Archive for the ‘trees’ Category

Two for Tuesday: Autumn’s Brief Glory   7 comments

Quaking aspen, Wasatch Mountains, Utah.

Quaking aspen, Wasatch Mountains, Utah.

This fall, it’s sad to say, has for me been unlike most years.  I’m not in a place that has real seasons, and so am missing the show that deciduous trees put on at this time of year throughout the northern hemisphere’s temperate latitudes.  But don’t feel sorry.  Over the past few years I’ve been able to take a lot of time, mostly in the Rocky Mountain states, photographing fall colors.

Autumn in the Rockies is all about the quaking aspen.  Starting in early September in the north and going to first of November in New Mexico, aspens spend all too brief a time showing off the dazzling golden hues they are famous for.  Since I love transitions, I like shooting aspens as their color is just coming on, when a lot of subtle greens and other hues compete with the yellows.  I like going late too, when they are starting to lose their leaves.  It’s when the trees’ graceful silvery trunks show through, and when an early winter storm is more likely to mantle them with new-fallen snow.

This pair of images, though from two different places, purposely show only the trees, with no mountains, cabins or other elements to distract your eye.  I even avoided colorful sky and dramatic light.  The first picture, at top, was captured in early October near the peak of color.  The second image below was actually captured a few days earlier than the first but on a different year and at a higher elevation near Aspen, Colorado.  These trees were desperately holding on to their last leaves, exposing their elegant white trunks.  A beautiful forest of blue spruce is in the background.

I hope you’ve been able to get out and enjoy some crisp and colorful fall days this year.  If not and you’re in the right place, don’t waste anymore time.  Winter is coming!  Thanks for visiting.

Nearly bare quaking aspen: Maroon Valley, Colorado.

Nearly bare quaking aspen: Maroon Valley, Colorado.

Posted October 11, 2016 by MJF Images in trees

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Baja’s Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park   3 comments

The granite moiuntains of Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park in Baja California Norte, Mexico catch the low December sunlight.

The granite mountains of Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park in Baja California Norte, Mexico catch the low sunlight of a December afternoon.

I have visited this out-of-the-way park on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula before.  I had my telescope then, and the night sky of Baja was what drew me up to this 2500-meter high park of granite mountains and meadows.  It’s a forested and beautiful place that sits high up on the mountainous spine of the northern Baja Peninsula.

 This is also the site of Mexico’s National astronomical observatory.  There are two large telescopes sitting up on the high granite ridge.  The meadows below this ridge are a fantastic place to stargaze and do some telescope observing or astrophotography.  That is, if you are an astro-nerd like I am.

A beautiful December morning dawns in Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro San Martir, in Baja California Norte, Mexico.

A beautiful morning dawns in Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro San Martir, in Baja California Norte, Mexico.


The park is located 50 miles or so up a side road from Mexico Highway 1, which runs down the long Baja California Peninsula.  The turnoff is about two hours south of Ensenada, which is itself about an hour south of the border at Tijuana.  The road is a good one, but watch out for the dips (where arroyos send floodwaters across during infrequent rains).  If you are traveling south toward the beaches of southern Baja, it is a nice side-trip.

A big ponderosa pine pierces the blue skies above Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park in Baja California, Mexico.

A big ponderosa pine pierces the blue skies above Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park in Baja California, Mexico.


The delightful, open forest is largely ponderosa pine, and the mountains are made up of a very pretty white granite, speckled with black crystals like salt and pepper.  The granite makes for superb scrambling, and the meadows and open forest are perfect for hiking and/or mountain biking.  Perhaps the best part is that it’s not a very popular park.  When I visited for the first time, in 2003, there were no facilities, no gate, no rangers.  I simply drove out into the meadows along sandy tracks and camped.

Climbing the rugged granite peaks of Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park in Baja California Norte, Mexico.

Climbing the rugged granite peaks of Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park in Baja California Norte, Mexico.

When I visited this time, however, I came on an official entrance, with a building housing your typical friendly, mellow and bored Mexican park rangers.  It cost actual money to enter now, but only 54 pesos (about $4) per day.  This covers camping at the nearby official campsite.  It is no longer okay to pull off and camp anywhere in the park.  There is also a museum, a newish and beautiful building.  Official trails exist, and there are picnic areas scattered about in the pines.

A ponderosa pine cone has fallen in the forest, in Baja Mexico.

A ponderosa pine cone has fallen in the forest, in Baja Mexico.

The astronomical observatory is undoubtedly the main reason the road is paved and in good condition.  It’s possible to arrange a visit, by day of course.  The development of the park over the past several years probably means they were having issues with people just showing up at the observatory at night, headlights blazing.  Also, dispersed camping is a serious fire hazard, because many people cannot seem to be responsible with campfires.  The telescopes could easily burn down in a big forest fire.

The Mexican astronomical observatory sits atop a high forested mountain on the Baja Peninsula.

The Mexican astronomical observatory sits atop a high, forested mountain on the Baja Peninsula.


Signs urge visitors to care for the plants and animals of the park (“cuidada la flora y fauna”).  But there are cattle grazing in this national park, so how serious can they be?  Some areas have been hit pretty hard by the stock.  If you’re lucky, you might see deer or bighorn sheep here; maybe even a mountain lion (puma).

 As I mentioned, scrambles are fun and challenging.  I took a hike one afternoon and spied a granite peak that looked to be easy to get to.  But when I tried to hike there, things got difficult in a hurry.  It was challenging finding a route to the summit amongst enormous granite boulders.  I had to squirm through cavities and caves, friction-hike up granite slabs, and use some climbing moves to finally make it.  And though the view was expansive, the sun was dropping rapidly.  I made it back to the track I had been following just at dark – cutting it close yet again!  The nights grow very cold up here, so you don’t want to spend the night in the open.

Reddish madrone and granite make a pleasant color combination on a climb in Baja Norte, Mexico.

Reddish madrone and granite make a pleasant color combination on a climb in Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park, Baja Norte, Mexico.


This is a gorgeous park that is a world away from dusty and busy Ensenada.  If you’re a stargazer, and have a small telescope (which you should bring if you drive to Baja), it is the perfect place for peering into the heavens.  For those from northern latitudes, this is a good chance to see more southerly deep space objects.  It’s easy to spend 2-3 nights here, hiking or biking the trails by day and camping under the stars.  So as a Baja side-trip, Sierra de San Pedro Martir is definitely worth considering.

One last look back at the surprisingly difficult granite peak I climbed in Baja Mexico's Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park.

One last look back at the surprisingly difficult granite peak I climbed in Baja Mexico’s Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park.

San Juan Mountains, Colorado   Leave a comment

The Rocky Mountains in southwest Colorado are mantled in the year’s first snowfall.

As I entered this beautiful mountainous region of the American Rockies, I had to go pretty far back to recall the last time I had been this way.  I hitchhiked through here in 1987.  Believe it or not this road trip I’m currently on started off as a shortish foray into the Canadian Rockies.  Because of factors out of my control, it’s become entirely a domestic trip – a quest to visit corners of the West in which I’ve either not been in a long time, or have missed entirely up to now.

Three aspen trees keep their leaves longer than the rest of this stand in the mountains of southwest Colorado.


The San Juan Mountains had just seen their first snowfall of autumn a few days previously.  To my disappointment, if not my surprise, I was a bit too late for the golden glory of the quaking aspen.  Still, the valley floors were showing plenty of color in the form of cottonwoods and late aspens.  It’s a reason to return to this area sometime in late September.

Dawn finds the camper at the base of Mount Sneffels in southwest Colorado.

In the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness of SW Colorado, the terrain is rugged and unforgiving.

On the way over Colorado Hwy. 62, cutting west over the beautiful Dallas Divide, darkness made me turn up gravel West Dallas Road.  I camped where I thought dawn might reveal a pretty view of the San Juans.  Later I learned I had camped on the sprawling ranch lands owned by Ralph Lauren, the clothing magnate.  No harm no foul.  After sunrise, I parked just up into the National Forest and took off hiking.

I know this mood, the attitude that has gotten me into more than one pickle.  I was not into following a trail.  There were hunters in the area, and I met one while following the trace of an old road.  The guy, who was from Minnesota, must have been 70.  He was alone, and I chatted with him for awhile.  I love elderly gentlemen like him.  I hope I have the same quiet confidence, the same even temper and kind manner when (if?) I am that old.  I passed a trail and soon was following animal trails.


I think it was because I wanted to see the elusive prey that the hunters were tracking.  Most hunters, I’ve found, spend way too much time in their vehicles, wasting gas driving up and down forest roads.  Are they hoping a bull elk hops into the back of their pickups and says “take me”?  The old guy was a marked exception.  At any rate, I played the hunter, cradling my weapon (Canon 100-400 mm zoom lens).  I moved quietly through the woods, up and up.

I topped out just above treeline, having followed a set of bear tracks through the snow.  What a gorgeous view, even if it was a bit too early for golden light.  I was short on oxygen, as I realized (belatedly as usual) that I had precious little daylight to find my way back, with no trail in an unfamiliar patch of mountains.  I had a lighter, but no warm clothes.  It was already dipping toward the subfreezing night as the sun appeared to speed towards the western horizon.

I ran down the critter trails and as dusk descended wound up in a huge area of fallen logs, strewn like giant matchsticks across the forest floor.  I had to use all the skills I originally learned doing fieldwork  in SE Alaska, walking 3 or 4 feet above the forest floor as much as I walked upon it.  I finally saw my quarry in the failing light.  The big white rumps and heavy-footed crashing of elk being flushed from a marshy, grassy hollow caused me to pause, but just for a moment.  I also walked right up on a porcupine, who climbed a small tree and looked at me with an indifferent expression.

I reached the old road just as dusk made walking difficult.  Darkness fell completely as I finally saw the van.  I wonder how it is that so often in these circumstances, I have arrived back at the vehicle right at dark.  Of course there have been the occasional miscalculations, but given my penchant for pushing things too far, I can’t think of any other explanation for my good fortune other than dumb luck.

That night I got little sleep, as I battled a trio of mice who had moved into my van while I was hiking.  After listening too long to their munching away on my oatmeal, I set a makeshift trap and, one by one, gave them the boot.

Aspen leaves float in a Rocky Mountain stream after their brief and colorful glory.

I went on to Telluride, which lies on the other side of the mountains from where I had been hiking.  It is quite a charming town, I think much prettier than Crested Butte.  The canyon that extends steeply into the mountains from Telluride is somewhat marred by the remains of an underground mine.  They are supposedly reclaiming the area, but in my opinion there is way too much detritus lying about.  Why wouldn’t they start by cleaning up some garbage?  And this from someone who is generally friendly towards mining.  The waterfall, called Bridal Veil, is tucked into a corner where the sun does not shine often.  It’s an icy spectacle as a result (see image below).

Just outside Telluride, Colorado lies a steep canyon and icy Bridal Veil Falls.

I really enjoyed shooting that late afternoon.  Although there were no clouds, the light through the bare trunks of aspen, and reflected off the San Miguel River was just fine for this photographer.  I traveled south on Hwy. 145, which is the western half of a very scenic loop (the eastern half travels through Ouray and Silverton).  I took a gravel detour, which loops north from the paved road and allows easy access to the Lizard Head Wilderness.

In the first snowfall of winter in the Colorado Rockies, bear tracks mark the animal trail.


After sleeping along this route at about 10,000 feet (Brrrr!), I hiked up to Navajo Lake, this time on a real trail.  This is a classic alpine mountain basin that just says you’re high in the Colorado Rockies (image below).  The lyrics of John Denver, bless his soul, were ringing in my head.  The light was really too harsh for good photos, but I had a fine time.  Later, towards sunset, I took Charl along on a short hike to Dunton Hot Springs.  The late light through the mostly-bare aspens was pretty.  I had not had a shower in a week, so the mineral-rich pool, sitting in a draw among beautiful Colorado blue spruce, was a sweet reward.  For my little buddy, it was a tough hike.

The high San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.

The entire area around the town of Dolores and north is very beautiful.  There are excellent mountain-biking trails that cut through the forest that borders McPhee Reservoir.  The whole area is a parkland, with pines and abundant open meadows, creeks and wetlands.  It was empty of people when I was there.  As you head south to Cortez, the land dries and opens up.  Next stop, the cliff dwellings of the ancient ones, the ancestral Puebloans (aka Anasazi).

Quaking aspens after the fall of their golden leaves, in the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado.


Alpenglow illuminates the San Juan Mountains and San Miguel River near the town of Telluride, Colorado.


Western Colorado: Pinyons and Pistols   2 comments

The road that hugs the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado affords gorgeous vistas of the Rockies.

It was a beautiful afternoon in the small town of Montrose, Colorado, the last place I would ever expect to have a loaded pistol pointed at my head.  This was the third time in my life that this adrenaline-producing event has taken place, and I hope it’s the last.  More on this later.

Heading into western Colorado from the Dinosaur country of northeastern Utah, I drove through the lonely canyons and mountains north of Grand Junction.  It’s a beautiful drive south over CO Hwy. 39 between Rangely and Grand Junction, but with few official sights.  Nearly every canyon you choose to walk up along this route contains Fremont rock art (see image below).  The Fremont people were semi-nomadic native Americans who lived off this land roughly 1000 years ago.

A remote part of western Colorado features many rock art panels from the now-vanished Fremont people.

I visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and upon waking I felt the bite of the hawk on a cold and incredibly clear morning.  After Utah, which always seems warmer than the bordering states, it was a shock to my system.  Although I have been spending nights at 9000 feet or higher for most of this past week, the days warm rapidly to a gorgeous autumn perfection.

On a cold autumn morning at Black Canyon of the Gunnison N.P. in Colorado, the fog spills off the plateau and into the canyon.

A pinyon pine that is over 750 years old survives along the rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado.

A beautiful species of pine tree grows along the rim of Black Canyon.  The pinyon pine is an incredible tree.  They can live a long time; in Black Canyon as much as 800 years or more.  Pinyon pine nuts, produced in the fall by the cones, are incredibly nutritious.  They are high in protein and (good) fat, and are chock-full of amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

Native Americans going back thousands of years have collected and dried them in the fall.  The high-energy nuts helped them survive winters.  I hiked the short but very scenic Walker Trail along the Canyon’s south rim, and the ancient pinyon pine stand here had me mesmerized (see image at left).

Now back to my little misadventure.  I stopped in the town of Montrose for some groceries.  I was only in the store for about 10 minutes.  When I came out I noticed one of my tires was completely flat.  A guy got out of a pickup and told me he had seen a guy bend down by my van, then run off with the air rushing out of my tire.  He said the guy had a bandage on his left arm, and also indicated the direction in which he fled.  I gave chase for a few minutes before realizing the futility.  So I called 911 and reported it, then headed back to my van to meet a cop who was to meet me there.

But before I got there a cop pulled up quickly and, jumping out, he ordered me to the ground.  I realized he was looking at my left hand, which was encased in the splint that I’ve worn since breaking my hand last month.  I tried to explain but he was not having any of it.  It was then that he pulled his gun.  He had his taser in the other hand.  Well, I was on the ground after that.  Eventually I was able to convince them (a 2nd cop showed up of course) that I was not the “perp” but the victim.

The appropriate reaction in this case had nothing in common with the reaction that saved me the first time I was faced with the cold blue of a gun barrel pointed my way.  I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland.  On one occasion, at age 18, I was driving my Pontiac through a neighborhood I knew wasn’t exactly a safe one.  My passenger was a “friend” I knew I should not be hanging out with.  But I was young and dumb.

My partner asked me to stop, where he was going to talk with friend for a minute.  I pulled off into an alleyway, where it became immediately obvious that he wanted to buy a bag of pot from two black guys who appeared at the passenger window.  Before I could even protest, I felt something cold and hard against my left temple.  I had not seen the third guy in the darkness.  He demanded all our money.

I could barely speak, whispering to my friend to get my wallet out of the glove box.  But as he opened it, I did something I had never done before, and rarely since.  I reacted before even experiencing a thought in that direction.  In one motion I slipped the shifter into drive, at the same instant slamming my foot on the accelerator.  That Pontiac was the quickest car I’ve ever owned, and it was fairly new then.  The car leaped down the alley and I heard the guy’s yelp of pain as his right hand hit the door jam.  My heart was racing faster than the car as we rocketed down the alley, whipped the corner, and were out of that neighborhood in a flash.

Back to the precious present.  After a visit to the tire shop, I finally was able to leave Montrose behind.  Anxious to leave civilization behind, I immediately headed into the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.  This region is one of the most beautiful corners of America, and it will be the subject of my next post.

n Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a fence blends in with the fall foliage.

%d bloggers like this: