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Sierras in January: Part 1

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

With all the recent activity on getting ready for my gallery showing and artist reception, I haven't had much of an opportunity to look through the photos from my recent trip to Bishop, CA. But I finally got a calm in the storm that is my schedule, so I thought I'd browse through them and post a few shots for you to see.

The trip to Bishop was only 3 days long and I went on it with the goal of capturing some beautiful snow scenes in the Eastern Sierra. But there's just a few problems with that specific goal... First of all, it's been a horribly dry winter, and the lack of snow in these mountains has been a topic of conversation all season. Secondly, almost all the main passes through the Sierras are shut down in winter, which means I wouldn't be able to get to very many places. And finally, a storm was supposed to roll through the area the second day I was there.

The storm was good news and bad news. The good news was that I would get some fresh snow on the landscape. The bad news was that the heavy cloud cover would make my sunrises and sunsets almost non-existent.

Overall, I was a little bit disappointed with my photographic performance on this trip. It felt like I was in the wrong place at the right time on several occasions and I was, for some reason, having a difficult time capturing the full magnitude of the beauty I saw. Normally, I can make a place look much better in the photos than in real life. But here...I just wasn't on my A-game.

But nevertheless, I think I got some good photos (and a few great ones) to share with you. I figured I'd divide my trip up into 2 blog posts, not by date, but by the two main locations I visited throughout the trip. This first post is everything from the Alabama Hills at the base of the Sierras near Lone Pine. I visited this area 3 times on the trip and I just loved it. The scenery is unreal - lots of fun to explore. The second post will be all my winter snow scenes from the areas around Mammoth Lakes and Lee Vining.

The Alabama Hills Recreation Area is an expanse of immense, round, granite rock formations that spread out beneath the majestic Eastern Sierra peaks. Tons of movies and commercials have been filmed here, and for good reason. There is really no other place on Earth quite like it.

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

The Alabama Hills contains a few semi-famous arches that I had the opportunity to visit. Truthfully, photographing these arches was not real high on my t0-do list because it seems like everyone has photographed these things and they've all done it about the same way. Also, many others have had much better sunrises and sunsets to work with than I did. But I took some shots anyway...nothing I would frame, but it was nice to check them off my bucket list.

This first one is Lathe Arch. It's hard to tell in the photo, but this arch is very tiny. It only spans about 3 or 4 feet side to side and rises about 18 inches above the rock below it. Interesting shape, though.

Lathe Arch in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

And this bad-boy is Mobius Arch. I'm 6'2" and I can stand up straight underneath it. There are a ton of great photos of this arch all over the net. I wish I'd had a better sunset to work with here, but what can you do?

Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

The rest of these photos were taken all over the Alabama Hills. I was playing a lot with different foregrounds to help pull attention to Mt. Williamson in the background.

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my trip!

Trip to The Racetrack in Death Valley

Well I just can't seem to keep myself at home. Not long after my trip to the Sierras to capture the fall color, I decided to head back up in that part of California for a camping trip. But this time, it was off to the desert.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

A buddy of mine and I set our sights squarely on The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park. For those of you who haven't heard of it before, The Racetrack is an expansive playa of dry, cracked dirt upon which boulders sit, dotting the landscape in no particular pattern. These fairly large rocks are peculiar in that they sit in the middle of this endless expanse, far away from any logical source. They leave one wondering how they could have gotten so far out in the middle of nowhere.

But the even more peculiar thing about them is that many of these boulders have definite trails scraped into the dirt, very clearly indicating a track the rocks once took to reach their current resting spots. It's like they just slid across the dirt all by themselves, driven by nothing more than their own will. Hence the name "The Racetrack."

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The trails don't appear to follow any slope, especially since the playa is about as level as level gets. In fact, trails seems to go in all different directions. You can find one boulder with a clear trail coming from the north, and another rock not 20 feet away with a trail coming from the south. It's truly bizarre. From what I understand, the movement of these rocks has never been seen or filmed in action. There are only hypotheses as to what causes them to move - all revolving around strong winter winds.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

Some of the tracks even change direction, creating sharp angles in their trajectory.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

This rock (below) in particular baffled me. It has 2 trails going off in opposite directions. One is to the southwest and another to the northwest. It seems like this rock must have been heading northeast, stopped, turned sharply to the northwest, stopped, and then turned right back around and started heading southeast on its own previously laid track. Really interesting.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

Here the rocks are "racing" away from their source at the edge of the playa.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

But it wasn't only about the rocks and their trails. The cracked dirt of this playa was interesting enough in itself to warrant a picture or two. It looked like cobblestone. Almost mesmerizing as you walked over it.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

Overall, The Racetrack was a great place to shoot and I was lucky to have a decent sunrise. But the real adventure was in getting there. There are no paved roads to the playa and it's really best visited in a 4x4. We opted to get there via Saline Valley Rd to the south, which eventually connects you up to Racetrack Valley Rd.

Old Rusted Truck in Death Valley National Park, CA

All the way up to Racetrack Valley Rd at Teakettle Junction was an absolute blasty. It was a great, fun off-road trail with gorgeous scenery, tons of variety and a good chunk of elevation change. But the best part was the weather. A storm was passing through, which dumped rain and snow on us. Here's a couple short video clips from the drive in:


So that part of the drive was fun. But what nearly made me lose my mind was the 30+ miles of brutal washboards on Racetrack Valley Rd. It was like driving on corrugated steel with your head in a paint can shaker. Mind-numbing. You can't drive much faster than 10 mph without every bolt and screw in your car rattling free. Here we are taking a break from it. Don't let the smiles fool you...

Nick Carver on Racetrack Valley Rd

I didn't get much in the way of landscapes after sunrise on The Racetrack, but I did manage to snap some shots of a couple of ravens perched on a park sign. They were brave, allowing us to get just a few feet away.

Ravens in Death Valley National Park, CA

Ravens in Death Valley National Park, CA

Ravens in Death Valley National Park, CA

^ Here they perch right above a notice that says "Do Not Feed Wild Animals." Not the best place to beg for food...

Ravens in Death Valley National Park, CA

For the second night of the trip, we camped in Death Valley proper in a secluded spot, did some nighttime off-roading to an abandoned mine and then set off for home the next morning. Excellent trip overall.

Videos from the Autumn Sierras Trip

I recently got myself a much-needed iPhone 4s, and given the amazing video capabilities it has, I thought I'd start shooting some footage at the locations I visit so you can see what the scenery was like. Keep in mind that since I can't control the exposure, white balance or any other settings on the video, they aren't super high quality, but they get the job done.

For instance, here is some footage from North Lake at sunrise:

And here is the resulting picture:

North Lake at Sunrise near Bishop, CA

Here's one along South Lake Rd:

With the resulting picture:

Fall Color in the Eastern Sierra near Bishop, CA

And lastly, this is just a video showing the amazing color on display:

Expect many more of these in the future. Hopefully I can do something to work out the image quality a bit.