Floris van Breugel on April 15th, 2014

For the past 2 months my girlfriend, Aubrey, has been in Mexico (and now Guatemala) on a soul-searching voyage, so it was about time I flew down to visit. Aside from a trip to Baja when I was five, this was my first time in Mexico. Everyone I talked to said Oaxaca was a special place, but until I spent the next two weeks traveling through other areas, I did not fully appreciate why. The first thing that stood out to me were the colors. Every building was painted, on the inside and out, with some combination of brilliant yellow, orange, red, green, and blue. Every fence was covered with blooming bougainvillea sporting vibrant pink, magenta, and purple flowers. The jacaranda trees were laden with purple flowers. The walls were covered in brilliant murals (“graffiti”), and the markets filled with ripe and colorful fruits of all shapes, colors, and sizes.

Culinary highlights included chapulines (fried seasoned crickets), mamey and guanábana fruits, a guava molé (sauce made from cacao and spices), tejate (fermented cacao and corn drink), and mezcal (smokey tequila) ice cream.

Colorful Oaxaca, Sunshine, Mexico

Oaxaca's Warmth : Prints Available

Warm colors, warm sunshine, and plentiful plants charaterize the welcoming atmosphere and architecture of Mexico's Oaxaca city. This is a picture of the stairwell at the apartment where Aubrey was staying.

A few examples of the diverse and colorful street art in Oaxaca.

A rubber chicken observes its unlucky fleshy siblings below at the local market.

Me, about to enjoy a handful of chapulines (seasoned and roasted crickets)! They were delicious.

Tropical fruits at the market.

Aubrey shows off a perfectly ripe, and delicious, Mamey fruit. This fruit resembles an Avocado on the outside, but has bright orange flesh and tastes like caramel. Mmmmmmmm!

After two days in the city, I was anxious to get out and see what nature had to offer in Mexico. And truth be told, Aubrey was excited to get out of the city, too. For that, we headed into Chiapas, the southern most state of Mexico, bordering Guatemala. Chiapas has one of the highest numbers of species diversity of any place on Earth thanks to its range of terrain from arid savannah to pine forests and tropical jungles.

Over the following 16 days we spent over 50 hours in 36 different vehicles, including a “platinum” night bus, taxis, combis, camionetas, pick-up trucks, and horses. We travelled through 5 major cities, passed 5 military checkpoints and 2 Zapatista protest blockades. We slept in 12 distinct places ranging from fancy hotels (US$50 / night) to camping in the lawns of fancy hotels (US$8 / night), and we never saw an American, just a few french, germans, and one kiwi (and lot of mexicans). Everything was in the hands of Aubrey’s 1.5 month old spanish skills, and whatever was left of my middle and high school classes from 10 years ago. Much to our surprise, everything worked out in the end!

Our first destination was Sima de las Cotorras, which means “abyss of the parakeets.” We left Oaxaca on a 10 hr night bus, and arrived in Tuxtla, the capital of Chiapas, at 5:30am. After following several dead-end leads to information centers and ecotourism bureaus from friendly strangers on the streets, we hailed a cab and asked him to take us to the tourism office. He dropped us off in front of this official looking state department building.

State department building, with the tourism office.

To appreciate how daunting this building seemed to us, you have to picture that it was the only skyscraper in the city, and the only building that didn’t still have rebar poking out of the side of the cement walls and roof. And probably the only building with air conditioning. Confused, we walked inside, where we were asked to check our passports in exchange for an access key which would take us to the 5th floor. Our gigantic backpacks didn’t fit through the x-ray scanner, but the security guard just waived us through. We definitely did not belong there. But there on the 5th floor, mixed in with fifty other people sitting at their computers, was the lady in charge of tourism. She seemed confused that two dirty backpack-carrying American tourists were there to see her, but she did have helpful (english!) information packets to give us.

Sima de las Cotorras, Chiapas, Mexico

Sima de las Cotorras : Prints Available

Hundreds of green parakeets make their homes deep in this gigantic sinkhole in Chiapas, Mexico. 

Armed with the necessary information we found our way to Ocozocoautla, where we found a cab willing to take us to the Sima. First things first: a cold beer, followed by a pitcher of agua fresca de melon (cantaloupe juice blended with water). Refreshed and hydrated, we set up our tent under a dilapidated roof, which used to be a horse stable. We were probably the first people to have camped there in at least a year, probably more – most people stay in the nice cabanas for an extra US$15. To accompany the beautiful natural scenery, several of the ecotourism places we visited had signs posted with inspirational quotes I particularly enjoyed.

Caged birds cannot sing, and the wild and free Cotorras at the Sima certainly sang (screamed) their hearts out all day long!

In the mornings and evenings the hundreds of little green parakeets (Aratinga holochlora) that make their homes in the walls of the Sima fly out in search of food, chattering vociferously as they zoom past at over 60 mph.

Sima de las Cotorras, Chiapas, Mexico

Las Cotorras : Prints Available

A flock of green parakeets circles deep in side the sinkhole they call home: Sima de las Cotorras in Chiapas, Mexico.

Parakeets, Sima de las Cotorras, Chiapas

Las Cotorras : Prints Available

Hundreds of green parakeets (cotorras) make their homes on the cliff face of a giant sinkhole in Chiapas, Mexico. At dawn and dusk they fly out in search of food in the surrounding jungle.

The green parakeets (Aratinga holochlora) that call the Sima home.

After relaxing to the sounds of happy screeching parakeets for a day, we set off to our next destination: Cañon Rió la Venta. The owner of the restaurant at the Sima was kind enough to take us to the trailhead (for the right price), where we descended the 700+ steps into paradise: towering canyon walls, sandy beaches, a warm river, and splashing waterfalls! We both agree that this was our favorite place of the trip, and I think we might go back someday. It was incredible that so close to a major city, was such a beautiful and peaceful place that we had almost entirely to ourselves for most of the 3 days we stayed there. That is, aside from the three men with dogs that apparently made daily walks up and down the canyon through some secret entrance to fill their buckets with… something.

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Rio la Venta, Chiapas, Mexico

Rio la Venta : Prints Available

The canyon walls tower over the Rio la Venta river as cascades tumble down mossy walls in Chiapas, Mexico. Look very closely and you'll find an egret looking for fish in the river.

Aubrey pokes her head out of the tent to see what I'm up to (taking pictures).

Aubrey, enjoying a waterfall shower.

Mossy Cascades, Rio la Venta, Chiapas

Cascadas de Musgo : Prints Available

Over hundreds of years the mineral rich water in these cascades has built up strange moss-covered structures on the canyon walls of the Rio la Venta in Chiapas, Mexico.

Travertine Leaf, Rio la Venta, Chiapas

Calcified Leaf : Prints Available

An imprint of a leaf trapped in calcium carbonate (travertine) many years ago is now revealed in a rock along the Rio la Venta river in Chiapas, Mexico.

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Selva el Ocote, Waterfall, Beaches

Paradise Canyon : Prints Available

Deep in the Selva el Ocote are magical waterfalls, sunny beaches, and warm rivers: a truely divine paradise. I can't wait to go back! 

Regretfully, we left the canyon, on to the next adventure: Mayan ruins, the Lacandon Jungle, and la Biosfera Montes Azules. And lots of rides in combis (12 passenger vans that race through the countryside bringing mexicans to wherever they want to go). That will be the next blog post!

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Floris van Breugel on March 11th, 2014

A few weeks ago my girlfriend, Aubrey, departed on a soul searching voyage through Central and South America, and meanwhile I headed north to Fairbanks to visit some friends, and hopefully see the Aurora. Unfortunately it was cloudy every night we were there, but we found other ways to enjoy the cold. Highlights included getting frosty in some hotsprings, and figuring out how cut a hole in 2 feet of ice so we could try our hand at ice fishing (we got the hole, but no fish).

Me, after spending 2 hours in the Chena Hotsprings at -20° F with some windchill. Now I know what it's like to feel like one of those frosted trees in the mountains!

The joys of ice fishing with a chain saw in Fairbanks, Alaska!

And now we wait. And wait. And wait.

To thaw out (and to visit my parents, as well as my graduate fellowship supporters John Mather and the Hertz Foundation), I made a quick trip south to sunny California. What I miss most about California is not the sunshine (I miss that, too), but the ubiquitous chattering of the birds. Here in Seattle–in the city as well as in the wilderness–the birds are always eerily quiet. My favorites are the Anna’s Hummingbirds, and I spent several mornings in Mt Diablo State Park watching them through my telephoto lens. Though they may look delicate, male Anna’s Hummingbirds can be quite vicious when it comes to territorial disputes. They need to keep limber for their fighter-jet like maneuvers, so their morning routine involves a fair bit of stretching.

Anna's Hummingbird, Mt Diablo State Park, California

Good Morning Sunshine : Prints Available

A male Anna's Hummingbird stretches in the golden sunlight of the rising sun in California's Mt Diablo State Park.

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Floris van Breugel on February 5th, 2014

While the rest of Seattle gathered in front of their TV’s last weekend to cheer on the Seahawks, Aubrey and I escaped to the Olympic coast to watch the hawks by the sea. To be fair, there weren’t any hawks, but we did see bald eagles, sea otters, surfing sea lions, and – to our delight – no people (for a 24 hr period)! We spent most of our time collecting driftwood, roasting it (to dry it out), and enjoying the the warmth of our campfire.

Me, roasting driftwood. Photo by Aubrey.

Along the way, we found some fascinating and colorful sand, which originated from tiny garnet (pink) and olivine (green) gemstones found in the igneous rocks that make up the olympic coastline. Although the colors may look bizarre, they are real!

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Wilderness Coast, Olympic National Park, Washington

Sandtasy : Prints Available

Naturally colored sand along the wilderness coast of Washington's Olympic National Park. The pinks and purples are powderized garnet, and the greens olivine.

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Floris van Breugel on January 15th, 2014

This post is continued from the previous post, about Yellowstone’s gray wolves.

The center of Yellowstone National Park, near old faithful, averages approximately 200 inches of snow fall each year. In such deep snow it would be impossible for the grazing wildlife (bison, elk, moose, and antelope) to find food. This forces them to adopt one of two general strategies: stay near the hotsprings that keep the ground free of snow, or move to the almost desert-like northeast part of the park, the Lamar Valley, which gets as little as 25 inches annually. Despite this low annual precipitation, several times throughout our stay we were fortunate to have periods of significant snowfall, covering everything (including the wildlife) with a pristine white coating.

Bison in Snow, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Horned Snow : Prints Available

A snowy bison rests in the endless expanse of snow of the Lamar Valley in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.

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Pronghorn, Snowstorm, Yellowstone National Park

Snowglobe : Prints Available

A Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana, aka antelope), the second-fastest land mammal in the world, in a heavy winter snowstorm in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.

Although Yellowstone National Park is most famous for its resident wolves, many other species make their home in the park. The coyotes, bison, antelope, elk, etc. are much easier to find and photograph, opening up more creative compositional opportunities. Our first afternoon we happened to find a friendly and good looking coyote (some were very mangy). We watched him settle down for an afternoon nap, and found him in exactly the same spot later that evening, hunting for dinner under a beautiful sunset.

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Hunting Coyote, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Sunset Hunt : Prints Available

A coyote hunts for dinner in the fading light of sunset in the Lamar Valley of Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.

The most ubiquitous wildlife are bison, which frequently cause traffic delays as they slowly amble down the roads to get out of the deep snow. Early in the morning, however, they are still (usually) bedded down from the night. We had one clear and cold night on our trip, with temperatures dropping to -3 F (-19 C) just before sunrise. Under these conditions everything – both plants and wildlife – in the Lamar Valley became encased in frost.

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Frosted Trees, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Frosted Lamar : Prints Available

Frosted trees and sage brush in the Lamar Valley of Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park shortly after sunrise.

Bison Herd at Sunrise, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Morning Bison : Prints Available

A frosty herd of Bison slowly wake up as the sun rises over the Lamar Valley in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.

After sunrise, we began a long snow-shoe hike up to one of the ridges surrounding the Lamar Valley to get a better view of a wolf (see previous post). The ridge provided a unique viewpoint of the landscape, and of course, the wildlife down below. For a brief moment the bison and lone frosted cottonwoods came together in an intriguing composition.

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Bison, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Bison : Prints Available

A herd of American Bison (Bison bison) walks across the Lamar Valley in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park during winter. This image was take from high above the valley on a nearby ridge with a long telephoto lens.

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Floris van Breugel on January 4th, 2014

Although the scarcity of snow along the west coast mountains makes it seem as though we are still stuck in autumn, winter is in full swing in Yellowstone National Park. Last week I made a spur of the moment decision to join my friend and fellow photographer Raghu to look for wolves and other wildlife in the snow. Three years ago I had come to Yellowstone in the winter with my parents to see the geysers and wildlife, but we only caught a brief glimpse of the Druid wolf pack through high magnification spotting scopes.

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Wolf Pack, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Wolf Pack : Prints Available

One of Yellowstone National Park's resident wolf packs (5 of 7 members in the frame) explores the snow hillsides of the Lamar Valley in winter.

Once native to the area, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) was all but exterminated from the Yellowstone ecosystem by the Army, National Park Service, and ranchers between the 1900′s and 1940′s. As a result, the park saw an exponential increase in elk and coyote populations, which had a dramatic effect on the ecological balance. The plants were dying from over grazing, and the land was eroding. The park was being destroyed by its own booming wildlife population. The Park Service was forced to begin relocating elk, and even resorted to killing them, filling the former niche of the gray wolf. Between the 1960′s and 1990′s biologists urged congress to come up with a plan to reintroduce wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem. Passing the Endangered Species Act in 1973 provided a legal basis for doing so, and after two decades of research and planning, 14 wolves were finally reintroduced into the park in 1995. To help keep track of the wolf populations in the park, approximately one third of the animals are fitted with radio and GPS collars. In addition to tracking the wolves for research purposes, park service officials help visitors see them by locating wolves with radio signals every morning.

Wolf project radio antennas and spotting scopes

A wolf project official, surrounded by eager wolf watching tourists, listens to radio signals from collared wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

Since their reintroduction, the wolves have done remarkably well, surpassing the population goal in 2002. Because of this success, in December of 2011 there were 98 wolves within the park, grouped in 10 packs. In May of 2011 the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list in Montana, Idaho and parts of Oregon, Washington, and Utah, opening the doors to state managed hunting. According to the management plans, there are quotas for how many wolves can be shot in a given area throughout the hunting season. Wolves form complex family structures and packs, however, so the death of a pack member can have a profound effect on their social network. Just this past year several members of the Lamar Canyon wolf pack were shot and killed while roaming outside the park boundary. With only three remaining members, the alpha male (#755) was forced to leave his pack to find a suitable mate, as the only female left was his own daughter. On our third morning, the wolf project officials had located the lone wolf, taking a nap on a distant hillside.

The wolf, in the distance. The large image was taken with a 700mm lens (approximately 14x magnification), the inset shows the full pixel resolution, effectively 300x. You can just barely make out its ears.

It was a beautiful morning, so Raghu and I decided to pack up and snowshoe up to a parallel ridge in hopes of getting a better view. After an hour of hiking, we spotted him, still peacefully sleeping in the snow! We set up our cameras (still about 1/4 mile away) and waited. Half an hour later, he lifted his head, stretched, and ambled off. As we later learned, his new partner (#889) was nearby, limping with an injured front leg. Perhaps he had gone to help her out.

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Yellowstone Wolf, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Wolf : Prints Available

Former alpha male of the Lamar Canyon wolf pack (#755) poses for a brief moment in the Lamar Valley of Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.

On our final day – New Years Day – we were off to a late start because of the snow that had fallen overnight. While driving down the icy roads of the Lamar Valley in the predawn “blue hour,” I saw a car with its flashers on up ahead. I slowed down, and suddenly we spotted a beautiful black morph gray wolf slink away from the road. Quickly I grabbed my camera and fired off a few images, resting the lens on the window sill. It was very dark, but after coming home I was delighted to see that one of my 1/30th second exposures was satisfactorily sharp! The wolf turned out to be the daughter of the former alpha male of the Lamar Pack, and was one of the few un-collared wolves we had the privilege of seeing. She, and her partner, had killed a female elk right by the side of the road overnight. Most of the “wolf watchers” had arrived so early in the morning that day that they had driven right past them in the dark – thankfully we had a late start!

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Gray Wolf, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Gray Wolf : Prints Available

A gray wolf (Canis lupus), a member of the Lamar Canyon pack, poses in the pre-dawn light in the Lamar Valley of Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park.

The wolves often catch up to their prey near the road, as the elk head for the river to increase their chances of survival. However, when approaching or crossing the road they stumble, giving the wolves an opportunity to catch up. Because wolves are naturally skittish of humans, they abandon their kill as soon as there are people nearby. To give them a chance to finish off their kill, the park service will often move the carcass a safe distance from the road. Although the wolves rarely return, other scavengers have no qualms coming in to finish off the job. We spent the rest of the day waiting near the kill, in hopes of some excitement. That afternoon, the handsome gray colored wolf (#755) and his injured partner (#889) made an appearance across the valley. I watched through my binoculars as they traversed the valley, making characteristic zig-zagging maneuvers indicative of scent tracking. They were coming in to feast on the elk that the other wolves had taken down during the night – the injured wolf was probably in desperate need for a meal. I can only imagine what it must be like to have a nose that can smell a frozen meal from two miles away!

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Gray Wolf, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Gray Wolf 889 : Prints Available

A hungry gray wolf (Canis lupus) pauses for a moment while on its way towards an elk carcass in the Lamar Valley of Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. Many of the wolves in Yellowstone are fitted with radio, or GPS, collars to help track their behaviors. This one sports one of the newer GPS collars. 

As she approached, she gave us exceptional views, at one point coming too close to photograph with my 700mm lens. Her partner, the handsome gray wolf, was more shy, and stayed farther back. She cautiously approached the elk, had her fill, and joined her partner to wander back into the woods. Hopefully a full belly will allow her leg to heal in the coming days.

A gray wolf feasts on an elk that was killed by other wolves.

This concludes our incredible and unexpected encounters with wolves this trip, however, I have many other images of the other wildlife that I look forward to sharing next! I hope everyone’s 2014 is off to a similarly great start.

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Floris van Breugel on December 5th, 2013

Last week I visited sunny Pasadena to present the five years of scientific research I have been working on, and I’m happy to say that I now have my PhD in Control and Dynamical Systems from Caltech (unofficially, that is – there’s still some administrative paperwork to be shuffled around). In brief, I studied how a fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), which has a brain 1 millionth the size of the human brain, is able to use visual cues and odors to locate, and land on, food sources. The results represent a step forwards towards understanding how their brains function, and because of the similarity between nervous systems across species, they also represent a step towards understanding how our own brains function. I will write up a more detailed synopsis in the near future, illustrated by photographs of course.

To celebrate, I spent Thanksgiving week with my parents in Death Valley National Park – a family tradition that dates back to my childhood in California. By my estimates, over the course of these trips I must have spent more than 4 months within the park (some of it before Death Valley was designated as a National Park in 1994). And yet, there are still many places I have yet to visit. After spending the past 3 years in the Pacific Northwest surrounded (sometimes trapped) by enormous green trees, clouds and rain, and glaciated mountain peaks, it was incredibly relaxing to be back in infinite expanse of the desert. The warmth, freedom, comfort, silence, vastness, mystery, and subtle beauty are more therapeutic than any other environment I have experienced.

We started our trip with a visit to my favorite dunes, far from the throngs of tourists. The warm sunset light and parting clouds were a wonderful welcome back.

Sunset Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Wild Sands : Prints Available

Sunset on the dunes, in California's Death Valley National Park.

Sunset Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Sunset Dunes : Prints Available

Sunset over the dunes in Death Valley National Park.

On these trips we always camp in the backcountry. One of the first things that struck me was the silence. Complete silence. Not a breeze, not a chirp, car, or plane. In the Northwest, even when far from the bustle of civilization, there are always streams, winds, rustling leaves, crashing waves, singing birds, etc. I had never realized quite how special that silence was until having missed it for so long.

Creosote, Death Valley National Park, California

Creosote : Prints Available

A lone Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) takes in the view of its siblings in the wash below, under the golden light of sunset in California's Death Valley National Park.

Although with a name like Death Valley you might not expect to find much (living) wildlife, there are in fact many desert creatures that call that park their home. On our trip we saw several burros (wild donkeys), an adorable kit fox that visited out camp, and a coyote.

Coyote, Death Valley National Park, Telescope Peak

Desert Coyote : Prints Available

A coyote poses in front of the vast landscape of Death Valley National Park. Snowy Telescope Peak looms in the distance.

Hidden along the many mountain ranges surrounding Death Valley are countless canyons that carve their way through thousands of feet of ancient geological layers. Only a few of these canyons have relatively easy access, which means adventure and solitude can easily be found by picking a distant feature to explore. On this trip we visited several canyons that I had previously never been to. Though much of Death Valley is rather muted in color, there are pockets of brilliant reds and oranges if you look closely. I can’t wait to be back in the area for an extended period of time next year!

Brilliant Colors, Canyon, Death Valley National Park

Fantasy Canyon : Prints Available

A deep canyon cuts through a pocket of incredibly brilliant colors in California's Death Valley National Park.

Canyon Hiker, Death Valley National Park, Colorful

Canyon Wonder : Prints Available

A hiker (my mother) takes in the incredibly colorful scenery of this remote canyon in Death Valley National Park. 

Mud Slot Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California

Mystery Mud : Prints Available

Golden reflected lighted beckons ahead, in this narrow slot canyon composed of mud and rocks in California's Death Valley National Park.

Beautiful Slot Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California

Geological Rainbow : Prints Available

A myriad of colorful rock formations come together in this beautiful slot canyon in California's Death Valley National Park.

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Floris van Breugel on November 14th, 2013

My 2014 calendars are in, and they look great! I will be shipping out all the pre-orders soon. If you have not yet ordered one, now is a good time since quantities are very limited (link on the right).

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At times, Seattle can feel slightly claustrophobic, particularly in November. The days are getting shorter, and the rain more frequent. It takes at least an hour to get out of the city, and then where to? Damp and dark forests await. Above them tower the Cascades, but the winter snows require extra care due to avalanche dangers and generally poor weather. Sometimes it can be hard to find the freedom that wild open places offer. A year from now I will be back in Southern California, at least for a short while. I’m looking forward to the countless backcountry roads, endless expanses of sand and rocks, and big starry skies.

Last weekend I made a miniature escape from the city to the Seattle Arboretum, and stumbled upon a fascinating little scene. Unfortunately I’m sure many people will immediately think I applied some partial color filter to the image, however, the colors are entirely natural. The grass is black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus, and really is that dark and black! Both the grass, and maple from which the leaf came, are native to Japan. So perhaps there is a wild forest where such a moment could be found in the wild?

The Fallen, Maple Leaf, Black Mondo Grass

The Fallen : Prints Available
A Japanese maple leaf rests on a bed of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus, also native to Japan). I found this little scene in Seattle’s arboretum.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, 70-200mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/4, 1/50th sec


Floris van Breugel on October 31st, 2013

Have you ever wondered why it seems like there are more spider webs around this time of year? I’m not talking about the fake cobwebs people string up around their houses for Halloween, but real spider webs. On a recent trip to the coast, it struck me how many webs were out. Perhaps the eerie atmosphere created by the ocean mist put me in the mood for spiders, but I didn’t remember seeing quite so many earlier in the year. It turns out the webs you see in early autumn are spun by orb-weaving spiders, which reach maturity in late summer and early autumn. These spiders have spent the spring and summer months catching insects with smaller webs, tucked away, out of sight. Now that they’re bigger, they move to more open spaces to build larger webs, and are thus more conspicuous.

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Spider Web, Misty Forests, Olympic National Park

Spooky Spider : Prints Available

The misty forests along the coastline of Olympic National Park in Washington are the perfect place for spooky spiders to spin their webs. 

These webs are usually only up for a day or so, after which time the spider will eat its own web, and spin a new one overnight (in just half an hour!). With all this talk about spiders, I want to reassure you that at least in the Pacific Northwest (west of the Cascade crest), you need not be scared of spiders. Aside from the easily recognizable Black Widow, we only have one resident spider that is worth worrying about – the hobo spider – and even that is still disputed by scientists. Still, I think it’s safe to say that it’s best not to get bitten by a hobo (spider). (Note: Brown Recluses do not reside in the PNW). For more fun facts about PNW spiders, see the Seattle Times, and the Burke Museum’s exhibition.

I found this particular spider, patiently waiting in its web for unsuspecting prey, on my way to the beach along the Olympic National Park coast with Aubrey last week. After we arrived at the beach the mist gradually cleared, revealing the ancient sea stacks scattered throughout the bay.

Olympic National Park, Sun Burst, Coast

Sunburst : Prints Available

The sun bursts through early morning mist along the coast of Olympic National Park, Washington. 

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Second Beach, Mist, Olympic National Park

Sea Mists : Prints Available

Swirling mists reveal the imposing sea stacks at Second Beach in Washington's Olympic National Park.

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Floris van Breugel on October 28th, 2013

Two weeks ago my girlfriend, Aubrey, and I headed out to the mountains to enjoy the fall colors and early snow. We had limited time, so we chose the easy, and thus popular, hike to Lake Ingalls. Knowing that most hikers are hesitant to camp in the snow, I suspected we would still be able to find some solitude by camping. Indeed, there were only a few groups in the basin, and it was easy to find a spot away from any other tent. The golden larches stood out beautifully against the snow, like burning flames, while the massive Mt Stewart looked over us. The snow cover helped damp out any sounds, and we had a peaceful afternoon away from civilization.

Just a few minutes before sunset, however, two loud hikers came down the pass, and decided that the only spot they were willing to pitch their tent was 50 feet from ours. Out of the nearly square mile of snowy terrain they could have chosen, that was going to be the spot. Even after I politely asked them if they wouldn’t mind settling down at a different site. I was reminded of my friend Guy Tal’s recent blog post about Vanishing Experiences. In his article, Guy wrote about the irony of encouraging folks to get out into the great outdoors, only to find his own experiences ruined by the lack of solitude. Although I agree with his conclusion that there are no solutions, I believe we can go a long way towards preserving these experiences if people make an effort to follow the unspoken ethics of wilderness camping.

The backcountry is the only place we can get away from the hustle of modern society and experience a deeper connection with the world around us. Please, help preserve this opportunity for everyone by respecting people’s space in the outdoors. With out peace and quiet, wilderness loses its power.

In the end, we decided to pack up and move our tent to a new spot, and enjoyed a quiet night under the stars, followed by a glorious sunrise surrounded by golden larches and sparkling snow.

Mount Stewart, Autumn Larches, Snow

Invigoration : Prints Available
Crisp autumn air, warm sunshine, golden larches, and fresh, sparkling snow! Nothing can match the invigorating feeling of a night out in Washington’s Cascades. Pictured here are Western Larches (Larix occidentalis), in their peak autumn color, with a view of Mount Stewart.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/10th and 1/30th sec
Notes: two exposures hand blended for dynamic range.

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Floris van Breugel on October 12th, 2013

Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered my 2014 calendars through Kickstarter! If you missed out, you can now order on my website: 2014 Calendars

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Winter has arrived a little early this year, and already the mountains are covered in several feet of snow! Maybe we will be skiing by the end of the month, though as our local Northwest weather expert explained in a recent post, it appears that this will be a relatively neutral year – no La Nina (lots of snow in the PNW), and no El Nino (dry in the PNW). Last weekend I backpacked through the early snow drifts to spend my first night of the season in the snow, though there was far more than I had expected. Nearly all of the fall color has already been buried, much of it before the plants even had a chance to turn color.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Autumn, Snow

Last Stand : Prints Available
The last autumn colors poke through an early winter snowfall in Washington’s Alpine Lakes wilderness.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/15th sec
Notes: Three exposures hand-blended for depth of field and dynamic range.

Cascades, Camping under the Stars, Winter

Cascade Camping : Prints Available
Camping out under the stars after an early winter snowfall in Washington’s Cascades.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod, headlamp, remote
Exposure: iso 3200, f/2.8, 1/15th sec
Notes: Three exposures averaged, except in the sky, to reduce noise.

Snow in the mountains means, of course, lots of rain at lower elevations. And with rain, come plentiful mushrooms! For many years now I’ve been on the lookout for an attractive “grove” of tiny mushrooms. Thanks to all the recent rain, I finally found a nice group during my hike out. To bring out the colors and textures I used a spot light to back-light the grove.

Mushrooms, Cascades, Autumn

Fantastyland : Prints Available
A small grove of tiny mushrooms in Washington’s Cascade mountains in early autumn.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, 70-200mm, 25mm ext tube, sticks and bark to prop up camera, spotlight
Exposure: iso 100, f/4, 1/13th

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