Lori Carey Photography

Friday, January 30, 2015

Triangle Intaglios

Triangles intaglio site in the Mojave desert

Intaglios are one of the best kept secrets of the southwestern desert. They are geoglyphs created by ancient people by removing the dark stones from the desert pavement to reveal the lighter colored surface below. Sometimes the glyphs are further accentuated by piling the stones around the edges. Intaglios can be found in countries all over the world, but almost all of the intaglios in the United States are located in the desert region along the lower Colorado River. Most of the intaglios are very large and can only be recognized when seen from a plane flying over them, which explains why no one noticed them until Army Air Corps pilot George A. Palmer discovered the Blythe Intaglios in 1931. The Blythe Intaglios consists of several of anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and geometric figures, the largest at 170 feet long. A total of six glyphs were found in the Blythe region, and many believe that they tell the story of creation. Jay von Werlhof was one of the principal researchers of the intaglios and of the few who actually discussed the intaglios with the local Native American tribes. He determined that the intaglios are located along a Trail of Dreams, the path a boy would follow during his spiritual Visionquest to become a man. The intaglios are at the locations of important mythical events, and many of the sites have associated rituals.

The art is almost impossible to date and estimates range from 200 to 8000 years old. The Mojave say that the glyphs have been there "forever". Interestingly enough, while it might seem to be common sense to most of us to consult local tribes about art that was created by their ancestors, it has been said that for many years the scientific community ignored Native Americans for much of the 20th century, stating that ethnography was irrelevant to its study. (Jay von Wherlof's Trail of Dreams, Whitely, PCAS Quarterly 50)

Other than as a curiosity, not much attention was given to the intaglios for several decades until National Geographic did an article on the Blythe Intaglios in the 1950s. It wasn't until the 1980s that scientists began to pay serious attention and started to locate and document other geoglyphs along the lower Colorado. Eventually over 300 intaglios were located in the American Southwest and neighboring Mexico, and my research indicates that there may be 600 or more currently documented. The Blythe Intaglios are the best known, the locations of most of the others are kept secret within the scientific community. The Triangles are one of the few whose location is published. I still wasn't able to find any additional information about them other than what is said in the Mojave Road Guide - that they were created by an ancient people who we know nothing about. I was hoping to find some suggested interpretations of what they might signify, but have had absolutely no luck.

Triangle intaglio above Manix Wash, Mojave desert

Not much has been done in the way of preservation of the intaglios. The head of one of the giant human-like figures near Blythe was destroyed when General Patton was conducting tank training. A nearby spiral or coiled snake was almost obliterated by off road drivers who did not realize they were driving over ancient sacred artwork. The Blythe intaglios were eventually fenced to prevent further damage and vandalism. Nearby another set of geoglyphs was damaged when a road was widened for a solar project, and local tribes are now getting involved fighting to preserve this rarest form of rock art by organizing to file complaints and lawsuits. At least five geoglyphs and cultural resources are within the project boundaries of the solar project at Blythe, and a total of 19 are located on the land immediately surrounding the project site. Other areas of the desert where intaglios are located are being targeted for large scale solar projects and there seems to be very little outside interest for preserving this ancient art, undoubtedly much of that is because the general public isn't even aware of their existance. High Country News has a fantastic article about the fight to preserve the intaglios.

Triangle intaglios above Manix Wash, Mojave desert

A very small number of the identified intaglio locations have been fenced, according to my research it is approximately only a dozen. The Triangle Intaglios seen here are protected by a post barricade to prevent vehicles from driving over them. Archaeologists are concerned that fencing will create awareness of the location of the remaining hundreds of glyphs. But since most people would not recognize a large intaglio from the ground, people may inadvertently cause damage by driving or walking over them without realizing they are there. It's a Catch-22.

The Triangles intaglio site in the Mojave desert

The Triangle Intaglios are easy to recognize from the ground. Located high on top of a mesa, most are only a foot or two across. From up here it's easy to see why this was considered a sacred place.

Triangle intaglio above Manix Wash, Mojave desert

There are a few located outside the barrier and I assume these are not original, but created by modern day people in attempt to replicate the intaglios.

Probably fake geoglyph at the Triangles intaglio site in Manix Wash, Mojave Desert

Likewise with this intaglio in the shape of an arrow, which is behind the barricade. Since there are no other arrows in this location, I assume that someone vandalized one of the triangles to create the shape of an arrow.

Triangle intaglios above Manix Wash in the Mojave Desert.

Since this type of art is so difficult to date, even for the experts, it can be very frustrating when I find something in a remote location and can't be sure if it is an archaeological site or something created by modern man. One time when exploring a remote location I came across what I believed was some type of ceremonial circle intaglio edged with rocks. It was in the right location, located on a raised point of land overlooking a spectacular desert landscape. It certainly felt like a sacred location to me. But I noticed evidence that someone had recently camped nearby, and it was impossible for a layman with no formal training to tell if this was a sacred site or just a large circle of rocks created by people who had camped here recently. Attempting to research the location on the internet proved futile. I've read countless scientific white papers on California's rock art but have yet to find anything specific to that location.

The plight of the intaglios gives me mixed feelings about the need to keep their locations a secret. While I've seen way too much destruction and vandalism at significant locations across the desert, especially in recent years with the easy access to information on the internet and people's desire to share, if people don't know about such places they won't be aware of how special they are and why they deserve to be protected. Surely something so sacred to our ancestors deserves to at least be protected from destruction by large-scale solar projects.

Have you come across any intaglios in your travels? I'd love to hear about it!

I visited the Triangle Intaglios on a recent adventure along the historic Mojave Road, a 130+ mile trail through the remote Mojave Desert. If you missed it, you can read my three-part series on DrivingLine -

Part 1 - Holiday on the Trails: The Historic Mojave Road
Part II - The Historic Mojave Road: Soda Lake to Marl Springs
Part III - The Historic Mojave Road: Marl Springs to Goffs

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What makes me smile

The last half of 2014 has been crazy. I've slacked off on blogging and on all my social media accounts because I've just been too darn busy. I honestly don't understand how many photographers keep up with social media and blogging (I do know that many high profile photographers hire someone to do it for them!), especially when they have a presence on just about every social media platform out there.

This time of year most photographers do some kind of recap of their achievements and highlight their "best" photos of the year. I've been home miserably sick with a cold the past few days and haven't had the energy (or brain) to put together a meaty post or sort through a year's worth of images to choose favorites, but I did want to get one last post in just to let people know that I'm still alive.

All of the accomplishments and sales and yada yada are great (they truly are because without them I couldn't keep doing this full time so please understand that I am very grateful), but what really made me smile a few weeks ago is when fellow adventurer Brett Heimreich shared this photo to my Facebook page (used with his permission) -

Last year Bill and I spent Thanksgiving at the Crusty Bunny Ranch and we strung Christmas lights in a Joshua Tree so I could do a Christmas shot for my holiday trail article on DrivingLine.

Holiday Joshua Tree in the eastern Mojave

In the follow-up story here on my blog I mentioned how the lights were tangled in the tree and we forgot to take them down before we left the next morning.

Brett wrote to let me know that one year later, my lights are still there in the tree! How cool is that? Not just that my lights are still there, but that Brett had read my articles and actually took the time to contact me! We had a great conversation, sharing stories about places and adventures we had in common, and hopefully we'll meet in person out on the trails one day soon.

An upcoming article in DrivingLine will mention a couple we met on the Mojave Road during this year's Thanksgiving adventure. Alisa is a motorcycle photojournalist so we had a lot in common and exchanged contact information. She's the kind of fearless woman who rides solo through Central and South America, India, Israel and all over Europe. She's also preparing to race in a motorcycle rally in Morocco. Seriously! I think I should convince my editor to let me do a profile piece on her.

I get to meet, sometime just virtually but often in person, so many wonderful and interesting people while doing what I do. It's those personal connections that mean the most to me.

Happy New Year everyone! Here's to meeting even more wonderful and interesting people in 2015!

(And if none of this makes any sense, blame it on my cold!)

Monday, September 29, 2014

National Preparedness Month - Gear Review: Biolite

Biolite Steve and Kettle
Biolite Stove and KettlePot

When I was planning out my article series for National Preparedness Month for DrivingLine, I put a lot of thought into problems I had personally experienced or seen while venturing off road. When I talk about "off roading", I'm not just talking about hard core rock crawling on technical trails. I'm including traveling off pavement in remote areas, something that landscape, nature and wildlife photographers do on a regular basis. When something goes wrong in a remote area, it could be days before help is able to reach you.

One of my biggest challenges when packing for a trip is the balancing act between bringing enough gear to be ready for anything with being able to fit it all in a 2DR Jeep and still have room for my photography gear. That's why I love gear that is multi-functional, it makes packing so much easier! One of the toughest decisions is how much fuel to bring for the campstove; the (propane in my case) canisters are bulky and take up a lot of room in my camp box. I always try to bring only as much as I need, and since I always have several partially empty canisters I sit there shaking them trying to evaluate how much fuel is left in each one to determine which ones I should take. I did run out of propane once, and that got me thinking that if I were forced to spend an unplanned night or two out in the wild, I would have no way to heat water or cook food. All the freeze-dried emergency food in the world isn't going to do me any good if I have no way to prepare it. In the desert environment that I spend most of my time in, there are very few (if any) trees and there is no firewood lying around!

I started researching options and became fascinated by the Biolite Stove. Not only did it claim to boil water with just a handful of twigs, it also claimed it could charge a cell phone with that same handful of twigs! I may not be able to find wood for a campfire in the desert, but I can always scrounge up some twigs or other small biomass. And although I can charge my electronics with solar, not everyone has that option. I contacted Biolite and they graciously agreed to send me a Biolite CampStove and KettlePot to put to the test.

I am so incredibly impressed with this system and everyone who has seen it in action has been equally impressed. The Biolite Camp Stove uses thermoelectric energy to convert to heat to electricity. The generated electricity powers a fan that makes the fire more efficient by improving combustion, so it requires very little fuel. Surplus energy can be used to charge small electronics like a cell phone through a USB port. It uses biomass for fuel - any small twigs, pinecones, wood chips - and it doesn't need much.

Biolite Steve and KettlePot
Biolite Stove and KettlePot

The first time I tested the Biolite Stove we used a couple pine cones and a handful of pine needles. The pine needles burned hot and fast, maybe a bit too fast for practical purposes because I did have to keep resupplying the fire, but I heated a half liter of water in less than three minutes and brought a dead cell phone to half charge in less than twenty minutes (we forgot to keep a good eye on the clock). The next time I tested it I used a handful of small twigs and they made a perfect fire. I didn't even need to use all of the twigs you see in the top photo. It is amazing how well this stove works with just a small bit of biomass fuel!

Biolite states that the stove will boil one liter of water in 4.5 minutes and my tests were consistent with that number. They state that twenty of minutes of charging an iPhone 4s will provide 60 minutes of talk time, and again my tests were consistent with that figure although I used different phones for testing purposes.

Biolite CampStove charging a cell phone

If you want to play it safe and not worry about having to scrounge up twigs or other biomass, you could always buy wood chips and pack a small quantity with the stove (mmmm mesquite!). I also recommend carrying some kind of fire starter, either store-bought or home made such as dryer lint soaked in Vaseline (the stove ships with an initial supply of fire starters). After filling the stove with twigs you will be lighting the fire from the top of the stove and it takes some practice to get the hang of it. Fire starters make it much easier to get a good flame going right away.

The 1.5 liter stainless steel KettlePot makes it a complete cook system. You can cook inside the pot or use it to boil water which you can easily pour through the spout. The stay-cool handles mean that no pot holder or cloth is required to pick up the pot, and it even comes with a bowl.

It gets even better - the CampStove packs up inside the KettlePot for a complete cook system that also charges small electronics in a package that is 10.2 inches tall and weighs just over three pounds. The CampStove also comes with a pot adapter so you can use other pots on the stove if you don't have the KettlePot.

Biolite Stove and KettlePot

Biolite also offers a really cool grill that attaches to the CampStove so you can use the stove to grill dinner over a wood fire (mmmm burgers over a wood fire, guess what's on my Christmas wish list!). If the CampStove is too small for your needs, the larger BaseCamp might be a better fit.

I love that I don't have to depend on fuel canisters when I'm out on the trail and the Biolite CampStove is perfect for emergency situations, on or off the trail. You could even use it to make s'mores on the beach or in your backyard! It's good for the environment because it uses a renewable fuel source, it's non-polluting and it doesn't add more trash to landfills.

All of my friends who have seen this stove in action have wanted one. It really has become a favorite piece of gear. It's not just extremely functional, it's actually fun to use!

I have been challenged by a few friends to see if I can find enough biomass in the Sonoran desert of the southernmost portion of California. Desert season starts next month and I'm looking forward to seeing how well I do finding enough fuel to boil a liter of water and charge a cell phone.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Stop The Madness People!!

I was going to leave this as a Facebook post but when I saw people posting on LinkedIn that National Parks are going to start charge smart phone users to take cell phone snaps I lost it.

Several people have asked me why I wasn't in an uproar about the "news" that is spreading like wildfire throughout the internet that it was going to cost me $1500 for a permit to shoot on public land. Well that's because I knew that there was a lot of incorrect information being spread around. In this day and age of citizen journalism, very few people take the time to verify information and fact check. If they see it on the internet they figure it must be true, even if it was originally posted by someone who has no clue what they are talking about.

Fact is, permits for commercial photography (as defined) have long been required on federally owned land such as National Forests, and any responsible professional photographer is aware of the permit requirement. If you are doing a commercial shoot with models, actors or props, require access to an area where the public isn't generally permitted, or will cause additional administrative cost (think of the work required for a large movie film crew or to shoot a car commercial) you must get a permit to film. The proposal in question is to extend the same guidelines to congressionally designated Wilderness areas that are currently in place on National Forest lands. The current directive expires in October and only covered still photography, the proposal is to also include commercial filming (as it is on other federally owned lands). Designated Wilderness is not the same as National Forest, National Park, National Preserve or National Monument, and it's important to understand the different designations. Most designated wilderness areas do not even have motor vehicle access other than perhaps one main access road to a staging area/trailhead and the occasional legal cherry stem. Motorized/mechanical transport is not permitted in designated wilderness, not even bicycles.

The Forest Service issued a news release yesterday to help clarify all of the confusion which stated:

"The proposal does not change the rules for visitors or recreational photographers. Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs."

"Currently, commercial filming permit fees range around $30 per day for a group up to three people. A large Hollywood production with 70 or more people might be as much as $800. The $1,500 commercial permit fee cited in many publications is erroneous, and refers to a different proposed directive."

If you're still worried that this might affect you, I encourage you to take the time to read the directive yourself so you know the facts, not the hysteria. The public comment period has been extended to December 3, 2014.

(For what it's worth, you also need a permit for commercial photography on most California beaches, and Laguna is one of the most expensive. If you do portrait or wedding photography I hope you know that!).

Do your homework and check the facts before you add to the spread of bad information. Most bloggers, even on well-known photography sites, aren't paid enough to be bothered with fact checking and apparently editors don't care anymore. All they care about is getting people to click their link. Even mass media reports incorrect information when they "report" on topics for which they have no background knowledge.

These days you need to be more careful than ever before and verify information before you get caught up in the hysteria.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

National Preparedness Month - Gear Review: Goal Zero

Since September is National Preparedness Month, I wrote a two-part series on DrivingLine that covered some important items that everyone who ventures off the beaten path should consider carrying in case of an emergency. My word count is limited in those articles and I could only give some brief information about the items, so I'm going to provide more detailed reviews here on my blog. Although the articles on DrivingLine were targeted to off roaders, being prepared for outdoor emergencies is important for everyone who ventures into the wild, including landscape photographers who travel into the backcountry in SUVs or on foot and even families visiting National Parks. Last year a couple died in Joshua Tree National Park because their vehicle broke down on a remote park road and they were not prepared to be out in the harsh elements overnight.

What I really hate is when magazines and blogs publish a list of "must-have" gear that is nothing more than a list of expensive and fancy gear and it's obvious that the person who put the list together has never even touched any of the gear (Outside Magazine I'm thinking of you as one of the biggest offenders!). I am brutally tough on my gear, I spend days at a time in remote harsh environments where my life literally depends on my gear, and I don't believe in overpaying just for a popular fancy brand name. I do a lot of research before committing to gear because I don't have money to burn (that starving-artist self-employed photographer thing). If I recommend gear, it's because I've field tested it and have verified that it can stand up to my level of abuse.

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator and Nomad 20 Solar Panel charging electronics in the field.
Goal Zero Yeti 150 and Nomad 20 charging electronics in the field

Even in non-emergency situations I have a lot of electronics I want to keep charged out in the field - a gps, cell phone, ham radio, lights and camera batteries at a minimum, and often a laptop or tablet. In an emergency situation it becomes vitally important to be able to charge communication devices and your gps if you forgot to bring a paper map and compass. Many people who regularly travel into the back country have solar panels permanently installed on the roof of their vehicle, but that's not an option for everyone. In my case, I prefer my Jeep's soft top over the hard top so I have no way to mount panels. And because I prefer gear to have multiple functions (let's face it, self-employed photographers aren't exactly rolling in cash and what we do have usually needs to go toward photography gear), portable solar seemed to be the best way to go.

When I talked to Goal Zero about my articles for National Preparedness Month, the type of emergency situations that could be encountered while off roading and what gear I needed to be able to charge, they helped me calculate my needs and provided me with a Yeti 150 and Nomad 20 Solar Panel to test and review. The products can be purchased individually or as a kit.

The Yeti 150 is perfect for vehicle travel into the back country because at 7.75 x 5.75 x 6.75 inches it's small enough to fit into a tightly packed vehicle (photography gear plus camping gear means there isn't room to fit much more!) but provides sufficient power to keep vital electronics and communication devices fully charged. Although I do have an inverter in my Jeep, I'm concerned about possibly running down my Jeep's battery if I overuse it even though I have a deep cycle battery. I already did that once, thankfully it was at home during a multi-day power outage. I don't even want to think about what I would do if my Jeep battery failed in the middle of nowhere! Installing a second battery is an option, but if your vehicle breaks down in the back country and isn't running, or you have no way to call for help, or it will take days before help could reach you, charging your electronics off your vehicle battery isn't a viable option.

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator
Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator

I will warn you that it is heavier than it looks. It has a full size AGM Lead Acid battery inside and weighs 12 pounds, not a deal breaker but it's not exactly light weight.

What I love best about the Yeti 150 is the variety of charging ports to cover all of my needs. A key requirement for me is an AC port because some of my electronics only have AC (wall plug) chargers. A 12 volt auto port is also vital in case my vehicle is not running and I can't use my Jeep's accessory port. And if you're anything like me, you probably have a variety of chargers for each of your electronics, which means you have so many that it's a challenge trying to keep them all organized and some times you get caught without the one you need. I have chargers in my home, in my home office, in my Jeep, in my backpack and in three different camera bags so I am always scrambling to find the right charger! The Yeti 150 has two USB ports, two 12V ports (one is an auto accessory port) and an AC port for wall plugs.

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator
Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator

In between outings you keep the Yeti fully charged by plugging it into the wall. You can also charge it using your vehicle's 12V accessory adaptor. The Yeti is a solar generator; it contains a battery that stores the charge which can then be used to charge your electronics. When you are off the grid the Yeti can be charged with solar panels. Goal Zero makes several different solar panels that are compatible with the Yeti. The Nomad 120 is a great match for off road exploring. The solar capacity is 20 watts and it can fully charge the Yeti 150 in 17-34 hours, depending on how much sun you get. If you want to be able to charge the Yeti faster, you can buy a Boulder 30 or 90 solar panel, or chain up to four smaller panels.

Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel
Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel

You can also charge electronics directly from the Nomad solar panels. The Nomad 20 has a USB port and solar ports to connect to power packs and generators. The Nomad 7 has both USB and 12V charging ports.

Goal Zero Nomad 20 charging ports

Goal Zero states that a fully charged Yeti 150 will charge a smart phone fifteen times, a tablet six times and a laptop two times. Adding the Nomad 20 Solar Panel increases the number of times you can charge your devices because the solar panel will keep the Yeti generator charged. I left a cell phone, ham radio and gps charging all afternoon while the Nomad 20 was charging the Yeti, and the battery indicator on the Yeti never dropped below full. (A word of caution - make sure to keep your electronics in the shade while charging, not the blazing desert sun. I learned that the hard way when my ham radio shut down because it overheated. I really should have known that would happen!)

What if you don't get as much as sun as we get here in sunny Southern California? When I returned home from field testing I left the Yeti unplugged, no wall charger and no solar panel to see how well it would hold the charge. After three days of light usage the battery indicator still showed three quarters full, plenty of staying power to make it through a few overcast days.

Goal Zero Nomad 20 and Nomad 7 solar panels
Goal Zero Nomad 20 and Nomad 7 solar panels

If you'd rather leave your vehicle behind and explore on foot, a smaller Nomad panel might fit your needs. The Nomad panels are very sturdy and fold up into compact units. I have a Nomad 7 panel for my backpack/camera bag for charging my USB devices. It is only nine inches long when folded and weighs 16 ounces, the perfect size for carrying in a pack. It provides 7 watts of power, enough to charge most smart phones and gps units. It can also be used with the Guide 10 Plus Recharger to keep your AA and AA batteries charged.

Don't get caught off guard without power! Goal Zero products are designed for active lifestyles. They are rugged enough for me and they are beautifully designed. In addition to the many power packs, generators and solar panels they offer, they also have many accessory products like solar lanterns and flashlights, speakers, and trickle chargers in every size from ultra compact to heavy duty. You are sure to find something to fit your needs!