Floris van Breugel on August 14th, 2021

After weeks of suffocating heat and smoke from the Tamarack, Beckworth, and Dixie fires, Aubrey and I decided it was time to make a trip the California coast, one of the only places within a 7 hour drive that could promise cool and clean air. We followed the long and windy roads to Salt Point State Park, one of my favorite stretches of coast that has the same strange rock formations you would expect to find in Utah. Ironically, though we came to breath fresh air, the sky itself was foggy most of the day and resembled the smoky skies from home. Still, simply knowing that the air was clean made all the difference, and sleeping in a tent in cold damp air was exactly the relief we’d hoped for.

The area is also quite popular with fishing and other harvesting. At one beach we met some friendly van lifers cleaning out their Sea Urchin haul, and I bravely nibbled on a piece of sea-to-mouth Uni they offered. It was extraordinarily delicate, sweet, fishy, salty, and nutty.

Salt Point State Park, Coast, Sandstone

Petrified Sea : Prints Available

Bizarre sandstone shapes etched by millennia of wind, salt, and rain in Salt Point State Park, on California's Pacific Coast. I used a long exposure (30 seconds) in this photograph to blur the misty sea to accentuate the strange figures.

We had visited here once before, but looking through my blogs that image never seems to have made it on here, so now seems like a good time to share it, too. The rocks here are covered in mesmerizing designs of tafoni, the same kind of weather rock found elsewhere along the coast, and in the southwest.

Tafoni, California Coast, Pacific Ocean

Wild Tafoni : Prints Available

Intricate patterns of tafoni (the sculpted cave-like features on the sandstone) adorn the wild coastline of California, while the huge waves of the Pacific Ocean crash against the shore. 

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Floris van Breugel on February 16th, 2021

A few weeks ago Aubrey and I made our way south to explore Gold Butte National Monument. Though it is one of the nations more recently protected areas, established in 2016, what makes the area special is its ancient history. Sandstone sculptures shaped through countless seasons of weathering are scattered about the desert landscape. Occasionally, these natural works of art are further embellished with petroglyphs created by the ancestors of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, aging from 700 to a few thousand years old.

The Buffington Pockets and Muddy Mountains

We started our trip at the Buffington Pockets, a little outside of the monument. Here we found strangely colorful sandstone sometimes rivaling the best abstract art you might hope to find in a modern art museum. While wandering the canyons we found several mylar balloons, likely having found their way here after escaping from parties in Las Vegas. In our desert adventures we’ve found quite a few of these flying pieces of trash, however, there is often story associated with them that is fun to ponder. On our last trip we found one celebrating someones 100th birthday. This time, we found a remarkably well preserved Woody balloon.

After a night at the Buffington Pockets, we made our way across the desert landscape towards Gold Butte, taking the scenic route. We made a little detour to visit the Muddy Mountains Wilderness Area, on foot. Here we found a secluded valley decorated with colorful sandstone mounds. Near one of them we first smelled, and then saw, several recent animal carcasses including a bighorn sheep and fox. We suspect a mountain lion must have had a nice home there, but didn’t stick around long enough to find out. The following morning we were greeted by our campsite by a band of hungry wild horses.

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Desert Bonsai : Prints Available

A tiny shrub, from the right angle, looks like a lonely tree in this surreal sandstone landscape.

abstract, sandstone, nevada

Purpleheart : Prints Available

Strange colors and patterns in the sandstone abound in southern Nevada's sandstone country.

Mylar Woody

The Muddy Mountains

Gold Butte National Monument

Our first few stops in Gold Butte were to explore some of the many petroglyph panels adorning the sandstone outcroppings. I was, however, equally intrigued by the natural “art” consisting of impossibly crisp lines of color cutting through the otherwise light pink stone.

Enjoying the views and wondering what was on the minds of the people who created these petroglyphs.

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Seven Goats : Prints Available

Seven of the 'twenty-one goats' petroglyph panel in Nevada's Gold Butte National Monument.

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Sandstone Art : Prints Available

Mother nature is the original modern artist, and sandstone is her favorite canvas.

That evening we returned to an area we had visited several years ago, known as little finland. Having little to do with Finland, I imagine the name stems from the strange and fragile sandstone fins that decorate the area. Many of these larger shapes likely started out as small pockets like in this image, resembling the tafoni found along many coastlines. The white residue found in the area is consistent with the hypothesis that these structures likely formed, and continue to evolve, through salt weathering.

Overnight a significant thunderstorm moved through the area and listened to the pounding rain and crashing thunder from the comfort of our bed in the truck. The following morning Aubrey got to enjoy her coffee in bed while taking in the lovely scents of a wet desert.

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Melted Stone : Prints Available

Weathered sandstone takes on strange shapes, almost like chocolate melting in the sun. Found in Gold Butte National Monument, NV.

Morning coffee in bed.

On our last day we explored a few other sandstone outcroppings in the landscape, finding several more remarkable petroglyph panels. Although people have no doubt written theses about the meaning of these panels, I myself wonder if some of them weren’t simply the works of young men and women looking to make their mark on the world.

deserts, nevada, gold butte nm, joshua trees, red rocks

Desert Contrasts : Prints Available

The spiky green Joshua Trees contrast beautifully with the sensual and smooth red sandstone found in Nevada's Gold Butte National Monument.

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Canyon Stories : Prints Available

Petroglyphs adorn the walls of this narrow sandstone canyon in Nevada's Gold Butte National Monument.

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Golden Buttes : Prints Available

Protrusions of colorful sandstone adorn the wide open country of Nevada's Gold Butte National Monument.

The Circus

The goat men. What do you suppose they are up to? Who made this “drawing”, and why?

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Floris van Breugel on November 15th, 2020

The professor and pandemic life has, unfortunately, limited Aubrey and my opportunities to explore over the past year. However, two weeks ago we finally got away for Nevada Day–a statewide celebration of Nevada’s admission to the union 8 days prior to Abraham Lincoln’s re-election in 1864, made possible by a $70,000 (today’s dollars) telegram of the entire state constitution.

We headed out to the Black Rock Desert and High Rock Canyon to explore some hot springs and rocky landscapes. Aubrey did the planning for this trip, which gave me a rare and wonderful opportunity to be surprised at every turn. I had absolutely no idea what we might expect to see, and I was astounded with how beautiful the canyons were. The landscape was reminiscent of eastern washington (but with a little less water). The similarity isn’t surprising given that the basalt layers were formed by the same volcanic activity that formed the Columbia River Plateau, and the canyons here were carved by sudden massive floods, not unlike those that occurred across the Columbia River Plateau.

Aubrey in some warm reflected light of an impressive slot canyon.

Me exploring the fascinating patterns of the High Rock Canyon area.

Cooking breakfast in our heated ice fishing hut (it was cold out!).

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Rock Tumbler : Prints Available

An ancient flood sculpted this deep canyon in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, leaving beautifully rounded boulders in its wake.

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High Rock Cathedral : Prints Available

Towering walls of lichen covered rock make for endless echoes in this colorful side canyon of Nevada's High Rock Canyon in the Black Rock Desert.

Earlier over the summer we also made a trip to the White Mountains, but I never got around to sharing any of those images–after all, there was only one. A twisted old bristlecone root ball.

bristlecone pine, trees, abstracts, white mountains, california

Heart of an Ancient : Prints Available

Hidden among the graying weathered branches and roots of this old bristlecone pine is a heart of red. Perhaps it will provide a little shade for the next generation.

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Floris van Breugel on June 29th, 2020

Though it has been a stressful, strange, scary, and confusing time, some things never change: the peace and quiet of the wilderness. Fortunately, social distancing is no problem in the Nevada wilderness, and Aubrey and I have had a chance to get out and explore our new(ish) home state through a few trips over the past 2 months.

Not far south of us are the Pine Nut Mountains, a large expanse of rugged terrain festooned with lumpy granite boulders and, as you might hope, pinyon pines. Earlier in May we explored a small portion of the area, perfectly timed (by chance) with the peak bloom of the desert peach. These shrubs are covered in lovely flowers ranging from cream colored to bright pink. Apparently, in wet years, the fruits are like miniature fuzzy peaches, and delicious according to the Cahuilla.. I look forward to trying them someday!

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Desert Peach : Prints Available

Blooming desert peach (Prunus andersonii) along the foothills of the Pine Nut Mountains in Nevada.

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Pine Nuts : Prints Available

Granite boulders, pinyon pines, sage brush, endless sunshine, and big views characterize Nevada's Pine Nut Mountains.

Pine nut camp.

For our next trip, we explored the mountains east of Bridgeport, known primarily for gold mining in the early 1900’s. As with the pine nuts, small to medium granite lumps gave the otherwise mostly barren mountains a charming character. For years I’ve been search for rocks that seem to be miniature mountain peaks, and here I finally found one. Technically these scenes are from California, but just 2 miles or so from the border, so let’s just pretend it’s Nevada.

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Granite Peaks : Prints Available

Wide open spaces, the smell of sage, and small granite boulders that want to be gigantic mountains, with views of the Sierra Nevada crest.

Desert evenings.

The final adventure I have to share is from Northeast Nevada, in the Ruby Mountains. While you would be correct in thinking most of the state is arid sage-land, I can now confirm that there are in fact pockets of lush greenery! But the pockets are small. Much of the Ruby Mountains share the same landscape to our previous destinations, with misshapen granite lumps, and mountain mahogany trees near the hill tops. These shrubby trees are, like the desert peach, in the rose family, and often take on shapes reminiscent of the African savannah.

After exploring the boulder landscape for two days Aubrey and I did a short little overnight out of Lamoille Canyon, the crown jewel of the Rubies. The flowers were just starting to bloom, and up above treeline, the snow had clearly just melted a week or two ago and the corn lilies were putting on quite a show.

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Mountain Mahagony : Prints Available

Mountain Mahogany trees dance in the dwindling sunshine of Nevada's Ruby Mountains. These shrubby trees bring to mind scenes from the African savannah, and seem to grow where nothing else possible could.

Aubrey resting in a pothole.

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Emeralds and Rubies : Prints Available

Endless fields of emerald green corn lilies burst into life after the winter snow melts. Although the Ruby Mountains were named after garnets found by early explorers, I like to pretend the vivid red sunrise light helped inspire them a little, too.

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Floris van Breugel on March 1st, 2020

A few weeks ago Aubrey, myself, and some friends celebrated George and Abraham’s birthday by driving out to west-central Nevada to see what we could find in and around the Toiyabe Mountains. We found some hot springs, wide open spaces, pinyon pines, junipers, burros, and many empty roads. It was a lovely break from the busy life of a young professor! I look forward to returning to the area in the spring, when there may be some flowers out and about.

The blue thing is our new replacement of our red cube: an ice fishing hut! It served us well as a portable living room.

nevada, open spaces, warm, mountains, deserts

Toiyabe Light : Prints Available

Late afternoon sunlight dances across the basin and range of Nevada. Pictured here is the western side of the Toiyabe Mountains, with some Juniper and Pinyon Pine in the foreground.

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Pinyon Jay : Prints Available

Pinyon Jays perched atop a pinyon pine in Nevada's Toiyabe National Forest.

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Nevada Burrows : Prints Available

Wild Burrows pose in front of the eastern Toiyabe Range in Nevada.

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Floris van Breugel on December 1st, 2019

Many months ago now, Aubrey and I were fortunate to have found time to go on our annual adventure. For about 10 years I had wanted to explore the Gardiner Basin in the Sierra, which is the basin that the popular Rae Lakes loop circumnavigates. It takes quite an effort to get in, and out… our loop was about 35 miles and 11,000 feet up and down. But it was worth every step.

Our trip started with some thunder and rain, and for a moment it almost felt like we were back in the Northwest. After two days of weather, the skies parted and we enjoyed crisp and clear weather as we navigated our way through the granite landscape. Our route took us past the Rae Lakes, to the Sixty Lakes Basin, and up and over a remote pass into the upper Gardiner Basin. Once there, we saw very little signs of any human activity.

Our camp beside a remote lake provided stunning view of Mt Gardiner. One of the symptoms of getting older is that I now have to get up to pee in the middle of the night. On this particular occasion, the milky way was fortuitously aligned with Gardiner Peak. A cluster of Jeffrey Shooting Stars provided the perfect foreground.

The following day we descended 3,000 feet through forest and granite, alongside steep braided waterfalls. Reaching the bottom of the valley of course meant we needed to climb right back up. The faint use path barely provided any guidance, but the mosquitoes motivated us to keep moving. For our final day we scrambled up and over the pass, through an epic avalanche path, and made our way back to Kearsarge pass.

Hopefully such adventures will become more frequent again, now that we are getting settled into our new careers and home. Our little parrot is doing a great job of bringing some wilderness into the home, though. Pictures at the end 😉

Kearsarge Rain

Kearsarge Pinnacles, Sierra, Verdant

Verdant Sierra : Prints Available

Moss and blooming Sierra Shooting Stars provide a verdant foreground for the Kearsarge Pinnacles under stormy skies in California's Sierra Nevada.

Muir Selfie

Sierra, Shooting Star, Meadow

Summer Frost : Prints Available

Sierra Shooting Star flowers bloom in a field of frosted grasses in a meadow in the wilderness of California's Sierra Nevada.

Aubrey Granite Hopping

Gardiner Zen

Milky Way, Sierra, Mt Gardiner

Star Garden : Prints Available

The milky way lights up the dark skies over Mt Gardiner, deep in the wilderness of California's Sierra Nevada. Blooming Sierra Shooting Stars offer a fitting foreground.

Sierra, Waterfalls, Wilderness

Waterfall Wilderness : Prints Available

A big snowpack in 2019 followed by hot summer days leads to plentiful cascades in the wilderness of California's Sierra Nevada.

Camp Gardiner

Waterfall Bath

Birthday Camp

Heather, Sierra, Summer

Summer Heather : Prints Available

Blooming heather covers the hillsides of this remote canyon in California's Sierra Nevada.

Birthday Pudding

Birthday pudding: pistachio / chocolate swirl!

Mosquito Hell

Mosquito carcasses decorate my face after a bloody battle.

Spot the Cairns (there are at least 2). When trained and moving, it is remarkable how good the human brain is at finding cairns!

Avalanche Destruction

Baby Wasabi, ~ 1 month old.

Wasabi, ~6 months old.

Wasabi, ~8 months old.

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Floris van Breugel on August 3rd, 2019

It’s been a busy few months since moving to Reno, starting a lab at UNR, making friends, skiing, biking, and welcoming a small dinosaur (parrot) into our home, but at long last Aubrey and I finally had a chance to do some backpacking over the past two weeks. Here’s a few images from our first trip.

To get back into the swing of hiking and camping we decided to take a short warmup trip to the Desolation Wilderness, an area I’ve heard of often, and probably visited many years ago, but have few memories of. The Desolation Wilderness is southwest of Lake Tahoe (just an hour from our home!), and is mostly known for the plentiful lakes. The largest and most famous, and in many ways most beautiful, is actually a shallow reservoir called Lake Aloha. I’m not sure who decided on the name, but it inspires a tropical hawaiian feeling that is surprisingly appropriate. Aubrey brought along an inner tube floaty and we took turns paddling among the many granite islands. The pine trees almost looked like palm trees, and despite the snowy backdrop, it almost felt like floating in a tropical lagoon.

Sierra Nevada, Snow, Melt

Summer Melt : Prints Available

Summer greenery impatiently appears as the winter snow finally begins to melt away in mid July in the Sierra Nevada.

Lake Aloha, Sierra, Desolation Wilderness

Alpine Lagoon : Prints Available

The warm(ish) waters of lake Aloha and plentiful granite islands make for an almost tropical experience in the Sierra alpine. To get this view point I scrambled up to an overlook of polished granite.

Pollen, Desolation Wilderness, Lake Aloha

Sierra Pollination : Prints Available

Pollen collects along the shores of Lake Aloha in California's Desolation Wilderness, arranging itself in gentle curves on the calm water. 

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Floris van Breugel on February 25th, 2019

At the beginning of this year I started my new position as assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. The last few months have been quite busy with starting up my lab, getting settled into our home, making new friends, etc. So, adventures have been a little infrequent. That said, Aubrey and I are really enjoying our new home and jumping off point. We’ve already had more great backcountry ski days than most other years, and it’s only February!

Last weekend some friends from Seattle came for a visit, hoping to escape snowmageddon. Of course, Reno welcomed them with larger than normal snow and unusually cold weather. We headed south to find a pocket of good (but cold) weather, enjoy some desert hot springs, and explore Nevada’s geology.

PS – the post title is a reference to our state song.

hot springs, nevada, deserts, white mountains

Fish lake hot springs : Prints Available

Sunrise over the fish lake hot springs with a view of the snowy white mountains.

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Volcanic colors : Prints Available

Colorful mounds of volanic tuff are scattered across the mountain ranges of Nevada.

Our camp for the night. It was cozy and wind free in our red “hot hut”.

Modern desert truck art.

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Floris van Breugel on October 6th, 2018

Fall has arrived! Here in the northwest, that means the blueberry bushes are turning red, the larches gold, and a plethora of other plants are taking on shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple. It also means that the rains have come, bringing with them the mist and wetness that so characterize the northwest. Last weekend Aubrey and I went out to a remote area in the Cascades to enjoy the colors and rain, and we were not disappointed. Getting away from people here means you have to work for it, and we did. Our approach involved biking up 8 miles and over 3,000 feet gain on a forest road, followed by 6 miles and 1,500 feet gain on foot. The ride up wasn’t as bad as we had feared, but with an overnight backpack on biking is not particularly comfortable. Well worth it though, for the quick ride back to the bottom on our hike out! Once we broke through treeline we were treated to never-ending views of every color imaginable. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

~ ~ ~ Click any image to see a pop-up larger view! ~ ~ ~

Cascades, Fall, Mountains

Autumn Rainbow : Prints Available

A cornucopia of fall colors decorate the mountains of the Cascades.

Camp selfie!

Larch, Autumn, Cascades

Lonely Larch : Prints Available

A lonely larch with its gold autumn colors clings to a rocky island in Washington's Cascades, while a colorful sunrise develops overhead.

Aubrey taking a stroll along the colorful path.

Cascades, Autumn, Forest

The Red Carpet : Prints Available

Autumn reds of the blueberry bushes adorn the forest floor of this golden larch forest in the Cascades.

Alpine lake!

Cascades, Pika, Autumn

Autumn Pika : Prints Available

A Pika watches me from the safety of its stone house. Autumn is a busy time for these creatures, as they gather vegetation to prepare for the winter ahead. 

Cascades, Autumn, Larches

Autumn Gems : Prints Available

Autumn colors shine like gemstones in the early morning light in the eastern Cascades. Early October is an incredible time to be out in the mountains, with the golden larches and red blueberry bushes. 

Cascades, Autumn, Rain

The Great North Wet : Prints Available

Misty skies and a light drizzly rain make for a real cascadian experience in the mountains, while the autumn larches add a touch of color to the landscape. 

The ride home.

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Floris van Breugel on September 12th, 2018

Autumn is coming! The days are getting shorter, there is a crisp snap to the air, and the first rains are blowing in from the Pacific. To celebrate the changing of the seasons, Aubrey and I went out to the White River, east of the Cascades, and paddled the 14 miles of the twists and turns upstream of Lake Wenatchee. The tributaries of Lake Wenatchee are one of five spawning grounds for sockeye salmon in Washington, and now is the time that they are beginning their upstream migrations. Sockeye salmon fry (the baby fish) are unusual compared to other salmon in that they need a lake to mature, before they head out to the ocean (though land-locked populations also exist, called kokanee).

The river was never more than 300 yards or so from the road, and yet, it felt like a real wilderness, almost like being far from civilization in Alaska. In addition to the salmon, we saw bald eagles, river otters, american dippers, and lots of evidence of bears (paw tracks). It’s nice to see a healthy wilderness ecosystem thriving so close to civilization.


A calm moment on the river at the beginning of our float. Photo by Aubrey.


The view from my packraft as Aubrey comes around the river bend in her kayak.

Autumn Color, Leaves, Washington

Autumn Arrives : Prints Available

Autumn colors slowly take hold of these maple leaves along the White River in Washington's Cascades.

Sockeye Salmon, Spawning, White River

Spawning Sockeye

Aubrey paddles down the White River, past a group of spawning Sockeye Salmon. 

Sockeye Salmon

Male and female Sockeye Salmon (male is the one closer to the top of the frame).

Sockeye salmon swim through the shallows to calmer water upstream.

Gravel Bar Camp

Our camp, on a gravel bar in the middle of the river.

Cocktail hour

Some unexpected rains materialized in the evening, just as we poured ourselves a manhattan. No problem... boat-umbrella to the rescue!

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