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Springs Fire Devastation

During my 12-hours-a-day 6-day week work marathon of the last week at the day job I could only briefly see the news of the fires that suddenly erupted across southern California just as a blast of the Santa Ana winds and heat arrived. The very first posts of this blog were of the “Station Fire” back in 2009, when an enormous wildfire destroyed some of my favorite hiking trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. Many of these trails remain closed in the burned areas. Last night I sat down and looked at a map of the Springs fire and became very sad since it appeared that this fire was doing the same to more of my favorite trails. This morning I decided to head out and see what I could see of the damage.

Sycamore Canyon was the first area that was burned out. However I could not really stop there as Caltrans was all over the place. The buildings there all looked like they were saved, but clearly the canyons beyond were totally burned. The entrance to Pt. Mugu had an area to stop and no one else around, so I got out to take a few pics.

Burned Out Mugu

Burned Out Mugu

As you can see, the devastation was near total in areas the fire reached.

Pt. Mugu Stata Park sign now with added character

Pt. Mugu Stata Park sign now with added character

The entrance sign had bubbled in the heat, but has been saved no doubt by firefighters.

End of the road sign

End of the road sign

This scorched call box and destroyed sign were at the northern edge of La Jolla Canyon here just a short ways from the Mugu entrance sign. The road sign here wasn’t so lucky.

Devastated Area at Pt. Mugu

The whole area as far as I could see beyond the entrance way was just burned to a crisp. The entrance was of course blocked off and a sign warned of no entry permitted.

After Mugu I continued on. The fire jumped the PCH in a few places but was stopped. The military firing range had the palm trees at the entrance burned but the rest of the facility escaped harm. The Santa Monica Mountains on the north side from the point all the way through Camarillo are totally burned except for the area around the communications equipment which was saved. I continued driving along, getting off a the nearest east road and ending up at the Cal State University Channel Islands campus. The fire here reached the very edge of campus and was fought back. Here you can see the green campus grass and the burned hills immediately behind.

Fiery Edge of Campus

Fiery Edge of Campus

Just around the corner from the campus was the entrance to the University Glen Apartments. The entrance road was burned all around, with signs perhaps of the firefighter battle around like this odd patch of green in a sea of burned land.

A green flowering island in a burned sea

A green flowering island in a burned sea

And this somewhat spared palm and bush

Green and black

Green and black

I took a drive up Yerba Buena Road, which I was surprised was open. I thought the fire had reached there, but instead it was over at the next road north (Deer Creek). The area I had most feared was burned appears to be ok for now. The burn maps I’ve seen have shown the fire has reached almost up to the other side of this ridge in at least one place. With full containment expected tomorrow, I’m hopeful that this means the area is safe. My next hike here will have some seriously renewed appreciation for the green-ness around me.

Saved Landscape

Saved Landscape

And finally here’s a view of what has been temporarily lost. This is a hike I did with the Sierra Club’s Wilderness Travel Course back in 2010. Here is an image looking down on the Point Mugu entrance from above, followed by a picture from today showing the location the picture was taken from with a red arrow.

Looking down on Pt. Mugu State Park Entrance

Looking down on Pt. Mugu State Park Entrance


Location of previous view

Location of previous view

Ultimately, wildfires are a part of the natural way of things here. Wildfires raged through clearing the greenery long before we humans showed up to stop them. The plant life will come back. For a long time it won’t look the same, but eventually the cycle will show us once again that it is just that – a cycle. Perhaps next weekend I will venture into the once burned areas of the Station Fire to see how the recovery there is coming along. Soon at least I will go revisit that desolation and I bet I my spirits will be uplifted by the renewal of life there. My thoughts are with the brave firefighters who are still fighting the Springs Fire. I hope it is completely contained soon.

Customer photo

Customer photo of an 18x70" aluminum mounted print of "Wow"

Customer photo of an 18×70″ aluminum mounted print of “Wow”

For those that don’t know, I do sell prints of my photographs. Here is a customer photo of an 18×70 inch print of “Wow”, a panoramic photograph detailed here: http://blog.kurtlawson.com/?p=1080

This particular print is a Fujiflex Crystal Archive print which has been laminated onto a piece of aluminum. A wooden frame on the back side which provides mounting to the wall and floats the image off the wall without a border. It’s a fantastic way to experience this unique moment in Death Valley National Park back in January 2011. If you would like something similar, contact me for a quote or browse my current inventory of framed photographs in my online store. I also custom make prints to order.

The Dynamic Salt Flats of Death Valley National Park

A northern view at Badwater, March 2013

A northern view at Badwater, March 2013

During my first visit to Death Valley National Park, I shot some pictures at sunrise at a location known as Badwater. This is the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level and thus the final low point for water entering the vast salt pan that makes up the main valley floor. Of course, not all water makes it to this point, but this does fill with a few inches of water on occasion, and in 2005 was deep enough for people to kayak across for the first time. The salt flat was interesting in that first visit. For miles and miles, a pale white-grey texture of salt crystals formed polygons off into the horizon. Mostly, these were very low but were well defined by more dense concentrations of salt crystals. The polygons of mud crusted with salt varied from place to place, but mostly followed a fairly uniform set of characteristics through the main part of the Badwater salt flat area. Here is a view to the north in 2008:

A northern view at Badwater in 2008

A northern view at Badwater in 2008

All in all, I honestly didn’t find the Badwater area to be terribly interesting. I was intrigued by the contrast to the west when standing in the shadow of the Black Mountains while the Panamint Range was fully bathed in sunlight, but the actual ground didn’t inspire me on this first visit and I didn’t come back for a few years. In late December 2010 everything changed at Badwater. Heavy rains flooded the salt flat with several inches of water. Whatever the salt flats looked like prior to being flooded, the flood waters erased everything. This made for some awesome images, including many that are my personal all-time favorites. Here though is a similar angle during the day. You can see the mud under the water. There is no sign of the salt crystals or the vertical uplift of polygonal shapes. In fact, there’s nothing of the polygons at all. The surface has been erased back to flat mud, with little bits of texture dotting the underwater landscape.

A northern view at Badwater, January 2011

A northern view at Badwater, January 2011

I made hundreds and hundreds of photos during the time Badwater was flooded. You can see some more here in my photo blog posts from two weekends there:
Tales of a Flooded Badwater
Tales of a Flooded Badwater Part II

As soon as I freed up from work again, I headed straight back in the hopes that the water might still be there. What I saw instead was a vastly different landscape.

A northerly view at Badwater, March 2011

A northerly view at Badwater, March 2011

The water was gone. There was fresh salt everywhere. There were no polygonal shapes, only dotted miniature mesas as far as the eye could see, and salt crystals so bright white that it was at least as bright as snow. I was blown away by the change in the landscape. I returned in November to shoot my Christmas card. This time new polygons had formed. The flats were still brilliant bright white crystal salt, however.

A northerly view at Badwater, November 2011

A northerly view at Badwater, November 2011

In January 2012, the polygonal surface looked different yet again:

A northerly view at Badwater, January 2012

A northerly view at Badwater, January 2012

And finally we get to the present day, which can be seen in the first image at the beginning of this post, and here is also a western view from the same location showing the extent of the uplift.

Western view at Badwater, March 2013

Western view at Badwater, March 2013

The mud and salt crust at Badwater to me resembles the very fundamental forces that created mountain ranges everywhere. Here is my hypothesis based on my own random visits and observations. It seems as though the mud and salt solidified after the flood in 2011 into a fairly consistent texture. Then, as the environment of Death Valley added and subtracted moisture to the salt flat, the crust began to expand and contract with the temperature changes and the forming and dissolving action with moisture. Eventually, cracks form which allow more moisture to seep through with more salt, concentrating the salt at the cracks. The overall cracked pattern appears like that of dried mud but on a larger scale, with some polygonal chunks a few feet across. With the concentration of salt along the cracks, the crystals there begin to push the plates apart from one another as they grow. This creates uplift at the edges as the different sections of crust expand outward and crack along the edges forming miniature mountain ranges. The current state of Badwater seems similar to what I found at the edges of a circular white salt flat in the middle of largely mud about 3/4 a mile from the road to the south of Badwater. Here along the edges the salt had fractured up nearly a foot off the floor, tapering off into more flat white patterns towards the center of the circle. So perhaps what is happening now at Badwater is similar to what was happening at the edges of this circle, indicating less and less water until ultimately the salt flat just turns into mud resembling the Devil’s Golf Course section.

Huge uplift at the edge of circular salt flat, March 2011

Huge uplift at the edge of circular salt flat, March 2011

Badwater is a much more fascinating place to me now since that first visit in 2008, and I have new appreciation for the way the Death Valley landscape is constantly changing. I wonder if anyone has done a study of the stages of the changing landscape at Badwater. It certainly seems to have cycles. I wonder what it will look like during my next visit. I’m looking forward to finding out.

12 Favorites for 2012

It’s the last day of 2012, and once again it’s time to try and pick some favorites for the year and reflect on all that has happened. I find this to be a fun exercise that forces me to look at everything I’ve done over the course of the year and to reflect on each image and what significance it has for me in the context of the year’s work. Last year I picked 11. This year I’ve selected 12 to follow along with the last two digits of the year (in 2010 I picked 20). This year started with a double trip to my favorite National Park, Death Valley. First, I took a couple friends on a grand tour of much of the park, from Dante’s View to the Racetrack and back to the Mesquite Dunes and everything in between. Then I met up with Steve Sieren and we set course for the remote western parts of my favorite park, now made accessible by my 2011 Nissan Xterra 4X. After a few days there, we headed back to civilization and were able to meet Carr Clifton at the opening reception for his show at Mountain Light Gallery. It was great to meet Carr, and great to go shooting with Steve. What a way to start the year.

After the Death Valley trips, the day job took over. While back at work I started preparing for my gallery show, and made contact with the Eastern Sierra Inter-agency Visitor’s Center to see if I could donate a print of The 97 Switchbacks At Night to them. I ended up loaning a print to the visitor center and it was able to hang there all summer, a very happy moment for me! I then proceeded to select and print 34 images for my gallery show in my home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was nice to visit the home town a couple extra times this summer, and the show was a great success. I also printed (at the suggestion of seemingly everyone) posters and postcards and set up my online store during this time. In May I also was able to photograph the solar eclipse over LA, producing a surreal apocalyptic scene.

I was then able to make a couple of trips to the Eastern Sierras to photograph the fall color, something that the day job almost always interferes with. It was so great to spend time amongst the golden quaking aspens. I spent six days amongst the trees and valleys, from Bishop Creek north to Carson Summit and back, with most of my time on the South Fork of Bishop Creek which was really exploding with fall color. I came back to photograph a spectacular thunderstorm over Los Angeles, and also got to chase the Space Shuttle Endeavour as it made its historic journey through the streets of Los Angeles to its final resting place. I finished off the year with some camping time in the Alabama Hills and a couple of final visits to Death Valley National Park, including a trip to the Eureka Dunes, a place I had long wanted to visit. The Eureka Dunes were every bit as spectacular as I had hoped, and you can bet I’ll be spending some days there in the future.

Rock on an alien landscape

This first image was from my first trip to Death Valley this year. Out on the salt flats I encountered this rock resting on cracked wet mud, with coyote tracks walking by. The sun was blazing in the background, and I decided to try and use my neutral density grad filters to tame the extreme dynamic range. I ended using 5 stops of ND filter on the top of the image. This image surprised me with how different it was than so many other photos I’ve taken from this location. To me it seems almost like an alien landscape.

Dune Spotlight

Dune Spotlight

While climbing around on the Mesquite Dunes with my two friends, I spotted this lone outcropping of plant in a sliver of light amongst the deep shadow of the surrounding sand hills. I raced closer to it and switched over to my 100-400mm zoom, framing up this view at 400mm before the light faded. At any other time of year, surely the light would not have hit just this one bush this way. I considered myself lucky.

Sand avalanche

Sand avalanche

Here is another 400mm view at the dunes that caught my eye. I really like the abstract nature of the sand avalanche at the edge of the sand with the horizontal shadows.

Shadow Play

Shadow Play

Morning and evening light are both magical in the dunes. The two shots above are just before sunset in the Mesquite Dunes. This one is sunrise in the Saline Valley Dunes, and I love the sweeping foreground arm of this dune with the edge lit ripples. This one is a particular favorite of my 99 year old Grandma, and I have to agree.

Ruins and Reflections

Ruins and Reflections

Remnants of old human activity can be found throughout Death Valley National Park, and in this salt lake we see the ruins of a salt harvesting operation long since abandoned. The rotting wooden posts suck up the salty water through capillary action and the salt crystals slowly obliterate the wood from the inside out. The still salty waters provide a mirror for the morning alpenglow on the mountains beyond.

Eclipse Apocalypse

Eclipse Apocalypse

May brought an annular eclipse to North America. In Southern California we didn’t get the perfect circle, but we did get this apocalyptic view of West Los Angeles with the marine layer clouds providing a nice natural filter for the Sun.

Owens Lake Storm and Pittsburgh Glass Company Ruins

Owens Lake Storm and Pittsburgh Glass Company Ruins

On a day trip to the Mount Whitney Portal Store, I came across this stormy scene at Owens Lake on my way back. The setting sun was illuminating the high clouds, the soft blue light of the sky and dark clouds above colored the slightly bluish corrugated metal into a more vibrant blue, and red algae on the lake gave the whole scene a vibrant colorful quality I had never seen before.

Setting Moon at North Lake

Setting Moon at North Lake

No trip to the Bishop Creek area is perhaps complete without a visit to North Lake to see what the fall color was doing there. This iconic location has been shot by countless other photographers. I thought I might see what happened this morning on the far side of the lake with a setting moon. The morning twilight ended up providing the best light of the morning, and the conditions created a star flare from the Moon that I usually more associate with the Sun.

Backlit Aspen Hillside

Backlit Aspen Hillside

I love aspens. This whole hillside was just on fire with backlight, and in the center in the shadows you can see some red plants in the underbrush.

Last Light on Changing Aspens

Last Light on Changing Aspens

Every trip I try to explore somewhere new. In this trip I explored the area at the Sierra foothills known as the Buttermilks. I was driving towards a grove of I spotted from afar. I went and set up a shot, watching as the light came and went with the rapidly passing clouds. Finally the Sun was just disappearing and I caught its last rays in this little valley shining on the little grove of aspens.

Giant Shuttle and Giant Donut and the Goodyear Blimp

Giant Shuttle and Giant Donut and the Goodyear Blimp

The Space Shuttle Endeavour traveling down city streets presented some unique photo opportunities. After waiting for hours and hours, finally the Endeavour arrived at Randy’s Donuts as the Sun was starting to get low in the sky. I stuck around long enough that I could frame the Sun in the eye of the donut, and at that moment the Goodyear Blimp decided to fly by. This was quite a juxtaposition.

Soft Sand Avalanches

Soft Sand Avalanches

The Eureka Dunes at last. Finally after years of wanting to go there, I visited the Eureka Dunes. These 700 ft tall dunes are amazing. Their scale is mind blowing. And here, my favorite pic from there so far is of the detail of a side of them. Here some sand avalanches had fallen down the steep side of the dunes. The near noon light proved to be perfect for highlighting these surreal shapes.

So there they are. 12 favorites from 2012. I’m sure I’ll change my mind tomorrow, but then it will be a new year. I hope you have enjoyed my selections as much as I enjoy sharing my images with you. I hope to have many, many more blog updates in the new year. 2012 has been exhausting in many levels, and I have high hopes that 2013 will be much better. I also have a number of adventures planned for next year and I hope to share those experiences here on my photo blog. Check back again soon for more updates and reflections on individual trips. Best wishes for a fantastic 2013!

-Kurt

January 12, 2013 - 2:51 pm

Rebecca Jackrel - What a great set! I’ve that you looked past the icons in Death Valley to explore the heart and create some truly unique images.
visiting from Best Photos of 2012 by JMG-Galleries Blog Readers
http://www.jmg-galleries.com/blog/2013/01/09/photos-2012-jmggalleries-blog-readers/

January 14, 2013 - 12:55 pm

300 “Best Photos of 2012″ Blog Posts @ Spotofoto - […] Kurt Lawson Photography – Kurt Lawson […]

January 14, 2013 - 3:33 pm

300 “Best Photos of 2012″ Blog Posts - Digital Photo Help - […] Kurt Lawson Photography – Kurt Lawson […]

January 14, 2013 - 9:02 pm

300 “Best Photos of 2012″ Blog Posts | Basic Digital photography ( Let s Photo) - […] Kurt Lawson Photography – Kurt Lawson […]

January 15, 2013 - 5:23 am

Fotograf Gdansk - Very impressive! A beautiful set! Thank you for sharing.

January 17, 2013 - 5:11 pm

David Wahlman - Beautiful images! Thanks for sharing.

January 24, 2013 - 12:49 am

My Top Photos Of 2012 – Jonesblog - […] Kurt Lawson Photography – Kurt Lawson […]

March 15, 2013 - 11:19 am

Tizia » Las mejores fotos del 2012 - […] Kurt Lawson Fotografía – Kurt Lawson […]

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