Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

Wildflower Wednesday: Bring ’em on!   10 comments

Wildflowers and insects are inseparable!

Wildflowers and insects are inseparable.

Pink rhododendron bloom in the forests of Mount Hood in Oregon.

Pink rhododendron bloom in the forests of Mount Hood in Oregon.

Pink monkeyflower and a yellow aster bloom in a meadow fed by a spring in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

Pink monkeyflower and yellow aster bloom in a meadow fed by a spring in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

One of my favorite flowers of the subalpine zone in the Cascades is blue gentian, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

One of my favorite flowers of the subalpine zone in the Cascades is blue gentian, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

My favorite flower of the dry steppe region of the Pacific Northwest is the always solo mariposa lily.

My favorite flower of the dry steppe region of the Pacific Northwest is the always solo and always beautiful mariposa lily.

Let's  not forget tropical flowers.  This one attended by red ants I found in a forest in Thailand.

Let’s not forget tropical flowers. This one I found attended by red ants in a Thailand forest.

Wonderful lupine and balsamroot decorate this hillside in the eastern Columbia Gorge of Oregon.  Note the moon peaking through.

Wonderful lupine and balsamroot decorate this hillside in the eastern Columbia Gorge of Oregon. Note the moon peaking through.

Speaking of the eastern Gorge, this is its most famous flower, the arrowleaf balsamroot.

Speaking of the eastern Gorge, this is its most famous flower, the arrowleaf balsamroot.

Not all flowers are colorful.  This one is the pasqueflower, which blooms then immediately goes to a "wild hair" seed head.

Not all flowers are colorful. This one is the pasqueflower, which immediately goes to a “wild hair” seed head after blooming.

The deep forest of the Pacific Northwest hides wonders like these fairy bells, lit by a shaft of sunlight.

The deep forest of the Pacific Northwest hides wonders like these fairy bells, lit by a shaft of sunlight.

The glorious indian paintbrush is a common wildflower of mountains in the American West.

The glorious indian paintbrush is a common wildflower of mountains in the American West.

Flowers bloom in profusion in the aptly named Paradise meadows of Mount Rainier.

Flowers bloom in profusion in the aptly named Paradise meadows of Mount Rainier.

A summer flower around these parts that is particularly eye-catching, the tiger lily.

A summer flower around these parts that is particularly eye-catching, the tiger lily.

 

A welcome export to Oregon, the California poppy, likes roadsides.

A welcome import to Oregon, the California poppy, likes roadsides.

I hope you like these wildflower images.  Please click on an image to go to the main gallery part of my website, where some of the full-size versions are available for purchase.  If you can’t find one, or have any questions or special requests, please contact me.  They are protected by copyright and not available for free download, sorry.  Thanks for your interest, and happy Wildflower Wednesday!

Advertisements

Single-Image Sunday: the Mariposa Lily   Leave a comment

I’m going to start trying to use each Sunday to post single images, in posts that are word-scarce, especially compared with Friday’s photo how-to posts.

A beautiful flower of springtime in the drier semi-desert areas of eastern Washington, Oregon and adjacent Idaho is the Mariposa lily.

A beautiful flower of springtime in the drier semi-desert areas of eastern Washington, Oregon and adjacent Idaho is the Mariposa lily.

The beautiful mariposa lily is my favorite wildflower from the steppe regions of the Pacific Northwest where I live.  It blooms in late springtime, usually in single, tall flowers.  They look so delicate and easy for the wind to flatten (and the wind does blow strong in these parts).  But they are as dependable in eastern Oregon and Washington after spring rains as the smell of sagebrush.  Enjoy!

Note that this image is copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  Just click on it if you’re interested in it.  Once you are in the high-res. version, click “add this image to cart”.  It won’t be added to your cart right away.  Click the appropriate tab to be shown pricing options.  Please contact me if you have any questions, and thanks very much for your interest.

A Dose of Macro Fun   5 comments

The signature flower of springtime in forests throughout the Pacific Northwest of North America: the trillium.

The signature flower of springtime in forests throughout the Pacific Northwest of North America: the trillium.

 

A little time-out from normal place-based blogging for some miscellaneous macro images.  I’ve been out hiking lately, as the weather has turned gorgeous.  And when I’m hiking, well let’s just say that I’m easily distracted by the small.  So here are a few close-up pictures from recent days.  Enjoy…

 

I think this is a goldenrod spider, which can change color depending on what flower they choose to wait for their prey on.  In this case he's camped out on an arrowleaf balsamroot on Surveyor's Ridge above Hood River, Oregon.

I think this is a goldenrod spider, which can change color depending on what flower they choose to wait for their prey on. In this case he’s camped out on an arrowleaf balsamroot on Surveyor’s Ridge above Hood River, Oregon.

 

Delicate forest flowers, I think they're called fairy bells, blooming along the Oregon Coast.

Delicate forest flowers, I think they’re called fairy bells, blooming along the Oregon Coast.

 

Remember to go to the high-res. versions, where there are easy options to purchase these as a fine print or download, simply click on the image.  They aren’t available for free download, sorry about that.  Go ahead and contact me if you have any questions or comments.  Thanks a bunch!

 

The feathery seed heads we used to blow with a wish as children, in a grassy meadow near Mt Hood, Oregon.

The feathery seed heads we used to blow with a wish as children, in a grassy meadow near Mt Hood, Oregon.

 

The lovely purple sheen of a grass widow decorates meadows in the drier parts of Central Oregon during early springtime.

The lovely purple sheen of a grass widow decorates meadows in the drier parts of Central Oregon during early springtime.

Rowena Plateau is Blooming   8 comments

Dawn breaks on Rowena Crest in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Dawn breaks on Rowena Crest in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 

Rowena is one of my favorite places to hike and photograph in springtime, not only in Oregon but anywhere.  Around Easter the showy yellow blooms of the arrowleaf balsamroot appear, and they are soon joined by lupine, paintbrush and other more subtle flowers.  It’s a show that shouldn’t be missed if you happen to be in the Pacific Northwest in spring.  It is very popular with photographers and hikers both.

Early morning dew coats arrowleaf balsamroot at Rowena Crest in the Columbia River Gorge.

Early morning dew coats arrowleaf balsamroot at Rowena Crest in the Columbia River Gorge.

To get there, take Interstate 84 east of Portland all the way out past Hood River to the town of Mosier.  Get off the freeway and turn east on the Dalles-Mosier highway.  This is an extremely scenic two-lane that winds up through the hills toward Rowena Plateau (also known as Rowena Crest).  When the road tops out and the trees thin out, look for a turnoff and parking to the right.  What a view!

Note also that there are wide spots to pull off along the road before you get to the official viewpoint.  But please don’t drive off the gravel; this is fairly delicate terrain.  After your visit, you can keep going on this road as it winds spectacularly back down to the Columbia River, where you’ll be able to access the freeway again for the return.  I’ve seen car companies shooting commercials here.  It will take about an hour and a half to drive here from Portland.

Mount Adams is visible on the hike up to Tom McCall Point at Rowena Plateau in Oregon.

Mount Adams is visible on the hike up to Tom McCall Point at Rowena Plateau in Oregon.

Trails head in both directions from the viewpoint at the crest, and you can’t go wrong with either one.  If you take the trail that heads north toward the river, you’ll pass fields of wildflowers and a small lake.  It’s less than a mile to the cliff-edge, where you can look straight down on the freeway and the river.  Use caution!

If you go the other direction, toward the south, wildlfowers will again greet you as you climb toward McCall Point.  Making the short <2-mile climb to this point will reward you with views of both Mounts Hood and Adams.  Please stay on the trail, and avoid stepping on the plants.  Some are quite rare, even endangered.

Doe and yearling mule deer are curious to see who is visiting at Rowena Plateau near the Columbia River, Oregon.

Doe and yearling mule deer are curious to see who is visiting at Rowena Plateau near the Columbia River, Oregon.

This whole area is a preserve named for Tom McCall, a former governor of Oregon known for his environmental stewardship.  He was also famous for his unofficial motto “Oregon, enjoy your visit but please don’t stay!”  He did not want his beloved state to become California, and a sign was even posted with this motto on the main highway near Oregon’s border with our southern neighbor.

The area is preserved because of its unique botanical treasures.  The showy sunflower-like balsamroot and lupine are very common of course, but there are smaller, less noticeable plants here that are rare and make botanists go giddy with pleasure.  It’s a gorgeous place, especially at sunrise.  I camp here in my van so as to be here at daybreak.  It’s one of the few places I go that I share with a good number of other photographers.  It’s just too good to miss.

Mount Hood stands beyond the spring blooms on Tom McCall Point in Oregon.

Mount Hood stands beyond the spring blooms on Tom McCall Point in Oregon.

If you come here note that it can often be very windy (see image at bottom).  When the sun shines and temperatures rise (which often happens on this drier side of the Cascades), watch for snakes.  Rattlesnakes, which are potentially dangerous, are not as common as gopher snakes but the two can be hard to distinguish.  This is not least because the non-venomous gopher snake has some tricks up its sleeve that it uses to mimick the venomous rattler.  The triangular-shaped head of the rattler, along with its well-known method of warning hikers, should be enough to tell the difference.  Various birds (including raptors), lizards, wild turkeys and deer also frequent the area.

Rowena would definitely be high on my list if I was visiting the Hood River/Columbia Gorge area.  I hope you enjoy the images.  Please be aware that they are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Click on any of the pictures to go to the main part of my website, where there are purchase options for high-resolution images.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks a lot.

A very stiff wind blows the balsamroot and lupine at sunrise on Rowena Plateau in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A very stiff wind blows the balsamroot and lupine at sunrise on Rowena Plateau in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 

 

Happy Easter!   3 comments

A red tulip.

A red tulip.

Happy Easter!  This is a very simple post.  I hope you are spending most of this day outside.  So I have few words to distract you.  No pictures of bunnies, sorry.  For me Easter means tulips.  I think tulips are my favorite flower, or at least my favorite cultivated flower.  Just click on the images for high-res. versions and purchase options.  These are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Thanks for your interest.  Enjoy your holiday!

A spring shower dampens a newly bloomed pink tulip.

A spring shower dampens a newly bloomed pink tulip.

 

In Praise of the Prickly Pear   8 comments

Hot pink prickly pear cactus bloom, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

Hot pink prickly pear cactus bloom, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

I recently realized something.  I have until recently avoided photographing a worthy subject just because it is common. It is the lowly beaver tail cactus, a member of the prickly pear family.  It grows across the interior western United States, touching the Pacific Coast in southern California.  It took quite awhile for me to come around on this rather unspectacular cactus.  But now I am taking the time to notice its subtle charm.

Beavertail cactus, a member of the pricklypear family, is a common sight in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Beaver tail cactus, a member of the prickly pear family, is a common sight in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

You see, I’ve noticed that this plant and I have some things in common.  It is on the surface unpleasant when you first glance its way, having a heavily creased face and a generally sour appearance.  It’s also worth avoiding at certain times, such as early mornings before it’s had a cup of coffee.   But it cannot completely conceal a certain rough charm, when the light is right.  And its interior is pulpy and soft, in stark contrast to the face it shows to the general public.

The wrinkles of a prickly pear that has gone to purple in Zion Canyon, Utah.

The wrinkles of a prickly pear that has gone to purple in Zion Canyon, Utah.

More than once I’ve squatted down to look at something on the desert floor, and had my bottom stuck with the painful spines of a small prickly pear I hadn’t even noticed.  I’ve also been annoyed when huge prickly pears blocked my way, forcing me to detour.  In many drier areas of the American West, beaver tail is ubiquitous, the most common spiny succulent growing.

The plant can take on amazing colors, particularly just after flowering, or when it’s stressed and the chlorophyll drains out of its body.  When a plant loses its green chlorophyll, other pigments (such as anthocyanins) impart vibrant purples, pinks, reds and other shades.  In fact, this is precisely what happens when a leaf goes from green to red or yellow in autumn.

After the bloom: a prickly pear's dried flowers show their version of fall colors in Zion National Park, Utah.

After the bloom: a prickly pear’s dried flowers show their version of fall colors in Zion National Park, Utah.

Prickly pears are wrinkly and spiny, and the beaver tail is no exception.  The spines keep most animals from eating it (for the moisture it contains inside) and the wrinkles are an adaptation that lessens the drying effect of desert winds.  These features give it an interesting look when the light is right.  Like other photographers, I mostly have ignored the prickly pear.  That is until it blooms.

Springtime in the deserts of the American Southwest means hot pink beaver tail cactus are in bloom.

Springtime in the deserts of the American Southwest means hot pink beaver tail cactus are in bloom.

In the deserts of the southwestern U.S.A., prickly pear blooms in late March or April – springtime.  The amount of winter rainfall and other factors influence how showy the blooms are, but the size and color (usually pinkish) of the flowers never disappoints anyone.  It is only recently that I’ve begun to really see how beautiful it can be at other times of the year.

So here’s to our common beaver tail cactus.  I will never take it for granted again.

Beaver tail cactus grows abundantly in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Beaver tail cactus grows abundantly in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Visiting the California Coast near Big Sur   3 comments

In my last post I ranted about the crowds along this stretch of the California Coast that includes the stunning Big Sur.  Well, if you insist on visiting this area instead of the slightly superior (in my opinion) Oregon Coast, please do so during a week other than this one – the week between Christmas and New Years.  I would think much of summer would also be too crowded.  First the bad news, then the good with some recommended stops.

The view north along the California Coast near Big Sur is a classic.

The view north along the California Coast near Big Sur is a classic.

CONS: ACCESS PROBLEMS

I’ve noticed many of my fellow travelers here are on a different wavelength than I am.  They’re dressed to the nines, with heels and nice clothes.  So for them a simple drive with stops to snap photos is what they’re after.  With some exceptions, this is what they get in California.  Coastal access is hampered in this state by lack of foresight.  In Oregon, during the 1960s, Governor Tom McCall passed a law that was brilliant.  In that state, nobody can own the beach; it’s all public.  You will never see a fence with no trespassing signs stretched across the sand in Oregon.

Anna's Hummingbird Feeding

Additionally, there are many many more state parks along the Oregon Coast than on the California Coast.  There are places to access the coastline here, mostly north or south of the Big Sur area.  But a combination of geography (the San Jacinto Mountains are a long and unbroken rank of mountains that keep Highway 1 well up above the ocean) along with the private property have blocked my attempts to experience this coast in the way I like.

I like to take long hikes along the coast, exploring coves and headlands.  This is harder to do here than in Oregon.  Shorter explorations can be done in California, but I’ve found that around Big Sur it’s very difficult.  The Redwood Coast is a little better in this regard.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

PROS: 

Redwoods: On the California coast, even this far south, you’ll find the famous Redwood trees.  This is, by the way, something Oregon lacks except for one place in the far south.  Of course if you really want to see the big trees, go up to the Redwood Coast, just south of the border with Oregon.

Golfing: I am not a golfer, but you could do much worse than the Monterrey Peninsula for this sport.  Pebble Beach and a plethora of other courses carpet the land.  By the way, in Oregon, Bandon is a similarly great golfing center.

Elephant Seals and Sea Otters: The stretch of coastline south of Big Sur has many places from which to see these sea creatures.  I would add gray whales to this, but you can see these giants anywhere along the west coast.  Go to Baja in Mexico if you want to get up close and personal with them in their breeding grounds.

Wine & Dine: Although wine country is inland and north from here, there is no shortage of restaurants and wine bars featuring great wines.  In fact, the fine dining in this area is pretty special.  I don’t go in for this type of thing generally, preferring funky cafes and eateries.

Moderate Winter Weather: One winter while living in Alaska I was sent to a conference at Stanford University.  Talk about being thawed out!  The winters south of San Francisco are famous for being rather warm, though big storms are not uncommon.

An Anna's hummingbird rests in the sun before an incredibly energetic feeding session.

An Anna’s hummingbird rests in the sun before an energetic feeding session.

A flower in the gardens of Big Sur Coast Gallery, blooming here in December, is shaped especially for Hummingbirds.

A flower in the gardens of Big Sur Coast Gallery, blooming here in December, is shaped especially for Hummingbirds.

TRAVEL TIPS:

I will focus on photography and nature, since that is what I’m into.

  • Elephant Seals on the beach at San Simeon near the Hearst Castle: These big-nosed seals haul up on the beach and are fairly used to photographers, so you can get pretty close. Don’t get too close though. Males especially can be extremely dangerous.
  • McWay waterfall:  A gorgeous cove and waterfall are accessed by a short trail from Julia Pfeifer State Park, near Big Sur itself.  See image below.
  • The garden at the Big Sur Coast Gallery Cafe:  Up on the headland, you will pass a few lodges and restaurants.  Behind the gas station here (Big Sur’s only one), you’ll find a little cafe with good (but expensive) coffee.  There are cactus all around the place, and they dominate the garden.  But there are all sorts of plants, including those with flowers that draw hummingbirds.
  • Point Lobos:  Not far south of Carmel, you’ll find the Pt. Lobos Reserve.  Hiking trails wind through the trees, and the rocky coastline is chock full of great foregrounds for sunset shots.  This place is very popular, so if you want more solitude try…
  • The headland just south of Point Lobos:  If Pt Lobos is too crowded, go south to the very next headland, just past the public beach.  There is not much parking, but pull in on either side of the hill next to the highway.  A trail heads around on an ocean-side bench.  South of the hill, downhill toward the ocean, a bit of scrambling will take you down to a small beach. There are great tide pools. Back up on top of the bench, work your way around to the north to find all sorts of rocky foregrounds.
  • Lucia: The people at this little lodge south of Big Sur are very friendly and it is a world away from the hoity toity atmosphere of Carmel.  Their restaurant is perched well above the Pacific, with a view into a cove where sea otters play.  You’ll need a big telephoto to get photos of them though.
  • Carmel by the Sea: You’ll find plenty of eating and lodging options, all fairly spendy.  This is a fine town to stroll, but it’s crowded on holidays.  There is an oyster bar named Flaherty’s, so you know I had to visit (that’s my last name).  While it is necessarily more upscale than oyster bars should probably be (it’s Carmel after all), the food is good and the atmosphere not as stuffy as other places in this town.
  • Carmel Mission:  Especially nice if you are religious and want to attend one of the services, this old mission a few minutes west of Hwy. 1 towards Carmel by the Sea is worth a stop and a few photos.  It is well preserved.
  • Monterrey Bay Aquarium:  A can’t miss destination, this aquarium is regarded as one of the best in the country, if not the world.  It lies on the north side of the Monterrey Peninsula, facing the bay to the north.
  • Garland Ranch Regional Park:  This is a nice change from the coast, lying inland in the Carmel Valley about 10 miles from Hwy. 1.  Locals take their dogs for leash-free walks in this beautiful 4500-acre park.  It consists of valley bottom oaks and sycamores, but also ascends to 2000 feet (if you need real exercise).  There are historical remains, both American Indian and that of the Rancho Don Juan.  You can hike, bike or ride horseback on trails of varying lengths.  There is also a visitor center.
A couple walks the trails of Garland Ranch Regional Park in Monterrey County, California.

A couple walks the trails of Garland Ranch Regional Park in Monterrey County, California.

An old wagon sits on the grounds of the old Rancho Don Juan in the Garland Ranch Regional Park near Carmel, California.

An old wagon sits on the grounds of the old Rancho Don Juan in the Garland Ranch Regional Park near Carmel, California.

A simple but beautiful fly appears to be trying to figure out how to get the nectar from this cactus flower in the garden of Big Sur Coast Gallery.

A simple but beautiful fly appears to be trying to figure out how to get the nectar from this cactus flower in the garden of Big Sur Coast Gallery.

A waterfall on the California Coast near Big Sur drops directly into the Pacific.

A waterfall on the California Coast near Big Sur drops directly into the Pacific.

So that’s it for now.  It’s a pretty subjective report I know.  If you’re not really a photo or nature geek, I would recommend some further searching of more standard travel sites.  Just try to visit during an off week.

The rocky Monterrey County, California coastline includes some granite, which looks great with the low plants in December sunshine.

The rocky coast of Monterrey County, California includes granite, which looks great with the low plants in December sunshine.

Waves crash up onto the shore of the California Coast near Big Sur.

Waves crash up onto the shore of the California Coast near Big Sur.

Baja California II   9 comments

The sun rises over the desert of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

The sun rises over the desert of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

Still in Baja.  This was to be a short 1-week dip into Baja California Norte.  I’m a bit over that now, but this is the day for saying Adios to Mexico.  Several years ago I came down here with a friend and we went all the way down to the southern tip at Cabo San Lucas.  Actually I liked San Jose del Cabo more than the famous tourist center.  It is to the east of Cabo San Lucas and is more of a local’s town.  The beaches all face south, are uncrowded, and (this is crucial) in December the sun shines warmly on them.

The desert in Mexico's Baja California Norte has some surprises, including the rare California Palm, which grow in small canyons fed by springs.

The desert in Mexico’s Baja California Norte has some surprises, including a variety of palms which grow in small canyons fed by springs.

The other great thing about the southern part of Baja, in my opinion, is the canyon hiking.  About halfway between La Paz and Cabo, just south of the windsurfing mecca of Los Barrilles, you’ll find Agua Caliente.  There are dirt roads leading west away from the highway and towards the mountains.  A great camping site awaits you, and a short walk from your camp brings you to a riverside hot spring.  But if you keep hiking upriver, you enter a granite canyon that is sublime.  I don’t like using that word much, but it fits here.

The desert floor in Baja California Norte takes on festive colors in December.

The desert floor in Baja California Norte takes on festive colors in December.

There are waterfalls and plunge pools galore, and even a few boulder fields where you can run across the perfectly-placed rocks.  I love doing this, though I can’t seem to generate the speed that I once did.  The trick is to start slowly and to concentrate on the exact spot where your next foot will land.  As you pick up speed, you begin to look for that next spot well before your front foot lands on the rock before.

The constant winds on the Baja Peninsula have sculpted the granite outcrops of the interior desert.

The constant winds on the Baja Peninsula have sculpted the granite outcrops of the interior desert.

Soon you are on the edge of wiping out, which will happen immediately if you lose concentration.  You go until the boulder field ends or your legs give out.  We did it often while climbing in Alaska.  It was a way to break up the monotony of traversing truly enormous boulder fields.  Here in southern Baja, the rounded granite boulders are perfect for it.  And after you get all hot and sweaty you can hit the next freshwater plunge pool.  Excellent!

The plants of Baja California's desert will often bloom in mid-winter when the rains come.

Plants of Baja California’s desert will often bloom in mid-winter when the rains come.

This was the first road trip for my beloved VW Westy.  I had just purchased it the summer before, and it really needed an inaugural trip.  I slept above while my buddy slept below.  He continued through Mexico by taking the ferry from La Paz, while I returned north with the van.

Aloe and granite outcrops in the desert of the northern Baja Peninsula glow with golden light at sunset.

Yucca and granite outcrops in the desert of the northern Baja Peninsula glow with golden light at sunset.

I also loved a little place called Aqua Verde.  This is a little-known coastal settlement on the Sea of Cortez side of the Baja Peninsula just south of Loreto.  You take a dirt road from the highway just before it cuts inland.  When we took this road it got bad, narrow and with extreme drop-offs.  But this was because a tropical storm had hit the area just a month before.  The road should be better now.

An aloe plant and its characteristic white threads is yet another interesting plant of the Baja California Desert.

A yucca plant and its characteristic white threads is yet another interesting plant of the Baja California Desert.

It’s worth braving the death-defying road though.  It leads down to an extremely scenic embayment, complete with offshore islands and sandy coves.  And the water is indeed colored a beautiful greenish turquoise.  When we visited, there was only a single family living down there.  The matriarch will serve meals if you ask.  Otherwise you can camp just about anywhere near or on the beach.  But watch yourself or you will end up doing a lot of digging and cursing getting unstuck.  I recommend bringing a shovel.  There was one American guy down there.  From San Diego, he comes here every year to dive and spearfish.  He says the water off Southern California is just too polluted now.  He loves the family, and this is his time to commune with his beloved sea.  All he requires is his little dinghy and a wetsuit, and he’s happy.  I hope Agua Verde hasn’t changed!

A desert plant on Mexico's Baja Peninsula displays vibrant color after winter rains.

A desert plant on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula displays vibrant color after winter rains.

Not all went well on that trip.  In Loreto on the return north, I had my van side-swiped by a drunk driver while it was parked.  Of course it was a hit and run.  But a small piece of the pickup that hit me was left at the scene, enough to identify the color and even the make of the truck.   Also, I interviewed every business owner on that street and sure enough, it was a swerving, speeding black Toyota pickup that hit me.

A temporary pool fills a depression in a granite outcrop on Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

A temporary pool fills a depression in a granite outcrop on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

So I spent a couple days wandering the entire city looking for that pickup.  It was sort of fun playing detective, though getting the police to help was frustrating.  When I found a pickup which matched, I actually got a Mexican policeman to follow him, with me in the passenger seat.  When we pulled him over it turned out to not have any damage.  Then the next morning while walking I saw a nearly identical truck with the right damage, parked on the roadside.  But when I returned with a cop, the truck was gone.  I never saw it again.

An elephant tree reclines on a granite outcrop in the northern Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

An elephant tree reclines on a granite outcrop in the northern Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

On this current trip I did not make it down there, but I did spend some quality time in the desert.  I also hung about in Ensenada for a few days, getting some (cheap) body work done on my van.  Staying away from the Chiquitas has been key to my saving money doing it here instead of at home, where labor rates are much higher.  But I am feeling a little road weary, after almost 3 months.  It’s time to head home.  I can feel it.  But one more post on Baja to come, this time focusing, as I promised last post, on the people I met down here.

A saguaro basks in the warm late-afternoon light on Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

A cardon cactus basks in the warm late-afternoon light on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

The crescent moon shines behind a towering cirios on Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

The crescent moon shines behind a towering cirios (or boojum) on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

Baja California I   Leave a comment

A rare rainbow graces the desert during sunrise in Baja California, Mexico.

A rare rainbow graces the desert during sunrise in Baja California, Mexico.

This is my second trip to the Baja Peninsula, and sadly this time I could not travel all the way down to the southern tip.  But that is definitely something I’ll do again with more time.  On the bright side, on this trip I spent more time in the northern desert, specifically the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir.  There are two sections to this park, the northern (which I posted on last time) and the southern (which is bisected by Highway 1 and so is more accessible).

In Baja California Norte, Mexico, the desert plants often take the place of trees.

In Baja California Norte, Mexico, the desert plants (including these yuccas) often take the place of trees.

I drove down to the little town of El Rosario, which is where the highway turns inland from the Pacific Coast.  There I met a couple friendly American expats, one of which let me park and camp on his property.  The other guy has a restaurant, and since he’s a commercial fisherman this meant some excellent fish that night for dinner.  El Rosario is nothing special, but for this reason it is sleepy and traditional.  Other towns further down the Peninsula, such as Mulege and especially Loreto, have more going for them.  But predictably, this results in their also being touristy.  Loreto’s development as a retirement haven has completely transformed that formerly pleasant seaside town.

A beautiful ground cover is the reward for hiking out into the desert near El Rosario on the Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

A beautiful ground cover is the reward for hiking out into the desert near El Rosario on the Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

Striking inland, the highway heads down the granite spine of the Peninsula, and soon you find yourself in a beautiful desert.  It is floored with giant boulders of granite, and features an enormous variety of desert flora.  This is the unique Baja California Desert.  The endangered California Fan Palm grows here, as do the fascinating cirios (or boojum tree) and the amazing elephant tree.  You will also notice a wide variety of cactus species, as well as some species of the Sonoran Desert.  The Sonoran borders this desert to the east, and runs up along the Sea of Cortez into Arizona.

Cactus and granite are features of the landscape of the northern Baja Peninsula interior.

Cactus and granite are features of the landscape of the northern Baja Peninsula interior.

I camped and hiked in the area for a few nights, enjoying the desert under some very nice light.  This was courtesy of the weather, which turned stormy for a couple days.  The desert received significant rainfall while I was there, which made for happy plants and colorful skies.

Cactus are happy in the arid but not too dry interior of Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

Cactus are happy in the arid but not too dry interior of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

The highway does run through here, and there are precious few tracks heading off into the hills.  And these are mostly 4wd only, especially when things are wet.  So with the loud Mexican truckers rumbling through here during the night, it’s important to find a track that will take you at least a quarter mile from the highway.  Then you can walk as far as you want in order to lose the sound of the highway.  With all the granite monoliths sticking up out of the desert, and the shallow canyons heading in all directions, you will soon lose the sound of  the truckers’ “jake brakes”.

Granite and towering cirios characterize the beautiful northern Baja Peninsula desert.

Granite and towering cirios (boojum) characterize the beautiful northern Baja Peninsula desert.

This place is a desert botanist’s dream.  What diversity!

This species of fan palm is usually only found these days in gardens, but in Baja California, Mexico, it still grows in the interior of the Peninsula.

This species, the California fan palm (left), is usually only found these days in gardens, but in Baja California, Mexico, it still grows in the interior of the Peninsula.

Make sure you are not like the 99.9% of people who rush down the peninsula headed for the warmth of Baja California Sur.  I do understand.  Mostly Canadian, but plenty of American snowbirds as well, they all have their favorite places to land, and they’re in a hurry to get there.  But it’s a long long drive (well over 1000 miles one-way from San Diego to Cabo), so make it a point to stop and stretch your legs in some of the fine desert you’ll pass.

A big saguaro cactus soars into the Baja skies.

A big cardon cactus soars into the Baja skies.

And this stretch in the north, where the highway crosses Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir, is some of the most beautiful on the entire peninsula.  If you like stars, do more than stop and take a walk.  Camp here at elevation.  Although the stars are nice and bright on the beach as well, they have an extra sparkle up here.  Next up is a bit more on the people and culture here.

A rare desert rainstorm has left pools of water among the granite and saguaro of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

A rare desert rainstorm has left pools of water among the granite and cardon cactus of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

Mount Rainier III (the end)   3 comments

Mount Rainier in Washington state.

My last destination at Mount Rainier National Park was Mowich Lake, on the mountain’s northwest side.  Here you’ll find my idea of the perfect photo opportunity in this park, a little slice of alpine heaven called Eunice Lake.  I had never been here before, strangely enough.  You’ll need to travel around the mountain, through the town of Enumclaw, and up a washboard gravel road to Mowich Lake.  Paying your entry fee ($15 per car for 7 days) is on an honor system here.  At Mowich you can sleep at a simple walk-in campsite.  Plenty of people come here, since it is on the Seattle side of the mountain, but 95% of them hike up to Spray Park, leaving Eunice Lake in the opposite direction relatively people-free.

It’s understandable why people flock to Spray Park.  It’s a beautiful area with flower meadows that is not a great distance from the trailhead (3-4 miles).  Spray Falls along this route (and pictured below) is well worth seeing too.  It is big, and has an interesting shape as it skims down a cliff face.  So it’s worth hiking up to Spray Park and beyond if you have energy.  You can even make a large loop out to Mystic Lake, returning via the Wonderland Trail to Mowich Lk.

Spray Falls at Mount Rainier National Park.

I did the Spray Park hike, but when I returned to Mowich I headed up to Eunice Lake, only 2+ miles away, for sunset.  The extra hiking piled onto a week of hiking was worth it.  What a gorgeous place!  An alpine lake of great clarity, Eunice is surrounded by open forest of small spruce and subalpine fir on three sides, with a steep talus slope and cliff below Tolmie Peak on the other side.  What makes it special is its position in relation to Rainier.  If you scramble around the lake to the other side (from the trail), you can look right back onto Rainier’s spectacular NW face.  It’s framed by the lake and its trees, and rises dramatically.  The sun is setting largely behind you, and so alpenglow at sunset is guaranteed.  That is, if the clouds do not drape the mountain too heavily like they did when I hiked up there.

For a few seconds, only the very summit cleared, enough to give me an idea of the kind of picture this spot could yield.  After sunset the mountain came happily out in the clear (of course).  But the light was gone by then.  Hiking back, pictureless in the dark (but with my headlamp this time), I resolved to return here.  I’ll try for when the air is clear yet there are a some clouds around, and (this is really stretching it) no wind.  If all these things line up, I’ll have a “to-die-for” image of of a beautiful ice-capped mountain reflected in a pristine alpine lake.  I know it could very well be much better than anything I saw in the visitor center, shot by pro photographers.  And I will get it.  I’m the right kind of persistent for the job.

So that’s my trip to Rainier.  The Cascade Mountains have other places with gorgeous wildflower meadows (Bird Creek Meadows at Mt Adams, for e.g.), but Rainier has by far the Cascades’ most extensive and diverse such scenery.  Combine that with great hiking, a world-class alpine climb, and fine wildlife sightings, and you have one of our country’s best national parks.  To close, here’s my favorite picture of the trip.  Thanks for reading!

The west face of Rainier is reflected in a pond at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.

%d bloggers like this: