African Safari: Day 10

Game Drive. Lion’s Paw Camp on the eastern rim of Ngorongoro Crater. At 0515 I’m awakened from a greeting from outside the tent, “good morning.” I respond in kind saying “good morning” to our steward. We join our guide, David for breakfast in the dining tent. Breakfast includes fresh fruit (mango, pineapple, watermelon), coffee, toast with jam, eggs, sausage and bacon. At 6:00 we lave the dining tent for the short walk to the truck. The air is heavy with mist and swirling clouds, and despite my thermal layer I feel a bit of a chill at 7000 feet. No sign of the sun yet, but our goal is to get to the crater floor ahead of the army of tourists that will be descending into the crater from the western rim, where most of the tours originate. Lion’s Paw is a bit remote and off the beaten track. We were, in fact, the only guests in camp. We felt well taken care of there with the staff of five to serve the three of us. The road into the crater is a steep narrow dirt track, and we find ourselves “herding” the zebras and Cape Buffalo off the road as we made our slow descent. Our goal is to hunt for elephant and rhinos, since we’ve already had the opportunity to view most of the animals that habituate the crater. And sure enough, with David’s expert knowledge and sharp eyes we find our first elephant shortly after sunrise. We spend a fair amount of time watching him pull up grass, knocking the dirt clods off and munching mouthfuls. Then it’s off to hunt for rhinos. We find a pair, at quite a distance. It turns out that rhinos are shy of noise and prefer to keep their distance from the noise of safari vehicles. None-the-less, it’s exciting to watch from a distance with binoculars and a long lens. We continue our tour of the crater floor stopping for Thompson’s gazelle, buffalo, zebras, hippos, lions and a variety of other birds and wildlife. At the hippo pool David sets up the picnic that the camp provided. Complete with china, table cloth, table and chairs. We compete with some pesty and colorful birds for our lunch fixings. After lunch we continue our drive. Now it’s the light that fascinates me. Rays of sun shining through clouds and lighting up the wildlife and crater walls.
It’s 3:00 Pm when we return to camp. A long enough day.

Happy Birthday to the Carrizo Plain


Fields of coreposis on the Carrizo Plain
Fields of coreopsis on the Carrizo Plain

On January 12, 2001, Bill Clinton signed a presidential proclamation establishing the Carrizo Plain as a National Monument. It was about 1987 or so when I made my first visit to this area. The Nature Conservancy sent me here with a mission to capture photos for fundraising to help purchase some of the property.  Since then it has become a National Monument, and I’d like to think my efforts helped to protect the area. Since my first visit, the Carrizo Plain has become one of my favorite places. It’s noted for spectacular displays of wildflowers in the spring. Spring of 2017 was considered a “superbloom.” Sometimes called California’s Serengeti the Plain represents the largest single native grassland remaining in California. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for some very significant native American rock art. In 2012 it was designated a National Historic Landmark due to its archaeological value.  You can view additional photos here. You can also read a previous blog entry from our spring visit here.

Arches of the Alabama Hills

Following up from my previous post, after our Christmas morning breakfast of quiche, we broke camp and went about to explore some of the arches in the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills are  a collection of rocks and hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of the town of Lone Pine just off of US Route 395. The rocks here have eroded in such a way as to form some fantastic shapes and arches which lend themselves to some amazing photo opportunities with the background of the Sierra. This was a popular spot for filming movies in the 1940s and 50s and there is a Museum of Western Film History located in Lone Pine.

Our explorations took us on a short dog-friendly hike that went past several arches including the Mobius Arch, perhaps the most notable arch. This is an ideal location for early morning photography, with the morning light catching the Sierra.  By afternoon when the sun crosses the crest of the Sierra the mountains are back lit making photography more of a challenge.  If you wish to visit the arches you can find an on-line map here.  There are apparently hundreds of arches scattered throughout the area, but a handful are easy to access. A Google search also found a guidebook to 72 of the arches. You can also view more of the photos I captured here.

Bishop Tableland Petroglyps

With family together in Big Pine for a few days we decided to take a hike yesterday, December 22 to explore some of the petroglyphs on the volcanic tablelands near Bishop, California. Much of the tablelands are managed by BLM and and this suited us as a dog-friendly hike since we had three dogs among the six of us. This area is sprinkled with petroglyphs. Some are readily accessible by car, others require some rock scrambling and local knowledge. We visited two sites. I hesitate to say much about the locations since some of these rock art features have been vandalized or ripped off in recent years. A sorry state on the lack of respect we seem to have for the environment, our cultural treasures and our public lands. There is little known about when these artworks were created.  If you wish to find information on the tablelands and the petroglyphs, please contact the Bishop Visitor’s Center.

Out the Gate with BASK

On Saturday, December 7, I joined fellow BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) members for a paddle “Out the Gate,” meaning a paddle out from the relatively protected waters on San Francisco Bay , out under the Golden Gate Bridge onto the Pacific Ocean. Tides and currents under the Golden Gate Bridge can be a challenge, not to mention the wind. This is not a place for novice paddlers, but for those that have the skill and knowledge of the risks, it is an awesome adventure.

Our launch point was Horseshoe Bay on the Marin Headlands, and with 27 paddlers we were quiet a fleet. We formed small pods of two to three paddlers, using a buddy system, and those again formed into two larger groups; those that wanted to play in the rocks and waves; an activity referred to as rock gardening; and those that were more interested in paddling in the calmer waters away from the rocks. I chose the latter group, since I don’t think my wooden boat will fare well bashing into rocks.

We launched our kayaks at 9:45 am and paddled along Marin Headlands. There is plenty to see along the headlands; sheer cliffs come down to the water, and in some places it’s easy to paddle along the cliff watching for sea stars and birds.  There were also plenty of harbor seals and a few sea lions.

Paddling a little further out the gate, we began to feel the ocean swell. One moment I’ll be up in the air looking down at the waves crashing on the rocks, the next moment, in the trough of a wave looking up at the back of the wave that just passed.

We paddled about four miles out to Point Bonita. Our plan was to land on a beach for lunch, but it seems there was a fierce wind blowing offshore,  straight out the Golden Gate. We were faced with the challenge of paddling into a strong headwind. Rather than dally around we decided to head back to Kirby Cove, a relatively protected cove.

It was a bit of a slog back to Kirby Cove and we hugged the coast as much as possible to try to get some protection from the wind.  Once on the beach, we broke our our lunches, eventually climbing back into our boats to paddle back to our launch point. If the water in the photos looks calm, it’s  because when I’m paddling hard, I want to keep both hands on the paddle. Putting the paddle down long enough to take a photo could have dire consequences.

You can view a track log of our paddle here.

San Francisco’s Wave Organ

San Francisco is full of hidden surprises. The morning found me in San Francisco, having made my way to the Marina District to look a a project I’ll be photographing for a client. Having left the project I was in no hurry to make my way home with such a clear crisp day and the waterfront of the Marina beckoning me. I was on foot, having arrived by way of public transportation using BART and bus. Looking at a map and I noticed something at the end of the jetty labeled “Wave Organ. Unique acoustic sculpture on the bay.” I was intrigued so I made my way to the end of Marina Green Drive and on out to the end of the Jetty.  The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture.  The concept was developed by Peter Richards and was installed in collaboration with sculptor and master stone mason George Gonzales. Installed in 1986. To really appreciate this you need to sit on a bench and just let the sounds wash over you; a very subtle and gentle experience.  In addition to the wave organ, the location offers a spectacular view of San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz in the distance.

Untold Stories


I’m not sure what inspired me to take this photo. Usually I prefer creating beautiful images for clients, or I look to celebrate the beauty of the natural world. But here was this scene that was demanding to be photographed.  I had to stop and ask myself why I should photograph this. Is my fascination with an un-told story that demands to be captured? A public park used as the scene for car maintenance? Who was it? Was it one person or several? It was clearly somebody with a different value system than my own; a different ethic when it comes to how we view the natural world. I saw this scene as a challenge to create a visually compelling statement about the elements in the composition. And then I wonder if it’s the influence of photographers such as Walker Evans and his fascination with the mundane details of life that influences me? Is there something universally interesting here, or is it just my warped mind? And I took a bit of care in composing the image. I excluded a couple of used hypodermic syringes which would have told a whole different story or perhaps that’s part of the story also.