Whirlwind Winter Wind-down

Several weeks ago I stopped in at my insurance broker’s office to drop off a document and he commented that he had been following my blog.  That reminded me that I hadn’t posted anything in a while.  And now that I look at my last post, it has been a long while.

I have to say that our first winter in our “southern” home in California was a very busy one.  But it was a fun kind of busy.  Between photography, camera club activities, improving my photoshop skills, cycling, hiking, sightseeing, visiting friends, and finding time just to “hang out” and enjoy our time down south, I found it hard to fit in blog updates.  So once again I am covering an extended period with this post.

Star trails

Star trails

A few days after my last posting I ventured off with three friends from the camera club to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Yuma, AZ, for an overnight photo shoot.  Our goal was to shoot star trails and the Milky Way.  Ideal conditions for such a venture include a new moon and clear skies with minimal light pollution.  We certainly lucked out with not a cloud in the sky and our location had very little light pollution (a little bit low on the horizon to the east).  We arrived by mid afternoon and scouted out an ideal shooting location.  The star trails involved a series of exposures that would later be stacked together using software.  The Milky Way photos were taken closer to dawn when the galaxy was most visible.  This was my first-ever sojourn into the realm of night photography and I learned a lot.  While I made a number of mistakes I did come away with a couple of OK photos, and the desire to try the exercise again, perhaps somewhere in or near the mountains in Alberta.

Milky Way

Milky Way

IMG_2266-EditA few days later the camera club had an outing to the Cooking With Class restaurant in La Quinta to practice our food photography skills.  While learning about some wine and food pairings and enjoying a great meal, we had ample opportunity to “play with our food”.  While I don’t foresee a future for me in this branch of photography, it was a lot of fun and was also a great learning experience.IMG_2301-EditIMG_2341

Pioneertown

Pioneertown

By now a friend had come to visit us so it was time to work in a bit of sight seeing.  On one such excursion we paid another visit to Pioneertown.  On another we drove up to Idllwild for an afternoon.  This is a beautiful little town nestled in the mountains about an hour and a half from Palm Springs.  There were lots of shops to poke around in and several great-looking restaurants.  We enjoyed some great live entertainment while having our lunch.

Pioneertown

Pioneertown

Idyllwild

Idyllwild

Idyllwild

Idyllwild

Polo

Polo

Polo

Polo

Sundays are Polo days in the Coachella Valley from early January to the end of March.  Having never seen a live polo match it seemed like a perfect opportunity to check it out and maybe get some good action shots.  At $10 per carload (for parking) as the entry fee it is a pretty inexpensive way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and will definitely attend more matches in the future.IMG_2400-Edit

IMG_3624One of the popular hikes in Joshua Tree National Park is to the Lost Palms Oasis and on a sunny morning in early March I joined one of the hiking groups I belong to do this trail.  The 12 km (about 7.5 mi) hike had some spectacular scenery along a fairly well-marked trail.  Of course the highlight was the stand of palm trees at the oasis.

The next day I returned to Joshua Tree NP with the photo group of the other hiking club to which I belong.  We made several stops and did a couple of short hikes at the Barker Dam and to the arch at White Tank campground.  As always it is fun to hike with other photographers who love to make frequent stops for photo-ops!

My week of visiting Joshua Tree NP wrapped up in a big way – with a weekend photography course put on by the Desert Institute.  The course was led by Ralph Nordstrom ( http://ralphnordstromphotography.com ) and was excellent.  We did sunrise shoots on Saturday and Sunday and a sunset shoot on Saturday.  As well as visiting several other locations in the mornings we had classroom sessions both afternoons.  Ralph talked about what he calls the “four pillars” of making a good photograph – fantastic light, strong composition, appropriate sharpness, and optimum exposure.  He also talked about checking the histogram on every shot, using the full dynamic range, and techniques to record the full dynamic range when shooting sunrises and sunsets.  The course title, Fine Art Photography, really summed up the approach to the weekend.  I would highly recommend any course that Ralph leads.

Beavertail Cactus flower

Beavertail Cactus flower

As March progressed the wildflowers started to bloom in the desert.  In the middle of March I accompanied two friends from the camera club to Whitewater Nature Preserve to photograph some of the color.  It was fairly windy which made photographing many of the delicate flowers quite challenging.  However with a high shutter speed I managed to capture a few stunning shots.  A highlight of the day was seeing my first ever blooms on beavertail cacti.  Great company and great scenery always makes for a fantastic outing.

_MG_5297On a Saturday night in mid-March we joined a number of friends for a concert in the courtyard of the shopping center on El Paseo in Palm Desert.  This was one of a series of Saturday night concerts and, for $12 which includes 2 glasses of wine and snacks, it is a great deal!  The concerts raise funds for a different charity every week.  If you are in the area I would recommend this as a fine evening’s entertainment._MG_5290

With our winter in California rapidly drawing to a close I had one last opportunity to visit Joshua Tree NP, this time with the photo group of the Coachella Valley Hiking Club.  I just never get tired of this beautiful park and it is great fun to visit with fellow photographers and to see what captures their eyes.

My last photo shoot of the winter was a visit with the Shadow Hills Sun City Camera Club to the grounds surrounding the Palm Springs Art Gallery in Palm Desert.  The waterfalls and sculptures provide some interesting subject matter.

All too soon our first winter in the desert came to an end and we were heading back north.  On reflection I realized that one of the reasons that I had been so busy over the 5 months we were there was that it was our first winter and there was just so much to see and experience.  There were many things that I had planned to do that just never worked their way into my schedule.  As a result I know there will be no shortage of things to do next winter.  There is more of Joshua Tree NP to explore, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to check out, more bird watching at the Salton Sea, more concerts, polo matches, relaxing by the pool, and so on and so on.  So many things to do and so little time!

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This entry was posted in California, Hiking, Nature, Photography, Wildflowers and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Whirlwind Winter Wind-down

  1. kayfed says:

    Great Blog Neil. Some outstanding shots.

  2. Thanks for the mention Neil. Much appreciated. I hope all is well with you.

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