Floris van Breugel on September 29th, 2017

Sometimes it’s hard to know what season it is these days. One moment there’s huge fires burning and ash is falling on Seattle, the next day it’s snowing in the mountains before the end of September, and then it’s back to 80 degrees! Well, at some point winter will truly come. In the meantime, here’s a mix of images from two trips to the Cascades over the past few weeks. While I didn’t quite catch winter, I think I did capture a little of spring through autumn in a period of just 3 weeks.

As usual, click any image to see a pop-up larger view.

Aubrey, enjoying a quiet sunset over Mt Shuksan.

Summer Flowers, Cascades, Washington

Cascade Summers : Prints Available

Late summer monkey flowers adorn this mossy alpine creek with a view towards Mt Shuksan in Washington's North Cascades.

Autumn Colors, Blueberry Bushes, Cascades

Blueberry Mist : Prints Available

After a moist and drizzly night, morning sunshine transforms the damp forest vegetation into a misty wonderland. Early autumn colors of blueberry bushes adorned with water droplets add a splash of color and sparkle.

Me, enjoying a grand view of the cascades, with a hint of autumn and some lingering summer sunshine.

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Floris van Breugel on August 17th, 2017

Shortly after Aubrey and I settled into our new home in Seattle, we embarked on our first backpacking adventure in the Cascades since we left the Northwest 3 years ago. I wanted to jump right in, with a trip that really embodied the Northwest experience: crisp alpine lakes, steep vegetated slopes, bushwacking, adventurous route-finding, and views of glaciated volcanoes. After staring at maps for many hours, I finally located a suitable trip in a little visited corner of the cascades.

Aubrey, making the critical log crossing at the start of our trip.

The hike started with a log crossing over a milky colored and fast flowing glacially fed river. Soon after that we were following the faintest of trails up 50° slopes. At times, we lost the boot track and found ourselves swimming through dense trees and salal. To make progress, we channeled our inner bear, a spirit that we had not called upon since our time in Alaska. Slowly, but surely, we gained 3,500 feet in less than a mile. Our hard work paid off when we ultimately emerged from the bushes at the shores of a spectacularly blue and secluded alpine lake.

For the next few days we relaxed on the polished rocks beside several nearby lakes. It was (for the northwest) remarkably warm out – enough so that we made the occasional plunge into the frigid water. There were still some icebergs floating in that particular lake, hence the yelping 😉

This particular lake did not have any fish in it. Instead, it was populated with plentiful diving beetles and caddis fly larvae. The caddis fly is a fascinating creature – the larvae construct an underwater cocoon of sorts from small bits of material that they find on the lake bottom. The larvae in this lake prefered pieces of mica, resulting in golden glittering casings. Unfortunately I did not have my macro lens, so you will have use your imagination. They are such beautiful creations that some artists have figured out that the insects can be coerced into producing jewelry.

Most of the lakes, however, did have fish, the descendants of a long ago fish stocking program. Aubrey spent the mornings and evenings braving the plentiful bugs to try to catch us some dinner. Unfortunately, the bugs were plentiful enough that the fish did not seem to be very hungry for dry flies.

Fly Fishing, Cascades, Alpine Lake

Fly fishing

Aubrey lands a nice cast on a remote alpine lake, as swarms of flies envelop us. (The flies were compiled from 3 consecutive exposures.) 

Our camp on the ridge (note the tent in the middle right shadows). The blooming heather was everywhere, adding a wonderful accent to the green landscape.

Nearly every day we had perfectly blue skies (this was before the massive wildfires in Canada destroyed our air quality for over 2 weeks!). However, we were treated to a classic northwest inversion layer on the one morning we camped on a ridge near a viewpoint I had scouted during my map exploring. The combination of rugged slopes covered in healthy green conifers, crystal clear alpine lakes, glaciated peaks, and the clear mists of the inversion layer so perfectly capture the cascade experience that I had missed while living in Southern California. It feels good to be back!

Alpine Lakes, Cascades, Mountains

Cascade Wilderness : Prints Available

Remote alpine lakes, rugged mountains, lush evergreen forests, low lying clouds, glaciated volcanoes... this is the wilderness of the Cascades!

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Floris van Breugel on July 25th, 2017

After just under three years in Southern California, I’m happy to say that I’ve moved (back) to the Pacific Northwest to start a postdoc at University of Washington in biophysics and data science.

Aubrey and I did not take a very direct route from Los Angeles to Seattle, though, and I have a few images to share from our 5-week road trip. It started with two weeks in the Mono Lake area, where I spent some time collecting images for my research project about the alkali flies that inhabit the shoreline of the lake. Unfortunately, I can’t share these just yet, but hope to soon. I will miss this area (and the California deserts in general) now that I’m up north again. I’ll have to decorate our home with a few images from the sage scented landscape found along highway 395 so I can reminisce, perhaps like this one I took while we were camping near Mono Lake.

Pine Cones, Sagebrush, Owens Valley

Of Sage and Pine : Prints Available

Pinecones, sagebrush, and sunshine - the quintessential I-395 Owens Valley experience! In the distance you can see Mono Lake.

Following Mono Lake we embarked on a scenic route to Seattle with the goal of exploring some of the best mountain biking trails along the way. Unfortunately our schedule made it difficult to photograph much along the way, so you’ll have to make do with a few iPhone snaps.

Mountain biking compilation. Clockwise from the top left: Munger Mountain (Jackson, WY), Thunder Mountain (Bryce, UT), Pinkerton-Flagstaff (Durango, CO), Gooseberry Mesa (Hurricane, UT), Phillips Ridge (Jackson, WY), Gooseberry Mesa, Pinkerton-Flagstaff. Mix of my and Aubrey’s images.

Our biking tour started in the Bay Area (before getting to Mono Lake) with Camp Tamarancho (Marin, CA). Then near Mono Lake we rode Lower Rock Creek (Bishop, CA). Then we made our way to the southwest, for as long as we could bear the heat, riding Deadringer and Gooseberry Mesa (Hurricane, UT), Thundermountain (Bryce, UT), and Phil’s World (Cortez, CO). In an attempt to escape the 100 degree weather we hit the last 10 miles of the Colorado Trail near Durango, CO, and then some some higher country on the Pinkerton-Flagstaff – Dutch Creek loop. Then we made our way over the Million Dollar Highway to Jackson, WY, with a quick pit stop at the Zippity Loop near Grand Junction, CO.

In Jackson we were welcomed by cooler temperatures, and I finally had the chance to take a couple photos. The first trail we rode in Wyoming, at Munger Mountain, made a beautiful loop through cool aspen forest filled with blooming pink sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum). The combination really struck me, and for the next couple days I looked for an attractive grouping, ultimately settling on this scene from near one of our campsites.

Aspen Forest, Blooming Flowers, Jackson Wyoming

Geranium Summer : Prints Available

Geranium flowers (sticky purple geranium, Geranium viscosissimum) bloom in the midst of a young aspen forest as the sun slowly sets on Shadow Mountain, near Jackson, Wyoming.

Along our trip we tried our best to stick to free disperse camp sites. These days finding them is made relatively easy, especially with the help of websites like Campendium.com and the ever present 4G networks…a very different experience from my 3 month road trip 9 years ago when the best internet was found outside motels with unsecured WiFi networks! Our most scenic (but certainly not the quietist) was on Shadow Mountain, with a view of the Tetons.

Shadow Mountain, Camping, Jackson Wyoming


One of the most spectacular car camping sites I've ever had the fortune to stay at, on Shadow Mountain with a view of the Tetons near Jackson, Wyoming.

One of my favorite rides from the whole trip was made possible thanks to a meet up with my friend and fellow photographer and mountain biker, Jay Goodrich. Jay and his wife took us down Phillips Ridge near Wilson, WY, for a never-ending wildflower studded flowy downhill ride I’ll be dreaming of for a while. Thanks Jay and Heather!

The 2016 / 2017 winter was a big one for the west, and most of the alpine areas were about 3 weeks behind normal in melting out. Despite the high snow levels, we decided to go for a short backpacking trip into the famous Cirque of Towers region of the Wind River Range. High snow levels did have one upside: no bugs above 10,000 feet, and very few people. We found a small patch of dirt in a grove of pine trees and set up camp. Nearby, on the steep rocky slopes of Mitchell Peak, I found a few early flowers: my consolation for not synchronizing our trip with the peak wildflower season.

Cirque of Towers, Wind River Range, Flowers

Early Bloomers : Prints Available

Two early spring Old-Man-of-the-Mountain flowers (Tetraneuris grandiflora) bloom as an afternoon storm clears over the Cirque of Towers in the Wind River Range of the Wyoming alpine backcountry.

Meanwhile, Aubrey practiced her fly fishing skills on the North Popo Agie River, catching 11 cutthroat and brook trout over the course of three days. It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque fishing experience, with nice weather (between snow storms), epic views, hungry fish, and no competing fisherman.

Aubrey, a cutthroat, and Pingora Peak.

We kept one of the bigger fish, and improvised a cooking system with our MSR Whisperlite. First we wrapped the fish in aluminum foil with olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano, and then wrapped it once more in foil, this time including a short stick (for support). Then we set up the wind screen around the stove and lay the fish packet on top and cooked it to perfection. Delicious!

Cutthroat, cooking, and ready to enjoy!

After two nights in the snowy cirque we were ready for some dry land, and made our way back over Jackass Pass, past the mosquito plagued Big Sandy Lake, and on to Clear Lake. Here we were just barely ahead of the bugs, but had plenty of snow-free space for relaxing as we watched the sun set on Haystack Mountain and East Temple Peak.

Campfire in the Wind Rivers.

After Wyoming, we had one more ride in Helena, MT (Helena Ridge to Show Me The Horse), before getting on I-90 for a straight shot to Seattle, where we arrived 1 day after the unofficial start of summer (July 5th).

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Floris van Breugel on April 17th, 2017

Seven years ago I had the unique opportunity to do some aerial photography over the Carrizo Plains National Monument, and always wondered what it would have been like to see it from the ground. Well, this year the plains and Temblor Range finally experienced a similarly profuse wildflower bloom. I made two trips out there to wander Monet’s painting palette, and was not disappointed. Unfortunately, I think I might be flower-jaded for a few years!

Click any image for a larger pop-up view.

Temblor Range Flowers Aerial, Carrizo Plains National Monument, California, monet's palette, wildflower, 2010, spring

Monet's Palette : Prints Available

From 2010 - an aerial image of the wildflower displays in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.  

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Flower Watchers : Prints Available

Hikers enjoying the surrealistic view of the 'superbloom' wildflower display in the Carrizo Plains (Temblor Range). The hills are covered in phacelia (purple), san joaquin blazing star (orange), and hillside daisies (yellow). I'm fairly certain this is the same patch of orange and yellow/purple gully pictured in the above aerial near the top left.

Aside from the flowers, and their insane density, I was struck (again) by how the flowers largely seem to be grouped together in patches of monocultures. This is most evident in the long distance views – I tried to find the rare mixtures of species for more colorful foregrounds for my wide angle images. Why do they form these patches? It likely has a lot to do with slope angle, amount of sunshine, drainage, soil, etc. Still, it seems to me like many of the patches inhabit remarkably similar slopes. Perhaps there is something more interesting going on.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

The Flower Carpet : Prints Available

Some people get excited about the red carpet. I get excited about the flower carpet. Phacelia (purple) and hillside daisies (yellow) shown here, in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Rolling in Flowers : Prints Available

Looking down towards the Carrizo Plains through a gully covered in flowers, primarily phacelia (purple) and hillside daisies (yellow).

Given the huge swaths of flowers, I would have expected similarly dense swarms of insects. But, I hardly saw any. A few bumblebees, and lots of crane flies, but not much more. Where are the pollinators? Maybe by not being plugged into facebook, twitter, and the media, they haven’t heard about the “superbloom”? (that’s a joke)

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Afternoon Gold : Prints Available

Late afternoon sunshine illuminates the flower covered hillsides of the Temblor Range as a couple wanders through the fields of hillside daisies (yellow), and phacelia (purple).

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Flowers on the Range : Prints Available

A remarkably diverse view from the Temblor Range in the Carrizo Plains National Monument. The hillsides here are briefly covered in Desert Candles (purple topped green stems), san joaquin blazing star (orange), hillside daisies (yellow), and phacelia (purple).

While the carpets of flowers were astonishingly beautiful, I was most struck with the strangeness of the desert candles (Caulanthus inflatus). These bizarre flowers are actually members of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae). They seem a little less out of place when considering that this family also includes the mustards, which also have long stems topped with florets. As their latin name implies, the desert candles are essentially mustards with inflated stems, with a consistency like the floating air sacks of kelp that wash up on shore.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Desert Candles with a View : Prints Available

A healthy stand of Desert Candles (Caulanthus inflatus). These alien like plants are related to cabbages, but have stalks filled with air, keeping them stiff and erect.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Desert Candles : Prints Available

A healthy stand Desert Candles (Caulanthus inflatus). These alien like plants are related to cabbages, but have stalks filled with air, keeping them stiff, strange, and erect.

While this bloom is mostly over by now, you can probably still find some flowers here and there. Next up will be the Sequoia and Redwood forests, followed by what will almost certainly be a spectacular (and mosquito laden) alpine summer.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Good Morning Sunshine : Prints Available

First light on a hillside covered in yellow hillside daisies flowers with a few splashes of purple contributed by phacelia. From deep in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Hills of Gold : Prints Available

A few phacelia (purple) enjoy the first rays of sunshine, surrounded by a hillside covered in yellow hillside daisies flowers. Deep in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

Carrizo Plains, Superbloom, Flowers

Lupine Dawn : Prints Available

A blooming lupine enjoys the first rays of sunshine on a frigid morning in the Temblor Range of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

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Floris van Breugel on April 5th, 2017

Over the past few weekends I’ve made a number of trips to various parts of the Mojave Desert, mostly to see the flowers, but of course I encountered various other interesting scenes along the way. The Mojave presents a unique combination of ancient desert and volcanic history, and in the right places with the right rain, the flowers can be astonishingly abundant. That is, until the ever-hungry sphinx moth caterpillars get to them!

Click any image for a larger pop-up view.

Petrified Ghosts, Black and White, Red Rock Canyon

Petrified Ghosts : Prints Available

Ghosts, trapped in sand. Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA.

Light Beams, Lava Tube, Mojave

Light in the Tunnel : Prints Available

Sunlight beams through a caved in roof of a lava tube in the Mojave Desert National Preserve, CA.

Camp Mojave.

Flowers, Death Valley National Park, Spring

Sandy Spring : Prints Available

The pink flowers and rich scent of sand verbena transform the desert landscape of Death Valley National Park in spring time.

Caterpillar, Flowers, Death Valley National Park

Spring Salad : Prints Available

A hungry white-lined sphinx moth caterpillar chows down on some fresh sand verbena flowers in Death Valley National Park.

Goldfields, Spring, Joshua Trees

Flowers for Joshua : Prints Available

Goldfields cover the floor of the high desert in spring, surrounding these Joshua Trees near Lancaster, CA.

Owls Clover, Poppies, Lancaster

Mojave Bouquet : Prints Available

Owls Clover adds a welcome splash of purple to the gold and orange fields of poppies and goldfields, near Lancaster, CA.

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Floris van Breugel on March 14th, 2017

Last weekend Aubrey and I joined the rest of Southern California in Anza-Borrego State Park to enjoy the desert wildflowers. It was beautiful out, but wow, never have I seen that many people there, or anywhere in the desert. We mostly avoided the high traffic blooms of sand verbena and dune primrose along Henderson Canyon and the early part of Coyote Canyon. Instead I made it my mission to one-up my previous images of the desert lily and beavertail cacti. Enjoy!

Click any image for a larger pop-up view.

Monkey Flower, Anza-Borrego, California

Monkey Flowers : Prints Available

Bigelow monkey flowers (mimulus bigelovii) bloom along a wash in California's Anza-Borrego State Park. 

Beavertail Cactus, Anza-Borrego, Desert

Cactophyllic : Prints Available

A blooming beavertail cactus enjoys the last rays of sunshine from its picturesque perch among the verdant ocotillo in Anza-Borrego State Park.

Spring, Agave, Anza-Borrego

Spring Love : Prints Available

Blooming phacelia wraps around the jagged leaves of a desert agave in Anza-Borrego State Park, CA.

Desert Lily, Anza-Borrego, Spring

Desert Springshine : Prints Available

The desert lily perfectly captures the feeling of spring time in the desert with its sparkling petals, golden stamen, and curiously serrated leaves. The early morning sunshine made this one look its best, especially with the added ambience of ocotillos in the distance.

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Floris van Breugel on February 26th, 2017

Research has kept me quite busy the last few months, but I finally had a chance to escape for a few days. Some friends came down from Seattle to visit, so Aubrey and I took them on a fun adventure to the Saline Valley hot springs in Death Valley National Park. A few days before we went out one of the biggest storms of the season brought lots of rain to southern California, ensuring that the roads were nice and muddy. More importantly, however, this storm brought some lingering and low lying clouds, turning the Joshua Tree forests into a mystical scene.

Click any image for a larger pop-up view.

Joshin' Around

Just hanging out with some Joshua Trees in the fog.

Joshua Trees, Fog, Death Valley National Park

Desert Sentinels : Prints Available

Rare low hanging clouds and fog envelop the Joshua Trees and Cotton Top Cacti of Death Valley's high desert.

We missed the annual Presidents Day baseball game at the springs, but arrived at the right time to enjoy a little solitude. Of course, the burros always want some company, and we were happy to oblige. Or maybe they’re just pretending, hoping to get fed some tasty morsels, like cardboard. I guess cardboard tastes a little better than the desert shrubs they are used to eating?

Making some friends with the local burro population. Photo by Heath.

Desert hot spring necessities: towel + water + ukulele. Photo by Bobbie.

In between soaks, and fresh cooked meals, we explored the polished and twisting canyons and the rolling sandy dunes.

Heath making the big move over a dry fall in a remote slot canyon.

Slot Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California

Cathedral of Light : Prints Available

Reflected light bounces across the marble walls of a remote and spectacular slot canyon in Death Valley National Park.

Fun in the Saline Valley dunes. Photo by Heath.

On our drive out another weather front arrived, bringing an unusual sight to Death Valley: fresh snowflakes! The Joshua Trees looked quite festive in the snow flurries, while the sun still beamed warm sunshine down into the valleys. Along the road I spotted a red-tailed hawk enjoying the view of the valley below from its perch on a lonely juniper while being buffeted by the winter storm. I like to think that the hawk, like myself, is pondering the mysteries of the valley below, their hidden canyons, peaceful perches in the endless wilderness, and warm sunshine to bask in. Lucky for the hawk, it’s just a 10 minute flight to get down there. For me it would be a 2 hour drive, or a far longer hike!

Snowstorm, Joshua Trees, Death Valley National Park

Desert Snowglobe : Prints Available

A fleeting snow storm passes through the Joshua Tree forests of Death Valley's high desert.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Snowstorm, Death Valley National Park

Hawk Eyes : Prints Available

A red-tailed hawk eyes the sunlit valley below from its perch atop an old Juniper amid a brief desert snow storm. The valley below is Panamint Valley, one of several valleys in California's Death Valley National Park.

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Floris van Breugel on January 28th, 2017

Update – I’m pleased to say that we raised over $1000 for wilderness conservation with this sale! Stay tuned for future promotions along these lines!

Over the past week my anxiety about the future has dramatically increased. As a citizen of the Earth, a scientist who studies its natural phenomena, and explorer who appreciates its wild places, everything I believe in and value is under siege. It’s difficult to know what I, as just one person, can do to actually make a difference at a national scale.

In searching for answers and hope, I am reminded of the success story of Mono Lake in California. In 1941 Los Angeles started diverting water so that instead of feeding Mono Lake, it fed the desert settlement of Los Angeles. In 40 years the lake level dropped by 45 feet and the entire ecosystem was on the verge of collapse. A small group of environmentalists and environmental advocacy groups put together a series of creative lawsuits that eventually (after 10 years) resulted in negotiations with Los Angeles that saved the lake and the millions of birds, and billions of other tiny creatures, that make their homes there.

This story serves as inspiration that the little guys can actually stand up to big and greedy governments, but it takes money.

To help protect the Mono Lake’s of today, I will donate 100% of proceeds of print sales to environmental protection for a selection of my favorite and best selling images. All proceeds will go to The Wilderness Society, The Sierra Club Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and The Natural Resource Defense Council (feel free to suggest additional organizations).

Go to this gallery on my website, choose a picture and ready-to-hang option, and enter “wild” on checkout.

Once the order is shipped, I will forward you the confirmation of my donation (which will be equal to the price minus the production and shipping costs). To keep costs down, I will be outsourcing printing, which unfortunately precludes me from signing the print.

Time is limited… Join me, and help protect our future in whatever way you can!

Sunrise over an idyllic and remote alpine lake basin high in the Cascade mountains of Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Look closely – somewhere you’ll see my little orange tent.

Edit – I’m adding a few more organizations to the list: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Earthjustice, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Center for Biological Diversity. On the slightly tangential angle of conservation there is the ACLU and Union of Concerned Scientists.

Floris van Breugel on December 24th, 2016

Time seems to move faster and faster. I’m only now getting around to sharing some pictures from this year’s Thanksgiving trip. Aubrey and I met my parents in the Kofa Mountains of Arizona, to explore some new terrain while dining on delicious meals. This was also the first outing for my dad’s newly ruggedized 4Runner.

Prof. 4×4

My dad, and his recently ruggedized 4Runner.

The Kofa mountains are a rugged outcropping of volcanic rock protruding from the cactus decorated Sonoran desert. The area is full of intriguing rock formations, as well as valuable minerals. The name Kofa actually comes from the King of Arizona mine (K-of-A), a productive gold and silver mine that was operated from 1896 – 1910.

Hiding in these rugged mountains is the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in the country. Though we did see ample evidence of their existence, the animals themselves proved to be elusive. Perhaps that’s because, despite this being a national wildlife refuge, hunting is allowed (with strictly limited permits).

Cholla Cacti, Kofa Mountains, Arizona

Sunspines : Prints Available

The last rays of sunshine illuminate this grove of Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) in Arizona's Kofa Mountains.

Rugged Mountains, Kofa, Arizona

Gentle Ruggedness : Prints Available

Twilight glow on the rugged range of the Kofa Mountains in Arizona.

Our second day, Aubrey and I climbed Signal Peak for a short over-night. The calm conditions the afternoon of our departure were deceiving – around midnight the winds started to pick up.

I never sleep well in a tent when it’s terribly windy, for what up until now has been an irrational fear that the tent might collapse. (The one exception being our big yellow 4-season Fitzroy, which handles 50-100 mph winds as if they are a light summer breeze.) Well, there’s a first for everything. At 4am the gusts reached a crescendo, snapping a tent pole, which then tore through the rainfly. We tried to sleep for another hour in the helplessly flapping tent until there was enough light to pack up and head back. Lesson learned: from now on, we will always use our green “summit” tent when camping near a summit (the yellow one is too heavy)!

The Last Night

Last night of adventure for this little tent. RIP.

Kofa View, Yucca, Sunrise

Desert Wildlands : Prints Available

Early morning sunshine illuminates a grove of a yucca, with a spectacular view of the endless desert wilderness of the Kofa Mountains in Arizona.

Following our (mis)adventure in the mountains, we joined my parents at a most incredible campsite. This skull shaped rock had a cave large enough for us to comfortably cook dinner in, and was decorated inside with tiny crystalline geodes.

Skull Camp

Never have I stayed in a more incredible campsite!

With that I’d like to wish you all happy holidays and new year!

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Floris van Breugel on October 16th, 2016

Order your 2017 calendars before supplies run out!

~ ~ ~

Last week Aubrey and I found ourselves in Yosemite for a few days, and took the opportunity to explore a little.

Today, there is little mystery left as to how Yosemite Valley formed. However, just over 100 years ago, there were several competing theories. The idea that glacial action carved the valley was first proposed by John Muir in the late 1860’s, but was met with criticism from Josiah Whitney (head of the California Geological Survey). Whitney believed that the valley formed during a cataclysmic earthquake. In 1872 one of the most powerful earthquakes in California history struck Lone Pine, and the lack of overwhelming geological shifts helped convince people that Whitney’s theories could not explain the formation of a valley so grand as Yosemite. It was a start, but more convincing evidence was needed.

Like many geologists around the turn of the century, both Muir and Whitney have Sierra peaks named after them. But, curiously, “Mt. Muir…is easily overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Mt. Whitney“.

To resolve the controversy between Muir and Whitney, one year before Muir’s death in 1914, the Geological Survey assigned François E. Matthes, an accomplished topographer and budding geologist, the task of gathering scientific evidence to determine the origins of Yosemite Valley. Sixteen years of hard work later, Matthes published a paper detailing the geologic history of Yosemite Valley, confirming Muir’s theories.

In honor of his contributions, the formation informally known as Echo Ridge was formally named Matthes Crest. “Dr. Matthes was greatly pleased at the suggestion that this ridge bear his name, saying he knew no other unnamed feature in the Sierra which he would rather have chosen.” (SCB 34, no. 6, June 1949: 110-11.)

The choice does seem fitting – Matthes crest was a nunatak (an island of rock sticking up through an ice field or glacier) during the last ice age when Tuolumne was covered in ice. Thus, it would have been a perfect vantage point from which to watch the glacial action do its magic. Every exposed piece of granite not poking through the ice sheet was polished so smooth in places that it feels like ice.

Mattes Crest, Yosemite National Park, California

The Crest : Prints Available

Last light on Matthes Crest in Yosemite National Park, California.

Tent Camping, Yosemite Backcountry, Night


Aubrey settles in for the night in the Yosemite backcountry.

Granite, Glacial Polish, Half Dome

Glacial Polish : Prints Available

A smooth granite bowl with a unique view of Yosemite's Half Dome at last light. Thanks to my friend Michael Gordon for taking me to this spot!

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