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Photography On Location: The Pumpkin Patch in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Photography On-Location:
The Pumpkin Patch at Anza-Borrego Desert
View on YouTube to see full HD

Oh, boy. It's been awhile since my last post. And it's been even longer since my last on-location video. I wish I could do this more often, but life gets in the way sometimes. Well, work gets in the way.

And I must say that I have been completely surprised by all the positive feedback I've gotten on my videos. When I posted my first video on YouTube, I was prepared for the worst - mean, critical, "just kill yourself, you Wil Wheaton look-a-like" kinds of comments. Man, was I wrong! The vast, vast majority of comments have been incredibly encouraging, positive, and supportive.

Hooray! Humanity is alive and well!

So thank you to my viewers and those who have taken the time to encourage me to do more. It really keeps me motivated on this stuff.

For my latest "photography on location" video, I took a day trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to check out a strange geological formation called "The Pumpkin Patch." Aptly named, this remote section of Anza-Borrego is dotted with pumpkin-sized spheres of sandstone - sandstone concretions as the informative placard called them. Not that I had to look this up in a dictionary or anything, but a concretion is a hard solid mass formed by the local accumulation of matter.

And as the handy placard also clarified, such concretions are believed to be formed by the natural cementing of sand particles to a small object such as a piece of shell, a grain of sand, or even an insect. You see, these are basically giant sandstone jawbreakers with a nougaty core of dead insect. A spider dies beneath the surface, a concretion forms around it, the soil eventually erodes away, and the concretion is exposed to wind which slowly smooths it into a spherical shape.

These are desert pearls, my friends!

The Pumpkin Patch in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

The Pumpkin Patch in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

It's very interesting stuff. So when I learned about this pumpkin patch in my local desert, I figured it might be worth photographing.

Getting there is pretty easy. You can probably get there just fine without 4x4, but you'll definitely need a high-clearance vehicle at the very least. This patch is nestled in the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, so this isn't something right off the side of the highway. You'll have to spend some time navigating the twists and turns of sometimes-barely-marked dirt roads and desert washes. This is the kind of place meant for dune buggies and Jeeps. I recommend checking in with the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center to get reliable directions and an update on the road conditions.

On this trip I only ended up shooting one roll of film. It was Ilford Delta 100 film pushed 1 stop (for a little extra contrast) coupled with a red filter (for even more contrast) in 6x6 format. In hindsight, I think I may have gone overboard on the contrast, but then again it worked really well for a few of the shots. Things just got a little too dark and moody for some of them. The red filter probably would have been sufficient without pushing the film too.

You'll notice that many of these pictures have a vertical whitish line off to the right. That's from a light leak in my Mamiya RZ67 camera. I don't know where it's coming from, but somehow light is creeping into the camera through the cracks and spilling onto the film. I replaced all the light seals already to try and fix it, but no dice. It's still getting in. I need to troubleshoot things a bit to get that leak under control.

Ah, these are the joys of using an old film camera. We're spoiled by perfectly tight digital cameras nowadays.

It's a real bummer about that light leak, though, because it ruined some otherwise perfectly good photos. But as they say, live and learn. Now I know it's leakin', so I know it needs fixin'.

Click any picture to see it bigger and be sure to check out the video!

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Ocotillo Cactus in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

The Pumpkin Patch in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

The Pumpkin Patch in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Camping Essentials: ARB Awning Enclosed Room

Camping Essentials: ARB Awning Enclosed Room
View on YouTube to see full HD

In a recent blog post I showed you the ARB 2000 Awning - a fantastic addition to any 4x4 for some quick and easy shelter on the trail (read that post here). In this post I want to show you an accessory for the ARB line of awnings called the Enclosed Room (or the ARB Awning Room with Floor), which is essentially a tent that attaches directly to the awning.

ARB 2000 Awning and ARB Enclosed Room

The room shown here is for the ARB 2000 Awning, which means it measures about 6.5-foot wide. At full extension out from the truck, the awning is about 8-foot long, but with the protruding wheel wells on my 4Runner, the enclosed room offers about 7 feet of usable space on the long dimension. So I'm looking at a total footprint of about 46 square feet. Not too shabby.

This size room can really come in handy at camp. The most obvious use for it is a kitchen. That's one of the main reasons I got this room, because nothing drives me more insane than bugs getting in my frying pan when I'm trying to make fajitas. The large dual windows provide great ventilation and the walls provide all-important wind blocking for your stove.

But hey, who says you can't sleep in your kitchen?

That's right, the ARB Awning Room with Floor isn't designed to be a tent, but that's what I used it for on my most recent trip. It fits my cot and cooking station perfectly, so I can sleep and cook in a single bug-free space. I can see why ARB wouldn't explicitly state this as its purpose, though. I can imagine if you were in a very heavy rain or snow storm, the enclosed room may not be up to the task of keeping you dry and wind-blocked all night. I don't doubt the water-repellency of it or even the sturdiness of the materials, but I believe the perfectly vertical walls may cause too much wind-resistance for the awning to handle. There's a reason tents typically have a pitched roof to them, and for this setup you'd need to drop the far end of the awning quite a bit to create a sufficient slope for runoff. Definitely possible, but just not made exactly for that purpose. This thing is far from aerodynamic. But a light to moderate rain with manageable wind...should be no problem.

The room attaches to the awning with ease. The grooved channels at either end of the extended awning hold the room secure while the robust plastic clips keep it stable with the awning support poles. What takes the longest time in setting up this room is staking it down. There are many stake-down points, which is great for stability, but if you have hard ground like in the Mojave Desert, make sure you bring a mallet with you. You'll be doing a lot of hammering.

In terms of usability, I like the cubic shape of the enclosed room. The traditional dome-shape of most tents can make moving around in it a pain, especially when you're 6'2" like me. But the straight walls and flat ceiling make it more like a bedroom than a tent.

Inside the room are some convenient features. Two vents reside at the top of the truck-side wall that can be opened with velcro, and towards the floor are two small zip-open slots where you can feed in a power cord or propane hose. But possibly the most useful feature is a large zip-open door on the truck-side wall that can be opened and rolled up for quick access to the truck's door. Makes getting supplies in and out of the vehicle a breeze.

I also really appreciate just how big the two mesh windows are. The views from inside are stunning with the rain flaps rolled up and there is plenty of air flow to keep the room unstuffy in the daytime.

ARB Awning Enclosed Room with Floor

My only complaint so far with the enclosed room is that the material used for the floor is thinner than I'd like. I'm sure it's plenty tough to withstand sand and grass, but the rocky terrain of my local deserts may wear it out sooner than later. That's one reason I recommend picking up a tarp at your local hardware store to lay down as a footing underneath your enclosed room. Thinner materials like these are nice because they make the whole package lightweight and compact for easier packing, but in this case I'd take a little more weight and bulk for a tougher floor pan.

If you're a lone-wolf photographer like me and you're looking for a convenient one-man tent/kitchen for your photo adventures, the ARB Enclosed Room may be the right choice for you. It certainly beats sleeping in the back of your truck (you deserve better than that).

Helpful Links:
ARB Awning Room with Floor
- ARB 2000 Awning
- ARB 1250 Awning
- ARB 2500 Awning

This blog post and video were not sponsored or endorsed by ARB 4x4 Accessories or any other company.

ARB 2000 Awning Review

ARB 2000 Awning Review

ARB 2000 Awning Review

ARB 2000 Awning Review

Camping Essentials: ARB 2000 Awning

Camping Essentials: ARB Awning
View on YouTube to see full HD

I love camping. Aside from the solitude, quiet, and photo ops it affords, I also just love the gear. A good, reliable product that makes the adventure more comfortable, easier, or safer is worth its weight in gold. Because if I'm honest, camping can be a huge pain in the ass. Setting up camp, tearing it down...trying to cook with bugs all around...the heat, the cold... There's a reason most people would rather stay in a hotel.

As a resident of Southern California, I do much of my camping in the local deserts. My proximity to them has fostered a deep fondness for the arid landscape. And when you're out in the desert, your biggest enemy is the sun and the heat. That's why some good, quick shade is a must for desert traveling.

Enter the ARB Awning.

ARB 2000 Awning Review

This style of awning is a camping essential in the world of overland expeditions (4x4 camping). It attaches to the roof of your 4x4 and sets up quick for when you need shelter from the elements. As a landscape photographer, I find it invaluable at camp or when I'm stopping for photos along the journey.

Aside from shade, this awning would be invaluable in the rain. One of my favorite things in the world is to sit out and listen to a rainstorm. Get me out to the desert in a steady rain and I'm in hog heaven. Throw in some scattered thunderstorms and I might never leave. In the past I've always been stuck in my driver's seat to view it through my windshield, but with this awning, in just a few minutes I can have a shelter set up that will not only allow me to soak in the desert sounds while staying dry, but I can even take pictures from underneath it.

Overall I'm very impressed with the quality of this ARB 2000 Awning. I'm actually surprised it's not a more expensive item. The tarp is heavy duty, waterproof, and UV protected...it would take a lot to damage this thing. The support poles are lightweight aluminum that lock with a simple twist to the proper height/length. I was very pleased to see just how stable this awning is once set up. With how lightweight the poles are, I wasn't expecting it to be super strong, but I think it could hold up to some tough weather. With the legs staked down and the guy wires attached, it feels incredibly rigid.

Set up is a piece of cake. ARB claims it can be set up in 30 seconds. With 2 people I actually believe that figure, but doing it solo is a little trickier and will take a few minutes. I've only ever set it up solo, which can be a bit awkward and unwieldy to do, but it's not too difficult. I imagine the 8-foot version (the ARB 2500 Awning) would be nearly impossible to set up solo for many people. The 4-foot version (the ARB 1250 Awning) would be a breeze. Each awning model extends away from the truck about 8-feet.

ARB 2000 Awning Review

ARB 2000 Awning Review

When the awning is rolled up, there is really no "wiggle room" to cause rattling. It's held in tight with 2 velcro straps in an impressively small package. The rolled up awning stays protected under a strong nylon reinforced PVC bag closed with thick zippers. The protective bag is actually one of the most impressive aspects of this ARB awning. You can tell they didn't cut corners here at all. It's going to experience more punishment from the elements than any other part of this awning, so they made sure it was heavy-duty and built to last. I drove around in the rain quite a bit at highway speeds and not a drop of water got past the protective bag.

ARB also makes some awesome accessories for the awning like a mosquito net, a sidewall, and an enclosed room. I have the enclosed room to serve as a kitchen and/or tent which I'll be showing to you in a future blog post and video.

ARB 2000 Awning and ARB Enclosed Room

So if you have a truck or SUV and you like to get out into the elements with it, check out the ARB awning. Camping essentials like this make the journey so much more enjoyable. And with the way it's built, I'm sure it'll last for years to come.

Helpful Links:
- ARB 2000 Awning
- ARB 1250 Awning
- ARB 2500 Awning
- Rhino Rack 31103 Awning Mounts

This blog post and video were not sponsored or endorsed by ARB 4x4 Accessories or any other company.