Lori Carey Photography

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Exploring Mojave - Turtle Mountains, the Lost Arch Inn and Amboy Crater - Day Two

Day Two of our east Mojave explorations...

The older I get, the harder it is to get myself out and about before sunrise in sub-freezing temperatures. I'm always awake before sunup in camp, but it's COLD so I decide to start a fire and put water on for coffee. As I sip that first cup of coffee I try to psyche myself up to grab the backpack and wander off on my own in the dark...just as soon as I finish this cup of coffee...okay maybe just one more cup to get the blood going...next thing I know another early riser has joined me around the fire and it just seems rude to run off. Meanwhile I had missed the early morning light on the old car graveyard. I think that Reason #3 for a return visit. Hehe, I tell myself it will be easier again in the summer.

With the sun finally shining in camp we could see how incredibly beautiful this area is; volcanic peaks, granite spires, deep canyons and broad washes. Absolutely amazing. As I was writing this I realized that I had managed to grab one quick photo of the Turtle Mountains just as the sun was sinking before we made the turn onto Lost Arch Trail the previous night. I can't emphasize enough how badly I want to return here, early enough to catch the light.

After breakfast we wandered down into the valley behind the Lost Arch Inn to explore some of the many mine shafts in the area. Great fun, especially for the kids. We found one that was large enough to drive a truck into, although the entrance was quite steep. Most of the group ventured as deep as we could go into that one; it was a bit scary, a little claustrophobic and it was hard not to think about the possibility of collapse, especially when you noticed areas that had collapsed previously. There is a famous (infamous?) lost mine in these mountains for which this area was named - the Lost Arch Mine. Many people have searched for it over the years, one person claimed to have found it but couldn't relocate it a second time. It's supposedly located near a natural arch by a river bed. While we were wandering I did spot a cool looking arch up on a cliff, and if I had known about the famous Lost Arch Mine before our trip I would've climbed up to check it out even though I know that if it was that easy to find, others would've found it already. I haven't yet figured out how to photograph a mine shaft and make it look like anything more than a hole in the ground, maybe with a few 2x4s pretending to provide support, so I've stopped trying.

But there were beautiful cactus specimens on the valley floor and the photographers of the group spent a lot of time on them. The barrel cacti were bright red with lots of new growth, another sign that we could have a good wildflower show this spring.

Back in camp it was time to start packing and cleanup before hitting the road again. We always try to leave a site better than we found it, and the Lost Arch Inn needed a little TLC. Seems a lot of yahoos like to practice their target shooting here and people had

spread out the remains of the collapsed second cabin to fill them with bullet holes. A group of the guys gathered up the various pieces of bullet-ridden tin to place in one spot while I went about gathering up spent shell casings. In total I collected 5.5 pounds (yes, I had to take them home to weigh them because I couldn't believe how many there were) not including four live rounds! It is legal to shoot for target practice on this BLM land (although not to vandalize historic relics), but why can't people collect their shells when they are finished? Here's my collection shortly after I started:

The place looked great by the time when we had finished and it made me proud to be associated with a group of people who care.

Packed up and ready to go, we continued along Lost Arch Inn trail to the trailhead for the hike to Mohawk Spring. It was a nice mile long hike up the side of mountain to the weep in the side of cliff which has provided water for Indians and miners through the years. Along the way were spectacular views of the mountains including an up close look at the Mexican Hat rock formation (too bad it was mid-day and the sun was directly overhead) and some interesting cairns and rocks with writing that indicated that they most likely marked claim boundaries.

It's difficult to read in this small size, but this one says "N. End Center, Mohawk #1".

The downside to a spur of the moment trip planned by someone else is that I don't have time to do any research before venturing out. This area is well known for two other important items: petroglyphs and rockhounding. I noticed strange looking "art" on a rock near the Mohawk Spring and thought about taking a photo, then decided it must be more modern graffiti because I had never seen anything like it before. Well it seems that I found the Blueprint Petroglyph, which does not resemble any other known petroglyph; instead it looks like an abstract or blueprint and no one has ever been able to determine what it means. Cool that I saw it, disappointing that I didn't grab that photo.(I'm up to Reason #5 for a return visit.)

I also noticed some really neat swirled creamy pale pink rocks and I just had to pocket a few because they were so unusual. Back home I found out that they were chalcedony roses, a semi-precious gem stone which weathers out of pockets in the volcanic rock. I also found one stone that I believe may be fire agate, but I don't think I'll be able to tell for sure unless I clean and polish it because the dull brown surface layer of iron oxide needs to be removed to reveal the fire. It's times like these I miss my grandfather, an amateur rockhound with knowledge and a stone polisher. If I had known that this area was a such wealth of chalcedony roses, agate, geodes, opalite and jasper I'm not sure I would have picked my head up to enjoy the views along the hike!

Back at the jeeps it was time to relax and enjoy lunch, then hit the trail again. We continued on Lost Arch Trail until it rejoined Sunflower Spring Road and followed that sandy trail until it met up with US 95 twenty-three miles south of Needles, where we headed to gas up. At the gas station half of the group decided to extend the trip another day while the other half needed to head back home. We decided we would look for a place to eat dinner together before going our separate ways.

All I can say is that driving through Needles on a late Sunday afternoon is like being in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Everything looked clean and relatively new, but there wasn't a single person in sight and absolutely everything (except the gas station) was closed. It was surreal. After driving all around town trying to find someplace, anyplace, with food, we gave up and decided to cross into Arizona on the 40 and head up 95 toward Laughlin and Bullhead City. After another 45 minutes or so with no luck finding any open restaurant (or even a fastfood joint), those of us who needed to head back home finally had to separate from the group for the long 5+ hour trek in the opposite direction.

I was really disappointed that we couldn't stay for the rest of the trip; after they finally found some food and restocked for another day, the WayOfLife family, the Doojer family, and Patrick and Kenny ended up setting up camp around 11:00pm at Fort Piute and driving part of the old Mojave Road the final day. As for us, I never realized how remote it is along that stretch of the 40. It is just endless mile after mile of absolutely nothing. We grabbed some fast food once we were back in civilization near Newberry Springs, and the most exciting part of the drive was seeing the aftermath of the plane crash in Riverside along the 15.

This was an incredible trip, and I can't wait to visit the area again to finish exploring and catch the right light. Thanks to WayOfLife for planning another incredible adventure!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Exploring Mojave - Turtle Mountains, the Lost Arch Inn and Amboy Crater - Day One

The wildflowers are blooming!

In addition to the Desert Gold, purple sand verbena was everywhere at Amboy Crater two weekends ago. That's a nice surprise in the middle of January, and with the additional rains we've had this past week we're hoping for a good show this spring.

We set off for a last-minute trip with some friends from Project-JK; a easy scenic trailride with time for exploration and photography. And wow, was this a fun trip! Six jeeps met up at the Coco's in Barstow; in addition to us and the WayOfLife family, there was the Doojer family, Toad and BullFrog, their friends the Mazzman's, and Patrick from Full Traction with his son Kenny. We fueled up both our jeeps and our bodies for the long trip ahead and set out with Amboy Crater in Mojave National Preserve in mind for our first stop.

Amboy Crater is a 6,000 year old extinct volcano, and a beautiful example of a cinder cone surrounded by a lava field, located midway between Barstow and Needles along historic Route 66. Amboy Crater and Lava Field were designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973. The jeep trail out the to the crater (Amboy Crater Road) was closed and that was a good excuse to get out and stretch our legs. We didn't have enough time to hike to the top of the crater if we were going to make camp by nightfall, but there was plenty of time to hike to the base of the crater. Wow, the lava field was an explosion of purple and gold wildflowers, such a wonderful surprise this time of year. While Cindy and I spent most our time photographing the flowers, the boys spotted a huge lizard in the rocks(I believe it was a chuckwalla) and the rest of group wandered around enjoying the sights.

Conscious of the time, we jumped back in the jeeps to find the trailhead to our planned campsite at the Lost Arch Inn. It was a short ride back along the historic Route 66 to the Sunflower Spring trailhead,

but first we had to stop to explore and photograph some abandoned buildings along the way near Essex. I really love photographing these old buildings so it's great that the rest of the group likes to stop and explore too.

You can see by the photos that the sun was already getting lower in the sky, so we were soon enough on our way to the trailhead.

Sunflower Spring Road is Desert #9 in Southern California Backcountry Adventures by Massey and Wilson. It has a difficulty rating of 4/10, a scenic rating of 10/10, and a remoteness rating of +2, which means it is a relatively easy ride that is as beautiful and as remote as it gets! It begins in Essex and travels for 45 miles until it reaches US 95 just 23 miles south of Needles. The trail borders the Piute Mountains Wilderness, the Old Woman Mountains Wilderness, the Turtle Mountains Wilderness, and the Stepladder Mountains Wilderness, which makes it an excellent trail for hiking into any of the remote wilderness areas. The trail is mostly washboarded or deep sand through the bajadas with a few steep and eroded wash crossings. Creosote, cholla, ocotillo and barrel cactus blanket the desert floor, and the mountains are spectacular. One of my favorite views was of Old Woman statue to the west near Sunflower Wash. Unfortunately we were racing against the sun and did not have time to stop for photography along this stretch. It broke my heart to see the gorgeous late afternoon sun on all of the mountain ranges and not be able to stop, but that's reason enough for a return trip to this area.

About 35 miles along the turn for the Lost Arch Inn Trail (Desert #11 in the aforementioned book) is marked by an old mailbox that is used for traveller's messages. How it got there is a mystery, and once again I'm sorry I didn't stop for a photo but we were really hoping to make camp by nightfall and had to keep moving. The trail leads to, what else, the Lost Arch Inn, an old, barely standing cabin (there used to be two of the them, but one has recently collapsed) that was home to Charley Brown and his partner Jesse Craik, two desert prospectors. Charley Brown lived there from 1922 until his death in 1948 while searching the Turtle Mountains for gold and silver. There is an old vehicle graveyard a short distance away, and the area has an incredible number of open mineshafts (you need to be careful wandering around after dark!).

The sun was sinking below the mountains as we pulled in, and we set up camp in the dark; we always set up a community kitchen area, then spread the tents out for a little privacy (and quiet - I won't name any names but there are some in the group who snore. You know who you are!) The temperature was dropping rapidly, the ground was rocky and there was broken glass scattered about, we were trying to set up using flashlights and lanterns, and we were tired because we had been travelling all day. But someone started the campfire and I found a bottle of Jameson in my kitchen bin that was left over from the last trip. I passed the bottle as we warmed by the fire, then Cindy opened some wine as we started preparing dinner. Once we had eaten, we were cozy and settled in by the fire.

The old cabin was spooky in the dark with the firelight flickering on it; there were no doors on the cabin and the furniture inside cast moving shadows across the floor. I realized it was the perfect subject for experimenting with some lightpainting. I had been dying to give this technique a try for the longest time, but hadn't found anything that interested me enough.

The first thing I learned is that it is all but impossible to focus in the dark if you don't have a bright enough flashlight. Although the beam on my flashlights are fine for finding my way to and from my tent in the dark, they just weren't strong enough to allow me to focus precisely on the building. Although I think it adds somewhat to the mystery of the photos, add another item to the shopping list! The second thing I learned is that it's tough to reliably chimp this type of exposure - what you see is not close to what you get - the image looks much brighter in camera than it will when downloaded. I thought my first few shots were overexposed and so used less light and a shorter exposure time in subsequent shots, and later found they were too dark to do much with. I should've made the connection because I've found the same thing when I try to chimp my manual flash exposures. But I still got a few good shots, I'm happy with the results and can't wait to play around with this technique again.

This first shot is using light from the campfire only:

and this is one is a longer exposure while I walked around the outside and inside of the cabin firing off my 580EX:

The second one has a different color temperature and the star trails are longer due to the longer exposure, but you can still see the warm glow of the campfire. I wish I had put more light inside the cabin on some of my exposures, but it's a learning experience.

I also tried lightpainting a shot of our tent and campsite, but I didn't use enough flash in the tent and my exposure was not long enough. I was afraid that the ambient light from the nearby campfire was going to spill into my shot so only did a five minute exposure. That wasn't nearly long enough to gather sufficient light. Another lesson learned, but it was late and I was tired, so we retired for the night excited to see what the next day would bring.

Friday, January 4, 2008

And one addition

Ha! I knew I had forgotten something!

I have this very old school habit left over from my days of shooting of film; I still have the mindset that it is a sin to shoot with an ISO higher than 100! Occasionally, if it was an extreme emergency, I might use a roll of 200, but absolutely never anything higher. And my preference was for chrome with an ISO of 50 or 64 (depending on whether it was Fuji or Kodak), or even 25 for landscapes. Wow, that stuff was incredible.

I need to move beyond this mental roadblock. Even with 2.8 lenses, I run into situations where I have limited light and get frustrated that I can't get the shutter speed I want, and I never, never think to bump my ISO. It's just not a part of my thought processes.

In 2008 I will make a conscious effort to remember to try bumping my ISO when I run into those situations (maybe to 200 ). No more old school thinking about ISO!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Reflections on 2007, Directions for 2008

I won't lie; I don't make New Year resolutions, per se. It's just always seemed silly to me that so many people seem think they need to pick something to improve once a year, and only once a year. They usually choose something very general like "lose weight" or "get healthier", then they get obsessive about it for a week or two, burn themselves out, and forget about it until the following New Year. They're okay with that because, after all, no one actually expects to be able to keep their New Year's Resolutions.

What I do believe in is setting and refining goals on a regular basis, and I look at it more as creating a business plan for my life (what else would you expect from an MBA with 20+ years experience in the corporate world? :) Last year most of my goals were focused on my photography (imagine that!). Truth is, my photography is a very important part of who I am, but I had not been giving it the priority it deserved over the past few years and that had created an imbalance in my life.

My goals are posted above my desk where I can see them every day; I evaluate them and my progress on a regular basis, and add/delete/modify on a regular basis. I am a Stephen Covey disciple, and I truly believe that all of the success and good things I have in my life are due to steadfastly following the principles laid out in "The 7 Habits" as well as the planning skills I learned through FranklinCovey.

2007 was a fantastic year for me on a personal level photographically speaking; for the first time in many years I actually had time to think about my photography. What I discovered was that the more I thought about it, the more things I found to think about! I really started out just wanting to become better organized and spend more time shooting, but as the year progressed my plan evolved and grew. And so once again it's time for me to review my progress (or lack of) toward my 2007 goals, and refine my goals for 2008. Let's see how I did:

To start with, I took more photos in one year than I have since I was in my 20's, dramatically improved my knowledge of Photoshop, started showing my images to a larger audience, and work has continued to come my way despite my complete lack of marketing. I learned that although I had always thought of myself as a landscaper photographer, I am currently rethinking exactly what that means; how does one differentiate oneself in the field of landscape photography? And do I really want to declare that as my niche? To be quite honest, I am enjoying shooting many other things now that I am taking the camera out more, and I've received some fantastic feedback on my candid portrait shots (which are not shown on my website) and I'm wondering if I should spend more time in these areas. Landscape is so limiting because it is entirely dependent on the light; there are only a few brief hours, if you are lucky, that you can get a really good landscape shot.

My first goal from January 2007 was the most important to me;

Lose less photos that I see.
I think all photographers can relate to that one - how many times have you smacked yourself because something caught your eye, maybe even a once-in-lifetime shot, and your camera was still at home? I knew that I really needed to start carrying my camera more in every day life, not just on photo outings, and that is a major deal because even just my camera and a lens is heavy and bulky. I tried to always carry my camera on walks, whenever I got in the jeep to do more than run to the grocery store, I even took it to a bar one night. The upside was that I was shooting a lot more and I got some shots that I never would've in the past, like this social commentary at the UCI campus:

It might be hard to read all of the signs in this small version, but they say "Jesus loves you", "Bob Marley loves you", "Mozart loves you" and "Anna Nicole loves you."
It may not be a work of art, but I like to imagine the scene of events that took place in this dorm building that led to the posting of all these proclamations of love, and I think it makes a statement about the world in which we live today.

I still need to concentrate more on processing and uploading my photos; now that I'm shooting more I've fallen even further behind! But I am slowly working through the backlog.

My next goal for 2007 was to develop a system for keywording and cataloging since my collection was getting too big to manage without some sort of organization. I have to admit that I am still struggling with a method of cataloging that works for me. I've tried playing around with methods that other photographers use, and they just don't feel right for me. I understand why it's important to give each file a meaningful name, but when you're at Tree # 273 it just loses something. And developing a numerical/alpha system, where maybe LS stands for landscape, CA stands for California, etc. was driving me crazy. So, for now I am leaving the file name at its original number and appending a suffix which indicates the processing method if I create multiple versions (such as LAB if I processed it in the LAB color space), which will cause me problems when I upgrade my camera again. And I've only been renaming the files I actually convert; the original RAW files keep their original file names.

I do have a consistent method of naming my folders now, using the year, the month, and the topic. Every month also has a "miscellaneous" folder to hold all of those things that caught my eye. That part works and I will continue to use it.

I'm very happy with how I've been keeping up on keywording, but I fell into it in a kind of roundabout way. In late June I added a mid-year goal and finally decided to go public with a website. The timing was right - I had a family reunion shoot and most of the people lived out of state. The best (and really only) way to allow them to view the proofs and order their prints was via a website, so I finally got off my duff and got one up and running thanks to the great folks at Smugmug and the fantastic help I received to customize my site from the people at Smugmug's forum Dgrin. Although I had some experience with html, they really held my hand with the CSS and helped me learn how to customize my site to do almost anything I wanted. I developed a workflow routine to prep my files for uploading, and embedding my copyright, caption and keywords became part of my routine. Voila! All uploaded files are now keyworded, hurrah!

Despite the compliments I've received on my site I wasn't happy with the format of the purchasing options and I wanted to reevaluate my pricing model, so I took down that part in November to rewrite it. Shame on me, it's going on two months now and you'd never know that you could purchase photos from my website, so my very top priority right now is to get that redesign finished by the end of January at the very latest.

My final goal for 2007 (from the first round) was to complete two personal photo projects, and here I failed miserably. After seeing this feature in National Geographic, I decided I wanted to do my own essay on the border wall between California and Mexico. My first trip down there was a disaster - it had rained heavily the night before and the mud was knee deep. The light wasn't good at all and I couldn't find anything that caught my eye. My best photo from that trip was of a massive concrete cylinder on the beach, and I have no idea what it is. I still think there is a lot of potential there, and I have another location planned, but I just haven't been able to make it back down there yet.

I kicked around a few ideas for other projects, but nothing really came to fruition. I discovered a love for photographing old and abandoned buildings and ghost towns, of which there are plenty in California. I even started a gallery on my website for it, but I've only just begun with this project. I'm really a bit disappointed in myself about the whole project thing, and vow to do a better job this year.

For now I'm going to stick with the three I've been bouncing around for months, simply because they will continue to force me to "see" and continue to develop my eye. I also think they have the potential to become good stock images (yes, that is another new idea I have been paying a lot of attention to lately - ever since Smugmg started teasing us with their idea of jumping into the stock photography market). One is the rainbow project, which consists of building a body of work that consists of images of each color of the rainbow that will eventually become a montage of some sorts. Another is the alphabet series, which consists of looking for letters of the alphabet in nature and the ordinary objects around us. The third one is just a number series based on images of numbers in every day objects. I got the idea for this when I took a shot of a buoy with the number six on it; on its own it's just a buoy with the number six, but if I can put it in a series it will have meaning and relevance (at least that is my hope). And I'll continue to work on my "Time on Its Back" project, especially since I now have the proper vehicle to get to the truly remote locations.

The goal I added mid-year was to improve my knowledge of lighting and post processing. You see, the more I studied other photographers' work, the more I realized that the photos that made me say "Wow!" all were due to either incredible light or incredible post processing, and usually both. The post processing issue is a touchy one, and I know that many photographers think that Photoshop has ruined photography because too many people believe that a bad photo can be made into a passably good one simply by using Photoshop. If only that were true! But I do believe that advanced knowledge and application of things such as channels and curves and blend mode layers can help the final image to convey the photographer's meaning. So I have studied like a mad woman all year long. The biggest, life-changing book for me was
Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum
by Dan Margulis. It gave me a new understanding about the separation of color and luminosity, and finally made me understand the power of curves. I do a lot of photography in the deserts and canyons of California, and this book has made such an impact on me that I have completely changed my workflow to utilize the methods taught in this book. I am only working at a very basic level (this is some very complicated, high-level stuff), but I can't believe how easy it is now to do achieve results that I've struggled so hard to achieve in the past.

I had also realized that by sticking with landscape photography and only relying on ambient light, I had never developed any technical lighting skills beyond the very basics. I decided I wanted to master light and lighting. Enter
Light, Science and Magic
to the rescue.This book whetted my appetite, and after devouring it and faithfully following the Strobist blog for over a year I knew I would never be happy with just my on-camera 580EX and that it was time to buy some lights. Earlier in the year I thought I would buy a nice set of studio lights, but after seeing the amazing work being done by the Strobist followers, thinking about it for months, and realizing that I would never carry around studio lights but I could and would carry around Strobist gear, I finally realized that this was the method that made the most sense for the way I work. So a little pre-birthday chat with the spousal unit netted me some really cool wireless Strobist gear for my birthday this year (I'm a Little Christmas baby, born on the Epiphany).

Of course, that means that since I've been relying on ETTL in the past, one of my primary goals of 2008 is a commitment to improving my knowledge of guide numbers, flash ratios, and dare I say it, learning how to set my flash exposure manually. But I've already been copying lighting diagrams and trying to deconstruct the lighting in images that catch my eye, so I am really eager to get started.

There are some mountains on the road ahead, but the view sure is grand!