Riders in the Sand

November 28, 2015 at 8:54 am (National Parks, Video) (, , , )


I just happened to be in a great spot to photograph these trail riders returning from an extended ride at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.  I had been looking for a vantage point to photograph the sunset without any of the numerous people in the picture.  But I didn’t mind these people, not one bit.


My little Canon SX-50 easily switches from stills to video, and I just couldn’t resist showing the beautiful motion of these horses kicking up the sand.


The lead rider is Dacodah Herkenhoff of Acacia Riding Adventures near Soccoro.  Two of the riders have young children in the saddle with them.  Here is the video:


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White Sands National Monument – Evening

November 28, 2015 at 6:01 am (National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, )


I am going in a sort of reverse chronological order of my latest trip from Southern California to Oklahoma. These photographs were taken the night before the previous post images.


Enjoy the changing light in this amazing place.









A party of horse riders appeared in the distance, which made the whole scene look like Lawrence of Arabia. As I am a lover of all things horses, this pleased me greatly. I will do another post with more of the horse photos and a video.


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White Sands National Monument – Dawn

November 27, 2015 at 5:32 pm (National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , , )


I have moved to Oklahoma for a better job, and enroute I spent a little time visiting national parks and wildlife refuges. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico was the last place I visited, and a big plus was visiting with Jim and Marlene who I knew as volunteers at Big Bend National Park. The chief ranger there was also in Law Enforcement at Big Bend, so it was old home week for us, remembering the magic of that wonderful park and the people who made it special.


I was allowed to get a half-hour head start in the morning since I would have missed the critical few minutes of the earliest light if I had waited until the gates opened at 7 a.m.


I had gone on the loop drive the previous evening, and there had been people everywhere. It was hard to get a good landscape photograph without someone perched on a sand dune, or without obvious footprints.But this morning, I was all alone, except for a few folks camping in the backcountry.


Wind overnight helped heal some of the previous day’s footprints, but not all. This scene above looks pristine. All of the photos were taken from the road, or just a few yards up a dune.


I was amazed to learn that this isn’t real sand, which is usually made of quartz crystals. It is actually powdered gypsum, the same material that goes into making sheetrock (wallboard) and plaster of Paris.


Consequently, it is water soluable, and except for the top few inches, it’s hardpacked, meaning you don’t lose two steps for every one you take up a dune.


You can rent round sleds at the gift shop and skid down the dunes. Or hire an outfitter to take you on a trailride, which I was lucky to photograph the evening before.  (Stay tuned!)


Although it was too chilly for reptiles, there are lizards that evolved to be a bleached brown/white to hide in the dunes.


The yucca adapt to the shifting sands by growing very long stems underground. Sometimes the sands move away from the yucca, leaving odd pedestals topped by a yucca or other plant whose roots grabbed onto the gypsum.


This is a gypsum valley between two mountain ranges. So when the range to the west is silhouetted at sunset, the range opposite is illuminated with alpenglow, and vice versa.


The dunes aren’t as high as the ones in Death Valley, and even though the sand is white, it takes on the orange and pink tones of sunrise and sunset.





I think these are roadrunner tracks.



By the time the entrance gate opened, the red tones were gone.


The gypsum sands look very much like snow. It was 19 degrees that morning, so it definitely had a wintry feel.



The simple curves of the sandscapes are among my favorite images.

To stay early or late you need special permission.  Check the park website for info:  http://www.nps.gov/whsa/learn/management/earlyentry.htm

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Mustangs are Marines

November 12, 2015 at 7:07 am (California, Wild Horses of the Southwest) (, , , , )

Veterans Day is a good time to recognize the four-legged Soldiers and Marines – the K-9s and the horses that have gone into battle. Fortunately, some formerly wild mustangs in the U. S. Marine Corps have a peaceful mission. They, with their humans, form the Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard and are stabled at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif.

These palominos are all from BLM Herd Management Areas in Nevada and elsewhere. Some were tamed by prisoners. Many are trained by a local horseman. All of the Marines assigned to the MCG are trained to ride, to put on shoes, and to care for their equine charges. When you see them leading the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena every New Year’s Day, or catch them at a rodeo or small-town parade, you can see that the horses and humans are “proud to claim the title of United States Marines.”


The horses are given formal names after famous Marine battles, but are called by their nicknames:  Aries, John, Norman. Unfortunately the plans I had to do an in-depth video with articles about the MCG and the mustangs themselves won’t happen. I am transferring to a new and better job in Oklahoma. New stories. New birds. New experiences.

Read about the horsemanship training the Marines receive:


Cindy Bourgeois McIntyre as an 18-year Women's Army Corps recruit, 1974

Cindy Bourgeois McIntyre as an 18-year Women’s Army Corps recruit, 1974

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Kokanee Salmon Spawning

November 9, 2015 at 6:50 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, , )


If you’ve never seen salmon during spawning season, Taylor Creek on the shore of Lake Tahoe is a wonderful spot to see them. The kokanee salmon were introduced decades ago and are actually landlocked sockeye salmon that spend their entire lives in freshwater. Born in Taylor Creek in South Lake Tahoe, California, they spend their lives in Lake Tahoe and two to four years later make their way back to their birth stream to spawn.

I watched one pair for about an hour until it began to rain. The female chased off other females, the male chased off hopeful males, and occasionally she would sweep the gravel bottom to prepare her “redd” or nest. The male took his place on her right side waiting in excited anticipation for the moment they had lived their whole lives for – the signs that she was ready to release her eggs and he could fertilize them. Their genetic duty done, they will then die. Unfortunately I never saw the actual moment of spawning because it started to rain. Nor did I see any of the black bears that come to feed on the salmon.  But I felt privileged to see one of nature’s amazing sagas.  This short video will let you share in the gentle drama, too.

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Sea Otter Antics Video

November 8, 2015 at 10:11 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Wildlife) (, )

For stills of these too-cute critters, see my blog post:



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Taylor Creek, South Lake Tahoe

November 7, 2015 at 9:35 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, )


On my recent California road trip, I visited Taylor Creek in South Lake Tahoe specifically to see the kokanee salmon run and the black bears that come to feed on the spawning fish.


Although the number of salmon was very low, I was very happy to be able to see them in the clear, shallow creek.  Unfortunately, the black bears didn’t make an appearance.  However, I did enjoy the tapestry of fall colors.


The bare alders with their wispy branches remind me of needle art landscapes I’ve seen, silvery threads amid the knots and embroidered leaves.


The trail to Lake Tahoe was an easy walk.


The paddlewheel tourist boat is rippled and warped by the heat waves.


Common merganser

Common merganser

Common mergansers in the creek hoped for an easy meal of salmon.


The serrated bill makes good grabbers.  I watched one of these ducks in a high speed underwater chase after the spawning salmon.  It came up without its meal.  Oh well.  Better luck next time.

Kokanee salmon spawning pair

Kokanee salmon spawning pair

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Long-eared Owl Family

November 5, 2015 at 7:16 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, )

Long-eared owls

Long-eared owls

I was in Ridgecrest, California yesterday and returned to the cemetery where our birding group had seen a family of long-eared owls.  I walked for a half hour peering in every tree (they’re extremely well camouflaged as you can see) when I found them almost right next to the car!


This pair was very alert, but the other two owls resented being awoken from their naps.



Anyway, here are their portraits.





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Mule Deer

November 1, 2015 at 11:55 am (California, National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) ()


Deer tend to come out when the light is low – early morning or at dusk.  These mule deer were in and near Pinnacles National Park, California.  Some are “artsy” blurs.  Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

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Enroute to Pinnacles National Park

October 30, 2015 at 7:55 am (California, National Parks, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , )


Light is everything in landscape photography, and I made the drive along California’s Route 25 at just the right time. The low angle created dramatic shadows and a warm tone that makes the “golden hour” the best hour of the day. Read the rest of this entry »

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