Floris van Breugel on November 29th, 2015

I hope everyone (in America) had a wonderful Thanksgiving! After a delicious feast shared with local friends, I spent the holiday with my parents near Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Wednesday brought one of the first major storms of the winter season to the Sierra, which was followed by a clear and cold night. The frigid temperatures and humid air were ideal conditions for hoar frost, which coated just about every surface that wasn’t already covered in snow. I headed up to the park Thursday morning before sunrise, and watched as the golden light illuminated the crystalline forest.

Giant Sequoias, Snow and Sunshine, Winter

Winter's Warmth : Prints Available

The first rays of golden sunshine hit the crowns of these Giant Sequoias, covered in a winter blanket of snow and frost from a storm the day before. I took this on a frigid morning at Grant Grove in California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. This might well be the first picture I've ever taken while standing in a parking lot, but I couldn't resist (it helped that I was the only one there).

Sunshine, Snowy Forest, Winter

Frosted Candles : Prints Available

Warm sunshine illuminated the tops of young trees in this wintery snow covered forest of California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

Giant Sequoias, Snow and Sunshine, Winter

Giants : Prints Available

The first rays of golden sunshine hit the crowns of these Giant Sequoias, covered in a winter blanket of snow and frost from a storm the day before. I took this on a frigid morning in California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

Giant Sequoias, Snow and Sunshine, Winter

Winter Sunshine : Prints Available

Warm sunshine streams through the frigid snow blanketed forest of Giant Sequoias in California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

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Floris van Breugel on October 27th, 2015

Pre-order your 2016 Calendars today!
I’ve sold out every year – guarantee you get yours – pre-order before Nov 4th.
Orders (should) start shipping Nov 21.

~ ~ ~

Last weekend Aubrey and I made a road trip out to Escalante National Monument to explore the strange sandstone landscapes. It’s a bit of a drive, 9 hours one way, but we had the audiobook of The Martian to keep us entertained. It seemed like an especially appropriate choice for our long voyage to the land of red rock and sand. Our first destination was a spot I had been to five years ago. We hiked out through the sandstone landscape to find an area covered in Moqui Marbles – strange shiny black balls ranging in size from peas to avocados. The name comes from the Hopi word Moqui meaning “departed ones.” According to legend, spirits of the dead played with the marbles at night, leaving them on the sandstone to reassure the living that they were enjoying the afterlife.

The scientific explanation for their existence is equally interesting and inspiring. Long ago, portions of the rusty red navajo sandstone were pushed through pockets of oil and natural gas. These hydrocarbons dissolved the iron, stripping the sandstone of its color. When this solution encountered groundwater it oxidized, and the iron precipitated out, forming concretions around sand grains and other oddities. Over time, these tiny concretions attracted more iron precipitate, eventually forming the large avocado sized balls that can be found today. Surprisingly, much of this happened quite recently in geological time – the Escalante marbles range from 2-5 millions years old, and those found in Arizona are as young as 300,000 years.

Landscapes on Earth don’t get much more martian than this – similar kinds of balls were found on Mars (called Martian Blueberries, or Spherules) by the Opportunity rover back in 2004. There are, however, many ways for spherical rocks to form, and it is currently unclear if the Martian balls are the result of a meteor impact, or the same kind of water catalyzed concretion like that which formed the Moqui Marbles.

Click images for larger view!

Moqui Marbles, Escalante, Utah

Moqui's Playground : Prints Available

Moqui Marbles litter the sandstone landscape of Utah's Escalante National Monument.

Moqui Marbles, Escalante, Utah

Geodiversity : Prints Available

A diverse (natural) array of Moqui Marbles on the slickrock landscape of Utah's Escalante National Monument.

Moqui Marbles, Escalante, Utah

Moqui's Art : Prints Available

Moqui Marbles adorn a sandstone plateau in Utah's Escalante National Monument.

Unfortunately the weather forecast for the southwest became stormier and stormier, which meant that any roads that crossed major drainages were at risk of being washed out, and narrow canyons and gorges would could become unsafe to explore. Since we didn’t have the flexibility to hang out behind a washed out road for several days, we decided to play it safe and stayed above the flood zones. This led us to explore some sandstone plateaus I hadn’t visited before. After listening to the rain fall on the awning over our heads for several hours, the clouds parted and we took advantage of the moment to wander the landscape and enjoy the sunset.

Solitude, Slickrock, Escalante

Slickrock Solitude : Prints Available

A lonely tree clings to life in the vast sandstone desert of Utah's Escalante National Monument.

Slickrock Vista

Aubrey and I enjoy the last rays of sunshine on the slickrock landscape of Utah's Escalante National Monument.

Car Camping

When we're not out backpacking in the middle of nowhere, this is our home away from home.

With more rain to come, we made the tough decision to abandon our original plans for good, and headed east into Nevada. Shortly after passing through Cedar City we entered the biggest rain/hail/thunder storm I’ve ever encountered. Our visibility went from a mile to a meter in a matter of seconds. The deluge of rain and hail hit the car so hard that we could barely even hear the thunder striking the hills within a mile of us. Fortunately we were able to slow down without hitting anything, or getting hit, and made it to the other side of the storm cell safely.


A welcoming sign as we entered the Mojave desert in Nevada.

After entering Nevada, we left the freeway to explore some red rock pockets of the Mojave desert. We were welcomed by an ironic sign, perhaps placed there to keep uninformed desert wanderers away. We pushed on, and set up camp next to a fairyland of red rock sculptures. The storm raged on all around us, but this little desert valley seemed to be immune to lightning strikes as none came closer than 15 miles of us.

The following day we explored the area, finding hundreds of little sandstone alcoves and strange shapes. My favorite structures resembled tiny villages and castles. I imagine these tiny towns were once inhabited by little martian creatures that abandoned their own planet in favor of Earth. But, the rain was too much for those desert dwellers, and they’ve since perished, leaving behind their sandy homes to melt and crumble away.

Storm Camping

Lightning and thunder surrounded us as we cooked dinner at a safe distance.

Ancient Sandstone, Nevada, Sunset

Ancient Citadel : Prints Available

The eroded and crumbling remains of an ancient sandstone citadel bask under the brilliant light of a glorious Nevada sunset.

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Floris van Breugel on October 11th, 2015

I’ve been quite busy this summer, and unfortunately have not had the opportunity for quite as many adventures as I (and Aubrey) would have liked. I have, however, visited Mono Lake in eastern California several times for a research project I’m working on. Although most of those images will have to wait, I thought I could share a few unrelated ones from the area.

On one of my trips my father paid a visit, and scouted the surrounding hills for interesting places to camp. In his explorations he discovered a plateau covered in flowers, and convinced me I simply had to go check it out. Well, it was nothing short of spectacular, complete with a herd of wild horses – it’s amazing that for someone who’s explored California for several decades there’s still always something new to find! That evening I was also surprised by a gigantic lined june beetle, clearly a male in search of a mate, whose pheromones he was hoping to find with his oversized flabelliform antennae.

Flowers, Mono Basin, California

Spring Tapestry : Prints Available

Mid summer flowers abound in the mountains surrounding California's, Mono Lake.

Wild Horses, Flowers, California

Wild Horses : Prints Available

Wild horses gallop through fields of flowers in the high desert mountains east of Mono Lake in eastern California.

Lined June Beetle, Antenna, California

Lined June Beetle : Prints Available

This Lined June Beetle (Polyphylla decemlineata) flew towards my headlamp while I was out camping near Mono Lake in California. The spread flabelliform (fan shaped) antenna and the pose reminded me of a tarsier or a bat.

Academic mentoring obligations kept me away from the Sierra for a longer trip, but Aubrey and our friends Randy, Cyndi, and Kevin, made it out to Sky Blue Lake for a short weekend. True to its name, the lake, and the skies, were remarkably blue. Being surrounded by the crisp mountain air and enormous piles of granite is such a wonderful feeling!

Sierra Crest, Sunshine, Granite

Granite Penumbra : Prints Available

The first rays of sunshine break through the sierra crest, high in the mountains, illuminating the endless piles of gleaming granite. 

Sky Blue Lake, Sierra, California

Sky Blue Reading

Aubrey enjoys the peaceful dawn next to Sky Blue Lake in California's Sierra Nevada.

On my most recent trip to Mono Lake fall was finally starting to arrive. My father, along with my cousin and her boyfriend, camped high up in the surrounding hills and enjoyed the last rays of sunshine as the set over the distant Sierra crest. The following day, after finding myself surrounded by a photography workshop near the popular tufa formations, I explored some areas of Mono Lake I hadn’t yet visited where I found throngs of migratory birds, instead of people!

Solitude, Rolling Hills, California

Layers of Solitude : Prints Available

Two trees enjoy the solitude amidst the acres of wild rolling hills in California's Mono County.

Gull Footsteps, Mono Lake, California

Mono's Dance Floor : Prints Available

Footsteps of hungry gulls feasting on the plentiful alkali flies along the shores of California's Mono Lake.

Salt Flats, Mono Lake, California

Salted Dreams : Prints Available

Patterns emerge from the receding waters of the salt flats along California's Mono Lake.

The final image I am sharing is one that might take a little explanation, a little head scratching on your part, and most certainly you’ll have to see it much larger (click the image, and I hope you have a large monitor). As you likely know, I study the behavior of flies (and mosquitoes), with a particular interest in understanding the neural basis for their behavior. While I have not done much of my own imaging of fly brains, I am intimately familiar with how they look. So, when I was waiting for the sun to go down along the shores of the lake and I saw these grasses, I thought, hey, that looks vaguely reminiscent of the sorts of shapes I might see in a fly brain. After I took a few images, an actual fly happened to land, in focus, in the picture I had already composed. I quickly made an exposure before it took off again. Perhaps the fly also had an interest in the inner workings of its own brain?

Fly, Abstract Grasses, Neural Structure

Brain Explorer : Prints Available

A fly perches on the delicate grasses, whose abstract structure I found to be reminiscent of flies very own neural structure.

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Floris van Breugel on August 9th, 2015

A few weeks ago as Aubrey and I boarded a plane headed for Juneau the flight attendants looked at our hiking boots and backpacks and asked joyfully, “going backpacking?” “Nope,” we replied, “we’re going to a wedding!” Truth be told, we were a little out of place with our hiking boots – we should have been wearing Xtratufs, the tall brown rubber rain boots everyone in Alaska has at least 3 pairs of. After spending the night in Juneau, we boarded a catamaran with 150 or more other guests headed for the small village of Pelican (the typical population is less than 100).

Pelican, Lisianski Inlet, Southeast Alaska

Pelican : Prints Available

The village of Pelican, Alaska, nestled among the mountains along Lisianski inlet in Southeast Alaska.

Somehow our friends who were getting married not only planned the wedding and transportation, but also managed to find a place for everyone to stay despite doubling, or perhaps even tripling, the population for the weekend.

The ever present rain lightened up for the ceremony on the beach, and afterwards we feasted on smoked and grilled salmon, halibut, herring egg salad, and crab. All of which was of course caught within a few hours boat ride of Pelican.


Fresh salmon abounds in Pelican, AK.

After the wedding, our friends graciously ferried a group of us to the White Sulphur Hotsprings on the outer coast of Chichagof Island. Here, a hundred yards above the storm tide line, are two pleasantly hot pools: one outside, and one with a wood cabin built around it with an open window to the Pacific. For two nights we enjoyed the remote location, the hot pools, and the crackling fires.

Loading the Skiff

Access to the springs is only by boat, or float plane.

White Sulphur Hotsprings, Chichagof Island, Southeast Alaska

Time for a Soak : Prints Available

The inviting water of the White Sulphur Hotsprings on the outer coast of Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska.

White Sulphur Hotsprings, Chichagof Island, Southeast Alaska

Bliss : Prints Available

Me, soaking in the delightfully hot water of the White Sulphur Hotsprings on the outer coast of Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska.

Bobbie the Lumberjack

Bobbie chops some wood for the campfire.

Hotsprings Campfire

Good times with good friends.

The long days (3am-11pm) gave us plenty of time to explore the coastline on either side of the hot springs. We saw whales, otters, birds, and lots of bear poop. It was refreshing to return to such a green and wet place, so full of life, and so devoid of human impact.

Seaweeds, Chichagof Island, Southeast Alaska

Northwest Salad : Prints Available

A diverse arrangement of seaweeds collected at low tide along the outer coast of Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska.

On our first evening the clouds parted, and we saw the sun for the first and only time that week. I hiked out to a spot Aubrey and I had found earlier in the day across the bay from the hot springs. Here, small rain water pools were surrounded by zen arrangements of moss and miniature trees. There was plenty of evidence of bears enjoying this spot, too, but fortunately they let me be that evening.

Click image for larger view – in the full res version you can see the hot spring cabin across the bay.

Sunset, Chichagof Island, Southeast Alaska

Southeast Sunset : Prints Available

A spectacular sunset on the outer coast of Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska. In the distance is the White Sulphur Hotsprings - a most incredible spot to relax!

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Floris van Breugel on July 6th, 2015

This past week Aubrey and I escaped the holiday crowds, the southern desert heat, and the Sierra rains, by exploring the White Mountains in eastern California. This is one of the only areas in California where you can drive to a high enough altitude that the summer temperatures are tolerable. Fortunately, the lengthy approach and lack of water keeps most people out.

4x4, White Mountains, California

White Mountain Roads : Prints Available

Driving along the barren but beautiful roads in the White Mountains - White Mountain (California's 3rd highest peak) is visible in the backdrop.

This high alpine desert paradise is most famous for the bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva). At least one of these tough trees has eked out a living in this dry and wind and lightning battered landscape for over 5,000 years. The average trees range in age from 1,000 to 2,000 years old, making them the real “millennials” of the world. Over these nearly geological time scales, rocks shift, and even entire mountain sides can slide away. But, the toughest of the trees manage to find what little soil is available, clinging to life in the most unlikely places.

Click images for larger view!

Bristlecone Pines, Sage Valley, White Mountains

Valley of Ancients : Prints Available

An ancient bristlecone pine clings to life, with a grand view of endless sage valleys high in California's White Mountains.

Holding on to their rocky perches requires an immense amount of strength, and their exposed wood bodies reveal burly layers of cellulose muscle and sinew marred by scrapes, bruises, and fractures. These weathered souls have suffered for longer than all of mankind’s recorded history.

Bristlecone Wood Abstract, White Mountains, California

Jerky : Prints Available

Exposed and weathered wood of a bristlecone pine reveals layers that resemble muscle fibers and sinews.

Between the solitary trees are acres upon acres of sage land. Afternoon thunderstorms pound the landscape with rain, releasing powerfully sweet and savory smells that waft through the valleys. Life isn’t easy for the sage, either, though. Scores of dead and dying shrubs litter the landscape, like an exhumed graveyard. They are not forgotten, however. Many of their bodies are adorned with summer flowers, breathing seasonal life into their forgotten souls.

Life and Death, Afterlife, White Mountains

Afterlife : Prints Available

A poetic story of life and death is illustrated by these small flowers emerging from a withering sage brush in California's White Mountains.

Renewal, Life and Death, Flowers and Sage

Renewal : Prints Available

Paintbrush blooms in the unlikely heart of a withered sage brush in California's White Mountains, poetically illustrating the nature of life and death.

Judging by the plentiful droppings we saw, I’m certain there is quite a bit of wildlife in the valleys; but the rabbits, deer, and predators made themselves scarce. We did, however, come upon a solitary member of the white mountain wild horse herd. The white mountains are home to 75 wild horses, whose origin likely dates back to escaped ranch horses from the 1870’s.

Wild Horse, White Mountains, California

White Mountain Wanderer : Prints Available

A wild horse grazes the sage brush plains in California's White Mountains.

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Last weekend Aubrey and I found some time to go backpacking in the Sierra. Coming from the heat of Pasadena, it was nice to cool off in the mountains again. The weather was a strange mix – we simultaneously had 65° temperatures and warm sun, while graupel (a cross between snow and hail) blew in from some distant clouds.

Tent, Sierra Forest, California

Forest Home : Prints Available

My tent, pitched among some beatiful trees in the Sierra Nevada. The early morning sun provided some welcome radiant warmth in the crisp mountain air. 

Aubrey enjoying the sunshine and graupel - a cross between snow and hail (see the white flecks?) below Temple Crag.

Aubrey enjoying the sunshine and graupel – a cross between snow and hail (see the white flecks?) below Temple Crag.

As you may well know, California is in the throes of its fourth year of a major drought. Snowpack in the Sierra was at 5% of normal a month ago, and last weeks snowpack survey was cancelled on account of there not being any snow to survey. These numbers, however, and even photographs of barren mountains and empty lakes, aren’t as moving as seeing the issues first hand. In a normal year, lakes at 10,000 feet in the Sierra begin to thaw in late June. On our trip last weekend to the Big Pine lakes at 10,000 feet, we were surprised to find no snow, and no ice, in the first weekend of May.

Temple Crag, Big Pine Lakes, Sierra Nevada

A Moment of Zen : Prints Available

Temple Crag looms above 2nd lake, one the of the Big Pine lakes below the Palisade basin in California's John Muir Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. 

Even more surprising was the lake level of 2nd lake, which was thirty or more feet below it’s recent historical level. If you look closely you will see an unnatural bathtub ring around the lake shore in the image above. Apparently many years ago LA Water & Power built a damn to increase the capacity of the lake, and drilled a tunnel from 2nd lake to 1st lake to make it possible to drain it almost completely in the case of a severe drought. Well, the time has come. From the lingering ice lining the shore, it is apparent that within the last few months alone the lake level has dropped almost 20 feet. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lake is entirely empty before the end of the year.

2nd lake dam, and extremely low water level. The water should have been at the level of the damn in the foreground, and close to the trees in the distance!

2nd lake dam, and extremely low water level. The water should have been at the level of the damn in the foreground, and close to the trees in the distance!

Cabin near big pine lakes 2nd lake dam. Although the cabin itself is quite old, it was outfitted with a brand new chimney, suggesting some recent occupants? I would love to know more about the activity here if anyone has any additional information.

Cabin near big pine lakes 2nd lake dam. Although the cabin itself is quite old, it was outfitted with a brand new chimney, suggesting some recent occupants? I would love to know more about the activity here if anyone has any additional information.

The scarcity of water isn’t just a problem for the states agriculture, drinking water, etc. Many of our trees are too thirsty and stressed to fight off the invasion of pine beetles, and before long large swathes of the forests blanketing the low elevation Sierra may be dead.

On the bright side, with all these dead and dying trees, colorful abstracts of weathered wood will be everywhere. That is, so long as the wildfires don’t destroy the entire landscape. [/end sarcasm]

Wood Abstract, Sierra Nevada, California

Woodbow : Prints Available

An abstract scene of the weathered wood of an old tree in California's Sierra Nevada.

The first step in making change is admitting that there is indeed a problem. Currently, within city limits (at least in my neighborhood) one would hardly know there is a drought at all. Lawns are still green, and sprinklers are still running. In fact, many sidewalks are frequently soaked in water early in the morning. That water, at least in part, is coming from those precious backcountry lakes like 2nd lake. This separation between consumption and destruction seems to be a general problem underlying so many of the issues in our society today.

A verdant green pasadena lawn (taken on a rare cloudy day).

A verdant green pasadena lawn (taken on a rare cloudy day).

Perhaps it’s time we take some inspiration from the native environments that survive on the minimal water that is locally available. Before our trip to the mountains Aubrey and I spent a night in the Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine. We hiked out to some of my favorite granite boulders, and on the way back Aubrey spotted a small blooming beavertail cactus. There is a certain beauty in these simple, austere, landscapes. Perhaps us Californian’s can learn a thing or two about aesthetics from the desert landscape that surrounds us.

Click images for larger view!

Blooming Cactus, Owen's Valley, Desert

Austerity : Prints Available

A lonely blooming beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) adds a touch of life to the otherwise stark desert landscape of the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine in California's Owen's Valley.

To be fair, there are a few attractive water-friendly yards around, but you do have to look pretty hard to find them!

A Pasadena cactus garden - note the grassy green lawn next door, however.

A Pasadena cactus garden – note the grassy green lawn next door, however.

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Floris van Breugel on April 1st, 2015

It had been a while since I’d had a breath of fresh air (the Pasadena air isn’t quite up to par with what the northwest offered), so I recently spent some time researching unique views of beautiful mountains. I settled on a quick visit to Yosemite, driving through the night straight to the GPS coordinates I found online. Upon arriving, I was surprised to see a few familiar faces, including my friend Eric Fredine, who’d come a long way from his home in Canada to see this spectacular sight. It was standing room only, so I bribed Eric with a couple stale Tim Horton’s timbits to let me squeeze in my tripod next to his. Finally, after waiting for 5 hours in the sweltering sun, the perfect moment finally came and I hit the shutter button to create the masterpiece you see below. Just then my friend Richard Wong from the Bay Area showed up to get in on the action just in time. You can see his very own unique take on this rarely photographed scene here: another unique Yosemite view.

A unique and inspiring view of Yosemite Valley. Look at all that wilderness, most of it full of RVs.

A unique and inspiring view of Yosemite Valley. Look at all that wilderness, most of it full of RVs.

Long time readers of my blog will know that something is amiss… happy April 1st!

Instead of standing next to throngs of other photographers and making up wild stories for how remote, epic, and special some parking lot view is, or for that matter climbing in the footsteps of 10’s of other mountaineering groups, Aubrey and I recently set up camp on a lesser visited peak in the Eastern Sierra, Thor Peak. Across the valley there must have been 10 or more parties getting ready to climb the mountaineers route on Mt Whitney. But we had this particular summit completely to ourselves. Of course, setting up camp on top of a summit presents its own problems, and we had to spend some time shoveling snow with our cooking pot to even out the only vaguely flat rock we could find.

Aubrey creates a (somewhat) flat sleeping pad with some snow.

Aubrey creates a (somewhat) flat sleeping pad with some snow.

The following morning some clouds had rolled in, and we enjoyed a truly spectacular sunrise from our 12,000 foot perch. The vibrant pink and orange glow from the clouds reflected onto the granite landscape, illuminating everything in super saturated warmth (I didn’t apply any saturation the the image of Mt Whitney).

Summit Camp, Tent in the Sierra, California

Awakening : Prints Available

My girlfriend, Aubrey, enjoys the warmth of her sleeping bag while I watch the sunrise from our 12,000 ft camp atop the summit of Mt Thor in California's Sierra Nevada. 

Mt Whitney, Alpenglow, Sierra Nevada

Granite Glow : Prints Available

Alpenglow from a vibrant sunrise illuminates Mt Whitney, seen here from the summit of Thor Peak in California's Sierra Nevada.

On our drive to the trailhead Aubrey spotted a dazzling array of manikins wearing colorful tights along the road, so we had to pull over and take a closer look. We left 3 pairs of tights richer. But not long after we started our hike, we realized that we had made a huge mistake: we hadn’t packed the tights in our backpacks! So I ran back to the car and grabbed a pair. The following morning, the thrill of standing on a mountain wearing tights was enough to convince Aubrey to get out of her cocoon. Perhaps this will be the start of a tradition!

Tights! Photo by Aubrey.

Tights! Photo by Aubrey.

Mt Whitney, Tights, Thor Peak

Epic Tights

Aubrey admires the glorious morning view of Mt Whitney, from the summit of Thor Peak, sporting her epic tights.

Despite the serious drought California is experiencing right now, we did get just enough rain at just the right time to spur a spectacular display of wildflowers. Almost the entire high desert corridor from Lancaster to Ridgecrest was covered in a carpet of yellow flowers called goldfields. Sprinkled among and alongside them were also patches of vibrant orange California Poppies.

California Poppies, Antelope Valley, California

Waves of Color : Prints Available

California poppies color the hills in California's Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve. 

California Poppies and Goldfields, Antelope Valley, California

California Gold : Prints Available

Fields of california poppies and goldfields extend as far as the eye can see. Spring has arrived in California's Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve!

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Floris van Breugel on March 7th, 2015

I recently made two trips to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, in southern California, with some good friends to enjoy the desert sun, rain, cacti, flowers, and oases. In our wanderings, I was reminded of one of my favorite Edward Abbey quotes, from Desert Soltaire. After re-reading some quotes, I decided to pair an appropriate quote with each of my images from these trips.

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“Do not jump into your automobile next [spring] and rush out to the [desert] country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these [images]. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe. Probably not.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Indeed, the uninitiated desert visitor may see the vast expanse of parched earth and wonder why people would come here. It takes some time, commitment, and curiosity to see what that the desert has to offer.

A typical and uninspiring desert view.

A typical and uninspiring desert view.

“Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Click images for larger view!

Cacti and Palm Oasis, Anza-Borrego State Park, California Desert

Desert Oasis : Prints Available

Flowering barrel cacti and ocotillo overlook a serene palm oasis at sunrise in California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

(continued from the previous quote)

“…The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life-forms.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Cholla Cacti, Sunlight, Anza-Borrego

Embracing the Sun : Prints Available

Early morning sunlight illuminates a stand of cholla cacti in California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

(continued from the previous quote)

“…Love flowers best in openness and freedom.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Desert Flowers and Rain, Anza-Borrego State Park, California Desert

The Rain Dance : Prints Available

Dune primrose, sand verbena, and desert gold, emerge from the sand to embrace the brief spring rains in California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The past two weeks brought some much needed rain to the southern deserts, and the flowers responded with one of the best displays of springtime in years. In fact, this weekend brought so much rain that for the first time in my eight years of doing serious nature photography my camera suffered some water damage… and I was in the desert!

“A giant thirst is a great joy when quenched in time.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Desert Spring Flowers, Anza-Borrego State Park, California Desert

Desert Bouquet : Prints Available

Dune primrose, sand verbena, and desert gold, emerge from the sand to embrace the brief spring rains in California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

“I’d sooner exchange ideas with the birds on earth than learn to carry on intergalactic communications with some obscure race of humanoids on a satellite planet from the world of Betelgeuse.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Horned Lark, Wildflowers, Anza-Borrego

A Lark : Prints Available

A horned lark wanders through the spring wildflowers of the Anza-Borrego desert in search of caterpillars.

“Water, water, water… There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount…unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Bearded Palm Trees, Oasis, Anza-Borrego State Park

Desert Grandfathers : Prints Available

A young california fan palm finds some sunshine among its wise bearded elders in a remote oasis in California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

“Everything in the desert either stings, stabs, stinks, or sticks. You will find the flora here as venomous, hooked, barbed, thorny, prickly, needled, saw-toothed, hairy, stickered, mean, bitter, sharp, wiry, and fierce as the animals.” – Edward Abbey, The Journey Home

Desert Agave, Cholla, Anza-Borrego State Park

Jaws of the Desert : Prints Available

A viscious desert agave (agave deserti) has skewered a ball of spines shed by its neighboring cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii). Though it may seem implausible, I photographed this scene exactly as I found it in California's Anza-Borrego State Park. Being that it was on a steep hillside far from a trail, I can only presume it was a miraculous accident! 

One of the most prolific plants of the borrego desert is the ocotillo. At first glance they appear to be strange, misshapen, medusa-esque hairdos that pop out of the ground everywhere you look. They are antithesis of the sleek and clean cut shapes of modern aesthetic. And yet…

“Each thing in its way, when true to its own character, is equally beautiful.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Ocotillo, Anza-Borrego State Park, California

Ocotillo Sunrise : Prints Available

The spindly arms of an Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) catch the warm rays of light in California's Anza-Borrego State Park.

“I hold no preference among flowers, so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Ocotillo Flowers, Anza-Borrego State Park, California Desert

Mirage : Prints Available

The brilliant red flowers of an ocotillo at first light with a view of a palm oasis in California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

“If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture—that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Ocotillo Spines, Anza-Borrego State Park, California Desert

Crawling with Decay : Prints Available

Partially decayed branches of a fallen ocotillo seem to crawl over the desert floor like centipedes or snakes. The unusual colors are enhanced by a rare and heavy desert rainfall in California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Desert Campfire, Anza-Borrego, California

Desert Firelight

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of the few places in California where it is legal to camp off just about any dirt road and enjoy the warmth of a campfire, provided it is in a metal container. And nothing beats an old washing machine tub! Here's to good times with good friends in the desert.

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Floris van Breugel on February 11th, 2015

Last weekend Aubrey and I escaped the rare southern California rain by going for a short hike on the northern (leeward) side of the San Gabriel Mountains. The light storm filled the Los Angeles valley and the southern slopes of the mountains with clouds and moisture, but on the leeward side, we were under sunny skies, though occasional winds brought down some sprinkles from the higher elevations.

This area is a fascinating ecosystem that straddles several environments: the high desert, pine forests, and chaparral. The landscape was intermittently dominated by sagebrush and joshua trees (at lower elevations), manzanita, pine trees, cacti, and yucca.

The manzanitas (Big-berry manzanita, Arctostaphylos glauca) were particularly eye-catching, being full of white and pink flowers. These plants are incredibly important to the local wildlife, such as the hummingbirds that feed on the flowers’ nectar, as well as some other creature that had been eating the flowers and leaving behind bright purple droppings along the trail.

Apparently the berries produced by these manzanitas, which I believe begin to ripen towards the end of April, can be turned into a tasty cider or jam. Maybe we’ll have to try it out.. there certainly were plenty of bushes!

Manzanita Flowers, San Gabriel Mountains, California

Manzanita Flowers : Prints Available

Clusters of pink and white flowers, like little bells, adorn the beautiful manzanita (Arctostaphylos) bushes in southern California's San Gabriel Mountains.  

Manzanita, Arctostaphylos, California

Manzanita Forest : Prints Available

Colorful bark accents the gnarled and exposed wood of this tough manzanita (Arctostaphylos) in California's San Gabriel Mountains. 

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Floris van Breugel on January 2nd, 2015

With a small window of time between Christmas and New Year’s, Aubrey and I set out for Warm Springs in Saline Valley. After a few hours drive on pavement, and a few hours on washboard dirt roads, we arrived at a remote oasis of palm trees, hot springs, and hippies. We quickly set up camp, and hopped in for a soak!

Warm Springs Camp

Aubrey, excited about the prospect of soaking in the hot springs by those palm trees!

The nights are long this time of year, so we made excellent use of our new structure, inspired by my father’s original design. The structure is a simple PVC skeleton with a shell of space blankets, which reflect both light and heat back inside, where we have a propane heater and lantern. This is as far away from backpacking as we dare go!

Relaxing in the 'cube,' our 'backcountry' cabin.

The following day we had a relaxed morning, soaked in the sun and hot water, and wandered through the dunes at sunset. Between the dune ridges were mud flats with the biggest “puzzles” of mud I had ever seen, with cracks as wide as three inches. After watching the sun disappear behind the Inyo Mountains, we enjoyed some crackers with fancy cheese and fig jam.

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Mud Puzzle, Death Valley National Park, California

Lunar Puzzle : Prints Available

This dried mud puzzle in the dunes gave me the feeling of being on the moon, except for the bushes of course! And the fact that mud couldn't exist without water. The cracks in the mud here are over three inches wide.

Aubrey, thrilled about the fancy cheese and fig jam that's on that cracker. And the beer.

On our final day we explored one of the many remote canyons. After climbing a thousand feet on the alluvial fan, we found ourselves in an impressive set of narrows that wound its way through conglomerate, breccia, dolomite, and marble.

Reflected Light, Canyon Dryfall, Death Valley National Park

Rocky Rainbows : Prints Available

Reflected light over a polished dryfall in a remote canyon in California's Death Valley National Park.

I have always been fascinated by the mosaic rocks in the canyons throughout Death Valley, composed of old conglomerate or breccia rock that has eroded to reveal a myriad of tiny rock fragments. Never before, though, had I seen such a spectacular mosaic, polished so smoothly. This particular specimen is a breccia, which is differentiated from the more common conglomerates by its angular broken fragments, rather than rounded ones. The matrix here appears to be somewhat crystalline, which likely formed due to the geothermal activity in the area.

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Breccia Mosaic, Canyon, Death Valley National Park

Breccia Mosaic : Prints Available

Small fragments of rock embedded in a crystalline matrix (a breccia) become exposed and polished after eons of erosion in one of the many canyons in Death Valley National Park.

Happy new year everyone! I hope 2014 treated you as well as it did me. I compiled a collection of my favorite 12 images from the past year: favorite images from 2014. Here’s to 2015, may it be filled with warmth and natural beauty!

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