Taliesin West

Our travels took us to Taliesin West today. We had purchased tickets ahead of time since we were planning on being in Phoenix today for a family reunion. We booked the “Details Tour,” which was a two hour tour covering some of the details of the architecture. Photos are permitted on this tour, so it as a treat to capture photos with my little Sony RX100.

Frank Lloyd Wright established Taliesin West in 1937 as his winter home and school in the desert. Today it is the main campus of the School of Architecture at Taliesin. I was surprised to find that the buildings seem to be a bit rough hewn, which seems appropriate since the location was a laboratory for design and experimentation and much of the facilities were built by Frank Lloyd Wright’s students. The location was very remote at the time it was built and the design reflects Wright’s love of nature and philosophy about how design should interact with nature.

For anybody interested in architecture, design and nature this tour is a must.

 

 

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Memorial County Park

I had a client send me out to photograph a project in San Mateo County. Given how the traffic works (or doesn’t work), I decided to drive down the peninsula the night before and camp so that I could be close to the photo location in the morning. I wanted to take advantage of the morning light for the photo shoot. The place I picked to camp was Memorial County Park, not far from the town of La Honda. This turned out to be a lovely spot in a lush grove of redwood trees. It was close to dusk when I parked my rig. The fog was starting to roll in off the ocean, giving a quiet, peaceful feeling. The park encompasses 675 acres with 156 camp sites. I was one of three campers in the park on a Tuesday night, May 1. I imagine in the summer this is a busy camp ground. The fee was $25 and showers were available. No dogs are allowed, and I’m usually looking for dog friendly camps.  In the morning I spent a few minutes wandering around camp before heading to the La Honda Creek Open space which was the location for the photo shoot.  It was a real treat finding such a lovely place to camp in the off season.

African Safari: Day 4

March 6. My cold is no better and I did not get a good nights sleep.  I’m cursing myself for not including cold medicine with my things.  As thorough as we were on the planning and packing; taking anti-malarials, spraying our clothes with permethrin to ward off mosquitoes. Bringing “safari” colored clothing. I should have anticipated the possibility of catching a cold given the nature of air travel.  In any event, we’re on the road at 7:00 and the first wildlife we encounter is a pair of cheetah’s feasting on a wildebeest. You can tell from their distended stomachs that they’ve had their fill.

Not long into the drive, I’m feeling quite exhausted. It takes all my concentration just to stay awake, and even so, I’m dozing off as we’re bouncing and jouncing along some very bumpy roads.  Joann thinks I’m looking pretty pathetic. At one point, I’m watching wildlife using the telephoto lens, standing with the camera perched on the top of the truck and I catch myself dozing off . Heaven forbid I should fall asleep and drop the camera. One doesn’t simply open the door and step out of the car to pick something up you might drop. In any event the day progresses and I’m putting everything I have into photographing wildlife.

Later on our route we stopped for a herd of wildebeest with a number of young. This is a calving ground. Wildebeest cows like company while calving. Being in a herd provides protection from predators. The calves can typically stand and run just a few minutes after being born. Within two days they can keep pace with a running herd.

We also saw a pack of Bat-Eared Foxes, with huge ears and a bandit’s mask. These animals feed largely on insects and their ears act like twin-dish antenna. They can hear dung beetles up to a foot underground.

Our track for the day covered 36 miles and we returned to camp in the early afternoon. You can view a track or our route here.

 

African Safari: Day 3

March 5. My birthday. I have a cold and I’m feeling quite wretched. If I were home I’d be in bed. But I’m on a safari and I don’t want to miss the show. I tell myself that if I were a  high stakes wildlife photographer, I’d be going on a game drive. A cold shouldn’t stop a professional photographer should it? I feel like this is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  It’s 7:00 when we hit the road.

We watched a hyena wandering through the grass, definitely on a mission, seeming to follow it’s nose going this way and that trying to follow the scent. Before long it became clear that it was following a kill on which a flock of vultures were feeding. The hyena approached the vultures warily, and then simply snatched their lunch and trotted off.

Most of the day was spent exploring the open savannah and the kopjes. One of the highlights of the day was watching the young wildebeests.

The kopjes are always fascinating; rock outcroppings with green trees and shrubs in a sea of grass. Our travels over the day covered 83 miles, taking us to Naabi Hill camp, our camp for the next two nights. You can view the track of our travels here.

African Safari: Day 2

March 4. We’re going on a lion hunt! Early start. At 5:00 AM our steward hails us with “good morning.” He unzips the tent and leaves us a tray with a pot of coffee and fruit. Then it’s breakfast in the dining tent: porridge, fresh fruit, eggs, sausage and toast. At 6:00 we’re on the road. David tells us our objective today is to look for cats. It doesn’t take long before we find a koppie (a rock outcropping on the savannah) which seems to be a hangout for a pride of lions. We watch as the pride returns from their night time hunt. Their bellies look full, so it seems they had a successful outing. The pride includes a number of cubs ranging in age from perhaps six weeks to several months. We spent the better part of an hour and a half watching them and photographing their activities. Most of the lions just wanted to lay in the sun and nap. The cubs wanted to play.

 

At 8:10 am we leave the lions. Soon David had us poised to photograph a pair of cheetahs. I’m using my Nikon D800 with a 200-500 zoom lens. This is a substantial piece of equipment, and handling the camera and lens requires support.  The drill is to stand up slowly and stealthily and place a beanbag (a device to help hold the lens steady) on the top of the truck, and then to put the camera and lens on top of the beanbag. This is a new drill for me. I’m used to photographing architectural subjects with wide angle lenses and a sturdy tripod. Shooting wildlife from the top of a truck proves to be a challenge.  It takes me a few days of practice before I’m feeling comfortable with the drill.  I’m starting to appreciate how much skill it takes to photograph wildlife.

The cheetahs moved on. One of them passed quite close to our truck and David was concerned it might climb on the truck. We continued our game drive. Close to noon David suggested we stop in the middle of the road and have our lunches while a herd of wildebeest and zebra were crossing. This is the start of the wet season and the zebra and wildebeest are on migration following the rain and looking for green grass.

 

After lunch we continued, stopping for a family of warthogs with the mother nursing her young. We also stop for Thompson’s gazelles and  a pair of jackals. By mid-afternoon, we were feeling like we had put in a full day and we headed back to Seronera Sametu Camp

Dinner was a special treat. Being that we were the only guests in camp the staff moved a dining table out under the stars, and the three of us, David, Joann and myself, had a exquisite dinner by candle light with a campfire crackling near by and the stars twinkling overhead. For dessert, we were presented with a cake that said “Happy Retirement Joann.” It seems as part of our safari itinerary we indicated that our safari adventure was in-part a  retirement celebration. A fun surprise. We were so stuffed we could hardly touch the cake.

 

Our day’s drive covered 62 miles. You can view a track of our route here. You can also view a more extensive gallery of photos from our safari here.

 

Countdown to Africa

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On February 26, 2018, we’ll be leaving on a jet plane bound for Tanzania, with a two-day stopover in Amsterdam. In Tanzania, we’ll be going on a 10-day photo safari with Africa Dream Safaris.  While most of our local adventures have much to do about what we find along the way, this trip is all about the destination. Rather than risk missing an opportunity to see big animals, we’re hiring an experienced guide. No doubt there will be plenty to see as we bounce around the Serengeti in a Land Rover. We’re hoping to share some of our experiences while on safari, but it remains to be seen where and when we’ll have internet communications. Stay tuned…

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.