Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wildflowers at Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells wildflowers, from top: columbine, cow parsnip, blue flax

I'm not sure what inspires me most in beautiful landscapes, the big, breathtaking vistas of mountains and valleys, or the small treasures of wild, transient flowers.

At Maroon Bells, like the area above Aspen we toured by jeep some days before, there were meadows of flowers, each species a color that managed to blend in and stand out against against other flowers and the greens of stems and grasses. Each is a certain color for a certain reason, evolutionary wonders of form and function that bloom and die whether they are ever gazed upon or not. Nature rolls along with or without us, creating beauty in its own process of being.

Maybe it's the smaller miracles of nature that bring me the most pleasure and sense of awe; a wildflower is perhaps the most prosaic and humbling of all of them. It's just a flower, sure, but its whole genesis is as complicated and unknowable as the creation of the universe itself.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas Tree Lighting Festival

The city of Covina (California) is having its annual Christmas tree lighting festival on Saturday, December 1, and Mozaic is participating as a festival vendor. We'll be selling our note cards, greeting cards, and some framed fine art photography.

Hours are 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Covina Park, 300 W. San Bernardino St., at San Bernardino and 4th, Covina. Directions are available at www.covinafarmersmarket.com.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

First View of The Maroon Bells

We went to Aspen for legitimate business reasons, and once we were released from those responsibilities, we figured out how to catch a bus to the Maroon Bells. I thought Aspen was pretty spectacular, but I wasn't prepared for the magnificence of the Bells. It was a perfect day, and uncrowded, so you really got a sense of peace and solitude while on the hiking trail. Wildflowers were blooming, and there were plenty of birds to keep us company.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Up, Up and Away

One way to see the Rockies is from a hot-air balloon. We caught the journey of one, leaving from the Aspen area one morning just before sunrise. After launch, a van follows the balloon to meet up with it at its landing point some miles away. Then everyone has a toast with cheese and fake champagne.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Aspen Jeep Tour

One of the most rewarding things we did in Aspen was to book a Jeep tour of the surrounding mountains. Because it was spring, the two of us had the Jeep to ourselves (plus the guide), as well as whole blooming fields of wildflowers to walk through. Afterwards, we had a nice dinner in town with our knowledgeable guide. One of the nicer aspects to our trip.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Captive Wildlife

At an al fresco conference dinner in Aspen, we were treated to the presence of a couple of wildlife welfare organizations. Hawk Quest (www.hawkquest.org) is a Colorado non-profit that seeks to educate the public about eagles, hawks, owls and falcons. It was a unique opportunity to get right up close to uncaged raptors, tethered by their keepers. The birds didn't seem, um, ruffled by the attention of the public. This beauty (below), was rehabilitated by the organization after losing an eye.

On the other side of the outdoor event were a couple of wolves brought by The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (www.wolfeducation.org), which also operates a public wildlife sanctuary in Divide. Yes, they look like dogs, at least until you see how rangy they really are, and how long and powerful their back legs are. This one was happy to get a drink in the polished fountain of the five-star resort. The wolves were also non-plussed at the sounds and distractions of the public, even pausing to give a friendly face wash to those who leaned down close and forgot they were putting their face near the teeth of a wild animal.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Aspen: Our First View

Sure, Aspen is famous for its skiing, annoying celebrities, and its hyper-priced property, but to see the area in spring is to see it at its most beautiful. Deep, refreshing shades of green, clear, crisp, cerulean skies, and wildflowers made Aspen one of the most beautiful places we've ever seen.

The town is small, just a grid of a couple of streets, full of restaurants and designer outposts. Need a new pair of Tod's? You're in luck!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Carrizo Plain

The Carrizo Plain is a national monument on the southwest edge of the San Joaquin Valley, set aside for valley flora and fauna conservation. It has an enormous grassland area that has been likened to the African savanna because of its enormous importance as a wildlife habitat. The grassland’s featureless, even treeless, appearance doesn’t seem like much, but it is the largest contiguous habitat for endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox and the giant kangaroo rat, and provides crucial nesting, wintering and roosting space for many species of raptors, plovers and cranes.

We had the place to ourselves on the day we visited, not even seeing much wildlife. It’s an unfortunate habit of ours to show up at a lot of places at midday, when the wildlife has the good sense to sleep or otherwise lie low. We were unable to visit the Painted Rock, a sacred spot for native Chumash, because birds had started to nest in the area just a day or so before.

From a distance, we could see Soda Lake (above), which is a large salt bed whose stark white appearance makes it look like a mirage.

Believe it or not, this is what the mighty San Andreas Fault looks like (below). It runs some 800 miles north and south through California, caused the great San Francisco quake of 1906, and keeps Los Angeles waiting for its own apocalypse.

Here on the Carrizo Plain, it's visible as this rift; it's actually the scar of the massive Fort Tejon earthquake in 1857 that split the ground here so violently it changed the course of the nearby Wallace Creek and moved the fault some 30 feet. On a warm and peaceful day, it’s hard to imagine water, let alone a groundshifting quake.

Someday, we will arrive in time to see the wildlife, and we’ll time our visit to see Painted Rock.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Swallows at Kings Canyon

Yosemite may get the lion's share of the tourist attention in Central California, but that park can get so crowded that you may wind up just doing a drive-by as you vainly search for a place to pull over and park. Much less claustrophobic, and with some magnificent mountain scenery to boot, are the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Located in the southern Sierra Nevada and east of the San Joaquin Valley, the two parks are contiguous and run as one by the National Park Service.

Passing over the Carson River and pausing to take a photo, we spotted swallows' nests tucked underneath the overpass.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Located about 13 miles off of Highway 395 along SR 270 and very close to the Nevada border, Bodie is a large gold rush ghost town from the 1880s. It was built around a gold mine, and at its peak had a population of 10,000. It followed the boom-and-bust arc of most mining towns in the American West, and was largely abandoned when the gold ran out in the early 1900s. A fire destroyed many of the structures in 1932. It was declared National Historic Landmark in 1961, and the state of California turned the town into a park in 1964. The park keeps about 200 stuctures in a state of "arrested decay." It's a good place for some black and white photos, and does have the occasional photography seminar.

Bodie is at an elevation of 8,000 feet, and prone to major snowfalls. The park is open year round, but reaching it between October and March requires snow transportation. Visit it in summer, but bring a jacket.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mule Days

One of the most beautiful highways in California is 395, which takes you up to the Eastern Sierra, Mammoth Lakes, and Reno. It spans the Owens Valley, and along the way you'll pass through Olancha, Lone Pine, and Bishop.

Bishop is one of my favorite places in California, a beautiful little ranching town nestled against the Sierra mountain range and along the Owens River. It's famous for its trout fishing, but what interests me more is the annual Mule Days festival every year around Memorial Day. Bishop is also the "mule capital of the world," and the local ranchers take advantage of the event to show off some prize animals. I never realized how handsome a mule can be until I saw a parade of them up close. They have the fine physique of a horse, thick and nimble feet, and ears like cornstalks. The are renowned for their patience, their sure-footedness, and their capacity as pack animals.

The mule rules that week, and you can watch them in the street or log skidding and barrel racing at the rodeo. Eating ice cream, watching a mule parade on a small-town main street, having a steak from a local ranch--sounds like America.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Death Valley Wildlife

Although arid and unforgivingly harsh, Death Valley is home to an impressive number of mammals, reptiles and birds. The elevation ranges from below sea level (at Badwater) to sub-alpine conditions at Telescope Peak (11,000 ft.). The resulting habitat variations support 51 species of mammals (including mountain lions, mule deer and desert bighorn), three species of amphibians, and more than 300 species of birds. The bird species and their populations increase and decrease with the seasons, with some species making uncommon or “casual” visits from one year to the next.

But the record rainfall and the overabundant wildflowers that spring lured even hummingbirds to Death Valley, a bird we didn’t expect to find in the extreme desert. They were plentiful enough in the blooming vegetation around Scotty’s Castle, and were a pleasure to see.

Another surprising species in Death Valley is fish. At the end of the last ice age, when Lake Manly dried up and left the Valley barren, pockets of water were left behind. The pupfish adapted to the concentrated salinity and survived in a shallow part of Salt Creek that flows above ground. Because of the confined area of their evolution, Salt Creek pupfish exist nowhere else in the world. Similarly, there are Saratoga Springs pupfish found only in the Saratoga Springs at the south end of the Valley; the Amargosa pupfish, found in the nearby Amargosa River; and the Devil’s Hole pupfish, located just over the state border in Nevada. A subspecies of pupfish lives in the Valley’s Cottonball Marsh. There are small bridges where you can walk alongside Salt Creek and view the pupfish. Sadly, the Devil’s Hole pupfish are so rare that you can only see them through a fenced off little area of what looks like, yes, a hole just big enough for the Devil to emerge from hell.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Hundred Year Bloom, Death Valley

Normally, Death Valley is a stark, wild and beautiful landscape of dry rock and shadow. Every thing about it--from Furnace Creek to the Funeral Mountains, Badwater, and its tough luck ghost towns--conjures prolonged misery and destruction. The magnificent and historic wildflower bloom in 2005 produced an array of flowers whose variety and sheer quantity were stunning for such an unmerciful and forbidding place.

Among the blooms we saw were gravel ghost, desert five spot, phacelia, pebble pincushion, scented cryptantha, desert chicory, creosote bush, Death Valley mojavea, desert dandelion, beavertail cactus, purple mat, Panamint live-forever, chia, desert star, and the ubitquitous and sunny desert gold. Where rain had come gushing down from hills and mountains in small rivers and torrents, seeds were watered, and they sprouted in the dirt trails left behind. Most of the flowers were small, even miniscule, and delicate. It was obvious they would wilt and pass with the first real heat of the spring.

Desert gold was everywhere, but clumped in whole meadows in an area called Ashford Mill. There they seemed to grow right out of the red mountain rock, and their green stems fooled the eye into thinking grass actually grew in the desert.

We never got tired of this simple yellow flower.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Getting Started:Death Valley, CA

In the fall and winter of 2004, parts of California were drenched by record amounts of rainfall. Death Valley, which averages around 2 inches of rain per year, was swamped by almost 5 inches of rain that caused flash flooding, ruined roads and closed the national park for nine days. Rain continued into the spring of 2005, bringing the accumulated season total to almost 6.5 inches, and breaking a 92-year old precipitation record. Seeds that had lain dormant for years or decades waiting for a measure of water began to sprout.

The result was a wildflower bloom so extravagant that park rangers called it a Hundred Year Bloom, meaning that no one alive had ever seen such an abundance of wildflowers in Death Valley, and might not again. Flowers so rare that nothing was known about them, along with the explosion of birds and insects and mammals, had botanists and biologists racing to the Valley to see it before it all faded away again to dust and heat.

The photos we took that spring in Death Valley lead us to start Mozaic Studio.