, Minor also led us on explorations of area pastures to locate other Costa Rica birds including macaws, parakeets, tanagers, woodpeckers, and flycatchers.  One morning was spent at the La Selva Biological Station, a world renowned research facility.  La Selva was the first private ecological conservation area in Costa Rica.  The trails at La Selva meander through origin old growth rainforest where we encountered a variety of exotic, colorful birds, including trogons, motmots, and woodpeckers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our final stop on this truly amazing Costa Rica adventure was Cope’s Garden not far from the Ara Ambigua Lodge.  Cope’s Garden was created by wildlife artist José Albert Pérez as a retreat for birders and photographers.  From the garden, we followed José into the surrounding forest where he cleared a trail for us with his machete.  The purpose of this foray was to locate spectacled owls and white bats, both of which José successfully found for us.  Photographing the white bats proved to be a challenge.  These bats are very small, white fluffy mammals about the size of a ping pong ball.  They are nocturnal and roost during the day under large plant leaves that are folded into a “tent” shape.  I had to lay supine on my back while Minor illuminated the bats with a flashlight in order to photograph them.  I would dare say that was the highlight of the trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The ending of an outstanding adventure is bitter sweet.  To mitigate this nostalgia is to have reason to return.  I have a reason to return.  My primary goal for undertaking this Costa Rica trip was to photograph a mother sloth with her baby.  That did not happen.  Sloths were seen and photographed, even sloths with a baby were seen, but they were not photographable. So, happily I have a reason to return to Costa Rica and try again to attain my goal of photographing a sloth with baby.

To see more of the pictures from this trip to to the "Costa Rica 2022" Gallery on the home page of the web site.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2022/3/costa-rica-2022 Sun, 06 Mar 2022 21:33:04 GMT
First Road Trip Of 2022 https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2022/1/first-road-trip-of-2022 A year ago, on January first of 2021, Jane and I were ringing in the New Year with bubbly mimosas while watching the Tournament of Roses Parade on television.  Then and there we vowed to attend the next parade in person and spend some warm days away from the cold winter temperatures of Albuquerque.  A few days later Jane got us tickets to the parade and reservations at the Pasadena Sheraton.   As the new year approached, however, we became more and more anxious that the new Covid-19 Omicron variant would cause the parade to be cancelled.

The parade was not cancelled and we enjoyed our first road trip of 2022 to Pasadena, California.  It’s a comfortable two day drive from Albuquerque to Pasadena with an overnight in the Phoenix area.  For the holiday week, freeways were busy but not overly congested with lots and lots of eighteen-wheeler, big rig trucks.  You wouldn’t think there was a driver shortage with all the semi-trailer trucks on the freeways.

We arrived in Pasadena on a rainy December 29th .  The plan had been to spend time in the LA area sightseeing.  But the weather prevented that and we ended up spending the stormy weather channel surfing the TV in the hotel room.  After the storm system moved on, the rest of our stay was southern California sunny, but on the cool side.  The Omicron variant hadn’t stopped commerce in Pasadena.  On New Year’s Eve restaurants were busy and crowded.  Fortunately, Jane had the foresight to make dinner reservations well ahead of the holiday.

On the first day of the new year we were up at the crack of dawn for the half hour walk from the hotel to our grandstand seats along the parade route.  Masked up with our N-95’s, we walked past sleeping parade enthusiasts who had spent the night camped out along Colorado Boulevard.  Even in the early morning, vendors were already set up selling souvenirs and greasy, beacon wrapped hot dogs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The parade was marvelous, everything we had expected.  The floats with their vast array of colorful flowers were beautiful and ingeniously engineered and constructed.  Among the many creative floats, the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom float was my favorite.  Marching bands from around the country, with their skimpily dressed, baton twirling, majorettes performed John Phillips Sousa favorites.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the parade we maneuvered back through the throngs of people to the hotel to pack up, check out and head for San Diego where we had arranged to meet up with old friends.  In San Diego, in addition to reuniting with our friends, we spent several delightful days visiting familiar sights including a stroll along the Embarcadero and Sea Port Village, a ferry ride across the bay to Coronado, and lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, The Prado, in Balboa Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2022/1/first-road-trip-of-2022 Mon, 10 Jan 2022 20:28:54 GMT
Year's End https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/11/years-end This travel year has come to an end.  For the last few remaining months of 2021 Jane and I have been staying close to home.  In early October we ventured out to enjoy the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  This year we did not get tickets for the event, but watched the mass ascension from the “side lines” east of the venue that provided a different perspective.  There were some special shape balloons this year that we had not seen before.  It was a different, more distant, view but we didn’t have to deal with traffic and crowds getting to the balloon park.

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In mid-October we were getting “cabin fever” and opted for a short road trip to Ruidoso, a small town located in the Sierra Blanca Mountains, in central New Mexico.  With peaks at nearly 12,000 feet, the mountains around Ruidoso provided a pleasant respite from the low lying Rio Grande valley back home.  Before starting on this outing, Jane had found that there was a very nice and modern theater, the Spenser Theater for the Performing Arts, located near Ruidoso.  This $25 million gem was just fifteen minutes from our hotel and we enjoyed a performance by the Brothers Four, singing old favorites from the distance past.  The Spenser Theater also hosts a collection of colorful Chihuly glass sculptures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were three nights in Ruidoso and spent some time exploring the surrounding area with a brief stop at historic Fort Stanton.  The fort was established in 1855 to control the then warring Mescalero Apache Indians.  Eventually the Mescalero Apache were relocated to a reservation just south of Ruidoso where we enjoyed a lunch and beer at their Inn Of The Mountain Gods Casino.  During our forays around town we discovered that Ruidoso is home to herds of elk that roam the back roads and like to forage on grasses at the golf course and school play fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon returning home from our short trip to Ruidoso, we found that the cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande had started their fall display of brilliant yellow foliage.  Jane and I took the opportunity to make several trips to the open space corridor along the river to hike among the colorful trees.  Overhead we heard the gravelly calls of the sandhill cranes as they migrated back to their winter stomping grounds along the Rio Grande.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/11/years-end Sat, 06 Nov 2021 22:15:20 GMT
Armendaris Ranch https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/9/armendaris-ranch  

In the early 1800’s New Mexico, and most of America’s southwest, was still part of New Spain with the governor of the Northern Provinces of New Spain located in Santa Fe.  It was the custom at that time for the governor to award land grants as a favor for political or military service.  In 1918, Pedro Armendariz applied for a land grant, citing his military service and loyalty to the King of Spain and in late 1919 was awarded the Armendariz Land Grant consisting of 397,235 acres.  During the ensuing decades, first Mexico in 1821 and later the United States in 1848 controlled the New Mexico territory.  Throughout these governmental and subsequent ownership changes, the Armendariz Land Grant remained pretty much intact.  In 1990, the last owner of the land filed for bankruptcy and in 1994 Ted Turner purchased the property and established the 362,885 acre Armendaris Ranch. 

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The huge ranch, with a landmass greater than the city of Phoenix,  is located along the Rio Grande River in south central New Mexico near the quaint town of Truth Or Consequences (T or C).  The landscape is semi-desert grassland of the northern Chihuahua Desert. Since 1994 Turner has allowed the previously overgrazed land to regenerate and has established a number of environmental initiatives to restore native species.  One of those initiatives was protecting the Mexican free-tailed bat population at the Jornada Bat Caves located on the Armendaris Ranch.  I convinced Jane that we needed to photograph these bats and that is how we ended up at the Sierra Grande Lodge in T or C for a two night stay.

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About 761,000 years ago a shield volcano erupted and spewed out a large basaltic lava flow.  As streams of hot lave flowed, the top crust cooled creating lava tunnels.  Centuries of erosion later, some of the crust lava, the roof of the lava tube, gave way and collapsed into the tube creating caves.  Some of these lava caves are on the Armedaris Ranch and from June to September, several hundred thousand female Mexican free-tailed bats migrate from Mexico to utilize the lava tube caves as their nursery. 

When tens of thousands of bats emerge from the cave each evening around dusk, Swainson’s hawks gather in the sky to prey on the bats.  This was a wildlife event I wanted to try and photograph.  I scheduled two tours to the bat cave to maximize the opportunity to capture some keeper images.  The bat tour departs from the Sierra Grande Lodge, a Ted Turner Preserve property, at 3:30 PM and requires a two and half hour drive across the ranch on dirt tracks to the bat cave.  We left home around noon in order to check into the lodge well before the 3:30 PM departure.  Our guide for the tours was Ken, a retired biologist and accomplished photographer.

Unlike last year, this summer New Mexico is experiencing a more normal monsoon season with clear skies in the morning transitioning to huge cumulus clouds with extensive lightning and dark ominous cumulonimbus clouds by late afternoon with cloudbursts following in a random pattern.  That was the scenario when we arrived in T or C that afternoon.  By the time Ken picked us up for the drive to the bat cave, threatening clouds were all around.  Ken checked his weather app that showed the storms were concentrated to the west and east of our trajectory and we pressed on.

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The contrast between the lush grassland vegetation on the Armendaris Ranch and the overgrazed conditions we had seen in southwestern New Mexico during our trip to Silver City was astounding.  By not grazing cattle or sheep on the ranch and allowing nature to restore the land, a healthy diversity of thriving plants and grasses abounded.  As we traversed the extensive ranch property there was a sense of isolation and returning to nature.  Along the way, we encountered a number of desert species I had never seen, let alone, photographed.  The western desert tarantula was one that Jane discovered as we were waiting for the bats to emerge.  The white lined sphinx, a type of hummingbird moth, we found pollinating and feeding on evening primrose flowers.  Ken nearly ran over a prairie rattlesnake that was sunning itself in the middle of the dirt track.  I also give Jane credit for spotting a tarantula hawk, although Ken had to tell us what it was, a spider wasp that preys on tarantulas.

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Photographing the bats, however, proved problematic. The bats normally emerge from their roosting cave around dusk, a half hour before sunset.  We arrived at the cave at 6:30 PM and storm clouds to the west were obscuring the sun creating early dusk conditions.  The bats must have sensed that conditions that night were different and decided not the leave their shelter until nearly sunset.  We did see a string of bats fly out to forage for insects on the prairie but by that time it was too dark to attempt photography. That is why, as a form of insurance, I had scheduled two tours to the bat cave. 

The second night we arrived a bit earlier, but the weather was also a bit more threatening.  Ken had brought folding chairs so we would be more comfortable while waiting for the fly out.  We had barely set out the chairs and gotten cameras ready when it started to rain.  By the time we reached the shelter of Ken’s truck, a hundred yards off, we were pretty much soaked. This time the rain cells were right over us and Ken had to drive two hours on the water logged dirt track back to the paved road with torrential rain pelting down.  We made it back without incident but it was a scary ride.

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So, photographing Swainson’s hawks preying on bats was a bust but we experienced other photo ops during our two tours into the pristine grassland prairie of the Armendaris Ranch and the stay at Sierra Grande Lodge with its friendly staff was most enjoyable. Jane and I made a pact to return again to The Armendaris Ranch in the future to do more sightseeing in the area.  Of particular interest is a tour of the New Mexico Spaceport located not far from T or C and, of course, another chance to photograph Swainson’s hawks going after Mexican free-tailed bats.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/9/armendaris-ranch Thu, 02 Sep 2021 16:16:00 GMT
Glacier National Park In 2021 https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/8/glacier-national-park-in-2021 The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicted a robust return of vacation travel this summer with nearly fifty million travelers forecast to take to the roadways and skies.  Jane and I were willing participants in this enormous bubble of holiday travelers.  Our destination, along with throngs of other vacationers, was Glacier National Park.  In anticipation of record high visitations, the National Park Service limited visitors to the park by instituting a new ticket requirement for access to the Going-To-The-Sun Highway, the primary entry into the park.  We did not learn of this restrictive entrance requirement until it was too late for us to obtain a special ticket.  The only way for us to gain entry into the park by way of the Going-To-The-Sun Highway was to pass the park entrance station before six AM.  That meant getting up at 4:45 AM and hustling out of the cabin.

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We were a week at our time-share cabin at Glacier Wilderness Resort and only made the super early run into the park twice.  Each time the objective was to reach Logan Pass in time to obtain a parking spot before rangers closed the parking lot.  The Hidden Lake Overlook trail that starts at Logan Pass has always been a good location for spotting the park’s varied wildlife.  This time was no exception as we enjoyed watching and photographing bighorn sheep, mountain goats, hoary marmots, Columbia ground squirrels and the ubiquitous golden mantled ground squirrel.  Being on the Hidden Lake Overlook trail in July provided us the chance to observe some animal family interactions.  I was photographing a large, adult hoary marmot when I noticed one, then two and eventually three pups cavorting around the area.

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There are two areas on the east side of Glacier National Park that can be visited without the special ticket required for the Going-To-The-Sun Highway. So, after checking out of our time-share, we moved for a couple of days to the Glacier Park Lodge, built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railway, on the east side.  Two Medicine and Many Glaciers on the east side were inundated with visitors, who like us, did not have a special ticket.  We were turned back by park rangers during out first attempt to enter the park at Two Medicine because there were no parking spaces left.  It was suggested we arrive at this entrance early in the morning and that is what we did the second time.

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One of the scenic locations at Two Medicine is the Running Eagle Falls, a short walk from the parking pullout.  We made that our first stop and because we had arrived early, there were only a couple of cars there.  While photographing the falls, I noticed an American dipper flying along the water flowing from the waterfall.  Dippers are somewhat difficult to find because of their high elevation, clear stream habitat.  Obviously, I had to spend some time locating and photographing this bird.  It was “eagle eye” Jane, however, who spotted them first and had to point me in the right direction.  Eventually I was able to get some good images of the dipper, including a recently fledged immature bird being fed by an adult.  By the time we left Running Eagle Falls the parking area was full and numerous cars were parked along the shoulder of the road.

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From the Glacier Park Lodge to Many Glaciers is normally a little over an hour’s drive.  This year, however, the entrance road from Babb to the park entrance station, an eleven mile stretch, was under construction, making this section of the route dusty, bumpy and slow.  When coming to Glacier National Park, we usually include a visit to Many Glaciers because we have had fairly good luck in finding large mammal wildlife there. 

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Fishcap Lake, a short hike from the Swiftcurrent Lodge parking area, is where moose are frequently seen and that was our objective.  We checked out Fishcap Lake for moose twice.  The first time, we got there mid-morning and it started to rain shortly after we arrived.  We were not prepared for rain and settled ourselves under the protective canopy of trees along the shore of the lake and waited, and waited.  We were far from being the only moose watchers along the edge of the lake.  Other likeminded visitors were practicing patience waiting for one of the big animals to appear.  Finally after more than an hour of waiting, the call “moose” went out from somewhere among the spotters along the lake. A female moose and calf had come out of the forest at the far side of the lake.  She and her newborn scurried along the edge of the lake for a few seconds and disappeared from view among the willow bushes.  Only if you happened to have your camera pointed in the right direction could a shot be obtained while the moose was in the open.  Fortunately, my camera and I were looking where the moose appeared and was able to get an image of the adult and calf trotting along the edge of the lake.

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We arrived in the early morning for our second visit to Fishcap Lake.  It was a gorgeous sunny morning with brilliant reflections in the lake water, just the kind of morning you would love to have a moose walk into the lake.  Well that did not happen.  I waited and waited for more than three hours before my patience ran out.  Jane had the good sense to leave long before I did to relax at the Lodge.  The only distraction that occurred while waiting for a moose to appear was that a large spotted frog had jumped into the lake right in front of us.  It had been startled by a hiker passing by and offered some photographic relief during an otherwise boring morning.

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Glacier National Park is a special place and we enjoy every visit.  This July visit was unique.  Most of our visits to the park have been in late September.  Turned out that one of our neighbors also has a time-share at Glacier Wilderness Resort and we traded our time in September for their time in July.  This visit provided us a different view of the park with colorful wildflowers, instead of the golden aspen trees of fall, and young baby animals, instead of the larger grown up animals intent on bulking up for the winter hibernation.  I would be remiss, however, if not mentioning that this visit in July was hampered by extremely smoky conditions from the many wildfires in the west.  We felt sorry for first time park visitors who were not being able to clearly see the grandeur of the peaks and valleys of the great Rocky Mountains.

Other images from this trip have been added to the Glacier National Park sub-gallery in the National Parks and Monuments main gallery.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/8/glacier-national-park-in-2021 Thu, 12 Aug 2021 19:18:14 GMT
Crested Butte https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/7/crested-butte After our nearly two-week, high desert adventure in May, Jane and I set our sights on a shorter, cooler trip to the Colorado Rockies.  At the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains, spring wildflowers arrive in late June so we planned this new adventure to coincide with the wildflower bloom in the Rockies.  We chose Crested Butte, “the wildflower capital of Colorado”, as our destination and rented a condominium apartment for five nights to serve as our home-base for exploring the high alpine meadows of the Elk Mountains.

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Crested Butte, established in 1878, was historically a coal mining town.  With the decline in the need for coal, mining operations closed down in the early 1950’s and in the 1960’s Crested Butte re-emerged as a ski destination.  During the summer, Crested Butte is a haven for dirt bike enthusiast with dozens of bike trails through the Gunnison National Forest.  Of course, we were there for the wildflowers and were not disappointed.

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Colorado Highway 135 dead ends at Crested Butte and from Crested Butte there are only dirt roads leading west and north.  I had consulted a guide book to Colorado’s best wildflower photography locations around Crested Butte by Andy Cook, a well known Colorado photographer.   So, Jane and I traversed all these roads in our quest to locate wildflowers locations mentioned in the guide book.  Each day we selected a different track to explore and we discovered the vast aspen forests and scenic backcountry of the Rocky Mountains around Crested Butte.  Jane’s favorite was the Ohio Creek Road with its stunning vistas and majestic mountains.  My favorite was Gothic Road that yielded vast alpine fields of wildflowers.

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In addition to the colorful displays of wildflowers, we also encountered a variety of wildlife, including mule deer, yellow bellied marmots, the ubiquitous golden mantled ground squirrel, a lone sandhill crane, and a fox.  Since my selection of camera equipment was based on flower photography, some of the wildlife, particularly birds, was too far away for my shorter focal distance lenses.  Nevertheless, some good images were acquired.  I will place the photos from this trip in a new gallery titled “Crested Butte, Colorado”.

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Jane and I so enjoyed the beauty of these high alpine mountain settings that we are committed to returning to Crested Butte for a future fall foliage photography expedition.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/7/crested-butte Sun, 18 Jul 2021 16:45:18 GMT
Déjà Vu https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/5/d-j-vu One of Yogi Berra's famous quotes is, “It’s déjà vu all over again”.  In 2008, Jane and I had traveled to Page, Arizona, and now thirteen years later we were back, " all over again".  This was our third road trip of 2021 and I had developed an adventurous itinerary for this return to Page, including tent camping, hiking and a scenic flight.

The adventure began with our drive to Page through the Navajo Nation.  At more than 27,400 square miles, it is the largest reservation in the U.S. and bigger than ten states. We stopped at Window Rock, the capitol city of the Navajo Nation, and made a short visit to the Window Rock Tribal Park and Veteran’s Memorial.  We then followed Highway 264, the Navajo Code Talkers Highway, past the Hubbell Trading Post where Jane and I had stopped in 2008.  It is now a National Historic Site and, unfortunately, we found it closed due to covid restrictions.  Highway 264 changed to the Hopi Code Talkers Highway as we entered the Hopi reservation.  The Hopi reservation is totally surrounded by the Navajo reservation and only about a tenth its size.  In 2008 we had toured Second Mesa, the center of Hopi culture, with a Hopi guide.  This time we merely reminisced as we drove through the reservation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our destination for this first travel day was the Cliff Dwellers Lodge near Marble Canyon in Arizona.  The Cliff Dwellers Lodge was the launching place for a three day photo tour of White Pocket in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.  This was no run-of-the-mill photo tour.  To reach White Pocket, there was a two hour ride from the Cliff Dwellers Lodge with at least half of that on unimproved House Rock Valley Road and other 4-wheel drive dirt tracks with deep sand sandstone slick rock.  When Jane and I were at White Pocket in 2008 it was only for a few hours.  This time it was two whole days and that meant camping out on the remote Paria Plateau.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The photo tour was sponsored by Arizona Highways PhotoScapes and the camp outfitter was Kanab, Utah, based Dreamland Safari Tours.  They set up our camp, provided tents, sleeping bags, mats and meals.  It had been literally decades since either of us had slept on the ground in a tent.  In anticipation of this adventure, camping out under the stars far from civilization was expected to be an incredibly exciting experience.  In real time, however, we found it to be a struggle squirming into sleeping bags in the confinement of a small tent.  Mother Nature also dealt us a nasty blow by offering night time temperatures well below normal.  We were pretty uncomfortable that first night.  The second night was much better because Dreamland had communicated with their office in Kanab to dispatch extra blankets to the camp.  All in all, however, camp life was enjoyable and we had seven other good-natured photographers to share the ambiance of camp life.

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White Pocket is an intriguing photographic destination of multicolored Navajo sandstone formations.  A grayish white sandstone layer covers red sandstone creating cross-bedded, twisted, swirling, multicolored formations creating a fantasy landscape. The whole colorful outcropping is only a couple of miles long and the sandstone provides a gritty surface for boots to cling to making traction easy on the undulating terrain.  Camping out provided the opportunity to photograph the fascinating White Pocket formation at sunrise and sunset.  As a bonus, I was also able to practice some night sky photography, with mixed results however.

Images of White Pocket are located in the National Parks and Monuments Gallery under Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

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The photo tour ended at the Cliff Dwellers Lodge where it has started.  After gathering our gear and bidding adieu to our fellow photographers, Jane and I headed to Page for a good long shower and a much needed nap.  I had scheduled three nights in Page and Jane had made reservations for a king room at the Hyatt Place hotel, a smart, modern, new facility.  We thoroughly enjoyed the space of a king room after two nights in a small tent.  The next morning was a sleep-in and the day was set aside for some shopping in Page.  The pandemic, however, had caused many shops to close or go out of business.  We did manage to do some browsing and found the same Mexican restaurant, Fiesta Mexicana, where we had dined thirteen years ago.

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That evening, around sunset, I had scheduled a scenic flight over Lake Powell with American Aviation Air Tours in Page.  A scenic flight was something we had not done on our previous trip to Page and something new to look forward to.  It was an old, well worn, Cessna that transported us upward and around Lake Powell.  Covid protocol imposed by American Aviation prevented Jane from occupying the co-pilot seat and required both of us to sit in the narrow back seats.  That meant that I could not move back and forth between windows in order to have the sun at my back for proper photographic lighting.  For this flight, however, photography was a secondary consideration and enjoying a scenic flight over an extremely scenic lake was the prime objective.

Images from the scenic flight can be found in the National Parks and Monuments Gallery under Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

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My diverse itinerary had us up early the next morning for a hike into Buckskin Gulch, reportedly the longest and deepest slot canyon on the Colorado Plateau.  I had arranged for a guide with Seeking Treasure Adventures, out of Kanab, to lead us to the slot canyon.  There are two primary trails to Buckskin Gulch, the Middle Route and the Wire Pass trail that was described as the moderate approach.  We met our guide, Hunter Bell, at Big Water, Utah, and he drove us to the trail head.  I had assured Jane that the Wire Pass trail would be easy and that we could always turn back when we had reached our hiking limit.  What I failed to understand was that the two trail heads do not start at the same location and that Hunter, not realizing that we had opted for the easy route, had taken us to the Middle Route trail head.

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After some discussion about the difficulty of the Middle Route, Hunter assured us that we were in good enough condition to take on this more challenging approach.  Of course how Hunter could tell we were in good enough shape, I don’t know.  In the end, we trusted his instinct as a guide and proceeded toward Buckskin Gulch.  In actuality there is no defined “trail” and Hunter guided us across open desert terrain.  The Utah tourist office web site describes the middle route as “a short, no-nonsense approach to the lower reaches of Buckskin Gulch – a cross-country and wash route - good route finding ability required - very strenuous - Class 3 and Class 4 down-climbing to enter Buckskin Gulch”.

After about an hour and half of hiking cross country we reached Buckskin Gulch.  The slot canyon appeared right in front of us one hundred feet below.  This is where all of Hunter’s encouragement, enthusiasm and guiding skill was needed to get the two of us down that last, extremely steep, one hundred feet.  He helped us find hand and foot holds carved into the sandstone centuries before by indigenous people that had used this exit from the slot canyon as an ancient trade route.  I don’t know how we managed, but with adrenaline flowing Jane and I both made it to the bottom and into Buckskin Gulch.  After spending some time exploring and photographing the slot canyon we returned to the dreaded one hundred foot cliff to start our ascent back up.  Our hearts were still beating by the time we returned to Hyatt Place.  We were full of excitement about what we had accomplished and surprised that we had the stamina and courage to do it.  Hunter had been correct that we were in good enough shape.

Images from this adventure can be found in the Buckskin Gulch Gallery.

 

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Fortunately my itinerary called for a late start the next day and we savored relaxing as we packed our bags.  Early that afternoon, the plan was to meet guides from Action Photo Tours at Big Water for an overnight trip to Alstrom Point on the north shore of Lake Powell.  In 2008 Jane and I had driven the 4Runner to Alstrom Point but only stayed a few hours.  We did not want to traverse the four-wheel drive track to return to Page in the dark.  This photo tour would allow us to be at this popular scenic location overlooking Lake Powell at both sunset and sunrise.  The downside was another night in a small tent.  We were rewarded, however, with the classic panoramic view of Gunsight Butte and Navajo Mountain at sunset.  I also got some good tips from the guides about night sky photography.  All I have to do now is learn Photoshop, not an easy task.

Images from Alstrom Point can be found in the National Parks and Monuments Gallery under Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

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The Alstrom Point photo tour returned us to Big Water mid-morning the next day. From Big Water we drove back to Hyatt Place to retrieved our stored bags, had lunch at our now favorite Mexican restaurant, and started our way back home.  On the way home, just before reaching Farmington, New Mexico, we achieved yet one more significant travel milestone.  To be correct it was the always faithful and dependable Toyota 4Runner that achieved this milestone as it clocked 225,000 miles on the odometer.  Since 2004 the 4Runner has been our companion on many memorable adventures.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/5/d-j-vu Fri, 28 May 2021 14:17:44 GMT
Exploring Southern New Mexico https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/5/exploring-southern-new-mexico An excursion to the southern part of our new home state was a pre-covid idea that finally became a reality.  On April 15th, Jane and I embarked on a long delayed nine-day road trip to southern New Mexico.  We journeyed from Albuquerque to Silver City, in the southwest corner of New Mexico to Carlsbad in the southeast corner.  Along our route we observed how severely New Mexico’s drought has impacted the landscape.  Vast areas of open range had only sparse stands of drought tolerant creosote bushes with little other vegetation growing in the bare desert ground.

The primary destination for this exploration was Silver City in Grant County.  During my research I had learned about several rock art sites in the Silver City area that I wanted to photograph.  However, I was unable to find any specific directions on the internet to locate these sites.  The general information I did find would have me searching a vast area of desert terrain without any assurance of success.  Eventually I stumbled upon the web site for the Grant County Archaeological Society and contacted them to see if one of their members would be willing to guide me to the rock art sites.

In a favorable response, Kyle Meredith, the Society’s president, indicated that he would be willing to guide me.  After several email communications, Kyle and I had decided on an itinerary and time frame to visit several rock art sites.  Best of all, it turned out that Kyle had a guest house where we could stay during our Silver City tour.  We arranged to lodge in Kyle's guest house for five nights giving us four whole days for exploration.

On our way to Silver City, Jane and I first stopped at The Very Large Array, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, located on the Plains of San Agustin, about 50 miles west of Socorro in central New Mexico.  This astronomical observatory consists of 27 radio antennas, each 82 feet in diameter.  The science about this facility is way, way over my head, but suffice it to say that the radio antennas can look into deep space and have enabled scientists to make many profound discoveries about the universe and our own Milky Way galaxy.  Due to covid the visitor center was closed but we could drive up to the gate and observe the antennas from the entrance road.

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From The Very Large Array, we traversed along U.S. Highway 60 to New Mexico Highway 12 and on to U.S. Highway 180, the long way to Silver City.  We made a slight detour to check out an alleged ghost town.  In the late 1800’s rich gold and silver veins were discovered in the area leading to the establishment Mogollon (pronounced mo-gie-yon), a wild-west mining town.  In its heyday, Mogollon hosted a population of several thousand.  Today only a handful of people reside in Mogollon and most of its wooden and adobe buildings stand abandoned.  We did not linger long and continued to our next objective, the Catwalk National Recreational Trail.

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The Catwalk was something we just had to see since our route to Silver City went right by it.  In the 1890’s an ore processing mill was constructed at the head of Whitewater Canyon.  To generate power and operate the mill a water pipeline was constructed down Whitewater Canyon and a wooden-plank boardwalk, was constructed over the pipeline.  That was the original catwalk.  As the mines ran out and the mill fell into ruin, the catwalk also disintegrated.  In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps was assigned the task of rebuilding the catwalk as a recreational attraction for the Gila National Forest.  The CCC catwalk was destroyed by a major flood down Whitewater Canyon in 2012.  Today’s catwalk is a modern, structurally sound, steel reconstruction that is cantilevered out from the steep canyon cliffs over Whitewater Creek.

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As we hiked back down Whitewater Canyon we noticed some lady birders with field glasses searching the distant trees for birds.  I could not help but ask what they had in their sights.  At the moment they were observing a yellow warbler but had recently seen an American dipper just downstream.  After getting directions to where the dipper had been seen Jane and I searched for it without success.  As we headed back to the parking lot, one of the birders called after us to say that the dipper was back.  We followed her back but I could not see the bird until she let me look through her binoculars.   Then I saw it but could not believe than an American dipper would be in this desert environment.  But there it was and I took several pictures.  Later, I checked the distribution of this bird and found that it is a year round resident in a few higher mountain locations in southern New Mexico.

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We arrived in Silver City around 5:00 PM where we met Kyle and were introduced to the guest house, Casa Otra, and to Kyle’s partner Josh.  Casa Otra was a comfortable, extensively modified, mobile home jam packed with a vast variety of knickknacks accumulated by Kyle and Josh over many years.  To welcome us, Kyle had prepared a chicken curry dish that the four of us enjoyed while getting to know each other. What a great way to start a four day exploration of the Silver City area. 

Our first outing was a day long trip to rock art locations in Frying Pan Canyon and Pony Hills in the remote China Draw area north of Deming.  Kyle and Josh had been out in these areas a number of times and they scouted ahead locating the best petroglyph panels for me to photograph.  It was at Pony Hills that Josh got the surprise of his life.  Leaning over one of several deep mortar holes ground into the bedrock by ancient people, he came face to face with a hissing rattle snake.  With an instant startled reaction, Josh bounded backward, high into the air, landing on a boulder several feet away.  Lucky for Josh he kept his balance but he was physically shaken by sight of the rattler.

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The next day was very windy so we decided to head north forty miles on Highway 15 to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  These cliff dwellings were built in naturally eroded alcoves around 700 years ago by the Tularosa Mogollon people.  Due to covid social distancing restrictions, we could not enter the dwellings and could only photograph them from the trail below.  That was a bit disappointing but gives us reason to return post-covid.  I did not add any images from the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument to my galleries.

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The following day was still windy and we decided to spend the morning roaming the galleries of Silver City’s Historic District.  Most galleries were open, with capacity restrictions, and we enjoyed the variety of arts and crafts displayed.  Of course, you can’t view all this creative work without some temptation to purchase and, needless to say, we gave in to that temptation.  Later in the afternoon we headed south on Highway 180 to New Mexico’s City of Rocks State Park.  The “city” is a geologic formation made up of large, eroded volcanic rock columns separated by trails mimicking city streets. Millions of years in the making, the City of Rocks was a fascinating place to visit and photograph.  Images from this “city” can be found in the State Parks gallery.

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Our last day in Silver City was again devoted to rock art photography.  This time Kyle and Josh guided us to Apache Flats and Apache Tank north of Interstate 10 along Doña Ana County Road 001.  Although there are some historic Apache petroglyphs, most are attributed to the Mogollon culture, one of the major prehistoric cultures, who occupied this region of New Mexico for over twelve hundred years.  Jane and I concluded that without Kyle and Josh’s knowledge about where to find the petroglyph panels we would not have found them by ourselves.  We treated our hosts to a farewell dinner at the Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery where we savored some locally crafted brews.  The rock art images from this trip can be found in the Rock Art gallery.

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Carlsbad Cavern National Park was our next objective.  From Silver City, the drive to Carlsbad is a reasonable six hours.  We chose to break up the drive with lunch in Cloudcroft, a small pioneer village nestled in the pine trees of the Sacramento Mountains at an elevation of 8,700 feet.  Dave’s Café was the only choice in Cloudcroft, so we munched on a tasty lunch there and then browsed some of the gift stores where Jane was able to replenish her supply of bulk teas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historically, the city of Carlsbad had an agricultural economy with the Pecos River providing needed irrigation water.  Today, the city’s economy is boosted by oil and natural gas production from the Permian Basin that underlies southeastern New Mexico.  The famous Carlsbad Caverns are located about thirty minutes south of town and provide a substantial tourist trade.  Much of what you see driving the main drag into Carlsbad has an older, industrial look.  So, Jane and I decided to take a spin off the main highway and discovered some affluent neighborhoods with very large, beautiful homes along the Pecos River frontage.

The caverns are spectacular and worthy of national park status. Current restrictions required that time specific entrance tickets be obtained on a first come first served basis.  I got our timed tickets in advance, on line, before leaving home.  To ensure sufficient time for photography in the cave, I had purchased tickets for two separate days.  Jane joined me for the first day but opted out to relax instead in our Candlewood Suites hotel room the second day.  I had plenty of time to photograph because once in the cave you could stay as long as you wanted, up to closing time.  Getting good images in the dark cavern with only scattered accent lighting was difficult.  Fortunately, tripods were permitted in the cave and that allowed me to take long exposure as well as HDR (High Dynamic Range) shots.  Still, the results were not great.  You can see images from Carlsbad Caverns in the National Parks & Monuments gallery.

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Before leaving Carlsbad, we made the one hour drive to Sitting Bull Falls.  The waterfalls and pools in this, U.S. Forest Service managed, recreation area are fed by springs and are a very popular attraction during the heat of summer.  In contrast, we were the only visitors in late April and I was able to photograph the falls without having to dodge kids playing in the pools.  The Sitting Bull Recreation Area is located in the Guadalupe Mountains area of the Lincoln National Forest. 

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The approximate five hour drive home from Carlsbad took us through Roswell where we stopped for breakfast at the local Denny’s.  Roswell has actively created interest in the alleged crash of an extraterrestrial spacecraft in 1947 and is home of the International UFO Museum.  We didn’t take time to visit the museum and we did not see any unidentified flying objects.  We did pass the Roswell International Air Center, however, where we observed hundreds of aircraft tail sections poised above the horizon.  I learned that the Roswell International Air Center was developed after the closure of Walker Air Force Base. In 1967 this base was the largest air base of the Strategic Air Command, covering 4,600 acres. Today, the Air Center is used to store, refurbish and dismantle airliners. Airline companies from around the world now store, repair and obtain parts from other aircraft at the Roswell International Air Center.

After breakfast it was Jane’s turn at the wheel and she had to buck strong head winds most of the way home.  We reached the house around 1:00 PM and by 1:30 Jane was soaking in a hot bubble bath.  Sorry, no pictures.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/5/exploring-southern-new-mexico Thu, 06 May 2021 00:28:48 GMT
Finally A Road Trip https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/4/finally-a-road-trip Yes, finally Jane and I broke with the Covid-19 travel restrictions and ventured out for our first road trip of 2021.    We hadn’t prepared for a road trip in such a long time that packing for this trip took a bit longer than usual and required the use of an old packing list so we wouldn't forget anything. We headed south from Albuquerque to southern Arizona early on a Sunday morning in late March and it felt good to be on the road again for more than a few hours.  Our destination was The Pond At Elephant Head, a bird photography retreat owned and run by Daniel Grayson.  The Pond is situated about 30 minutes south of Green Valley, Arizona, where we met up with our San Diego friends Dali and Neil Solomon.

Early Monday morning the four of us met Daniel (who prefers Dano) and were shown around The Pond.  The pond is actually a small, shallow depression dug into the earth filled with water that attracts birds in the arid southern Arizona desert. In addition, around the circumference of the pond, Dano has placed numerous feeding stations and perches, mimicking the natural habitat of the Sonoran desert.    So this small desert watering hole, with its food and shelter, has been transformed into an oasis for birds.  Photography is accomplished from comfortable, although well used, blinds. 

One memorable photographic highlight was an encounter with a Cooper’s hawk.  This raptor preys on birds and was well aware that birds congregated at the pond.  According to Dano, this Cooper’s hawk makes routine visits to the pond.  We noticed that whenever this predator made an appearance, all the birds immediately disappeared into the undergrowth and a silent hush settled over the pond.  This happened several times while we were in the blind but we never actually saw the hawk.   One time, when all the birds vanished from view, in my periphery I observed some movement.  It was the Cooper’s hawk sitting on a stout branch in the brush next to the blind.  Apparently the hawk was so intent on looking for prey that it was unaware of me moving my camera around to grab a few shots of it.

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During my research about The Pond I had seen some really amazing roadrunner images that were taken there.  I asked Dano about the roadrunner and he very positively assured us that he could entice the bird with some wormy morsels to come within camera range.  I did not know, but roadrunners are monogamous, so when Dano called the roadrunner in, there were actually two of them, a mated pair.  We got some very nice frame-filling shots of the quick birds as they ran in for their worms.  Dano even got one of them to fly, and that it very unusual for a roadrunner.  By placing a worm high on a perch, the bird had to fly up to fetch it.

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The four of us departed The Pond late afternoon to caravan two and a half hours east to our next destination, the Battiste Bed, Breakfast and Birds, a B&B in Hereford, Arizona.  The B&B is hosted by Tony and Julie Battiste and is located in the lower Miller Canyon area of the Huachuca Mountains, famous for its spring and fall bird migrations.  Tony is an avid birder and an accomplished photographer and, like The Pond, has created a bird friendly environment in his garden with a water feature, plenty of feeders and perches.  For photographers, he built a blind from where migrating birds could be easily photographed.

At Tony’s, I tried capturing birds in flight with a special setting on my Olympus camera.  When my efforts proved futile I mentioned it to Neil.  After checking the camera manual and going through the camera’s special menus, we concluded that I did not have the camera’s latest firmware.  I aborted using the camera’s special setting, reverted back to using a fast motor drive, shooting in anticipation of the bird taking off or landing, and hoping for some reasonable results.  Upon returning home, downloading updated firmware became a high priority.

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After four nights at Tony’s B&B, we four intrepid travelers backtracked to the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon just southeast of Green Valley.  There we spent two more days photographing birds.  In theory, at the lodge, being situated at a higher altitude in Madera Canyon, there should have been a different variety of migrating birds.  We noticed, however, that the birds were pretty much the same and that, in general, the spring migration was not as plentiful as normal.  The variety of species and numbers of birds were far less than we have experienced at other times photographing in southeastern Arizona.  To make up for the lack of bird species, a coati came foraging through the cabin area where we were staying and moved just slowly enough for me to get a snapshot.

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Rather than staying in Madera Canyon photographing the same birds, Jane and I decided to drive to Tucson, about an hour north, to do some exploring there.  Neil had told us about Reid Park in Tucson where vermillion flycatchers were frequently seen and photographed.  We were told to look for flycatchers by the parking areas near the dog walk.  Of course we had no idea where that was.  The park is very large and includes the Tucson zoo.  We asked for directions to the dog walk at the zoo entrance and eventually found the dog walk area.  We sat in the car looking out the windshield a bit befuddled not knowing where exactly to start looking.  Then, there it was right in front of us, a bright red vermillion flycatcher foraging in the grass.  In addition to the flycatcher, I also happened upon a very small, pretty verdin darting around in an acacia tree.  The trip to Tucson turned out to be more rewarding than staying in Madera Canyon.

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On the way home we made one more stop.  I had read that late March was the time for wildflowers in the Organ Mountains and Las Cruces was the logical place to stay. We spent a day looking for wildflowers.  Unfortunately, there had been no late winter rain to germinate the seeds.  We did see a few scattered Mexican poppies along the shoulder of Aguirre Springs Road but not the blanket of color in the foothills that could be expected in a normal water year.  After a couple of nights in Las Cruces we turned north on I-25 for home and so ended our first road trip of 2021 with lots of bird pictures but not wildflowers.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2021/4/finally-a-road-trip Wed, 14 Apr 2021 15:41:38 GMT
THE YEAR THAT WASN'T https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/12/the-year-that-wasnt The shortest day of the year is quickly approaching end temperatures along the Rio Grande rift valley have turned chilly.  The holidays will shortly be upon us.  Yes, 2020, the year that wasn’t, will soon be over.  Jane and I have come to grips with the travel constraints imposed on us by the pandemic.  Optimistically, we have re-booked our cancelled 2020 trips and have fingers crossed that we can travel to our chosen locations in 2021.  In the meantime, we have also started to prepare for the holidays.  We have assembled our artificial Balsam Hill Christmas tree and decorated it with many of the ornaments we have collected from our travels.  Jane has also decorated the house with all kinds of joyful yuletide displays.  Santa’s mail order gifts have started to arrive and are being colorfully displayed under the branches of the Christmas tree.

During New Mexico’s avoid-crowds-advisory, we have been day-tripping by ourselves to explore more of New Mexico’s diverse scenery.  We felt safe from potential Covid-19 infection with just the two of us confined in our own car.  Our destinations were to remote areas where we encountered only a couple of other people and were able to stay yards, not merely feet, away. With the help of several guide books, we scouted out several potential photo locations.  Early winter, with brown and dormant desert vegetation, is not the most scenic time for landscape photography, however.  My plan was to accumulate a list of places to return to in spring when new growth should make the desert appear green again.

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One location Jane and I scouted was the Ojito Wilderness area about an hour and half from home.  There are two established trails in this wilderness set-aside and we explored both.  Both trails were about two miles round trip with modest elevation gains.  The first trail led to some ancient petroglyphs situated on the edge of a mesa with a magnificent view of the surrounding terrain, eroded with deep washes and arroyos.  The other trail terminated at an area of colorful sandstone hoodoos.  The scenery and photo opportunities were compelling, so we went back for some photography a few weeks later.  Images from these trails can be found in the Ojito Wilderness Area gallery.

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The next area we explored was San Lorenzo Canyon, also about an hour and half from home but to the south.  The San Lorenzo Canyon hike was mostly in a wide, sandy wash with high, sloping escarpments on either side.  The guide book advised that this trail was about 4 miles round trip, but we encountered a substantial rock fall about half way that we did not attempt to scramble over.  There were some interesting rock formations along the section of the trail that we did hike and San Lorenzo Canyon is on my list to return to in the spring.

Cabezon Peak is a large, steep sided neck of volcanic rock, rising nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, and a well know landmark in northwest New Mexico.  This giant volcanic plug is visible for miles in all directions as it towers over the low lying Rio Puerco valley.  This was an obvious landscape feature for me to investigate and explore.  During my internet research, I discovered that there were also ancient pueblo ruins and petroglyphs in this area.  So, travel to Cabezon Peak became another day-trip away from urban crowds.  This trip was a bit longer, about two hours northwest of home, with an extensive stretch of dirt track.  Cabezon Peak was impressive but a cloudless sky and scarce winter foliage did not make for good picture taking.  This landscape was also added to my spring location list.

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Jane and I next ventured a bit further on this dirt track to the Guadalupe Ruins.  These ruins, constructed about eleven hundred years ago, are the easternmost outlier of the Chacoan culture that flourished in the southwest at that time.  The Guadalupe Ruins are situated on the edge of an isolated mesa about 200 feet above the valley floor.  The only access is along a short, but very steep, trail that we traversed with some difficulty.  The top of the mesa offered an amazing view of the Rio Puerco valley with its myriad gullies, ravines and volcanic plugs penetrating the horizon.   Since there were no clouds to add drama to the scene, I will have to return to this site and again climb to the top of the mesa in order to capture more compelling images.

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After taking a refreshment break and resting our legs from the steep descent, we attempted to locate the petroglyphs in Tapia Canyon a short stint further down the dirt road.  I had found longitude and latitude coordinates for the trail head during my research into this remote area of New Mexico.  The trail to the petroglyphs, although not strenuous, was a long two miles in.  After about a mile in, however, our legs started to complain and realizing how far we still had to go, and return, we aborted our attempt to reach the petroglyphs.  So, Tapia Canyon is definitely a location to return to next spring.

 

Bosque del Apache is a world famous New Mexico wildlife refuge that Jane and I had visited a number of times while living in San Diego.  Now this popular refuge, with its innumerable sandhill cranes, snow geese and other water fowl, is only a two hour drive south from home.  To continue our avoidance of crowds, in early December we decided on a day trip to re-visit Bosque.  Based on our previous excursions, we had high expectation about the wildlife photography opportunities.  Unfortunately, our optimistic outlook was not realized.  Whether a result of drought or refuge management, many familiar roosting ponds along the access road were dry.  Consequently the dramatic mass of snow geese ascending from these ponds that photographers yearn for did not occur.  The only mass ascension I was able to capture was one of red winged black birds, not snow geese.  Photo opportunities along the loop road were significantly less than on our previous visits to Bosque.  We toured Bosque for several hours and did manage to get a “keeper” or two before returning home.  These new shots can be found in the Bosque del Apache sub-gallery in the Wildlife Refuges main gallery.

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Although all our foreign travel was aborted in this coronavirus dominated year, Jane and I have managed to safely get out of the house.  Our recent local explorations have resulted in a list of photo sites to visit next spring.  We are optimistic about travel in 2021 and in the meantime we will be celebrating this year’s holidays with chilled bubbly from California.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/12/the-year-that-wasnt Sat, 12 Dec 2020 17:56:46 GMT
Visiting Familiar Places https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/10/visiting-familiar-places Long before this year, dominated by the coronavirus, began, Jane and I had planned and organized an incredible travel schedule for 2020.  Of course, none of those journeys materialized as we sheltered at home, wore masks and practiced safe distancing.  When we realized that our most anticipated trip to Europe was off the table, we anxiously explored other potential options.  We eventually settled on and patched together a long road trip to our timeshare cabin in West Glacier, Montana.

The cabin is a long 1,275 miles from home and we broke the twenty hour drive into shorter segments with stops in Moab and Brigham City, Utah.  The layover in Brigham City was planned to allow a visit with my 93 year old sister, Neli.  Traditionally, Jane and I have stopped to visit with Neli and her husband, Fred, on our way to or from the cabin.  Since we had not been to the cabin for many years it was a welcomed pleasure to visit with them again. We were both amazed on how sharp and witty both Neli and Fred were at their advanced age.

We arrived at the cabin only to find Glacier National Park and surroundings shrouded in smoke from the inferno of fires in Washington and Oregon.  We found ourselves for several days again “sheltering at home”.  The cabin is situated in the "satellite shadow" of some high mountains with very spotty internet access, so during those smoky days our time was spent reading and relaxing.  I had brought some bird feed that I spread along the wooden railing of the front porch and entertained myself with photographing small critters and birds that came in for the easy pickings.

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Jane came up the excellent idea to see if I could line up something with Triple D.  Triple D Game Farm, located in Kalispell, Montana, about 45 minutes from the cabin, provides “wildlife models” that keepers bring to natural settings for photography.  I was able to schedule a photo shoot and selected some small mammals to photograph, including a young wolf, bobcat, fox, badger and a couple of playful bobcat kittens.  The shoot at Triple D made up for the lack of picture taking in the park due to the smoky conditions.  

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Thankfully, after several days, rains came and cleared the air.  So during the last week of our two week stay we were able to venture out and enjoy the national park.  We had not been to Glacier National Park for about four years and were amazed at the number of people in the park.  In the nearly twenty years that we had been coming to Glacier, we had never seen so many visitors.  Perhaps it was a Covid-19 phenomenon with more people wanting to get out of the house and driving to national parks.  In Glacier, the result was that by about ten o’clock in the morning all the roadside pull outs, trail head parking areas and the large parking lot at Logan Pass were full.  Typically, Jane and I had to hustle out of bed at six in order to ensure parking at the trails we planned to hike.  Barring smoke and crowds, this alternative to our European trip was a welcomed two week respite from sheltering at home in Albuquerque.

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From the cabin we extended our road trip with a sojourn to the Slippery Ann Wildlife Refuge near Lewistown, Montana.  During the rut, the Slippery Ann Refuge is a popular elk viewing area along the Missouri River.  Jane and I had stopped here four years ago on a previous road trip. As in Glacier, there were many more “elk viewers” than we anticipated, but arrived early enough to obtain a parking area on the dirt track adjacent to the primary viewing area.  The elk wander out from the dense groves of cottonwood trees that line the Missouri River to graze in the meadows where they can be viewed.  In mid to late afternoon, the cows emerge first followed by the bulls who have gathered the cows into small harem herds for eventual mating.  The bull elk’s primary objective is to protect his cows from being pirated by other bulls.  As a result, skirmishes and clashes among the dominant males occur and those are what I hoped to photograph.  I was only able to capture one such joust.  It was a long distance from the car but I was able to create a descent image.

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Our next road trip stop was a three night stay in Jackson, Wyoming, a place dear in our hearts.  On August 31st in 1997 Jane and I were married at Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park.  We had not been back to the park since 2007 when we returned for our tenth anniversary.  We celebrated this return by staying at the Wyoming Inn, an upscale lodge in town with an outstanding and convenient in-house restaurant.  I had some specific photo locations in mind for this stop in Grand Teton National Park, including Schwabacher Landing.  One clear night I ventured out for some night sky photography while Jane stayed warm and cozy in our very comfortable hotel room.  Although the sky was clear there was also a full moon making it the least desirable night for star photography.  The long exposure required to capture dim star light made the moon illuminated foreground look like a day time shot.

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Moab, Utah, with easy access to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks was our last three night road trip stop before heading back home.  At Arches, I practiced some more night photography with similar results as those in Jackson.  Crowds were excessive in the national parks and weather did not cooperate for sunrise or sunset photography.  To escape the multitudes, Jane suggested we drive to Goblin Valley, a Utah state park about ninety minutes from Moab.  I had wanted to photograph at Goblin Valley and enthusiastically endorsed Jane’s suggestion and we added this location filled with sandstone hoodoos to our road trip.

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Grumpy Old ManGrumpy Old ManGrumpy Old Man Hoodoo, Goblin Valley State Park, Utah Grumpy Old ManGrumpy Old ManGrumpy Old Man Hoodoo, Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Discussions on the drive home were highlighted with the possibility of returning to Moab to enjoy the parks when less crowded.  About a six and half hour from Albuquerque, returning to Moab would not be a huge undertaking.  We will see.

          Images from this road trip are located in the following galleries:

          Animal Models > Mammals

          National Parks > Grand Teton

         State Parks > Goblin Valley

         Wildlife Refuges > Slippery Ann

 

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/10/visiting-familiar-places Wed, 14 Oct 2020 14:59:17 GMT
Escape https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/8/escape I call it an escape.  The “it” I refer to being a short, three day road trip to Taos, New Mexico, a few hours north of Albuquerque.  After months of home isolation, with only a few forays out for groceries and other necessities, going on an overnighter really did feel like an escape.  Jane and I had been itching to get out of the house for a few days and exploring New Mexico to the north of Santa Fe had been on our minds for some time.  We settled on Taos, a small village in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.   Neighbors had told us about a quaint B&B that they had enjoyed and we decided to make the Old Taos Guesthouse our home away from home for three nights.  Of course there were Covid-19 restrictions such as face masks, social distancing, and eating our gourmet breakfasts from take-out boxes in our room.

We packed our overnight bags, hustled up some picnic snacks for along the way, and headed out.  I had put together a route and itinerary that included several potential photography stops during our three days of exploration.  From Albuquerque we traveled north and east on I-25 to the Pecos National Historic Park; then further along I-25 to the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge; from there to Fort Union National Monument; and then on to the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge. I had wanted to check out these wildlife refuges to see if photography at these would be as rewarding as at Bosque del Apache where Jane and I had been several time before.  I concluded that Bosque was a much better location for photography and much easier logistically. 

Pecos Mission ChurchPecos Mission ChurchOld Ruins of Pecos Mission Church at Pecos National Historic Park, New Mexico Pecos RuinsPecos RuinsOld Ruins of Pecos Mission Church at Pecos National Historic Park, New Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Old Wagons In Front Of Remnants Of Adobe Wall at Fort Union National Monument, New Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Maxwell, a very small community with no visitor amenities, we continued back west over the Cimarron Range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains through the twisty and curvy Cimarron Canyon to Eagle Nest Lake and U.S. Highway 64.  We followed Highway 64 through more mountainous terrain and canyons to the Old Taos Guesthouse.  As our neighbors had described, the Old Taos Guesthouse was a quaint, picturesque converted hacienda in a very rural setting with eleven guest rooms.  Our room was spacious with the décor and charm of historic Taos.  We enjoyed our three nights there very much and savored breakfasts each morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grounds of the guesthouse were filled with a variety of trees and plants.  Among the plants were sunflowers with an abundance of interesting looking insects foraging among the yellow flowers.  I decided to practice taking close-up pictures of these bugs with my macro lens.  I don't get many opportunities to shoot with the macro lens, so this was a great time to use it.  I had no idea what bugs I was photographing and had to Google search to identify them.  These two are an Ambush Bug and a Soft Winged  Flower Beetle.

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The next two days we made day-trips from the Old Taos Guesthouse to scenic locations around the Taos area.  One day we ventured up to the Taos Ski Valley high on the north side of Wheeler Mountain, New Mexico’s highest at 13,159 feet, and also toured the mountainous Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway that circumnavigates around the Wheeler Peak wilderness areas.  The Rio Grande River flows just east of Taos and we spent time photographing the deep gorge resulting from the Rio Grande Rift that the river follows.  To the north we toured the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and to the south the Orilla Verde National Recreation Area where we encountered some bighorn sheep on the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now that we have had our taste of traveling again, we look forward to visiting our “place in Montana” this fall.  Since we have cancelled our Europe travel plans we have decided to drive up to Glacier National Park to spend two weeks at our time-share cabin there in September.  There will be a blog about that trip, for sure.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/8/escape Sat, 08 Aug 2020 19:54:48 GMT
May 2020 https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/4/may-2020 There is not much to “blog” about when one is sheltered at home.  So far this spring all travel plans have been aborted so there are no photo journeys to share.  Instead, Jane and I have been keeping busy with home projects.  I have been printing and framing some of my images to decorate the remaining bare walls in our new home while Jane has been working on long neglected sewing projects. 

Warmer spring temperatures have led to the revival of the plants in our new garden.  We thought many of our plants were pretty much goners, but no, new growth is all around our yard.  As spring slowly manifests its self, our brand new back yard has metamorphosed from a drab and bleak setting to an inviting ambiance.  Our current daily routine now includes checking rose bushes for aphids (very exciting).  For me, a special treat has been to watch our small hedgehog cactus plants sprout buds and develop bright red claret cup flowers.

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With a garden that could now be enjoyed we would love to spend time on our patio.  Unfortunately, we ordered new patio furniture just as stay-at-home and social distancing rules went into effect.  Although ordered in early March, we don’t expect delivery until late May or early June.  Oh well!!  On the brighter side, Jane and I were able to day-trip to some local national monuments before sheltering at home became the norm.  At Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument we hiked the two-mile round trip Canyon Trail through a slot canyon and then scrambled up rock falls to reach the top of a plateau for some spectacular views.

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Another short day-trip brought us to Bandelier National Monument west of Santa Fe.  Thinking that I could get a better perspective for some pictures, we ended up hiking one of the monuments steeper trails.  It was a good workout and also provided for some interesting shots.  Bandelier National Monument is a fascinating ancestral Pueblo village.  Here the ancient ones built their pueblo style community adjacent to cliffs of tuff, a relatively soft volcanic rock, in which the ancestral Pueblo people hollowed out caves for additional living quarters and storage areas.

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Images from these day-trips are located in the National Parks and Monuments gallery under Tent Rocks and Bandelier.  Hope you enjoy them.  Now, of course, we are patiently waiting for travel restrictions to be lifted so we resume our journeys near and far.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/4/may-2020 Thu, 23 Apr 2020 20:45:42 GMT
First Trip https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/2/first-trip In mid-January, Jane and I ran away from the wet, cold winter weather in Albuquerque to escape to the warm, humid climate of Hawaii.  Through some unanticipated circumstances it appeared that I had several weeks of time-share trades available that I did not know about.  Fortunately for us, the time share trading company alerted us and we were able to book two weeks in Hawaii and a third week in San Diego on our way home.  So, 2020 started off with a relaxing two week get away to the Aloha State and a week visiting friends and hanging out at old haunts in San Diego.

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Our first week was spent at The Cliffs Resort in Princeville at the north shore of Kauai.  We had a second floor, corner unit with lots of windows for great views.  We slept with windows open to enjoy the warm island trade winds and were entertained by the early morning crowing of chickens that seemed to dominate the island.  Quickly we acclimated to the relaxed tempo of the Garden Island and felt the cares and woes of Albuquerque fade away.  With top down we toured Kauai in our rented red Mustang convertible visiting the Kilauea Lighthouse and Hanalei Bay.

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The concierge at the resort assisted us in finding other entertaining ways to spend our days.  Arrangements were made to sail to the Na Pali coast on a large catamaran that also offered snorkeling, although we declined that option.  We also joined a small tour group that explored some of the island’s ancient, but severely deteriorated archaeological sites.  The record breaking rainfall in 2018 damaged much of the public access to Ke’e Beach and Limahuli Botanical Garden and we had to avail ourselves with a public shuttle service to those remote areas.

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A week later we found ourselves on the Big Island with another rented Mustang convertible, this time white.  The Big Island is big, almost twice as large as all the other Hawaiian Islands combined.  Because of this great size, we spent a lot of time in the white convertible touring the island.  From our base at the Wyndham Mauna Loa Village, on the Kona side of the island, we pretty much circumnavigated the Big Island.  We crisscrossed among the three great volcanoes that created the island and visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Tops of the volcanoes are well over 13,000 feet in elevation and it got a bit chilly driving at high altitudes with the top down.

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After two weeks of sun worshiping, sightseeing, and many “happy hours” in Hawaii we made our way to San Diego.  Although much warmer than Albuquerque, San Diego was not as warm as Hawaii and we did not rent a convertible.  It had been just over a year since we moved from San Diego to Albuquerque and we enjoyed visiting with friends and going back to some of our old stomping grounds.  It seems that progress does not slow down.  Even after just a year we could see additions to the downtown skyline, not to mention cars on the freeways.  Oh, and by the way, I celebrated my birthday with dinner at Benihana's.  It was my 81st, for those of you who were curious.

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All in all this first vacation of 2020 turned out to be a great trip.  We had enough time to decompress, forget about the unfinished work on the new house, and enjoy just being tourists.  I will have to confess that pictures were taken and some of our time was focused on photography including an outing to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  I did not create a gallery of images from this trip on the web site but most of the significant pictures are included as part of the blog.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2020/2/first-trip Tue, 11 Feb 2020 23:28:11 GMT
Festival of the Cranes https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/11/festival-of-the-cranes Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is known worldwide for the winter migration of greater sandhill cranes and snow geese.  Thousands of these photogenic birds spend the winter months at the refuge where there is plenty of food and protection from predators.  Jane and I have traveled from San Diego to Bosque del Apache several times to enjoy and photograph the spectacle of these birds on the refuge.  Now, residing in Albuquerque and the refuge being only about a ninety minute drive from our front door, we decided to join the Friends of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  So this November we participated in the 32nd annual Festival of the Cranes that is sponsored and managed by the Friends.

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The Festival is a five day celebration with more than a 130 events, including tours, seminars, hikes, workshops and entertainment choices.  We picked 18 events and spent the next five days thoroughly absorbed with activities on and around the refuge.  Our memories of Bosque from prior visits included fiery sunrises and sunsets with tens of thousands of birds.  During the Festival, however, we were a bit disappointed with the weather and the number of birds.  We had overcast skies that prevented a night photography workshop I had signed up for.  Then we had a hard, cold rain to cope with.  And one morning we were greeted with a dense fog that prevented any meaningful photography.

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All was not gloom and doom, however.  We had a great time and enjoyed ourselves tremendously at the Festival.  Highlights included:  lectures on birding and bird photography; a night time owling expedition; several photography workshops; watching a falconer fly his raptors; and some night sky photography workshops.  The great thing about having this world renowned resource so close to home is that we can visit again and again whenever we want.

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Images from the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache are located in the Wildlife Refuges gallery.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/11/festival-of-the-cranes Wed, 27 Nov 2019 22:12:56 GMT
October's Whirlwind Trip https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/11/octobers-whirlwind-trip After enjoying a very scenic trip to Colorado’s San Juan Mountains in September, Jane and I spent only a couple of weeks at home before venturing out again.  This time, however, we took separate journeys.  Jane entertained her New York City girlfriend, Gigi, for about a week, including a short trip to Santa Fe, while I entertained my photo buddy, Bruce.  Bruce arrived in Albuquerque after Jane and Gigi had departed for Santa Fe and he and I left on our whirlwind photo tour before they returned.

I had developed a multi-stop itinerary for our photo trip that included some of northwestern New Mexico’s photogenic locations.  Our first objective was Valles Caldera National Preserve in the pine covered Jemez Mountains.  We arrived shortly after the Preserve’s 8:00 AM opening with the intent of photographing the colony of Gunnison's prairie dogs that reside there.  Checking in with the ranger we discovered that temperatures at the higher elevations of the Jemez Mountains had been unseasonably cold and that the little critters had started their hibernation early.  As a consolation, we did manage to photograph some distant coyotes and I managed to step into a camouflaged prairie dog burrow and ended up on my face in the prairie grass.

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After swallowing my pride for having stumbled so badly, we ventured forth to the Chaco Culture Historical Park where we photographed the ancient ruins of Pueblo Bonito and its iconic series of doorways.  From there we traveled to the Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Study Area.  This is a remote area of New Mexico badlands that invokes a fairyland feel with its numerous eroded hoodoos and mudstone spires.  We arrived at Ah-shi-sle-pah by late afternoon and photographed there till near sunset.

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Farmington, New Mexico, became our home base for various day trips over next few days.  However, the late October weather that had turned bitter cold was not kind to us.  The itinerary called for a very early departure the following morning to photograph the eroded volcanic remnant of Shiprock at sunrise.  When we peered out the window at 4:00 AM it was snowing and that cancelled our plan for a sunrise photo shoot.  It did, however, allow us snuggle back into bed for some more shuteye.  Eventually the day warmed up a bit and the sun broke through the clouds and we ventured out to photograph the Chaco outlier ruins at Aztec National Monument with its restored kiva. 

Then, after lunch at the appropriately named Aztec Restaurant, we decided to locate some Navajo rock art that dated from the 16th and 17th centuries.  I had found out about the petroglyph during my on-line research for this trip.  We were a bit concerned about driving the dirt roads after the snowfall.  However, by afternoon when we turned off the pavement the snow had all but disappeared and the dirt track was just moist enough to keep the dust down.  The Navajo petroglyph panels were particularly well executed and distinct.  As with most rock art Bruce and I have photographed, there was evidence of damaging graffiti scratched into the sandstone around the Navajo art work.

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For the next day I had arranged for a guided tour of natural arches around the area with Larry Beck, the current vice president and former president of The Natural Arch and Bridge Society.  Larry is far and away the local expert on arches and their locations.  He guided us to many of his favorite arches in the Aztec area and we finished our journey with him at sunset photographing Arch Rock.  Bruce and I agreed that without Larry guiding us we would never have found many of the beautiful arches we photographed.

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My alarm was set for an early start the next day.  Our target was the De-Na-Zin wilderness section of the Bisti badlands.  This was another remote and desolate area an hour’s drive south of Farmington.  The objective was to take advantage of early morning light on the eroded formations.  From my research we selected two areas of badlands to photograph, the “egg nursery” and “hoodoo city” for which we had GPS coordinates.  Needless to say, when traversing heavily eroded arroyos and steep sided washes, following a GPS direction can lead to much backtracking.  We explored the De-Na-Zin wilderness for nearly five hours and, according to GPS, hiked around the weird and bizarre formations for about six miles.  We started this trek bundled with multiple layers and a temperature of 20 º F and we returned to the 4Runner five hours later, just as bundled, when the temperature had reached all of 30 º F.

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Our next objective was the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park where we had arranged for several Navajo guided tours into the private areas of the park.  On the way to Monument Valley, however, we stopped first at Canyon de Chelley National Monument.  We arranged for a Navajo guide to take us into the canyon.  Because Navajo people still live in the canyon, access can only be obtained with a local guide.  One of the popular photo locations is Spider Rock, an enormous eight hundred foot tall sandstone spire, at the very head of the canyon and that was where we headed.  In addition to being an iconic geologic feature Spider Rock is also a cultural attribute.  Mythical Spider Woman lives on spider rock and she has a long history in Navajo folklore and oral traditions.  Our guide told us of stories his grandfather used to tell that Spider Woman would catch him in her web if he misbehaved.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At Monument Valley Bruce and I faced a dilemma.  We wanted a dynamic cloudy sky to accent the landscape during the day and clear skies at night for star photography.  Of course we could not have both.  Mother Nature decided.  We had clear skies both day and night.  Our Navajo guided tours included two nights of star photography as well as a sunrise and sunset tour.  Since there was no drama in the sky, we opted to skip the sunrise tour.  Photography can be a fickle hobby. During the first night of star photography there was a crescent moon that illuminated the foreground but obscured the Milky Way.  The second night we departed a bit later so there would be no moon light and the Milky Way was observable but the foreground was much too dark.  Oh well!

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To sum up, this seven day, eight stop whirlwind tour started at Valles Caldera and ended up at Monument Valley via Chaco Canyon, the Ah-shi-sle-pah wilderness, Aztec ruins, Navajo rock art, natural arches, the De-Na-Zin wilderness, and Canyon de Chelly.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/11/octobers-whirlwind-trip Thu, 14 Nov 2019 20:53:30 GMT
October 2019 https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/10/november-2019 It is the first week in October, 2019.  Mornings in Albuquerque have turned brisk.   I enjoyed an early morning cup of coffee watching the sun come up over the Sandia Mountains in our nearly completed backyard.  We have now been living in our new home for two months and are loving it.  It has been a bit frustrating waiting for a lot of the finishing touches to be completed.  But now we are pretty much done.  Hurrah!!

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We have not let completing the house keep us from having some fun, however.  Last week Jane and I enjoyed a marvelous trip to the colorful San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado.  We stayed in the small community of Ridgway and day-tripped from there to explore the fall foliage that had reached its peak in color while we were there.  As a reminder, our move to Albuquerque was partially motivated to avoid southern California traffic when we traveled by car.  Well, to reach this breathtakingly beautiful area took all of six hours on uncongested roads.

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We started this little get-a-way by enjoying a morning ride on the historic Durango to Silverton narrow gauge railroad.  This was an excursion we had often talked about making and now, merely four hours from Albuquerque, it was a cinch.  This National Historic Landmark was originally constructed in 1881-1882 to support the lucrative gold and silver mining interests in the San Juan Mountains.  We opted to ride in the last car of the train that offered individual reserved seating areas from which we could admire the passing scenery.

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Another recent wildlife event we have witnessed was the emergence of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats from one of the lava tub caves in El Malpais National Monument.  This national monument is a mere hour and a half from our front door.  During summer months, at dusk, these bats leave the cave in swarms of thousands to forage for insects in the surrounding hills.  During the winter these bats migrate south into Mexico.

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During the summer months we have also participated on a number of outings with the Enchanted Lens Camera Club.  These jaunts have been helpful in learning our way around the Albuquerque area and getting to know other photographers.  Perhaps the most photographically interesting location was the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area in the high desert of northwestern New Mexico.  This is an area of badlands that is riddled with fascinating hoodoos. 

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We have some more adventures planned to end the year, including: a hot air balloon flight during the famous Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and participation in the Bosque del Apache Festival Of The Cranes. 

To view images from the fall colors in Colorado open the Autumn Colors in the San Juan Mountains gallery, for images of the badlands open the Ah-She-Sle-Pah Wilderness gallery, and for a couple of bat images open the El Malpais National Monument sub-gallery in the National Parks and Monuments main gallery.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/10/november-2019 Thu, 03 Oct 2019 16:11:20 GMT
A Very Active April https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/5/a-very-active-april As construction of our new home continued during April, Jane and I took the opportunity to do some exploring.  Early in the month, we drove to Hereford, Arizona (near Sierra Vista) for some bird photography at Battista’s Bed, Breakfast and Birds.  We met Neil Solomon, an avid bird photographer from San Diego, at the B&B.  Tony Battista, the proprietor, experienced birder and photographer, has built a small water feature on the grounds of the B&B that attracts lots of local and migrating birds.  We spent many hours in the photo-blind next to the small pond photographing visiting birds.  Tony also guided us to some other birding hot spots in the area where we were able to photograph Harris’ hawk, elegant trogon and scaled quail.

 

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After returning to Albuquerque from this short jaunt, we prepared for a more extensive trip to southeastern Oregon to photograph greater sage grouse.  Photographing this iconic threatened bird of the western prairies had been on my to-do-list for a long time.  Planning the trip was more difficult than I had first imagined.   Greater sage grouse males congregate on leks and perform courtship displays to attract females and it is critical to select an active lek for photography.  I got a lead from Ken Archer, the photo guide that Jane and I had met on our trip to Nome, Alaska.  Ken put me touch with Andrew Shields, a biologist in charge of studying active leks on the Roaring Springs Ranch in Oregon.  This operating cattle ranch is huge, about one million acres of sage covered hilly terrain, and contains several remote greater sage grouse leks.

 

Like so many areas in the west, the Roaring Springs Ranch had received a lot of snow this past winter and early spring.  So, the lek Andrew had originally planned to take us, when we first made our arrangements, was still covered with two to four feet of snow when we arrived in April.  Fortunately, there was another active lek that Andrew had been monitoring as part of his research.  Getting to this lek, however, was problematic.  We had to be shuttled on all-terrain-vehicles (ATV’s) on a very boggy track.  In order not to disturb the birds, we had to hike the last quarter mile or so over soggy and rocky sage brush covered ground.  All this was happening in total darkness around four o’clock in the morning.  It was a total adventure!

 

 

The lek was very active with around twenty male birds performing their mating rituals and half a dozen females looking them over.  We also performed our ritual that consisted of rising at three-fifteen in the mornings, driving twenty minutes to meet Andrew, driving another forty-five minutes to where the ATV’s were parked, then fifteen minutes on the ATV and then a twenty minute hike to the blind.  The goal was to reach the blind around 5 AM, well before sun rise.  Each morning, the birds were already strutting and vocalizing on the lek when we arrived.  However, we had to wait anxiously for sufficient morning light to develop before we could commence with our photography.

 

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The Enchanted Lens Camera Club is a large club of photo-enthusiasts.  I joined the club shortly after arriving in Albuquerque.  During this very active month of April, Jane and I participated on a couple of the club’s field trips as part of our effort to explore New Mexico.  One field trip was a long weekend to the northwest of the state to photograph Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, the Bisti Badlands and Shiprock on the Navajo reservation.  These were all locations that had been on our minds to visit and it was great to be with others who knew the way.  

 

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If that were not enough, Albuquerque was host to the Gathering-Of-Nations Pow Wow at the end of April.  This is the largest pow wow in North America with nearly 800 tribes participating and it was an event Jane and I could not miss.  What an experience!  Lots of competitive drum music, singing in native languages, and dancing in elaborate feathered costumes.  Also, it was very much a family affair for the tribal participants with a tiny tot’s category of competition.

 

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At the end of the month, Bruce Hollingsworth and I attended a night scape photography conference in Moab, Utah.  We had both been looking forward to this conference because some of our photographic attention had started to focus on landscapes under starry skies and the milky way.  The conference was a sell out, so obviously we were not the only ones interested in milky way photography.  During the conference, however, it became very obvious that the two of us were novices at night sky photography.  We absorbed a lot of useful technical information and processes needed to pursue this part of our hobby.  But when it came time to practice our night sky photography, late at night in the national parks surrounding Moab, my skill lever was severely lacking.  I'll have to adhere to the adage, practice, practice, practice!  We were able to obtain some reasonable day-time images at Dead Horse Point state park under cloudy skies.

 

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I’d say that was enough activity for April.  May, however, will also be a busy month, but this time most of our activities will be planning, selecting and coordinating custom touches for our new home.  Selections for window coverings, closet and office designs all need to be finalized in May so that the work can commence immediately after we take possession of the house.

 

You will find images from the Oregon greater sage grouse trip as a sub-folder under the Birds gallery.  Images from the Gathering-Of-Nations Pow Wow has its own gallery and images from the Arizona bird photography trip are in the Birds Of Arizona sub-folder under the Birds gallery.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/5/a-very-active-april Thu, 16 May 2019 20:38:47 GMT
News Update https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/4/news-update It has been several months since my last blog entry.  The delay is not because nothing has happened since our return from Madagascar.  On the contrary, too much has happened.  So here is the latest news update.

January 6, 2019

This morning we hitched a pre-loaded U-Haul trailer to the 4Runner and, with Jane in the Green Machine (our apple green Toyota Camry), the two of us started out for a grand, new adventure by moving lock, stock and barrel to a new domicile in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Our departure for Albuquerque had been preceded by a chain of events that culminated in this exodus.

Although Jane and I had on previous occasions mulled over the idea of leaving San Diego, it was not until we visited the Del Webb 55+ retirement community at Mirehaven, in Albuquerque, that a conclusive decision was made.  We made an exploratory trip to the Del Webb development in November.  We totally liked what we saw and entered into a purchase agreement that was contingent on selling our Mesa Madera house.

Making this extraordinary decision to purchase a home in a retirement community solidified our resolve to seek new adventures and signing the purchase agreement initiated an intense chain of events.  We had to (1) wire an earnest money deposit, (2) interview and select a realtor, (3) interview and select an interstate moving company, (4) return to Albuquerque to select design options for our new home, and (5) arrange to rent a furnished house to live in during construction of our new home.  Oh, and by the way, we still managed to spend a relaxing, long Thanksgiving weekend in Idylwild.

We selected Jennifer Blake, with Sotheby International, to be our real estate agent.  That turned out to be a wise choice.  Jenn guided us professionally through the stressful process of selling our house without a glitch.  She knew the Scripps Ranch real estate market and what selling strategy would garner the best sales result.  She recommended that we list the house shortly after the yearend holidays when there would be fewer competitive houses on the market and that the house be “staged” to attract the most buyers.

Those decision set off another chain of events.  Staging the house required that we would have to move all our belonging out in order for the staging to occur.  In order to be ready to list the house in early January all decision making had to go into high gear.  Allied Van Lines, our selected moving company, was notified and packing and moving was scheduled for January 3rd and 4th.  In the meantime, Sean Blake, Jenn’s husband and “operations manager” arranged for and supervised needed small repairs and painting.  Jane and I took care of last minute details, cancelling cable service and packing what we needed for the rental house in Albuquerque into the Green Machine and U-Haul trailer.  That brings the chain of events to January 6th when we departed Mesa Madera Drive for our new, exciting life in Albuquerque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 18, 2019

All minor repairs, painting, cleaning, staging, and marketing photography at the Mesa Madera house were completed and the property was listed and ready for its open house reception.  Multiple listings information had been submitted the previous Monday and by mid-week, several days before the scheduled open house we had received a bona fide offer.  Our counter offer was accepted and by January 18th, the theoretical sales kickoff, we had already opened escrow.  And, by January 18th Jane and I had also officially become New Mexicans with new driver’s licenses, car and voter registrations.

February 15, 2019

Today escrow closed and sales proceeds were wired into our bank account.  Now there is no turning back.  We now live in Albuquerque.  We have been living in our furnished rental for over two months and have become familiar with our new neighborhood.  Construction of our new home has been started.  Underground utilities are in and concrete foundations poured.  We make periodic trips to Mirehaven to check progress and are thrilled to see the slow emergence of our new house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 26, 2019

Construction of the house continues.  Framing has been completed and it is starting to look like a house.  Interior plumbing, electrical and HVAC have been installed the structure has been “wrapped” and windows installed.  Today we conducted an official inspection with Chris, the Del Webb construction coordinator.  The inspection was to ensure that pluming, gas lines, electrical outlets, cable outlets and other specifics were in conformance with our selected design options.  This was a milestone inspection, for now insulation can be placed and dry wall installed.  It now appears that construction may be a bit ahead of schedule.  Chris was not willing to give an estimate, but Jane and I speculate that we may be able to move in around end of July or August, about a month earlier than we had previously thought. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is much more yet to be accomplished and many details for us to take care of.  Those details are sort of fun to work out, like selecting window coverings, ceiling fans, home office details, new furnishings, and in general just getting very excited about the prospect of moving into a brand new house.

That completes the news update for now.  There will be more blogs as we explore our new home state and visit its natural and historic attractions.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2019/4/news-update Mon, 01 Apr 2019 19:06:08 GMT
Another Trip Of A Lifetime https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/11/another-trip-of-a-lifetime  

Jane and I have often wondered exactly how many trips of a lifetime someone can have.  We most definitely have had several and the most recent was our photo safari to Madagascar.  For two weeks (sixteen days actually) we were totally immersed in a uniquely different, foreign culture and environment.  Jane and I were two of the six travelers guided by Mike Byrne of Joseph Van Os, a worldwide expedition company from Vashon Island , Washington.  From San Diego, we flew to Atlanta, then on to Paris to finally land in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, where we started our adventure.

During our safari, we visited nine of Madagascar’s national parks and private reserves to photograph iconic lemurs and reptiles.  In Madagascar, one of the world’s least developed countries, roads are poorly maintained and on many occasions we flew on charter flights between locations.  Although shaped more circular, Madagascar is about the same size as Texas, and our tour concentrated on parks and preserves on the southern portion of the island.

Before heading off to our first preserve, we spent some time exploring around Antananarivo where about twenty percent of Madagascar’s twenty six and a half million people live.  Antananarivo is a high density, congested city with narrow streets packed with street vendors.  Mike guided us to a brick factory, an artisan metal shop and flower market.  At the brick factory we watched male workers pack clay into metal molds by hand to form bricks that were then stacked and air dried.  When these raw bricks were dry, young women and girls would carry them, stacked ten to fourteen at a time on their heads, to the kiln for hardening.  Various metal curios for sale in tourist gift shops and to decorate business lobbies were being created by artisans at the metal shop.  Small metal parts were cut and twisted by women, often assisted by their young children, to be welded and polished by men into artistic objects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first charter flight was from Antananarivo to Morondava on the island’s west coast where the photo safari began.  Not far from Morondava we photographed the iconic baobab trees and survived our first harrowing drive on Madagascar’s unpaved, unmaintained, potholed, deteriorated road to the Kirindy Reserve.  The bumpy jolting ride to Kirindy was rewarded with our first encounter with lemurs, a chameleon, mongoose and Madagascar’s only predator the fossa.  Excitement ran rampant through our small group as we jostled for positions to photograph these endangered and endemic species.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After traveling to several other preserves to photograph lemurs, we happened upon an open street market in Fort Dauphin along Madagascar’s south coast.  We wandered the crowded streets marveling at the diversity of fruits and produce displayed in the stalls by the numerous merchants.  Many villages are without electric power requiring that rural dwellers make almost daily trips to the market to obtain perishable foods, making the market a busy and congested place.  For a photographer not inhibited to take people pictures, the market provided a potpourri of opportunities.  I, on the other hand, am not so inclined and was challenged to get keeper people pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More national parks and reserves were visited after leaving Fort Dauphin, the last of which was Akanin’ny Nofy on the island’s east coast.  Here we were treated with very close encounters with a variety of lemurs.  Lemurs are a species of primate all of which are endemic to Madagascar.  We photographed about eight or ten of the many species that roam Madagascar’s forests.  By far the most difficult to photograph are the nocturnal lemurs, in particular the aye-aye.  The aye-aye is a bazaar creature, reminiscent of a star wars character.  The aye-aye has evolved to feed at night on larvae and grub found under tree bark.  In order to photograph this unique lemur guides have to lure this naturally shy animal to spots were photography is possible.  Guides do this by placing coconuts among low tree branches to temp the aye-aye and then shine flash lights on them so there is sufficient light for photography.

Akanin’ny Nofy nature preserve was our last stop before heading back home.  The journey back to San Diego was an arduous thirty hour ordeal.  Although pretty exhausted, we made it home without any major issues on route.  Our photo safari to Madagascar was fantastic and definitely another trip of a lifetime for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images from the Madagascar trip are located in the Madagascar gallery.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/11/another-trip-of-a-lifetime Fri, 30 Nov 2018 23:53:27 GMT
An Historic Road Trip https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/8/an-historic-road-trip Sometimes you have to go with the flow.  That’s what Jane and I did this summer.  Normally we would arrange a road trip before or after the summer break.  This year, because I wanted to photograph spring flowers at the high elevations of the Cascade Range, we traveled to Oregon and Washington during the high season.  Naturally, we paid the price in both congested highways and lots of people traversing the same trails we were hiking.  But what made this trip momentous and historic is that our faithful 4Runner turned 200,000 miles on the odometer and is still running strong.  When we returned home I treated the vehicle to a much deserved day at a car wash spa for full exterior, interior and engine detailing.

                                                                                              200,000 MILES

The itinerary for this road trip included visits to some of the major volcanic peaks of the Cascades.  We started at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon where Jane was able to reserve, nearly ten months in advance, the last available room in the park lodge.  From there we traveled to Mount Hood where we stayed at the Timberline Lodge, a National Historic Landmark.  We continued our tour north to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington.  There are no accommodations in the Monument but Jane was able to secure a simple, but delightful little cabin at the Silver Cove RV Resort with all the comforts of home.  From Mount St. Helens we continued north to Mount Rainier National Park.  Unfortunately the Park lodge was being renovated and the only rooms available were with shared bathrooms.  We opted, instead, to stay at the Nisqually Inn in Ashford about a twenty minute drive from the Park entrance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As most of you know, all the western states have been plagued with wild fires this summer.  Oregon and Washington were no exceptions.  We encountered smoke most everywhere we traveled.  At Crater Lake the smoke was so severe that the lake water was frequently not visible from the rim trail.  Photographically, the smoke and haze was problematic only when composing distant landscapes of the volcanic mountain peaks.  For close subjects, like the many waterfalls we hiked to, the air was sufficiently clear for nice images.  I must admit, however, that I was disappointed with the adverse conditions and that I was not able to get nice clear images of Crater Lake or Mount Rainier.

To avoid the long, tedious drive south on Interstate 5 through Portland, Sacramento, the central valley and Los Angeles, I had planned a route that took us more easterly through Boise, Idaho, and then south on Highway 93 to Las Vegas and home on Interstate 15.  Along this obscure route home, on U.S. Highway 93 through Nevada, in the little hamlet of Alamo, we discovered a most auspicious and pretentious B & B, the Cowboy’s Dream.  Built by an extremely wealthy widow, this lodge and its décor are truly awesome.  Our room, the Duke Room, named and decorated in honor of John Wayne, was larger than our own living room.  We spent two delightful nights at the Cowboy’s Dream decompressing from our tour through the Cascades before heading home.  It was still a long, hot and hectic drive through Vegas, Victorville and the L.A. basin to reach San Diego. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images from this momentous road trip can be found in the National Parks Gallery under Crater Lake, Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier.  Mount Hood and many of the waterfall images are located in the Oregon Coast and Waterfalls gallery. 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/8/an-historic-road-trip Wed, 29 Aug 2018 21:25:27 GMT
Above the Arctic Circle https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/7/above-the-arctic-circle  

The best way to start this blog is to be upfront and just say that the weather was challenging.  Our trip Above the Arctic Circle was a long one and as is usually the case, the adventure started out very innocently.  A fellow member of the Photo-Naturalists Camera Club had shown me images of a very unique and unusual bird, known as a ruff, he had photographed in Norway.  I was very impressed with the photographs and thought that I would also like to get images of these very picturesque birds.  So I asked Neil if he would ever consider going back to Norway for another chance to photograph these birds.  Neil didn’t hesitate one second in providing an affirmative response.  And that is how it all started, very innocently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working out the logistics for this excursion above the Arctic Circle took time and careful consideration.  As options for flying to Norway were evaluated, it was decided to use Iceland Air because this airline offered a seven day stay-over in Iceland on any ticket from the U.S. to Europe.  We liked the idea of spending time photographing Iceland’s famous waterfalls and landscape on our way to Norway.  So we enthusiastically added a week to the duration of the trip. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane and I were aware of a ferry system that serviced the inaccessible villages along Norway’s northern coast.  In the past, this ferry service was the only lifeline to these remote fishing villages that dot the Norwegian coast.  Today, there are roads, bridges, tunnels and minor airports to support these small communities.  The ferry system still exists, but it has become primarily a tourist attraction and has turned into a lucrative cruise business.  Jane, during her trip research, found that the northern terminus of this ferry/cruise voyage was Kirkenes, the very town where we were going to be photographing.  It didn’t take us long to decide to add the voyage from Kirkenes to Bergen onto our itinerary, adding yet another week to our trip.  So this trip that started out so innocently to photograph the ruff in northern Norway had become a month long excursion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that you know the innocent genesis of this photographic sojourn, let me get to the challenging weather.  Our primary objective was photography and photography, in general, requires reasonably good weather conditions.  Instead, throughout the trip in Iceland, Norway and on the cruise, we encountered very challenging conditions, including heavy overcast skies, high winds, rain, hail, freezing temperatures and snow.  But let me not cast a negative aura over this adventure, which was, in fact, most exciting with lots of new experiences.  Just to see and photograph the ruff was sufficient reward for all the weather challenges we encountered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ruff is a smallish shorebird related to sandpipers.  It winters throughout much of Africa and comes to northern Eurasia, including the northern most areas of Norway, to breed in spring.  The male’s breeding plumage is extraordinary.  This extravagant plumage includes feathered head tufts, orange facial skin, and an elaborate array of feathers that create an ornamental ruff around its shoulders similar to those worn by nobility in the seventeenth century.  It is truly a bazaar and wondrous sight to behold.  We photographed the ruff from a blind at a lek where the males meet to show off their colorful costumes and compete for the opportunity to mate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regardless of the challenges of weather, we had some great and marvelous experiences photographing.  In Iceland we happened upon a large arctic tern breeding colony.  Although Jane and I have seen these amazing migratory birds before, we had never seen so many, so close and totally involved in the breeding process.  Also in Iceland, we photographed at a wetland preserve where we found a variety of birds including the very beautiful red-throated loon.  And, of course, we did find and photograph waterfalls during breaks in the weather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above the Arctic Circle, in northern most Norway, the bird photography was awesome.  Neil had done his research well and we visited several sea cliffs hosting colonies of gannets, puffins, kittywakes, cormorants, razorbills, and a variety of guillemots.  Song birds were also sought out and one of the most difficult to locate and photograph was the bluethroat, a small, colorful bird in the flycatcher family.  Driving to and fro our bird photography locations, I was able to get in some memory shots of the Norwegian country side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen was a singular adventure of its own.  The ship was very nice and the cabin compared favorably to those of cruises we had taken to the Arctic and Antarctic.  I tried very hard to obtain “keeper” shots of the various fjords we traversed but mostly the weather did not cooperate.  In fact, the captain presented us with a certificate authenticating that we had survived a summer arctic storm of hurricane proportion with 30 foot waves and wind gusts approaching 100 miles per hour.  Do I need to say more about the weather?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm still working on titles for the pictures, but in the meantime images of this month long adventure Above the Arctic Circle can be found in the Europe Gallery under Iceland and Norway.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/7/above-the-arctic-circle Tue, 10 Jul 2018 19:45:21 GMT
April Madness https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/5/april-madness The end of April was a bit hectic at our house.  Jane and I had both planned separate, but concurrent, trips.  But then, plans changed.  So I left a week prior to Jane’s trip and got home in time to take her to the airport for her journey to New York.  The day after dropping Jane off, I left for a second short a jaunt while she was having fun in New York City with her friend Gigi.  A week later all was normal again and life was back to its usual routine.

My first trip of April took me to Wisconsin and Minnesota to photography two different species of prairie grouse.  This trip was suggested by Neil Solomon, a Photonaturalist Camera Club friend, who had arranged for us to photograph from blinds set up at leks, specific locations where the male grouse come to display and compete to mate with females.  In order not to disturb the birds during their mating ritual, we had to be inside the blinds well before the birds arrived.  That meant getting up well before dawn in order to be in place as the birds gathered in the predawn twilight.

We first photographed sharp-tailed grouse in the Namekagon Barrens of Wisconsin.  The sharp-tailed grouse is a threatened species and their numbers have declined significantly as native prairie habitat has transitioned to agricultural fields.  The Namekagon Barrens has been set aside as a wildlife area by the Wisconsin Department Of Natural Resources and the blinds have been placed at the lek by the Friends Of The Namekagon Barrens specifically to facilitate viewing of the sharp-tailed grouse mating behavior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharp-tailed grouse were photographed on two successive mornings.  Only about twelve males appeared to compete and we only observed one or two females.   In general, there was not a lot of activity among the males on the lek.  Most of the interaction was limited to bluffing and intimidation with little combative behavior typical among competing males. The lake of females may have accounted for the low turnout of males.  Or, perhaps we simply missed the peak time of mating behavior for this specie.

 

The second photo stop was at the Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Natural Area, in Minnesota, a preserve established by the Nature Conservancy.  There, again we photographed on two successive mornings.  Here we photographed the greater prairie chicken, another species of prairie grouse.  Activity was much greater with an estimated 50 or more birds, including numerous females, on the lek.  Competition was much more intense among the males as the females strutted through the lek making their decisions as to whom to mate with.  Among the younger males there were continual challenges to obtain access to the more central portion of the lek where the females congregated to select mates, resulting intense sparring and jousting with combatants flying into the air.  Consequently, the viewing and photography at the Bluestem Prairie Reserve was much more intense and challenging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After returning home from this short bird photography sojourn, and taking Jane to the airport, I departed early the next morning for another short trip to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.  This trip was made with another photo friend, Bruce Hollingsworth.  The Petrified Forest National Park had been on my mind for some time as a photography destination.  I had never photographed there and it is reasonable close to home, about a day’s drive, and April is a good time, temperature wise, to be in the desert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through the Petrified Forest Field Institute I had made arrangements with a local guide, David Behar, to show us the more photogenic location in the Park.  Bruce and I spent our first day with David becoming familiar with the Park’s attractions.  The next few days we explored the Park by ourselves re-visiting areas David had shown us as well as other locations we discovered on our own.  The weather turned rather nasty on us with cold temperatures, rain and extremely strong winds that was not conducive to photography.  After the cold front passed we did enjoy a final day of photography with balmy conditions and puffy clouds in the sky.  On this last day we also discovered a little visited section of the Park, with lots of petrified wood, right below the Jasper Forest view point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see images from the these two short April trips, go to the Prairie Grouse gallery sub-folder in the Birds gallery folder on the home page and go to the Petrified Forest National Park gallery sub-folder under the National Parks and Monuments gallery folder on the home page.

 

ENJOY !!!

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/5/april-madness Wed, 16 May 2018 23:08:51 GMT
Five Days In The Desert https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/3/five-days-in-the-desert My latest jaunt was to explore the Borrego Badlands in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.  Again, for this exploration my friend Bruce came along.  Bruce has more experience navigating with GPS instruments than I have and that proved to be indispensable.  We headquartered in Borrego Springs at the Oasis Inn.  When Jane and I had stayed there a few months ago, when we were in the desert to photograph the Orionid meteor shower, we had a mouse in the room that kept us on edge most of the night.  This time, Bruce and I were not bothered by a mouse but instead a noisy ceiling fan kept us from a restful slumber.

From the Oasis Inn, we day-tripped to various locations in the Park.  Typically, we left before sunrise, returned during mid-day, and ventured out again to capture sunsets.  Photographers are an odd lot.  For sunrise and sunset we want high, wispy cirrus clouds to capture the sun’s color, but at night we want clear skies to capture dim star light.  The rest of the day we want dramatic cumulus clouds to intensity arid desert scenes.  Well, of course, we could not have it all go our way.  Star photography was spoiled by dark layers of low, stratus clouds and some days the desert sky was devoid of any clouds.  There was sufficient variety in cloud cover, however, to make the exploration worthwhile.

In preparation for this trip, I had made a list of the areas in the Park I wanted to photograph.  We were able to find all the sites in the north portion of the Park but will have to revisit the Borrego Badlands to photograph sites in the southern portion.  A mix up with our reservations at the Butterfield Ranch RV Resort caused us to miss that part of the explorations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the sites we visited to photograph were in remote areas of the Park, accessed by way of unimproved, dirt trails.  We had good maps and for many locations also had coordinates.  That is where Bruce’s experience with navigating with global coordinates was essential.  With his GPS device he was able to not only point us in the right direction, but could also keep track of our route so we could find our way back.  Irrespective of this technology, at times we struggled big time to find our way.  This was especially the case when we decided to take a short cut to the Pumpkin Patch from Split Mountain Road through the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.  This is a vast area of the desert where ATVs, quads and dune buggies can drive wherever they want and as fast as they want.  The entire area has been traversed by recreation vehicles and established trails only exist on paper, like our map.  Since we could not discern an actual dirt road, we just followed the most likely tracks and that got us a bit lost.  Thanks in part to some helpful campers, we eventually found our way but could not really vouch that we found a short cut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So not only was this an exploration of the Borrego Badlands it was also an adventure in navigating the dirt tracks and always being grateful that we found our way.  Some of the off-the-beaten-track locations we photographed were The Slot, Rainbow Wash, Hills Of The Moon Wash, Pumpkin Patch, Split Mountain, the Elephant Tree, Seventeen Palms Oasis, and the dry lake bed of Lake Clark.

Images from this trip can be found in the State Parks gallery under Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

SunburstSunburstRays Of Sunlight Streaming Across Rippled Sand Dunes With Small Animal Tracks, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/3/five-days-in-the-desert Fri, 23 Mar 2018 22:22:38 GMT
First Trip Of 2018 https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/3/first-trip-of-2018 Twenty-eighteen is off to a fantastic start.  I just returned from my first photo trip of the year.  Some time ago, perhaps a year or two, I came upon a description of a very unique and interesting location to photograph.  Located in a very remote and desolate area, in the far southeast section of Nevada, near the Arizona strip, and two hours south on dirt roads from Mesquite, is a section of red, eroded Aztec sandstone called Little Finland.  The name is derived from the way the sandstone has eroded into many fin like features.  I had wanting to venture out to this area after learning about it and seeing images by other photographers.  So in mid-February my photo-buddy Bruce Hollingsworth and I set forth to explore Little Finland.

Armed with maps, written directions and GPS coordinates, we started out from Mesquite full of enthusiasm and great expectation.  At the outset, the road was paved but so full of potholes it was rougher than the subsequent dirt tracks we followed.  Have you ever noticed how, in an unfamiliar setting, the way out always seems longer than the way back?  Well that is what we experienced.  It just felt that we had gone for miles and miles without reaching a recognizable waypoint on the map.  Little Finland is situated in a recently created national monument, so when we came upon the large Bureau Of Land Management sign indicating we had entered the Gold Butte National Monument, we knew we were on the right road.  It was a long, bumpy two hours, however, before we reached our final destination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is difficult to describe the intricate and bizarre sandstone shapes we found in Little Finland.  Mother Nature really demonstrated some of her most creative erosional work here.  With a little imagination, we could see all sort of creatures, some rather ghoulish, emerge from the sandstone.  Another name for Little Finland is Hobgoblin’s Playground and that more aptly describes the area.  Bruce and I enjoyed our foray into this strange and fantastic playground.

To find images from this trip, go to the National Parks and Monuments gallery and look for Gold Butte National Monument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To cap off this trip, we also spent a couple of days photographing at the Valley of Fire Nevada State Park.  Bruce had not been there but Jane and I had photographed there a couple of years ago.  You can see images from the Valley of Fire in the State Parks gallery.  I have only included a few shots from this trip to add to the images already on the site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, on January 31 of this year, there was a lunar trifecta, a full moon, blue moon and blood moon (as a result of a total lunar eclipse).  The phenomenon was observable in San Diego, so Jane and I got up very early that morning in order to be in position to photograph the event.  The image below is the result of that early morning effort.  Only the first half of the eclipse is shown, from full moon to blood moon.  The second half of the eclipse, from blood moon to full moon, occurred as the sun was rising and images from that portion of the eclipse did not blend well with the others.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2018/3/first-trip-of-2018 Thu, 01 Mar 2018 18:46:10 GMT
Last Entry Of The Year https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/12/last-entry-of-the-year It is the last week of 2017 and I’m composing my last blog about our adventurous travels for the year.  This narrative is about our very exciting trip to New Zealand. It has been nearly a month since we returned and I’m finally putting my memories down on paper (so to speak).  The trip to New Zealand was such an amazing experience that, even now after nearly a month, Jane and I will stop what we are doing and reflect on the wonderful time we had.  So let me begin this tale at the beginning.

New Zealand had been on our unofficial “bucket” list for some time.  There is just something mystical about New Zealand.  Anyway, about a year ago I happened upon a New Zealand photographer’s website that offered a fifteen-day guided photography tour of New Zealand’s south island.  After some discussion and a review of our finances, Jane and I decided to go for it.  The entire trip, from when we left home and returned home was 22 days.  New Zealand is a long way from San Diego.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our tour started in Christchurch.  We arrived a day early, in case of unanticipated travel delays, and enjoyed sightseeing around Christchurch.  There was still plenty of residual earthquake damage to be seen around town although much reconstruction has occurred since the devastating earthquake of 2011.  We sauntered about town to take in the sights and spent an enjoyable afternoon in the botanical garden, after all we were in the southern hemisphere and it was late spring in New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our photographer guide was Petr Hlavacek, an immigrant from the Czech Republic, who has made New Zealand his home.  Petr resides on the west side of the south island and specializes in panoramic landscape photography.  Since landscape photography has been a challenge for me, this tour was a perfect opportunity to both savor the scenic beauty of New Zealand and attempt to capture it in photographic images.  Jane and I were not disappointed!  Petr guided us to some of the most amazingly scenic locations on the south island and helped me tremendously in visualizing panoramic compositions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We photographed at six of the south island’s nine national parks.  Even though all the parks had stunning landscapes, Petr let us know that there were three outstanding locations which he referred to as the “three jewels” of his tour.  The three jewels were a stay on Fox Glacier, an overnight on Doubtful Sound, and a visit to Mount Cook Village.  Mount Cook (renamed Aoraki/Mount Cook) is the highest mountain in New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fox Glacier

The sojourn to Fox Glacier involved a helicopter flight and was totally weather dependent.  Fortunately for us, New Zealand was experiencing a warm dry spell and we experienced no inclement weather during our entire stay.  So, the helicopter flight to the Fox Glacier was on.  Briefly, this first “jewel” of the trip involved an afternoon flight up to a mountaineering hut on Fox Glacier, an overnight stay at the hut, a flight the next morning to a lower portion of the glacier, and then a final flight back down the mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flight up the mountain was an exciting experience as the helicopter hugged the mountain side on its way up the glacier.  After only a few minutes of noisy flight, there was nothing but snow and ice below us.  The Fox Glacier icefall (where the underlying bedrock steepens causing the glacial ice to flow faster and chaotic crevasses form on the glacier surface) was a majestic and unforgettable sight.  All too soon we arrived at our destination, the Pioneer Hut, situated on a steep ridge high atop the Fox Glacier névé (the snow field at the ahead of the glacier).

Pioneer Hut is a Spartan mountaineering shelter at the head of Fox Glacier operated by the New Zealand Alpine Club.  The hut has bunk beds that can accommodate up to 16 people.  Counting our party, the hut was fully occupied with mountaineers.  Some of the men were eating, or studying their maps, and others sleeping in preparation for their treks onto the glacier.  Going onto the glacier was not a simple matter, as we learned firsthand.  You don’t traverse the glacier on your own.  Even hiking the short distance from the helicopter landing area to the hut, we needed to fit into climbing harnesses and be tied to each other with ropes.  Snow shoes kept us from sinking into the snow as we trudged, single file, to the hut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside, the hut was austere with an outer anteroom for storing boots and hiking gear, a long cooking counter, a small eating area with a table and bench seats, and taking up most of the space were the bunk beds.  The bunk beds, however, were not individual bunks.  They were bunk platforms with each platform having space for four people to sleep.  So Jane and I found ourselves huddled together sleeping with two other mountaineers on our shared platform.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is difficult to describe the sense of isolation and awe generated by being on top of a living glacier.  Jane and I were enthralled with the experience and captivated by the scenic beauty of shear mountain peaks protruding above the glacial snow.  In the afternoon we were harnessed, tied together, and shod with snow shoes by our mountaineer guide and led onto the glacier for sunset photography.  The sun cast long shadows of our small group that were mere specks on the vastness of the Fox Glacier névé.

As a glacier is slowly pulled down a mountain valley by gravity, the snow that caps the glacial ice is slowly melted away at the lower elevations.  This results in hard, glistening, blue ice being visible at the surface of the glacier.  That is where we were transported to next.  After some early sunrise photography at the hut, the helicopter returned to relocate us lower on the glacier to photograph ice caves.  This time we were shod with steel crampons to secure our footing on the hard and slippery ice.  Our mountaineering guide shepherded us cautiously around dangerous crevasses and weak arches in the ice.  Keeping our footing, even with the steel crampons securely fastened to our boots, was a challenge as we attempted to photograph the colorful blue ice caves.  After a couple of hours scrambling over the hard ice, the helicopter returned to take us back down the mountain ending our unique adventure on the Fox Glacier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doubtful Sound

The second adventure in Petr’s jewelry case was an overnight expedition on Doubtful Sound.  This was a more civilized “jewel” with an all-inclusive menu and bar.  This adventure began at a small village on the eastern shore of Lake Manapouri where we boarded a ferry to transport us across the 55 square mile lake.  At the western side of the lake, we disembarked and were loaded onto coaches that carried us some thirteen miles, over the Wilmot Pass, from Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound.  There we boarded the Fjordland Navigator for our overnight expedition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, Doubtful Sound is not a sound (arm of a sea) at all.  The waterway is a deep and narrow glacier-formed fjord.  Our ship navigated through these steep, u-shaped, canyons quietly.  The canyon walls were densely covered with rain forest vegetation and rose abruptly from the calm waters of the fjord.  Clouds of mist shrouded the high peaks, adding mystery and drama as we ventured farther and farther towards the Tasman Sea.  Calm winds and mild temperatures made our trip, and photography, most enjoyable.  The food was good, the wine tasty, and this time we only had to share our cabin with two others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we neared the end of the fjord at the Tasman Sea, we encountered a small colony of New Zealand fur seals basking and frolicking on some rocky outcrops.  Here photography was more difficult as the swell from the sea was more severe and the seals were some distance away.  And, on our way back to the head of the fjord, the on-board naturalist announced the spotting of the rare and endangered Fjordland Crested Penguin.  Fortunately, I had the proper lens on my camera and was able to get a few images before the birds wandered into the dense undergrowth where their burrow was hidden.

Mount Cook

Petr’s third tour jewel was Mount Cook.  Mount Cook is New Zealand highest mountain at just over 11,200 feet and is where Sir Edmund Hillary honed his climbing skills prior to ascending Mount Everest.  Like Mount Denali in Alaska, Mount Cook is frequently hidden from view due to storm clouds coming from the Tasman Sea.  Mount Cook is a sacred mountain in Māori culture.  So, like Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) the mountain’s name has been changed to Aoraki/Mount Cook.  For us, the good weather we had experienced so far in our trip held and we able to see and photograph Aorkaki/Mount Cook from afar and close up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only was Aoraki/Mount Cook one of Petr’s jewels, this majestic mountain is also the crown of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  During most of our photography tour we traveled along the west side of the south island parallel to the Southern Alps.  Aoraki/Mount Cook and the Southern Alps, though not extremely high compared to the Rocky Mountains, are snowcapped and very rugged.  The Rocky Mountains are, in geologic terms, rather old and eroded.  The Southern Alps, on the other hand, are geologically very young and erosion has not rounded their peaks or filled their valleys with sediment.  Glaciers left over from the last ice age are still present in large numbers in the Southern Alps, unlike Glacier National Park in Montana where glaciers have almost totally disappeared.  For anyone who loves mountains, the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mount Cook evoke a deep sense of wonder and awe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the photography tour with Petr Hlavacek, Jane and I rounded out our New Zealand adventure with a short side trip to Dunedin on the southeastern side of the South Island.  We had learned from friends in San Diego that Dunedin was the location where some of New Zealand’s most unique wildlife could be photographed.  Before leaving home, we arranged with Elm Wildlife Tours in Dunedin to visit an albatross colony and observe endangered yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula.  Sunny skies again favored us as we boarded a sightseeing boat, sailed past the Taiaroa Lighthouse and into the calm water of the South Pacific Ocean.  From the boat we were able to photograph several species of ellusive albatross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow-eyed penguins spend most of their day foraging for food in the ocean, coming ashore only in the evening to spend the night in their burrows.  Our Elm tour naturalist brought us to a permanent wooden blind from where we could see the penguins, one by one, waddle up from the ocean onto a sandy beach and make their way slowly to the grassy slopes where their burrows were hidden.  Penguins are a delight to watch and the yellow-eyed ones were no exception.  Just the way they sway side to side while strutting across the sand makes me smile.  Negotiating an obstacle, or jumping among boulders, with their short, stubby legs, the penguins seem totally uncoordinated, yet they always manage not to fall over.

With the frolic and humor of watching rare and endangered yellow-eyed penguins, our New Zealand adventure pretty much came to an end.  All that remained was the long, long flight home.

Images from our New Zealand adventure can be viewed in the New Zealand gallery.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/12/last-entry-of-the-year Sat, 30 Dec 2017 00:50:02 GMT
A Consolation Trip https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/10/a-consolation-trip Normally, around the end of September Jane and I would find ourselves up north in Montana enjoying the grandeur of Glacier National Park.  This year, however, we were forced to make a last minute decision to cancel that autumn trip due to the devastating wildfires in and around the Park.  The consequence of that unfortunate cancelation was that we now found ourselves in the unaccustomed situation of being at home for a bunch of weeks rather than traveling and photographing.  What was I going to do with all that unexpected time on my hands?  I’m not terribly good at being at home for too long.  Not that there are no “projects” to be done around the house, it is just that I’m not a handyman and rather good at procrastination.  So, as Jane watched me get more and more bored and restless, she came up with a brilliant suggestion.  Why don’t I try and get a timeshare trade somewhere so we can take a bit of a trip?

That is how our consolation trip to Sedona, Arizona, came about.  Turned out we were able to get a last minute timeshare trade to Sedona for the first week of October.  The long way to Sedona, up U.S. Highway 95 from Yuma and over the mountains through Prescott and Jerome, is only about a day’s drive from San Diego.  So the consolation trip to Sedona was an easy one week vacation and, needless to say, I was a happy camper to be on another journey.  Sedona is surrounded by picturesque red rock formations and I looked forward to making some panoramic landscape images.  In addition, it turned out that the 2017 Harvest Moon, the full moon nearest to the start of fall, or autumnal equinox, was to occur during the first week in October.  That meant some more moon photography practice for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a consolation trip, this short hop to Sedona turned out to be a truly astonishing junket. The timeshare unit was spacious and homey, there was a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, and numerous trails to hike.  We enjoyed all of it, eating sleeping and hiking.  We also explored some of the backcountry on dirt tracts to ancient Hopi cliff dwelling sites.  All in all, we much appreciated this last minute consolation trip to Sedona.

I have not made a separate gallery for this trip to Sedona, so don't worry if you can't find any additional images from this trip.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/10/a-consolation-trip Thu, 12 Oct 2017 23:03:36 GMT
Solar Eclipse https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/8/solar-eclipse What can be said about the great American total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, that hasn’t already been voiced all over the internet, television and printed media?  This spectacular astronomical phenomenon, visible across the entire nation, from coast to coast, was indeed all it was forecast to be.  Jane and I traveled from San Diego to Rexburg, Idaho, to be in the middle of the “totality” experience.  The accolades expressed by the pundits from NASA, the Science Channel, and NOAA for this unique interaction between the sun, moon and earth were confirmed by us for the two minutes that we observed the magic of the sun’s corona erupting into space.  Being awash in the darkness and chill of a total solar eclipse, while captivated by the dancing light of the sun’s coronal flares discharging from behind the moon into the atmosphere, was an exhilarating and exciting event.

2017 Solar Eclipse2017 Solar EclipsePanoramic Composition of the 2017 Solor Eclipse Photographed at Rexburg, Idaho

Astronomers predict another solar eclipse will travel through the middle of the country, from south to north, in 2024.  Who knows, perhaps we will travel to Texas to catch that one also.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/8/solar-eclipse Sun, 27 Aug 2017 23:36:01 GMT
Denali National Park & Preserve https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/8/denali-national-park-preserve August found Jane and me in Denali National Park and Preserve.  We took advantage of an Alaska Airlines two-for-one ticket deal.  I had wanting to go back to Denali National Park to try for some of the iconic wildlife to be photographed there.  The last time Jane and I were in Denali I was still photographing with film, so you can imagine how long ago that was.  Anyway, after the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies and Ancient Puebloan sites of Mesa Verde, we packed our bags for a short trip to Alaska’s premier park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From previous trips to Denali, we knew that access to the interior of the park was restricted to busses only, no private vehicles beyond Mile Marker 15.  There are a variety of bus tours available and our strategy was to use the Shuttle Bus that allowed passengers to get off and then get back on another Shuttle Bus, provided that there were seats available.  We purchased Shuttle Bus tickets that allowed us to travel to the end of the line, some 85 miles and five hours one way, into the park, on three separate days.  We left on the early morning bus each day but our strategy of getting on and off did not work out as anticipated.  For one, the weather was always threatening and it rained pretty much every day, although not continuously throughout the day.  Then, even though the bus left each morning with plenty of empty seats they were quickly filled by campers picked up along the way.  We feared that once we got off the bus, it would be difficult to get back on another without having to wait a long time, potentially in the rain.  So we pretty much rode the full busses from beginning to end each day, photographing from the bus as best we could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the Shuttle Bus rides took all day, we had allowed a couple of days for exploring on our own.  Those explorations proved to offer some fairly good photo opportunities.  At Horseshoe Lake we encountered a beaver that had just felled a branch from a birch tree and was dragging it from the forest to a small pond where he commenced eating the fresh green leaves.  We found a colony of pika near the Savage River Loop Trail head and spend lots of time watching and photographing these small little rodents as they foraged among their rocky habitat.  Further along the Savage River Loop Trail we noticed arctic ground squirrels digging for roots and eating seeds from wilted flower stalks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though we had gotten glimpses of Mount Denali from the bus, the high mountain peaks were obscured by clouds and overcast skies most of the time.  Consequently, we decided to treat ourselves to a scenic flight thinking that the plane would be able to fly above the overcast and allow us to experience the grandeur of Denali.  Our thinking turned out to be correct.  Taking off under cloudy conditions, with not much prospect of clear skies at all, when we approached the mountain we were above the clouds and Mount Denali appeared in all its glory as if floating on billowing cushions. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To view images from our Denali trip go to the National Parks and Monuments gallery and then find Denali National Park and Preserve.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/8/denali-national-park-preserve Thu, 24 Aug 2017 23:10:53 GMT
Toot My Horn https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/7/toot-my-horn It is not often that I get to toot my own horn, but here goes.  Nature Photographer magazine, my favorite for finding great photography locations, has recently published three articles I had written about great photo locations in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.  The Wyoming article featured the wild horses of McCullough Peaks near Cody, Wyoming.  The Utah article highlighted the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument established in 1996. The Grand Staircase is often overlooked by photographers in favor of the more famous parks in Utah, but it has some really outstanding photo locations.  Finally, Great Basin National Park was the topic of the Nevada article.  It is a wonderful park to visit in the fall when the aspen trees are in blazing colors.

You can probably find the magazines at Barns & Noble, or perhaps online. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/7/toot-my-horn Mon, 31 Jul 2017 21:37:16 GMT
Rocky Mountain High https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/7/rocky-mountain-high Jane and I, along with our photo buddy Bruce, spent the last week of June in the rarefied air of Colorado’s high Rocky Mountains.  Since there were three of us traveling, and since it was a photography journey, there was too much luggage for the back of the 4Runner.  This trip required use of the “Thule”, a rooftop cargo carrier.  The Thule had been patiently waiting in the garage for the next trip it was needed.  We last used the Thule on our Alaska Highway adventure in August 2013.  So the Thule and the three adventurers were looking forward to another great sojourn.

We stayed at a vacation rental cabin just outside Idaho Springs along Chicago Creek.  Doesn’t sound like Colorado from these names, but we were definitely in the high Rocky Mountains.  From the relatively low elevation of 7,600 feet at the cabin, we made day trips to the top of Mount Evans at 14,000 feet.  Why, you ask, would we deny ourselves the dense, thick air of sea level?  The answer is to photograph mountain goat families that forage near the summit of Mount Evans.

From our rental cabin, the trip to the top of Mount Evans takes about an hour along a paved, winding, steep and narrow, two-lane, roadway.   The scenery along the way was stunning with dense, healthy stands of conifers.  Above timberline, the road traverses subarctic rocky tundra with a myriad of delicate, small wildflowers.  Above timberline, the road also becomes steeper with numerous switchbacks, limited sight distance, and no guardrails along the steep downhill side of the road.

We typically made this trip early most mornings in order to be at the summit of Mount Evans with good morning light and to maximize the possibility of sighting wildlife.  We were not disappointed with these early departures.  Every trip to the top resulted in our being able to photograph mountain goat nannies with young kids playing along the boulders, yellow bellied marmots soaking up the warm sun, and small pika, the most elusive of our targets.  When not looking through the camera viewfinder, we were entertained by the antics of the energetic young mountain goat kids.  At this early age of their lives, they were already pushing and shoving to show who was boss.  Their favorite game was to play “king of the boulder” with as many as five or six of the lively white fur balls vying to be the last one remaining on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As can be expected on top of a 14,000 foot mountain peak, the wind was ubiquitous, cold and blistering.  We had to seek shelter in the 4Runner on several occasions.  We were also not alone on the mountain top.  Other photographers and wildlife enthusiasts were there to appreciate being so near to these wild animals.  During one of our forays to the protection of the vehicle, Jane engaged a fellow photographer in some shop talk.  She found out there was a lake some distance north of Idaho Springs that was a sure bet for photographing moose.  That night we Googled the location, found directions and decided to head there the next day.

Brainard Lake was nearly a two hour drive from the cabin.  In order to ensure good lighting for photography, we were up at 4:30 AM, out the door at 5:00 AM and at Brainard Lake at 7:00 AM.  Of course, we had no idea where to look for the moose.  After parking the 4Runner in the day-use parking area, we just headed towards the lake.  Not knowing where to go, we turned right at the lake’s edge where we ran into another photographer we told us we were heading in the wrong direction.  We turned around and hustled over to a dense area of willows behind a stand of pine trees.  Jane, our premier spotter, was first to see the moose.  We crept through the stand of trees and counted four big male moose with outstanding racks covered in velvet browsing on willow shoots.  By about 8:30 AM the sun was getting hotter and the moose wandered off into the cool, dense forest.  What an extraordinary experience that was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To complete our Colorado adventure we spent the first week of July at Mesa Verde National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Although over 7,000 feet in elevation, Mesa Verde is far enough south to result in temperatures much higher than the cool atmosphere of the high Rockies.  We changed to cooler attire and put away the long telephoto lenses in favor of the shorter wide angle ones.  The popularity of this unique archaeological area has resulted in the Park Service limiting access to the most outstanding cliff dwellings only by Ranger led tours.  Fifty tickets are available for each tour and could only be purchased up to two day in advance.  We were in the Park long enough to be able to get tickets for all three of the Ranger led tours.

 

Photographing the Ancient Puebloan ruins was a challenge.  It is not like photographing wildlife where the unique characteristic of the animal carries the image.  This is landscape photography where the need for a dynamic composition, exceptional lighting and a dramatic sky are mandatory.  All I can say in my defense is that I tried.

You can be a judge.  The images from Mesa Verde are located in the National Parks and Monument gallery.  Images from Mount Evans and Brainard Lake are located in the Mount Evans 2017 gallery for the time being.  I will probably be moving them to the Hooves, Antlers and Horns gallery and the Young Animals gallery in the future.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/7/rocky-mountain-high Tue, 18 Jul 2017 23:54:34 GMT
A Tropical Adventure https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/6/a-tropical-adventure How can one possibly describe three weeks in the highlands of the Central Andean Mountains and the low rain forests of Amazonia, other than simply unforgettable.   Over a year in planning, this unforgettable adventure turned out to be ever so much more than Jane and I had envisioned.  It started out simply enough as a two week bird photography tour to Peru, but then we extended the trip with an additional week of bird photography in Ecuador.   We rationalized the additional week to maximize the adventure since we would already be in South America.  All in all, we were gone nearly a month when you throw in travel time.

We commenced our travels by flying from San Diego, via Dallas/Fort Worth, to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  As is our custom, we arrive a day before the start of the photo tour and experienced a hasty exploration of Quito’s historic district, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Founded in 1534 by Spanish conquistadors, on the ruins of an ancient Inca city, Quito has one of the best preserved historic centers of Spanish America, according to UNESCO.  Situated at over 9,000 feet in elevation, we experienced our first signs of breathlessness as we wandered along the steep, narrow streets of Quito.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every Monday morning there is a changing of the guard ceremony in front of the presidential palace in Quito.  This ceremony includes a lot of pomp and circumstance with a military band and mounted soldiers in elaborate, historic uniforms.  We stumbled upon this festive celebration during our exploration of the old city center.  The Plaza Grande, filled with locals and tourists alike, was inundated with scores of street vendors hawking their trinkets and treats.  After the ceremony, and away from the crowded plaza, Jane consummated some intricate negotiations with a street vendor for several colorful scarves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we met up with David Hemmings of Nature’s Photo Adventures (www.naturesphotoadventures.com) to start our Ecuador bird photography tour.  Our first destination was the Tandayapa Bird Lodge located about 70 kilometers (43 miles) northwest of Quito.  By car, this trip took about 2 hours and that should give some idea about driving conditions in and around Quito.  In general, streets in all metropolitan areas we visited are narrow, with limited sight distance, and extremely congested with people and cars.  Streets are aligned in a random, haphazard grid system dating back to a time when there were no cars.  Drivers compete fiercely for any space between vehicles, much like bumper cars, particularly as multiple cars and buses attempt to make turns onto the many one-way streets.  That is why you need a local driver who knows the rules of engagement and shortcuts to avoid the most congested areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived frazzled but without incident at the Tandayapa Bird Lodge to enjoy our first foray into photographing the unique hummingbirds of Ecuador.  The Tandayapa Bird Lodge is located in the rain forest and we certainly had our share of rain during our brief visit.  Several times we had to retreat inside to avoid the worst of the rainy weather.  We surmised that we experienced more rain during our two days at Tandayapa than during the entire San Diego rainy season.  The chef made up for the inclement weather by creating some extraordinary deserts for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Tandayapa, we traveled to the Cabanãs San Isidro, located about 187 kilometers (115 miles) to the southeast.  Unfortunately, that meant we had to go back through the labyrinth of streets in Quito again.  Scenery along the way, however, was fantastic and more than made up for this inconvenience.  We journeyed through narrow, winding canyons with high, steep towering mountains, covered with pristine, verdant rain forest vegetation.  Gigantic waterfalls were encountered dropping hundreds of feet from the steep mountain sides.  We also crossed over one of Ecuador’s highest Andean mountain passes, Papallacta, at over 13,000 feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of the lodges we visited in Ecuador, Cabanãs San Isidro was by far the most luxurious.  Our room was like a large sun porch, spacious with a huge bed and tall, floor to ceiling, windows on three sides.  Lodge facilities were some distance from the main, dirt track leaving us with the feeling of being absorbed into the rain forest.  The grounds had abundant, vividly colored native flowers, hosting butterflies that fluttering from flower to flower collecting nectar.  We also encountered some unique bird species at this lodge that were a challenge to photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Cabanãs San Isidro we backtracked about 50 kilometers (30 miles) along the paved highway to the Guango Lodge.  This time we did not have to traverse all the way back to Quito.  Guango is a large property and we ventured out on several trails along the Rio Quijos looking for birds to photograph.  Although the lodge is popular with birders we were the only overnight guests at Guango during our two day stay.  We did have a few birding groups stop by to share the spectacle of feisty hummingbirds competing for sugar water at the many feeders scattered throughout the property.  Jane added a few new species to our bird list while we were at Guango.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guango Lodge was our last bird photography location in Ecuador.  From there we traveled back to Quito and then flew to Lima, Peru, for the next phase of this unforgettable adventure.  In Lima, we met Dali and Neil Solomon who joined us for the two-week Peru portion of the photography tour.  We did not dawdle in Lima but continued on to Cusco the gateway to Machu Picchu.  Far from being the quaint and charming small village we imagined, Cusco was a sprawling, bustling city with nearly half a million people and its own congested maze of streets and byways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Cusco we continued on to Machu Picchu.  That excursion turned out to be a unique adventure of its own.  By car (with a driver guide) we maneuvered through the hectic traffic jams of Cusco and through the high and dry Andean highlands from an elevation of over 12,000 feet down to the small village of Ollantaytambo at 9,000 feet where the habitat begins its transition to rain forest.  At Ollantaytambo we boarded a train that follows the Urubamba River down to an elevation of 6,700 feet at Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo).  The train ride was a pleasant, relaxing break from the tense, “back seat driving” along the busy, two-lane highway from Cusco.  All in all, by car and train, it took most of the morning to arrive at our destination in Aguas Calientes even though the overall distance is only about 120 kilometers (75 miles).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aguas Calientes is a hodgepodge of buildings built on steep mountain sides.  There is no vehicular traffic in the town.  All provisions, supplies and construction material arrived by train and are transported by hand, mostly in wheelbarrows, from the train depot to final destinations.  The town subsists on tourism and is crowded with inns, hostels, B & B’s, lodges and restaurants of assorted price range and quality.  Our lodge, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel was one of, if not the, best in town.  It was a pleasure to stay there, removed from the hustle and bustle of the main village.  The gardens are well tended with hummingbird feeders strategically located throughout.  We were able to photograph some very colorful species of tanagers that were feeding on bananas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu requires a bus ride from town up to the citadel. Bus tickets and departures are carefully monitored to control the total number of people entering this historic icon of the Inca civilization.  We visited the Inca ruins twice, once on the afternoon of our arrival in Aguas Calientes and again the following morning.  Each time, the entrance gate was crowded with visitors queued to gain access.  Once inside the historic site, however, the crowds quickly dispersed into the vast area of this ancient Inca city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Machu Picchu did not disappoint.  Even after seeing many published pictures of the ruins and reading about the Inca civilization, being there and seeing this magnificent edifice with its many buildings, temples and terraces was indeed a gratifying and humbling experience.  Sitting quietly on the same bedrock that the citadel is built upon and contemplating Inca life at this remote location, deep in the rain forest jungle, it was not difficult to develop a deep appreciation for the ingenuity, creativity and vision of the people living and worshiping here.  Visiting Machu Picchu had been a long time “bucket list” item that has now been realized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the majesty of Machu Picchu and the ambiance of the Inkaterra Hotel, we continued with our Peru bird photography tour.  We journeyed back to Cusco and then on to Peru’s Manú National Park and Biosphere Reserve.  According to our guide Steve Sanchez (www.perubirdingexpeditions.com), the park is as large as Switzerland.  To put that in a context familiar to us, Manú is twice the size of Yellowstone National Park and about three times larger than the state of Delaware.   It is a big, remote, rugged place! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We approached the park from the south, a long 150 kilometer (93 mile) drive from Cusco.  Most of the approach to the park was on a rough graded, dirt track that became even rougher, muddier and slower as Juan, our driver, maneuvered the many switchbacks and drainage dips within the park.  Rain also hampered our progress as we were blocked by a substantial mud slide that has washed out a portion of the track.  Fortunately, we were able to backtrack to our first accommodation in the park, the Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station.  That is when we came to appreciate how remote and primitive lodges in Manú National Park are.  The room was small, rustic with few amenities, but in general adequate.  The downside was the lack of hot water and electricity.  The biological station created its own electric power with a generator, but only ran the generator for three hours in the evening from 6 to 9 PM.  During our stay, there was a generator failure and power did not commence until about 7 PM, about an hour after sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time we left the Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station, the mudslide area had been sufficiently restored to allow us to slowly and cautiously pass over the damaged roadway, and we proceeded to the Cock-Of-The-Rock Lodge, just 35 kilometers (22 miles) further into the park.  Here our room came equipped with candles to light the cabin when the generator was not operating.  Hot water, however, continued to elude us when we learned that the water supply to the water heater had been damaged by recent, heavy rains.  Regardless of these little setbacks, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Cock-Of-The-Rock Lodge.  In addition to hummingbird photography, this is where we encountered a Woolly Monkey troop that liked to raid the dining hall at the lodge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The national bird of Peru is the Andean cock-of-the-rock and only a 15 minute drive on the Manú Road from this lodge was an Andean cock-of-the-rock lek, a traditional place where male Andean cock-of-the-rock birds assemble during the mating season and engage in competitive displays that attract females.  The best time to observe this display ritual was during the late afternoon hours, which in a dark rain forest is not the best for photography.  We visited the lek twice and observed the birds perform their competitive displays from a crudely built, wooden blind.  It was most fascinating and intriguing to watch.  Several males would swoop in from the dense forest and perch on tree branches where they could be observed by females and competitors.  The birds would then proceed to show off their bright red plumage by bowing, jumping along their perches, spreading and flapping their wings, all the while vocalizing loudly with sharp calls.  Then, as if an alarm had sounded, they one-by-one disappeared back into the dense forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just as we assumed our adventure had reached its peak, we departed the Cock-Of-The-Rock Lodge for the Amazonia Lodge.  This required not only another 45 kilometers (28 miles) of navigating the treacherous Manú road but also a 20 minute ride in a long, narrow, wooden boat on the Madre de Dios River.  Just this voyage was sufficient reason to rate this trip as an unforgettable adventure.  The photography at the Amazonia Lodge was challenging but had its rewards with some unique species, including the rufous crested coquette hummingbird and the prehistoric looking hoatzin, added to our bird list and portfolio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Amazonia Lodge, it was a long haul back to Cusco where we dropped David Hemmings off at the airport for his flight back to British Columbia, Canada.  Dali, Neil, Jane and I spent another day and half in Cusco where we enjoyed some guided tours provided by Tours By Locals (www.toursbylocals.com).  After that, it was a flight back to Lima and then home via Miami.  Nearly a month from start to finish this will always be remembered as one of our incredible journeys.

Images of the many birds photographed can be viewed in the Ecuador Birds and Peru Birds galleries.  Images of Machu Picchu are in that gallery.

 

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/6/a-tropical-adventure Fri, 16 Jun 2017 16:41:32 GMT
Spring Break https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/4/spring-break Following the March Madness of Death Valley, I looked forward to Spring Break.  For our spring break Jane and I traveled to Tucson, Arizona, for some photography in the Sonoran Desert.  My primary objective was to find and photograph the fragrant white blossoms of the saguaro cactus.  By all accounts, I knew that it was early in the season for saguaro blossoms, but early April fit into our overall travel schedule.  So we packed our bags (mostly my bags stuffed with photo gear) and headed east to Tucson where Jane had found a quaint, out-of-the-way casita to rent.  The location, like the casita itself, turned out to be perfect.  We were only ten minutes from the Saguaro National Park visitor center and about fifteen from the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We met some friends from the Photonaturalists Camera Club, Neil and Dali Solomon, who had been photographing birds near Sierra Vista, and spent our first day with them.  Together we toured the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum in the morning and enjoyed a night sky program at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.  Neil is an avid bird photographer and his images can be found at www.nsolomonphoto.com.  The program at Kitt Peak was fascinating and was highlighted with night sky observations through a telescope.  Pretty neat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were definitely too early in the season for saguaro blossoms.  The forest of tall, tree-like saguaro cactus with arms growing in all directions, displayed many buds but no flowers.  Many other cacti, however, were in bloom, particularly at the desert museum cactus garden.  There we found some extraordinary hybrid cactus varieties with huge, colorful flowers.  Although disappointed that there were no saguaro blossoms to photograph, Jane and I discovered a tall saguaro with nesting northern flicker woodpeckers.  Best of all, this saguaro was located only about a quarter mile from the casita, along the dirt driveway to the main road, and we visited that cactus on several mornings.  Another serendipitous discovery was a single blossom on a saguaro located right next to the casita.  This blossom was a favorite attraction for gila woodpeckers and we spent a lot of time watching and photographing, with coffee mugs in hand, the comings and goings of these striking birds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saguaro SilhouetteSaguaro SilhouetteVertical Composition Of Saguaro Cactus Arms Silhouetted By Orange Sunset Sky, Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

 

                                     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One afternoon we made a day trip to two local, old Spanish missions.  The first mission we visited was Tumacácori, a National Historic Park, about an hour south of Tucson.  The mission was originally founded in 1691 by a Jesuit missionary from Spain.  By 1848, after decades of hardship the mission was abandoned.  On our way back to the casita, we stopped at Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic landmark.  This mission was founded in 1692 by the same Jesuit missionary as Tumacácori.  The current church was completed in 1797 and has been in continuous operation since.  Mission San Xavier del Bac is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.  The inside of the chapel is exquisitely decorated.  The original mural paintings are beautiful and the altar and statues amazingly detailed.  Our visit to these old, original national historic places well worth the effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This spring break trip was also planned to coincide with the full phase of the moon.  I wanted some more practice with night sky photography after only mediocre results in Death Valley.  My ability to locate where the full moon would appear in the sky was accurate, but the timing between moonrise and sunset was off.  The location I selected had a high mountains ridge in the foreground that resulted in the moon showing its face much later than I had anticipated resulting in a foreground too dark for proper exposure.

 

Even so, we had a great time and on the way home we decided to put the casita in the pending travel file for a possible future visit.  From the casita we were able to make early morning visits to the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum where we were rewarded with some outstanding photo ops with only a few visitors to contend with.  One morning, we had the hummingbird aviary almost to ourselves.  The woodpeckers flying back and forth to the saguaro next to the casita gave me plenty of opportunities to photograph birds in flight.  And last, but not least, was the relaxing atmosphere of this quaint, out-of-the-way casita where we watched the sun come up from the front patio with our morning coffee and go down from the back patio with our glass of wine.

Images from this spring break journey can be found in the National Parks, Monuments & Historic Landmarks gallery.  Look for the Mission San Xavier del Bac, Saguaro National Park and Tumacacori National Historic Park sub-galleries.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/4/spring-break Tue, 18 Apr 2017 18:53:25 GMT
Two Short March Trips https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/3/two-short-march-trips My March “madness” consisted of trying, for me, a new aspect of photography.  I traveled to Death Valley, during the full moon, to try my hand at “moonscape” photography, that is, photographing iconic locations in Death Valley by moonlight.  March is high season in Death Valley and I had made reservation at Furnace Creek Ranch far in advance of my trip.  It was good I did.  The valley was filled with tourists, speaking a wide variety of different languages, and Furnace Creek was totally booked.  Many of these visitors were also photographers that I ran into as I attempted my moonlight photography. Perhaps the most iconic landscape location in Death Valley is Manly Beacon at Zabriskie Point and that is where I concentrated my efforts and met fellow photographers from as far as Germany.

I was accompanied on this new adventure by Bruce Hollingsworth.  We like to travel and photograph together and he was also game to try something new.  I had researched the internet for information about how to go about this unique type of photography.  What I discovered was that reading about how to obtain well executed moonscape photographs is so much simpler than actually implementing the process during the dark of night.  Although my planning and preparation for obtaining moonscapes was good, my ability to create “keeper” images left a lot to be desired.  Obviously, much more practice will be needed before I can brag about my moonscapes.  I also attempted photographing the full moon.  Looking at my results from that endeavor, full moon photography is also a skill I will need to work on.  It is not that my attempt at this night time photography was a complete bust.  The resulting images were just not up to my expectation and standard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All was not lost, however.  There was a killer sunset in the valley that I was able to photograph and get some decent images.  Also, during a telephone call with Jane, I learned that the Anza Borrego Desert State Park was experiencing the best spring wildflower display in ten or more years.  So a short jaunt to Borrego Springs was called for.  The wildflower bloom was pretty impressive with flower displays in areas I had not seen any flowers before.  Of course, with this kind of colorful flower exhibit, and the associated publicity, hundreds of other people had also ventured to Borrego Springs to experience the remarkable phenomena.  I did manage to obtain some images without extraneous people in them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My two short trips in March provided ample photographic challenges and demonstrated the need for more practice.  That means more trips!

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/3/two-short-march-trips Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:51:49 GMT
Hawaiian Vacation https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/2/hawaiian-vacation Jane and I started twenty-seventeen with a super “vacation”, two weeks in Hawaii.  Jane and I have a special definition for “vacation”, it is a trip without any photography gear and all photos are taken with either a cell phone or small snap shooter camera.  We have lots of other trips in store for this year, but these two weeks were a “vacation”.  We were fortunate in being able to arrange a time-share trade for two consecutive weeks, the first week on Maui, the Valley Isle, and the second week on Kauai, the Garden Isle. 

 

We flew non-stop from San Diego to Maui and enjoyed the first week of our vacation in a one bedroom condominium at the Maui Schooner Resort in Kihei.  Jane was able to score a great price for an off-airport car rental.  Anyway, that is what we thought.  The price was really good, at least one hundred dollars less for the week than a convertible from the major car rental companies at the airport.  But the good price was not because of the location, it was because the cars were old and a bit beaten up.  Before departing the rental agency, we thoroughly inspected the vehicle and noted all the dings and scratches on our rental form.  You know how it is with car rental companies, they will charge through the nose for any little thing they can get away with.

So we were more than a bit shocked and concerned when a large, fresh ding appeared on the driver side door.  It was really bad looking, deep and with paint from the culprit vehicle embedded on our door.  Then, as I pulled out of the parking space at the resort, we heard a loud scraping sound coming from the front of the car.  We quickly got out of our seats to inspect what was causing this horrible noise. Turns out the front bumper assembly had become dislodged and the entire fiberglass unit was hanging down and scraping on the ground.  Immediately we could see the insurance deductible becoming part of our vacation cost.  We were able to, sort of, wedge the unit back into place, although we had to do that several more times over the next few days. 

Before returning the vehicle to the rental company we cleaned up the ding with cleaning solvent from the condo to where it looked as old as all the other dings on the door.  We also manipulated the bumper assembly back into place as best we could and started feverishly thinking of ways to avoid paying for damages.  When we got to the rental place we were hyped and ready to do verbal combat with the agent.  When we explained about the bumper, the agent casually told us “you should have called and we would have replaced the car.  These are old cars and we know things can go wrong”.  What a relief that was!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Otherwise, our week on Maui was very relaxing.  We had a pool-side unit and spent a fair amount of time in the Jacuzzi and lounging around the pool.  One of the other guests at the Schooner Resort told us about Polo Beach and the ocean front walk in the area.  We enjoyed that hour-long walk along the swanky hotels and apartments several times.  We also followed up on suggestions from friends at home and snorkeled around Molokini Island with Trilogy Sailing and watched a slight-of-hand magic show in Lahaina.  Of course we could not return home from Maui without having made the drive up to the Haleakala volcanic crater (although we did not do the sunrise thing).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next week was spent at the Cliffs Resort in the planned community of Princeville, along the north shore of Kauai where we enjoyed the comfort and space of a large one bedroom, two bath unit.  Princeville is a bit remote from other population centers on Kauai so we planned most of our activities in and around very upscale Princeville.  For Kauai, Jane had arranged much better transportation.  We enjoyed top-down touring in a new, bright yellow Mustang convertible.  No problems with this vehicle!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to exploring the beaches at Hanalei Bay and Wainiha Bay we also imbibed happy hour drinks at the Hanalei Bay Resort, about a half hour’s walk from the Cliffs.  We toured the entire island of Kauai via Sunshine Helicopters right from the Princeville airport.  The flight included Waimea Canyon, Na Pali Coast, and now famous Manawaiopuna Falls, aka “The Jurassic Falls”.  The bird’s eye view of the island’s steep, vegetation covered terrain from the comfort of the helicopter was very cool! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another very cool experience was our three hour tour of the Princeville Botanical Gardens.  The botanical garden was actually developed by a couple from San Diego, Bill and Lucinda Robertson, who had intended to retire on Kauai and instead spent years creating a fantastic garden.  Our guide, Harald, a former children’s book publisher from New Mexico, was extremely knowledgeable about all the various varieties of trees, plants and flowers encountered along the tour.  One of the tour highlights was a presentation of how cacao beans are processed into chocolate that included tasting samples of chocolate with varying cacao amounts.  We also found, by word-of-mouth, a five mile hiking trail through a mahogany plantation.  The area had previously been a sugar cane plantation and the trail took us past an old stone dam and canals built to float the cane to the processing plant.  Rain pelted us as we hiked back to the canary yellow convertible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The concierge at the resort offered us a two-for-one price for a very expensive, all inclusive (open bar and shuttle service to and from), luau for agreeing to sit it on a timeshare presentation.  The sales person tended to be a bit narcissistic and talked mainly about himself and that he did not care whether or not we purchased a timeshare since he was retired and did not need the commission.  So after a half hour we let him know that we were not interested, and since he didn’t care, we should cut the sales session short.  That proved to be a very profitable half hour for us as we had a lot of fun at the luau and enjoyed several Blue Hawaiian cocktails (with Vodka instead of Rum).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a wildlife enthusiast like me, one of the more fascinating experiences in Princeville was our encounter with the Laysan Albatross.  It seems that the cliffs along the north shore of Kauai are the ancestral nesting sites for the Laysan Albatross and other sea faring birds.  Now, these birds instinctively continue to come to these cliffs to raise chicks even though the area is covered with million dollar homes.  The albatross have adapted well to their new surroundings.  We observed them exhibiting their natural behaviors in people’s front yards as we strolled through the neighborhood streets.  In addition to the albatross, we added several new bird species to our list.  The most common bird encountered was the red junglefowl, ancestral to the domesticated chicken.  They were everywhere on Kauai.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, all great “vacations” must come to an end and after our week on Kauai we headed back to San Diego.  Upon arriving back on the mainland, we learned that San Diego had experienced more rain during the time we were gone than in any other similar period in the city’s recorded history of rainfall.  That news made our two weeks in Hawaii even more special.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2017/2/hawaiian-vacation Fri, 03 Feb 2017 17:11:55 GMT
Year End Blog https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/12/year-end-blog December saw the last of my 2016 photography trips.  Jane had work commitments, so I traveled with my photo friend, Bruce Hollingsworth.  Bruce had wanted to return to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico for another opportunity to photograph the migrating sandhill cranes and snow geese.  Jane and I had traveled to Bosque several times in the past and, in fact, Bruce and I had been there several times as well.  Since this was about my fifth or sixth trip to Bosque del Apache, I didn’t want to return with images that I already had in my portfolio.  So, this time I planned on obtaining some new, unique images by concentrating more on environmental compositions using shorter range focal length lenses rather than close range images using long telephoto lenses.  I also attempted to obtain more abstract images using a slow shutter speed while panning birds in flight. 

Normally, birds in flight are photographed at pretty fast shutter speeds, over 1/1,000 of a second.  I was attempting to photograph the cranes and gees at around 1/50 to 1/100 of a second.  When successfully executed, the image should result in the bird’s head being in focus, its wings slightly blurred, and the background an abstract blur of colors.  Sounds easy, but it is not.  Thank goodness for digital photography and an infinite supply of pixels.  I made several hundred attempts for each image that approached the standards I expected to achieve.  I had to sort through thousands of totally out of focus shots to find the very few keepers I was satisfied with.  Hope you agree with my choices.  You can view them in the Wildlife Refuges gallery and then clicking on Bosque del Apache.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our way home, Bruce and I stopped for more photography at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.  Rather than wildlife as at Bosque, White Sands is a landscape photography location and I have always found landscapes to be extremely difficult to compose.  Landscape photography requires a serious amount of scouting to find an interesting combination of foreground, middle-ground and background.  My lack of landscape photography experience showed as I wandered aimlessly among the white gypsum sand dunes looking for that perfect landscape combination.  By the time the soft light of sunset arrived, I just ended up doing the best I could.  Same thing occurred the following morning.  It was dark when we arrived so finding a perfect location was out of the question.  Again, I reverting to doing the best I could with the potential compositions I stumbled upon.  My saving grace was a beautiful sky with colorful light and great clouds.  Images from White Sands are located in the National Parks and Monument gallery under White Sands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                            WISHING ALL WHO READ MY BLOG

                                                                     A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

 

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/12/year-end-blog Fri, 23 Dec 2016 19:31:13 GMT
Autumn Road Trip https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/10/autumn-road-trip This blog is a bit longer.  Our autumn road trip turned out to be over four thousand miles and traversed the length and breadth of six states, not counting California.  It was an invigorating and, at times, exhausting month long excursion with stops at nine separate accommodations along the way.  Since the blog is long, let me say at the beginning rather than the end, that the images from this trip are located in the “2016 Road Trip” gallery.

To avoid some of the heavier commuter traffic in Los Angeles County, Jane and I left San Diego at 4:30 in the morning bound for our first destination, Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  After the, now routine, six boring hour drive to Las Vegas, we left Interstate 15 and headed north on U.S. Highway 93, the Great Basin Highway.  Approximate 18 miles north of Caliente, we stopped at Cathedral Gorge State Park.  On previous trips, we always bypassed this small Nevada state park due to time constraints.  But on this road trip, we had time to investigate this off-the-beaten-path attraction.  Just a short mile or two off Highway 93, and hidden from view, was a spectacular geologic display of erosion carved cliffs and spires.  We did not spend a lot of time at Cathedral Gorge, but enjoyed very much marveling at the intricate features eroded into the soft rock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived in Baker, Nevada, gateway to Great Basin National Park by mid-afternoon.  We stayed with Magaret Pence at her “bunkhouse”, a rustic but charming and cozy accommodation (www.greatbasinbunkhouse.com).   Staying at the “bunkhouse” turned out to be far more than just a nice place to sleep.  It was like an affable family affair as we enjoyed Margaret’s hospitality.

Great Basin National Park is situated in the southern portion of the Snake Mountain Range and contains Nevada’s second highest mountain, Wheeler Peak, at just over 13,000 feet.  Jane and I were hoping for our first glance at fall colors here.  We were not disappointed as we hiked park trails through great groves of golden, quaking aspen trees.  The Wheeler Peak Scenic Highway was ablaze with color as the sun backlit the aspen leaves into a luminous glow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a couple of days hiking and exploring Great Basin National Park, we packed the 4Runner, hugged Margaret farewell, and started the drive to our cabin at West Glacier.  Our selected route through Idaho took us past Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  Again, we had passed this landmark on previous trips and not stopped.  So, with time on our hands, we made a short detour to enjoy this unique landscape.  This area of small craters and black fields of lava started forming only about 15,000 years ago when lava issued from a series of deep fissures, the last eruption occurring about 2,000 years ago.  That is pretty recent in geologic time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the lava fields we continued to West Glacier where we spent the next six days at our familiar, secluded haunt in the woods (www.glacierwildernessresort.com).  We used the cabin, with its homey feel and hot Jacuzzi on its deck, as home base, and day-tripped into Glacier National Park.  Weather was an issue that limited our hiking to just a couple of days.  We did hike to Avalanche Lake, a roundtrip of six miles and lots of elevation gain.  And, yes I’m bragging a bit.  Of course, we could not really complain about the rain, since we had not seen much of it in San Diego.

 

We are always sad to leave our cabin but we had to move one since we were not even at the midway point of our road trip.  Our next objective was the Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area at the Charles M. Russel National Wildlife Refuge, along the Missouri River.  On the way, we stopped in Great Falls to visit the Charles M. Russel Museum, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and the great falls that Lewis and Clark had to portage around during their expedition of discovery.  The Charles M. Russel Museum was excellent with its informative exhibits illustrating the life of “Charlie” Russel and life on the western frontier in general.  The gift shop had an extraordinary selection of artistic items created by local artisans.  Jane found an item to bring home that would enhance our collection of southwest artifacts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lewistown, smack in the middle of Montana, was our next destination.  There Jane had found a wonderful B&B for us to stay.  The Symmes/Wicks House was a totally restored Craftsman house located in a quiet neighborhood with huge, colorful maple trees bordering the streets (www.symmeswickshouse.com).   Carol Wicks, who had overseen the restoration and performed much of the grunt work herself, was our hostess and provided great conversation and scrumptious breakfasts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area lived up to its reputation to not disappoint.  During the annual rut, scores of elk congregate in the cottonwood trees along the Missouri River and emerge onto the meadows to feed in late afternoon.  Elk viewing is a popular activity with dozens of cars lined up along the dirt track adjacent the meadow area where elk forage in plain sight, paying no heed to the myriad of sightseers of all ages.  Numerous six and seven point, testosterone driven, bulls were competing for cows.  However, the iconic image of bulls with locked antlers escaped me.  It was not for the lack of trying, but the desired action of big bulls jousting was always too far away or hidden by shrubbery for a decent "shot".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our action packed visit to Slippery Ann (you have to wonder where that name came from, don’t you) and delightful stay at the Symmes/Wicks House, we continued on across Montana and into Wyoming to explore Devil’s Tower National Monument.  We made the hamlet of Hulett our home base for this part of our journey.  Exploring this National Monument was almost relaxing.  We toured the scenic route in the 4Runner and hiked the Tower Trail from where we watched several groups of climbers ascend the near vertical tower.  I tried my hand at night sky photography once more with very little success.  The sky was filled with brilliant stars and the Milky Way was overhead, but I was not able to create an image to my liking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Custer State Park in South Dakota is just across the border from Devil’s Tower and that was our next destination.  The objective at Custer State Park was to photograph the annual bison roundup, an event that draws visitors from across the U.S. and world.  It certainly was an event to remember, but relatively short for the time expended to experience it and less dramatic than expected.  The roundup is conducted to gather the bison into corrals to test for disease, inoculate, brand calves and cull the herd by auctioning off sufficient animals to keep the size of the heard balanced to the available food supply on the Park’s range. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on our inquiries from locals, we learned that to secure a decent spot in the viewing area in the Park we had to leave Custer at around 4:30 in the morning.  And, that is what we did.  At that ghastly hour of the morning, we joined the long queue of vehicles meandering slowly through the Park to the viewing area.  After more than an hour, we eventually reached the parking area where we joined hundreds of others to search for a spot to place our folding chairs during the dim, morning’s first light.  By around six we were snuggly settled with a blanket around Jane to keep out the chill.  The roundup, however, did not start until nearly ten and the most exciting part, bison stampeding across the prairie, lasted only about 45 minutes.  Although a tiny bit disappointing, it was exhilarating to be part of the throng participating in this uniquely American event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were in Custer nearly a week staying at a new and very comfortable vacation rental home on the outskirts of town where white tailed deer and wild turkeys roamed the yards.  While in Custer we assumed the role of typical tourists going on day trips to explore the scenic areas of the Black Hills, including Spearfish Canyon with its outstanding fall colors and waterfalls, the Cathedral Spires area where we encountered a lone mountain goat, Chief Crazy Horse monument, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial where we had lunch in the cafeteria where Gary Grant got shot in the movie North by Northwest.  While in Custer we also spent a pleasant evening with Bill Howard, an old acquaintance from years gone by, and his friend Shirley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a touristy stay in Custer, South Dakota, we set out for home, the long way.  On our 22nd day on the trip we drove across Wyoming’s barren and desolate prairie to Rock Springs, and the next day across the eastern edge of the Uintah Mountains of Utah, past the Flaming Gorge reservoir and dam to Vernal.  While in Vernal, we made a short trip to Dinosaur National Monument.  We were pleased to learn that the Quarry Exhibit Hall, with its thousand dinosaur bone fossils still imbedded in a natural sedimentary rock wall, was again open after extensive structural repairs.  Fossils excavated from these Jurassic period beds now grace many natural history museums.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Vernal we set our sights on Richmond, Utah, where my sister Neli and husband Fred, reside.  To get to Richmond, we crossed over some high mountain passes where we encountered our first snow of the year.  The scene played out beautifully as we ascended higher up the mountain.  Patches of yellow from brightly colored quaking aspen trees, the symbol of Utah, were interspersed among the dark green conifers with white snow covering the branches and ground.  It was awesome.  All too soon we were back to lower elevations with green alfalfa fields, grazing cattle, and opulent ranch houses.

A visit with Neli and Fred is always entertaining as they recount memories that I was too young to remember.  We had a great visit with lots of cheerfulness, goodwill and laughter.  I will certainly remember one profound observation by Neli.  She confided that “you know you are getting old when your daughter becomes a grandmother”.  Neli and Fred are great-grandparents many times over.  After bidding goodbye to Neli and Fred we made a serious dash for home.  We stopped only in Mesquite for a night before droning on down Interstate 15, arriving back to San Diego, pretty much wiped out, after 26 days on the road.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/10/autumn-road-trip Sun, 16 Oct 2016 18:37:09 GMT
Two Weeks In Oregon https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/8/two-weeks-in-oregon For some years the allure of Oregon’s waterfalls and ocean vistas had been tugging at my camera bag.  So it was with much satisfaction that Jane and I finally made the trek up Interstate 5 over the “grapevine” and through the Central Valley, to Oregon.  The plan was to spend about a week in the Columbia River Gorge photographing the numerous waterfalls that descend from the Cascade Range into the abrupt and steep gorge created by the Columbia River.  Then, we would venture to the coast for another week of exploring and photographing along the northern portion of Oregon's 363 mile coastline.

Our first “home” was the Comfort Inn in Troutdale.  Troutdale is situated at the west end of the Columbia River Gorge and it made a convenient location from which to make daily trips into the Gorge.  Troutdale also provided the many urban conveniences (restaurants, galleries, gift shops and grocery stores) needed to make our trip more enjoyable.  There are a number of very attractive waterfalls within about 30 miles of Troutdale and we attempted to see them all.  Of course, we did not realize, while optimistically planning this photo adventure, that all these glorious waterfalls start at a significant elevation above the Columbia River Gorge and that we had to hike up to them.  Some of these hikes were strenuous and exhausting, but the rewards of majestic, thundering water falls were ample.  Suffice to say that we got our daily dose of exercise during our visit to Oregon’s waterfalls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Oregon coast is extensive and we planned to visit only the northerly portion.  Unlike the waterfalls, there was not a single, central location from which to day-trip.  Instead, we selected several advantageous locations along the coastline where the most scenic spots were to be found.  Jane found some great places that served as short term locations for our day-trips.  We stayed three nights each in Arch Cape, Tillamook, and Newport and found some very scenic areas to photograph.  Along Oregon's coastline, forested headlands terminated at wide, sandy beaches with jagged, photogenic sea stacks just offshore. 

Weather along the Oregon coast during our visit was similar to San Diego’s, lots of marine layer and overcast.  Those conditions made for cool days and drizzly nights but did not provide a very interesting backdrop for coastal photographs or sunsets.  We were disappointed several times as we waited patiently for sunset to occur only to find the sun obscured by overcast skies.  Not all was bad, however, and some memorable moments were experienced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After being immersed in nature for two carefree, tranquil weeks we faced the unpleasant task of heading home.  The journey home was a hard fought battle on Interstate 5 back to San Diego.  We paid the price of living in “America’s Finest City” as we toiled in bumper-to-bumper traffic, mile after arduous mile, with nary any relief until we left the freeway at our Scripps Ranch exit.

You can view images from this excursion by going to the Oregon 2016 Gallery.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/8/two-weeks-in-oregon Tue, 16 Aug 2016 13:53:26 GMT
If This Is Tuesday, We Must Be In . . . https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/7/if-this-is-tuesday-we-must-be-in Perhaps this familiar saying is better phrased as “If this is June, we must be in Europe” because that is where Jane and I found ourselves for most of June.  Planning for this journey had been in the works for many, many months and finally the day arrived that we headed for Europe again.  It was an ambitious plan, starting with a visit to family in Rotterdam and from there to Vienna, Swiss and Bavarian Alps, and various other stops along the way.

We had been diligently saving our airplane mileage points and were able to obtain round trip business class tickets to Amsterdam.  I don’t mind telling you, business class was a mighty fine treat, especially for the long flights across the Atlantic.  The overall tone for the trip was set with a very pleasant and relaxing sojourn to the Delta lounge at Lindbergh field for coffee and croissants, where we awaited our first flight.  We were full of excitement and anticipation for this odyssey to explore new portions of Europe.  Let me just say at the outset that all our objectives of this trip were realized and none of our misgivings materialized.  In short, it was a fabulous adventure.

We arrived in Amsterdam the following morning where my nephew Wim was waiting to welcome us to Holland.  He drove us to his home in Rotterdam where we stayed with him and Verula, his girlfriend.  Wim and Verula hosted us for several days guiding us to some unique places in Holland we had not experienced before.  They are also urban city dwellers and loved showing us the new and old of Rotterdam.  We visited a vast, modern, mixed use, market hall as well as the historic Delft Harbor from which Puritans migrated to the America.  Of course the highlight of our visit to Rotterdam was seeing my spry, 91 year old, brother and spending some quality time with him.  I sure hope to have inherited the same genes he has, because he is in seriously good health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our most enjoyable stay, Wim drove us back to Schiphol Airport for our KLM flight to Vienna.  As always, Jane had found us a wonderful little hotel right on the pedestrian-only, inner circle of Vienna. The Pension Aviano  served as our home base for nine days as we roamed the narrow streets and boulevards of Vienna. We marveled at the old gothic and baroque architecture of its historic buildings and visited castles, palaces, chateaus, parliament, and city hall.   We also enjoyed the cultural side of Vienna with the Vienna Boys Choir at their special venue The Muth, a Mozart string ensemble performance at the renowned Palais Auersperg, a presentation of Der Rosenkavalier at the old Vienna opera, and, last be not least, the Lipizzaner stallions at the historic Hofburg Palace.  In addition to all that, we also tasted the epicurean delights of Vienna, including scrumptious deserts, at such old and famous cafes as Café Central, The Landtmann, Tivolerhof, and Café Mozart, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Armed with GPS, Google Maps and hard copy paper maps, we left Vienna in our rental Europcar VW diesel, and headed for the Bavarian Alps.  On our way, we followed the Danube River through the picturesque Wachau Valley, visited the Melk Abby, and spent a couple of days in Salzburg enjoying some more Hapsburg history and Mozart music.  Eventually, although not without some navigation issues, we found our way to Schwangau, Germany where we spent some days visiting and touring Ludwig II of Bavaria’s Romanesque, Neuschwanstein castle.  Reportedly the inspiration for Walt Disney, this fairyland castle is one of Germany’s most visited tourist attractions, for which we can definitely vouch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Bavaria, we traveled to the majestic Swiss Alps.  After lunch in Luzern we arrived at the Hotel Staubbach in the mountain village of Lauterbrunnen.  It is difficult to describe the grandeur and splendor of this region.  Lauterbrunnen is situated at the head of a very narrow, steep sided, glacial valley with more than 70 waterfalls thundering from the snow clad mountains above to the verdant valley below.  The view from our hotel room window included Staubbach falls, one of the Alp’s tallest waterfalls.  Surrounding the valley are some of Switzerland’s most famous mountains, including the Jungfrau, MÖnck, and Eiger, renowned for its challenging and dangerous north face. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We explored the Lauterbrunnen area for four days and then continued our travels over the snow covered Sustenpass and Passo San Gottardo, two of Switzerland’s highest highway passes, to Samedan in the Engadin valley.  There we explored numerous quaint villages, enjoyed lunch in St. Moritz, and rode several high speed gondolas to view the Bernina mountain range with its many glaciers and Mount Bernina, the highest peak in the eastern Alps, at over 13,000 feet.  After 3 days in the Engadin valley, we reluctantly started back to Vienna to return the car and catch our flight back to Amsterdam and home.  About half way back to Vienna, we stopped for a night in Hallstatt Austria, a World Heritage Site, where salt has been mined by the Celts since the early Iron Age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was an extraordinary vacation for us.  From the historic culture of the Hapsburg Empire to the serene alpine setting of green pastures and snow capped mountains, we will remember this trip always.  After a month’s travel, however, it felt good to be home again, with its familiar daily routines.  Although this was a non-photography vacation, we obviously ended with a lot of pictures from the smart phone and snap-shooter.  You can see more images if you go the Europe 2016 Gallery.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/7/if-this-is-tuesday-we-must-be-in Sun, 17 Jul 2016 01:15:49 GMT
April Spring Break https://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!

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/4/april-spring-break Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:24:25 GMT
The Super Bloom https://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.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/3/the-super-bloom Mon, 07 Mar 2016 23:10:38 GMT
Chasing The Iconic Image https://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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/2/chasing-the-iconic-image Fri, 26 Feb 2016 17:04:56 GMT
February In Barrie, Ontario, Canada https://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.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/2/february-in-barrie-ontario-canada Mon, 08 Feb 2016 23:26:56 GMT
One Trip Two State Parks https://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.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/1/two-state-parks Mon, 18 Jan 2016 22:11:04 GMT
End Of Year Hurrah https://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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

User comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunting CoyoteHunting CoyoteHealthy Adult Coyote Hunting Through A Thicket Of Brush Blue-Gray GnatcatcherBlue-Gray GnatcatcherBlue-Gray Gnatcatcher In Winter Plumage Perched On Flowering Bush

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

BEST WISHES FOR ALL IN 2016

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://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 https://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.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://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 https://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.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/10/september-road-trip Thu, 15 Oct 2015 17:28:22 GMT
Silver Salmon Creek Lodge – Déjà Vu https://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.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/8/silver-salmon-creek-lodge-d-j-vu Mon, 24 Aug 2015 22:43:08 GMT
July Doldrums https://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. 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) backyard butterflies construction milky way photography publish remodel travel https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/8/zen-test Tue, 11 Aug 2015 00:07:13 GMT
Grand Prix of Canada https://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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) Canada Formula 1 Grand Prix Montreal cars racing https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/6/formula-1-in-montreal Wed, 24 Jun 2015 19:34:37 GMT
Great Basin National Park https://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.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) Crystal Peak Great Basin Desert Great Basin National Park Lehman Caves Nevada Wah-Wah Wilderness Area Wheeler Peak https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/5/great-basin-national-park Sun, 10 May 2015 00:44:09 GMT
Grand Staircase - Esacalante https://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.

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(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 https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/4/grand-staircase---esacalante Sun, 26 Apr 2015 22:37:39 GMT
Eagles & Aurora https://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.

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) Alaska American Bald Eagle Fairbanks Homer aurora borealis eagles northern lights https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/3/homer-and-fairbanks Mon, 30 Mar 2015 15:16:29 GMT
Quick Trip https://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.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/3/quick-trip Sun, 08 Mar 2015 21:10:28 GMT
Yosemite & Sequoia https://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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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(Rinus Baak Photography) Yellowstone National Park bighorn sheep bobcat cold coyote elk moose snow winter https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/2/yellowstone-in-winter Tue, 03 Feb 2015 16:21:40 GMT
December With Bighorn Sheep https://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.

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(Rinus Baak Photography) Cody Shoshone Wyoming bighorn photograph photography river rut sheep https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/12/december-with-bighorn-sheep Mon, 29 Dec 2014 18:32:56 GMT
National Geographic Moments https://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.  

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(Rinus Baak Photography) Africa Crater Kenya Lake Mara Masai Nakuru Ngorongoro Samburu Serengeti Tanzania expedition safari travel https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/12/national-geographic-moments Sat, 27 Dec 2014 20:52:30 GMT
Coronado's Inland Empire https://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).

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(Rinus Baak Photography) https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/10/coronados-inland-empire Tue, 14 Oct 2014 20:25:00 GMT
Dog Days of Summer https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/8/dog-days-of-summer This year, August in San Diego was sultry and hot.  What does that say about San Diego's "Goldilocks" weather?  It was downright blistering.  To escape these stuffy and sweltering conditions, Jane and I headed to the higher and cooler elevations of the Grand Canyon's north rim.  There we found solace in the peaceful surroundings of the Kaibab National Forest and high altitude of the canyon rim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our room could have been a bit more spacious, but it was comfortable and quiet.  Not that we spent a lot of time in the room, mostly we were on the go.  Up early for sunrise shots and out late for some night sky photography.  We also spent time traversing Forest Service roads to explore the Kaibab forest with its great stands of ponderosa pine and quaking aspen.  The high alpine meadows were a sea of bright orange, purple and yellow wild flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had never before attempted to photograph the Milky Way galaxy.  But, at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the galaxy with its milky clouds of stars was so inviting, I had to try.  After sunset, the evening turns dark quickly and we could easily see and photograph the Milky Way by nine o'clock.  Jane thinks the results were remarkable, and I have to agree that the images exceeded my expectations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

                                                        

Photographically, my highest hope was to get "keeper" images of the celebrated Kaibab squirrel.  This little rodent is found only in the forests along the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  The difficulty, of course, is to find the little critters in the vastness of the forest and then to have it pose for a picture.  I started my quest by asking several park rangers where I should go for best results and did not receive much encouragement.  However, I struck pay dirt with the third ranger I approached.  This ranger volunteered, after I explained my objective of photographing the Kaibab squirrel, that she had seen three of the tufted-eared, white-tailed mammals in the tree in front of her cabin and provided detailed directions of how to get to the cabin.

Upon arriving, Jane and I quickly discerned movement in the ponderosa pine in front of the cabin.  We maneuvered to obtain a better, unobstructed view and observed a white tail dangling among the dark pine branches.  Eventually, we discovered a nest made of pine branches and needles built high up in the ponderosa tree.  We visited this pine tree with its nest several times and were surprised to discover that there were three young Kaibab squirrels residing in the nest.

                                                           

 

                         

 

                       

 

 

Finding this exceptional place to leisurely photograph these energetic rodents was definitely a high point of our short sojourn to the Grand Canyon.  Other memorable experiences included our drives into the lush, dense forest, marveling at the intensity of the stars overhead, and peering into the colorful, eroded depth of the canyon. 

   

 

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(Rinus Baak Photography) Arizona August Forest Service Grand Canyon Kaibab Milky Way forest night north rim pine ponderosa sky squirrel https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/8/dog-days-of-summer Sun, 24 Aug 2014 16:58:44 GMT
A Great July https://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/7/a-great-july July started off with a bang, literally.  Fourth of July fireworks over San Diego Bay was my first photo outing of the month.  I had wanted to create images that would emphasize the comprehensive scale of the fireworks display.  To achieve that objective, I decided to shoot from Lucinda Street with its grand view of San Diego Bay.  It must have been an excellent idea since there were score of like-minded photographers crowding the street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July continued to be special, very special.  My article about bird photography in the Prince William Sound and Potter's Marsh, near Anchorage, Alaska, appeared in the July/August issue of Bird Watcher's Digest.  Then, to make July even more special, my article chronicling our trip to the Yukon was published in the summer issue of Nature Photographer.  What a marvelous month July was turning out to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also contributing to the distinct special nature of July was a long-awaited photo excursion to the Palouse region of southeastern Washington state.  A photo trip to the Palouse had been on my to-do list for many years.  I had seen other photographer's images of the area and have long had a desire to try capturing the unique landscape of this area myself.  The Palouse is a vast agricultural region of some 6,000 square miles.  The prairie like terrain was formed by fertile loess dunes created during past ice ages.  The resulting smoothly rounded knolls and dales have created a picturesque quilt work of cultivated fields that are a challenge to photograph.  You can see the results of my efforts in the Palouse Gallery.