July 23, 2020 at 8:53 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Time-lapse) (, , , , )

I had been seeing some amazing photos of Comet NEOWISE the past couple of weeks but due to light pollution I could not see it from my home. So I took another road trip to the Eastern Sierras. First stop was one of my favorites: Alabama Hills in Lone Pine. The above photo was taken on Day 3. Unfortunately when I zoomed in the focus slipped and since it’s too dark to use auto focus or even manual focus, one needs to finesse the infinity symbol on the lens. It is definitely my best as far as composition and lighting, which was from a passing car. ISO 25,600, f4, 10 sec

Same view, with another section of the rock formations illuminated by headlights. I will include photo details. These were all taken with the Nikon D750 full frame sensor camera, 24-120mm Nikon lens. The blue ones were taken with white balance at tungsten setting. ISO 25,600, f4, 8 sec

Day One (Sat. July 18) with foreground illuminated by my red headlamp. It’s early in the evening (around 9:30 p.m.) but dark enough to see the comet’s tail. ISO 10,000, f4, 1.6 sec.

I was in the Arches Trail parking lot and thought all those folks were there to watch the comet. Nope. I guess it’s a “thing” to walk to the arch at night. Many were there to illuminate the arch with artificial lights and photograph it with the Milky Way, which was to the south.  f4, 6 sec

Milky Way with Jupiter and Saturn. ISO 10,000, f4, 10 sec

International Space Station flyby. I didn’t realize what it was until I had finished the images. It is much brighter than a jetliner and has no blinking lights. ISO 6400, f4, 6 sec. The next two images show it moving eastward. You can check with a NASA website to see when and where you can see it in your area. There’s no cell service in the hills, even though it is a hop, skip and jump from “downtown” Lone Pine, so don’t plan on using Google while you’re there.

Same exposure.

f6.3, ISO 6400, 15 sec. I was trying out different settings to find the “sweet spot.”

This was using the sunlight white balance, which tends to make the scene rusty colored. You can see the arch illuminated by photographers in the lower right. ISO 25,600, f4,10sec.

The comet “set” around 11 p.m. nose-down. The long exposure reveals the split tail. I have night blindness and can’t see faint stars or auroras well, but I could definitely see this comet with the naked eye after my eyes acclimated to the dark. Using a red headlamp to adjust camera exposures keeps the night vision intact. ISO 25,600, f4,10 sec. Most images show jetliner streaks. A few streaks might even be meteors.

This one shows the illuminated arch.

When I was at the Alabama Hills in early June, I was lucky to have found a campsite with gorgeous rock formations, which were illuminated by the full moon. Stars and the Big Dipper were still visible even then. Now there is no moon, and it takes passing headlights to add interest in the rock details. 120mm, ISO 25,600, f4, 10 sec.

Day 2 was at Mono Lake. A photographer I met at Alabama Hills said he’d been skunked at Mono Lake two nights in a row due to clouds. I could see the thick clouds weren’t clearing quickly and didn’t want to walk down to the tufa formations and wait, wait, wait for nothing. I found a wonderfully open spot on forest land above the lake. This was the only decent image I got during the few minutes the comet was visible. I spent the rest of the night making time-lapse images, which I will work on this week.


Day 3 also threatened to be a wash-out at Mono Lake, and even though I had planned to do some hiking in that area, my gut told me to return to Alabama Hills. Glad I did. Because it was now Monday night, there were plenty of primitive campsites to choose from. (No potties). I didn’t realize it, but my site overlooked the Arches Trail parking lot. The comet and a jetliner trail are both visible. ISO 2000, f4, 10 sec, 9:22 p.m.

Darn it! The clouds covered the comet for quite awhile.

The nose was emerging.

In the clear! The two images I began this post with were among the last I took here. I’m going to post my favorite again. I only wish it had been properly focused. I guess that means I’ll have to try Topaz or something that promises to sharpen images like this, hopefully without the noise that comes with high ISO exposures.

Even though the comet was closest to earth last night, I stepped out in my front yard to see it. The Big Dipper was visible, but the comet was washed out by lights of Paso Robles. It’s just a small city, but the lights were too bright. Stay tuned for the time lapses when I get them done!


Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Eastern Sierras- Day 3

June 29, 2020 at 5:00 am (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , )

Lone juniper and clouds

There are many places in the wide open Inyo County forest lands to camp out, and whenever possible I look for free dispersed camping since I just park my car and sleep in it.

The sun had just disappeared from that lone juniper when I was able to stop for a picture, and I had to wait, and wait, and wait for its return. The lead photo is the result. Much more interesting, right?

Another composition

I was also briefly intrigued by a very lonesome landscape around the corner.

Some people love to be surrounded by forests. But they make me feel claustrophobic. I need to see the sky, as much of it as I can, to feel comfortable. This is my kind of landscape, bordered by rugged mountains.

Near Hot Creek, Mammoth

Clouds with character are pretty infrequent in Paso Robles, where I live. There have been months and months of summer skies with barely a cloud in them here, but mountains draw clouds, even create them. I love the play of shadow and light, even though it can mean waiting for the sun to hit a certain part of the landscape for a more interesting photograph.

Hot Creek Geological Site

My goal on the second night of my mini-road trip was the Hot Creek Geological Site. I’d been here two or three times before, in autumn. But I had seen a very lovely photograph of this scene at dawn on a Facebook group page, and ached to have the same experience.

The above photo was taken in late afternoon.

As the sun set, the backdrop of mountains became my focal point.

8 p.m. Sunday
5:30 a.m. Monday morning
5:45 a.m. Monday morning

Below is the same view of Hot Creek, but at dawn.

Hot Creek at dawn

People are not allowed in Hot Creek because the water temperature can go from tolerable to deadly with no warning.

However, the deer found it to their liking.

I encountered more deer on the road out.

This was going to be a short day, since I wanted to get home (a more than six hour drive) before dark. So I stopped at Convict Lake, where on my last visit I had seen an American dipper (formerly called the water ouzel, a name I prefer. I like the letter “z”.)

None of the restrooms were open here, which was extremely irritating and really unnecessary since it was frequented by fishermen and walkers. Fortunately the lodge was open, and so was its restroom. It also had a charming gift shop and I found a few cute things for my two grandbabies there. And yes, everyone in the store wore a mask.

The water sprinklers went on overnight, but since temps were below freezing there were icicles on the new leaves.

I walked the short paved trail partway around the lake, looking for the dipper. I never saw one, but I did see several house wrens singing.

House wren

And to wrap up my trip, some wildflowers.

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Eastern Sierras-part 2

June 28, 2020 at 12:08 pm (California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildflowers) (, , )

Moonset at dawn from Alabama Hills

Day Two of my short road trip to the Eastern Sierras started with the waning full moon setting behind the mountains at sunrise. Hardly anyone else was up, so I had the view pretty much to myself.

Moonset condensed to 8 seconds

After I had more than enough stills, I decided to video the moon setting behind the mountains. It took 85 seconds, but in processing I sped it up so it takes 8 seconds here.

Moon setting before the sun touches the mountaintops
First Light
I really wanted the moon setting behind these spires, but oh well.
Mt Whitney

I explored the south side of the Whitney Portal Road which held more rock formations and the main campground.

Mt Whitney about a half hour later.

As it was the afternoon before, the air was incredibly crystalline.

I was captivated by the chartreuse cottonwoods in an otherwise brown and gray landscape.

Knowing the Alabama Hills was the site of many movies over the decades, it makes me want to watch those movies just to see how the landscape was part of the story.

Near McGee Creek
Crowley Lake

Then I drove north to explore McGee Creek area. The campground there was closed but the trail was open. I just explored the creek area and about 100 yards into the meadow looking for wildflowers.

Icicles over McGee Creek
Western Wood Peewee
View from McGee Creek trailhead

Next stop was the scenic road to Benton Hot Springs. I didn’t see the wild horses I hoped were there, and when I got to the little tiny town (population 13-1/2) I saw a shack backdropped by a mountain vista. Unfortunately a huge bank of clouds kept it in its shadow, so I waited a half hour for the sun to return.

I thought a town with a whimsical “13-1/2” population would be a fun place to explore. But, nearly every building or site in this town had a “No Trespassing” or “Posted” sign. It definitely did not make me feel welcome. There was a somewhat attractive B&B there, but I’m not sure where the hot springs actually were, nor did I want to find out.

An old car museum? Or a junkyard? Either way, it was “No trespassing.”

I took the “back way” to Hwy 395, with one particular scene on my bucket list – a dawn view of the Eastern Sierras with Hot Creek in the foreground.

I visited the little settlement to the south for gas, and the general store had hot pizza slices, focaccia, and a blueberry scone! Though I had brought some MRE’s (my emergency supply) I much preferred freshly made “real” food. Heavenly! The employees and some of the customers wore masks, thankfully, and of course I made sure to sanitize back in the car.

Check out Part 3 for the rest of the journey.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
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Eastern Sierras-Alabama Hills

June 26, 2020 at 7:35 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography) (, , )

Arch Trail, Alabama Hills, Lone Pine

After more than six months of being “cooped up” due to a deteriorated hip joint, surgery to fix it, and COVID-19, my desire for a road trip was strong. I tried to convince my friend Marilyn, who had been with me since my surgery, to tag along enroute to her former job in Colorado (former because of the pandemic, sadly), but she opted to see the sequoias on the west side of the Sierras instead. So I was solo, and enjoying it immensely.

Alabama Hills

First stop was Fossil Falls just north of Ridgecrest. This was where I spent the night when the Falcon rocket blasted off in Sept. 2018 and filled the sky with light. I had no idea it would be visible from that far away, but it put on a stunning show, and I could even see the return of the reusable engine.

Cerro Gordo road

It was super windy the whole day, and I was anxious to explore new territory. I had read about the Cerro Gordo ghost town, but wasn’t sure I wanted to continue on the road once it got narrow and rutted at the viewpoint of Owens Lake, so I turned back. Unfortunately, the American Hotel there burned down two weeks later, and I wish I had continued to the road’s end.

Alabama Hills

I had also read about the Alabama Hills at Lone Pine, but I really didn’t know just how beautiful the site was until I saw for myself. The area was named by its discoverer for a Confederate ship named the Alabama, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be a target for renaming!

Cottonwoods at Alabama Hills

The backdrop of Mt. Whitney and the Eastern Sierras was stunning, but it was the foreground that enchanted me. The pillow-shaped rocks were very similar to those at one of my favorite areas of Joshua Tree National Park.

I was also fortunate to arrive in late afternoon when the light was at its most stunning.

Arch Trail view from parking lot

I was shocked that the Arch trailhead parking lot was pretty empty, since there were RVs and campers at nearly every nook and cranny up against the hills. I’m not sure if that’s the norm, or if it was because the campgrounds were still closed due to the pandemic. But if you’ll notice above, there is a heart-shaped hole in the rock.

Here’s a zoomed view from the parking lot. The trail was an easy one, and I was in love!

Heart rock from the other side

This wasn’t the famed arch, however. That was found toward the end of the trail (or toward the beginning if one went the opposite direction from the parking lot.)

You could get right up to it. I couldn’t believe there was nobody else clamoring for a turn to look through the window.

Black-throated sparrow

There weren’t a lot of birds or wildflowers in the areas I visited, but this black-throated sparrow didn’t mind telling everyone about his chosen territory.

View from Whitney Portal road

After the hike I drove up Whitney Portal Road. There were several viewpoints looking down in to the valley I had just come from.

View from Whitney Portal
View from Whitney Portal
Whitney Portal

Two days ago, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake occurred several miles from Lone Pine, centered in Owens Lake. There were rockfalls, including a huge rock that crashed into the campground below. Whitney Portal is now closed to climbers/hikers. I’m wondering if the balanced rock at Alabama Hills is still in place.

Inyo County required everyone to wear masks in public, and many did, especially indoors. I limited my public contact, wore a mask, and washed or sanitized my hands when I had to use a public restroom. There was a lovely little park right in Lone Pine where I ate take-out meals.


By dusk I had found an unoccupied and quite lovely spot to camp out. My style of camping is just to park my car, eat my “dinner” and cover myself with a sleeping bag, push the seat back, and go to sleep. I woke up around 2 a.m. to light from the full moon washing over the landscape.

Of course I had to get out the camera and tripod. Unfortunately I guessed at the focus and missed a little, but it’s still a stunning image of the big dipper behind an unusual rock.

It was a magical end to a wonderful first day of my Eastern Sierras roadtrip.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America
Join my Facebook Page
Contact:  cindy at

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