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Joshua Tree by firelight and moonlight

Last night I was in Joshua Tree National Park again. This time it was not a backpacking / photography expedition. However, as I am compelled to do, I brought my camera gear along. At one point I realized that I might be able to take some photos of our camp. I also realized that our huge camp fire was lighting up the surrounding rock walls. So, I set the camera on my tripod and let it go to work. I was blown away when I saw the results!

Firelight and the half moon

Firelight and the half moon

“Wow!” is what I thought when I viewed this on the tiny LCD monitor. Blown away, I did a second exposure with far less desirable results. Despite the identical exposure, the fire died down significantly and there just wasn’t enough light. So, I decided to try something else. I set the camera up again, knowing that the moon was soon to disappear behind the rocks. This time after I clicked the shutter I beefed up the fire with the help of a fellow camper and spent the next 12 minutes painting the rocks with the fire as I constantly added bits of bright burning cardboard and additional wood.

The result? The starburst effect of the moon shot with a small aperture (f/16) just as it dipped behind the rocks.

Moonburst and firelight

Moonburst and firelight

After this I gave up on this composition and tried a few others near the fire. These shots combine some moon light (as the moon was still visible from the other side of the campground) with the fire light.

Red rocks and star trails I

Red rocks and star trails I

Red rocks and star trails II

Red rocks and star trails II

Shortly after this last one I the last bit of moonlight faded from the foreground rocks. I elected to head for my sleeping bag, but discovered there was enough light (and I had just enough energy) to try one more purely moonlit shot from a few hundred feet away from camp.

Moonlit star trails at Joshua Tree

Moonlit star trails at Joshua Tree

And finally, here are the two best shots of camp that led to all other night shots from the trip.

10 Seconds at camp

10 Seconds at camp

8 Minutes at camp

8 Minutes at camp

Yours truly can be seen in the second one, semi blurred, somewhere in there.

October 18, 2010 - 7:19 pm

Nancy - Kurt…I’ve never seen photography quite like this. Your pictures are truly amazing!!!!!
Thank you for sharing your talent with us. What a gift.

October 18, 2010 - 9:12 pm

admin - Thank you!

October 19, 2010 - 7:58 pm

Nancy Lehrer - These images are great. Your blog was forwarded to me by Suzanne Tanaka.

January 14, 2012 - 11:24 am

Brittany - Kurt I love the pictures you’ve posted- thank you for sharing not just your pics, but your experience while shooting them as well!

A stormy morning at Joshua Tree

A Solitary Joshua Tree

A Solitary Joshua Tree

The scene above is one of my favorites from my recent trip to Joshua Tree. The sun had just broken over the top of the thunderstorm line that had produced the lightning show a few hours earlier. The rain left a nice low level fog amongst the joshua tree forest ahead.

Joshua Tree Forest

Joshua Tree Forest

Here you can see the ground level fog. The backlight did not last long. As we got closer the sun dipped behind the clouds. We were on our way out at this point. The sun would emerge a short time later but the light had turned harsh. The previous morning was a different experience.

Sunshine and Thunderstorm

Sunshine and Thunderstorm

Taken at the Boy Scout Trail head where we began our journey, these three pictures show the storm that would shortly hammer us.

Incoming Storm

Incoming Storm

Ever changing storm clouds

Ever changing storm clouds

After the storm

After the storm

Joshua Tree Forest II

Joshua Tree Forest II

On this backpacking trip we encountered few wild animals. During one rest stop I looked over and spotted this tarantula walking across the southern slopes of Quail Mountain. I am not sure if it was looking for food or if it was a male looking for a mate (and its doom).

Wild Tarantula

Wild Tarantula

Looking North from Quail Mountain

Looking North from Quail Mountain

View from Quail Mountain

View from Quail Mountain

Our expedition was to summit Quail Mountain, which is the high point in the Little San Bernardino Mountains and also the high point in the park.

Desert Sunset

Desert Sunset

Desert Sunset II

Desert Sunset II

Desert Sunset III

Desert Sunset III

As a landscape photographer, I find a place like Joshua Tree can be very challenging to shoot. The cloudless skies we have in southern California can sometimes make things a bit dull. On this trip however the skies played nice. Clouds tend to make what might be an interesting photograph an exceptional one.

Lightning and Star Trails in Joshua Tree National Park

I have now visited Joshua Tree National Park twice. Contrary to what one might expect from the desert, both visits (February and October) have involved rain and lightning. I just yesterday returned from this second trip to Joshua Tree, and ahead of the other pictures I thought these deserved their own post. I have always wanted to shoot lightning pictures. I have never had the opportunity to do so from a safe distance. As luck would have it, yesterday morning afforded me the opportunity I had long waited for. I was on a backpacking trip to summit Quail Mountain, the highest peak in the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Starting around 4am, a huge light show played out to our east. I just had my 5D Mark II, 24-105mm lens and a tiny Gorillapod Focus (with the ballhead X). A rock outcrop provided a high platform for this setup so I could get a good view of the action from camp. I kept the camera close enough that I could keep an eye on it from my tent, and run out and fetch it if it started to rain, which it did twice.

Thunderstorm and Star Trails at Joshua Tree

Thunderstorm and Star Trails at Joshua Tree

Wow! That’s what I thought when this exposure finished. I decided that I would pretty much spend the rest of the morning taking pictures instead of sleeping. Who needs sleep when you’ve got this going on?

Thunderstorm and Star Trails Take 2

Thunderstorm and Star Trails Take 2

As the storm moved north it got closer to us. The lightning became more and more visible. The storm was so electrically active that there was almost a strike or cloud to cloud bolt every second, with a faint distant roar of thunder. It was really quite a show.

Pre-sunrise glow with lightning

Pre-sunrise glow with lightning

Here the sun was beginning to rise on the distant horizon. The horizon was 99% blocked by the storm except for a brief time where I could see a little red on the left.

Lightning 1

Lightning 1

Lightning 2

Lightning 2

Lightning 3

Lightning 3

Lightning 4

Lightning 4

Lightning 5

Lightning 5

Lightning 6

Lightning 6

Lightning 7

Lightning 7

In this last one the lightning almost seems to wrap around a cylinder of rain. All in all I’m ecstatic about my first ever lightning pictures. What an amazing trip this was!

Finally, here is a star trail picture I took earlier in the evening when the skies were clear.

Star Trails at Joshua Tree

Star Trails at Joshua Tree

Which lightning picture is your favorite? Let me know in the comments please!

October 4, 2010 - 7:59 am

Sally O'Brien - 6 is my favorite. GORGEOUS.

October 4, 2010 - 1:09 pm

Anthony - Love the star trails. I think lightning 3 & 7 are my favs.

October 4, 2010 - 6:05 pm

Kristen - These are AWESOME, Kurt. It’s hard to choose between the lightning pictures — maybe 1 or 6? The very first picture is my favorite of the whole bunch, though.

Big Pine Lakes and Palisades Glacier

Temple Crag, Second Lake, and Kurt

Temple Crag, Second Lake, and Kurt

Wow! Really that is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about this trip. It was truly amazing. My first ever summertime backpacking trip really rocked my world. We went to an area called Big Pine Lakes to camp. This is a wonderful set of lakes some of which are fed by glacial waters from higher up. The glacial sediments suspended in the water make the water an incredible shade of blue. It’s just amazing to see.

Not a bad place to camp!

Not a bad place to camp!

Along the banks of the North Fork of Big Pine Creek

Along the banks of the North Fork of Big Pine Creek

From the trailhead, we hiked 6 miles or so to our camp at Third Lake. From here, at around 10,000 feet, we would camp and set out for the Palisades Glacier the next day.

Sunrise over Third Lake

Sunrise over Third Lake

Sam Mack Meadow

Sam Mack Meadow

Sam Mack Meadow is a beautiful stopover on the way up to the glacier. We stopped here to take a few moments to refill our water supplies before heading on up. Elevation here is about 11,000 feet.

Sam Mack Meadow from above

Sam Mack Meadow from above

First, Second and Third Lakes from above

First, Second and Third Lakes from above

As we climbed, we got a good view of First, Second and Third lakes (top to bottom in the above pic).

Snow at the base of Temple Crag's face

Snow at the base of Temple Crag's face

The Palisades Glacier

The Palisades Glacier

Finally, we got the view we were working towards. The Palisades Glacier. This glacier is the largest in the Sierras, and they are amongst the southernmost in North America. This was a truly breathtaking sight. Our view was from a ridge above the terminal lake at about 12,300 feet. We were essentially standing on the terminal moraine of the glacier when it extended much further.

Palisades Glacier Panorama

Click on the above panorama for a larger version on flickr.

Above the Glacier are several 14,000 foot peaks (and some a little bit less), including North Palisade, Starlight Peak, Thunderbolt Peak, Mount Sill and Polemonium Peak. It’s a magnificent area.

North Palisade (left) and Starlight Peak

North Palisade (left) and Starlight Peak

Sunrise reflections in Third Lake

Sunrise reflections in Third Lake

I was really captivated by Temple Crag, which loomed above our campsite. I could probably spend a week photographing this single mountain.

Clouds casting shadows directly onto nearby Temple Crag

Clouds casting shadows directly onto nearby Temple Crag

Temple Crag reflected in Third Lake

Temple Crag reflected in Third Lake

Finally, the Perseid Meteor Shower was happening at the time we were there, and I tried to capture a few of them while looking at the amazing Temple Crag.

Perseid Meteor over Temple Crag

Perseid Meteor over Temple Crag

Tent Trails

Tent Trails

It was an amazing trip. I hope to go back and explore the glacier up close, something our group voted not to do. It really was some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen with my own eyes.

November 15, 2011 - 4:37 pm

Fabian - hi kurt, its fabian, we did this trip together and hiked mt baldy together! man these pictures are great but i remember it being more beautiful! i want to plan a trip to the area next year and make it to the glacier for sure! i think you, big mike and myself were the only ones wanting to make it to the glacier despite being probably the most out of shape!!!! haha! arnold sent me the link just now of the lighted switch back up whitney, how you came up with the idea of the picture is pretty amazing. well did arnold tell you about our trip on the high sierra trail in sequoia? man, i think it beats palisades! i got to photograph precipice lake, one of ansel’s most famous pictures. anyways, glad your still hiking, keep up the good work!!!

fabian

November 17, 2011 - 8:31 am

Kurt - Hey Fabian. It’s always more beautiful in person. I want to go back there. I also really want to go to Precipice Lake there on the High Sierra Trail like you and Arnold went to. Perhaps next year.

May 30, 2012 - 10:35 pm

fabian - Hey Kurt! My friend and myself will be doing Palisades Glacier this weekend, we will leave Friday at 7 PM and hike Saturday and Sunday, we just came up with the idea to do it yesterday. Lmk if you’re interested!

Sequoia National Park

I love trees. I love big, massive trees even more. And it’s a bonus if my entire life will amount to less than 2% of it’s lifespan. To stand in the presence of such living things is humbling. And the giant sequoia trees are truly majestic in their immense presence on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The General Sherman Tree. The largest tree on Earth.

The General Sherman Tree. The largest tree on Earth.

Sequoia National Park is home to the General Sherman tree, which is the single largest tree on Earth measured by the sheer volume of its trunk. I do assert that “General Sherman” is a horrible name for such a tree, given Sherman’s role in the Indian Wars, but I digress. The tree is an awe-inspiring sight. A sign indicates you are proportionally the same standing before this tree as a mouse is standing before a 6 foot tall human.

Gorgeous Sierra scenery

Gorgeous Sierra scenery

The Sun flares through a hole in a Sequoia

The Sun flares through a hole in a Sequoia

Sequoias are just magnificent trees. They are truly an American tree, and should have been made our national tree along with other redwoods.

Marble Fork, Kaweah River

Marble Fork, Kaweah River

Redwoods in the Giant Forest

Redwoods in the Giant Forest

More Redwoods in the Giant Forest

More Redwoods in the Giant Forest

Our trip to Sequoia was not all about flora. We did see our share of fauna there as well, including a couple of deer and no less than 6 different black bears.

Buck along the Generals Highway

Buck along the Generals Highway

Black bear in the Giant Forest from close range

Black bear in the Giant Forest from close range

This black bear was right in the middle of the tourist-centric Giant Forest. Just a couple hundred feet from the General Sherman tree. It looked to be somewhat juvenile, and was foraging for insects in various logs while a crowd of people acted as bear paparazzi just 15 feet away.

The Great Western Divide from Moro Rock

The Great Western Divide from Moro Rock

Since it was a nice day, we headed up Moro Rock to check out the view from its granite dome. From Moro Rock we could see Little Baldy, a nearby peak we would summit later that day.

Little Baldy as seen from Moro Rock

Little Baldy as seen from Moro Rock

Moro Rock as seen from Little Baldy

Moro Rock as seen from Little Baldy

Great Western Divide from Little Baldy

Great Western Divide from Little Baldy

Layers of LIght

Layers of LIght

Fellow Hikers on the summit of Little Blady

Fellow Hikers on the summit of Little Blady

Sunset from Little Baldy's summit

Sunset from Little Baldy's summit

Big Baldy as seen from Little Baldy

Big Baldy as seen from Little Baldy

The trek up Little Baldy was nice. It’s not a long hike and the scenic rewards are well worth it. It’s nice away from the much more touristy areas like Moro Rock. Looking at Big Baldy from here, I thought that next time I should have climbed to the top of that as well. Big Baldy is a similar hike in length as Little Baldy. I’ll save that for a future trip.

In Crystal Cave

In Crystal Cave

Sequoia is not all trees and mountains. It actually has a large number of caves as well. One of these caves has been partially made accessible to park visitors by guided tour. This allows everyone to get a taste of what it is like to explore such places. It was a nice trip by flashlight.

The General Sherman Tree

The General Sherman Tree

Finally, one last look at the General Sherman tree. This picture was taken with the Canon Tilt/Shift 24mm lens which allows fine control over the focal plane. This is what has made the in focus area in this picture to be shifted. Many of the pictures I took on this trip were with this incredibly sharp lens, though most did not utilize the special talents that this lens offers. I look forward to returning to this magical park. I am once again made to be incredibly grateful that we have the National Park System.

September 24, 2010 - 10:35 am

Gritty - Beautiful pictures Kurt! Definitely my favorite National Forest that I have been to so far, the trees are just amazing! Last time I was there I went for a trail run and came within 15 feet of a mother bear and her cub. I saw the cub and didn’t realize mom was on the otherside of the trail, thankfully my husband saw mom and got my attention to stop, it was awesome though!!

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