Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sand Dunes at Twilight

On the west side of the Guadalupe Mountains the Guadalupe Escarpment drops a mile into the Salt Basin.  There beneath the wall one can find sand dunes.  The dunes are pure white gypsum sand.  They are also a lonely place of silence.  

It is about a 45 mile drive from the Pine Springs campground by park headquarters.  It is also a place you need a key to get access to, so be sure to check with the rangers before driving out there.

I made the drive on a day with some fantastic clouds that hung low in the sky.  The peaks were in the clouds as the cloud line was about half way up the escarpment.  I hoped that the clouds would stick around and that if I got lucky there might be just enough of a gap in the wast to really create some dramatic light at sunset.  See the first image on the road to the dunes to get an idea of what the conditions were.

I hiked out to the dunes and photographed in the afternoon.  The light was not great but I still hoped for the sunset.  Then the sky started to break up.  In a matter of an hour the sky went from 98% cloud cover to about 5 % cloud cover and it was still an hour to sunset.

Oh well.

What started out as a potential for a great sunset did not happen.  That is part of being a landscape photographer-sometimes the light is amazing and sometimes it just aint there.

So since the sunset did not happen like I hoped I had to do what I could with the light I had.  So, I stayed on the dunes until the sun had long set and light was faint.  At that very edge of the day there is that last bit of warm orange glow from the west.  That light was low and the exposures were long but it does bring out that glow.

No it was not the image I was hoping to make that day, but it was an image I was very pleased to have been able to get.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Desert Salt Flats

One of my favorite places to photograph when I am out at Guadalupe Mountains National Park are the salt flats west of the park.  There is an escarpment on the west side of the range, part of the common western geology of basin and range.  The Guadalupes rise about 3000' on their eastern side and over a mile on the western side, meaning the basin slipped some 2000'.

At the heart of that basin are the salt flats of a dry lake bed.  The salt flats run for many miles north-south between the Guadalupe and Delaware Mountains to the east and the Sierra Diablo to the west.

Like much of west Texas, they are majority on private land, however US 62/180 runs right across them offering a neat view of the Guadalupes and other surrounding ranges.

I have seen them dry, mushy, and one wet fall with many pools of water across their surface.

On my last trip I was there on a fairly still day.  That is always good on salt or sand as when it gets too windy it becomes very unpleasant and not too great for cameras either.

With only light wind but also big puffy clouds, I thought this was a day to get a great image here on the salt flats.

I walked out on them a ways to find where the salt had dried and cracked.  Then I waited for the light.

What had been blue sky and big clouds became bigger clouds and great light.  Rain was falling in the distance.

The light kept getting better.

Here is a series of images tracking the light that day starting with the the big blue sky and clouds.  This view is what sold me that this was the spot for that afternoon.

The second image is the height of the great dramatic light.  There was so much going on in the sky that there was no way to capture it all.

Finally a view northwest toward distant mountains and rain at twilight.

This was one of those days luck was with me and I was at the right place at the right time.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tenacity of Life

The desert is a tough environment.  The heat, the dry, the little to no rain.  As they might say, life is different here.  It is a tough existence on plants and animals.  Cactus and creosote, and other things that sting seem to be the life found here.  Yet, with a little bit of water life and green can be found here.

In the "sky island" of the Guadalupe Mountains the elevation rises from the desert floor over a mile and the peaks hit around 8,900' elevation.  That creates an area of cooler temps and that elevation rise makes its own rain.  Where as the desert might get 5" of rain, the mountains of the Guadalupes might get 16-20".  Now 16" of rain is not much water but it is a vast change from the salt flats to the west.

That rain keeps alive stands of big tooth maples, relics from the last ice age.  I have posted images before of the vivid fall color one can find in these desert canyons.  This time I wanted to show how that life hangs on from a different angle.  I made my way to the top of McKittrick Canyon and was able to look down the length of the canyon and see these narrow strands of color clinging to the canyon floor and gullies.

Here are a series of views to take in the tenacity of life and how these trees survive this dry desert environment thousands of years after the end of the colder climate of the ice age.

Those extra few inches of rain funnel down into gullies allowing trees to cling to north facing canyon walls or into intermittent streams along the canyon floor.  The south facing walls are not so lucky and the hot summer sun means few, if any, maples can survive that heat.  However, those north facing walls bring just enough shade that the trees can survive the heat and the trickle of water from the occasional seasonal rain sustains life.