Favorites from 2019

First of the Thirteen Moons: The Thirteen Moons petroglyph stands as a record of human understanding going back more than a thousand years. The January moon marks the first of our calendar and it coincided with a lunar eclipse. The moon disappeared before totality was reached, but the moon lighting up the petroglyph told a complete story. –California

Temple Pathway: The temples that stand in the Grand Canyon are what remain of sandstone that has been worked and altered by the course of water. It is instinctive for humans to draw inspiration from nature. We build architecture that is derived from natural features we see, and often name the most prominent landmarks and imbue them with humanity. However, this moves both ways. We were shaped by nature first. –Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The High Cost of Mating: These beavertail pricklypear were at about 1,000 feet, but overlook Death Valley itself. The slow collection and careful rationing of water makes photosynthesis and energy production a trial, yet the extravagant colors, sweet nectar, and production of untold quantities of pollen are still worth it for the chance to reproduce. As humans, we can probably relate. —Death Valley National Park, California

Resilient Perennial: The White Mountains of California are not named for their snow since they oftentimes don’t get very much. The Sierra gets the lion’s share of precipitation, but in 2019 the Whites were uniformly blanketed. This group of arrowroot flowers will wait, buried in snow, to emerge from the ground as soon as the thaw comes. A glorious display of flowers attracts pollinators to aid in reproduction. They will gather as much sunlight as possible to store energy for the winter only to repeat the process once winter grips the mountains once again. –Inyo National Forest, California

Crashing Wave: Gem Lake doesn’t have high peaks surrounding it, but it does have a contingent of interesting trees if you look for them. In the early afternoon a massive cloud bank parked itself to the north of our campsite. As the hours passed, it didn’t move, but the wind shaped it into the more and more interesting patterns of a Sierra Wave. The sunset color didn’t look like it would happen, but after ten minutes of resistance, the red turned on like a switch.–Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

Nocturnal Frozen Islands: Thousand Island Lake touts Mount Ritter to its south and Mount Davis to its west, and many small islands within its bounds. A waning crescent moon was rising just below a massive cloud, so this light only lasted about 10 minutes. The core of the Milky Way coincided with Ritter during this brief window. –Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

Strata: A steady stream of fast moving cirrus clouds ripped through the sky and left us with blue skies in a matter of two hours. The crags slowly being eroded by freeze-thaw cycle can stand for an entire human life, but are no more permanent than the clouds that move overhead. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Tranquil Heart: After a banner snow year in 2019, Mount Shasta was still showing plenty of snow in July. This small lake gives clear views to the east and minimal wind at sunset gave a clear reflection of the shapely clouds. There weren’t even any mosquitoes to dull the peacefulness of the view.–Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California

The Gold Rush Takes a Turn: The number of creeks and streams in Yosemite are unfathomable. Exploring the different ways that they catch light, stream down the mountain, and change from season to season would take several lifetimes of observation. This one is a special in how it reflects gold at its edges. –Yosemite National Park, California

Tears Dry from the Dawn Wall: The promise of a storm and a long absence from Yosemite Valley necessitated a quick trip. I’ve been to this spot quite a number of times for sunrise without worthy results, so the usual hike before dawn was familiar. When I arrived at a clear vantage point, the wet granite began to swirl with clouds in anticipation of the sun, and the touch of light as the sun cleared the south rim made the story.–Yosemite National Park, California

Change Flows Along: Creeks are usually teeming with distracting elements because there is so much life, but a nice cottonwood growing on the shore above this microwaterfall did nicely to simplify the scene. The banner snow year also gave Rock Creek a better than average flow for the season. The leaves of the tree will likely return next year, but the slow grind of water on rock and soil will alter this spot bit by bit.–Inyo National Forest, California

Their Daily Bread: The last light of the day rolls over its subjects so early at the winter solstice that it seems premature. At about 4:15 these trees below the face of Half Dome were struck with golden light, but it was hard to spot from so far away. For all of the feasts that we eat during the holidays, it is a time of slim pickings for the plants and animals of the natural world.–Yosemite National Park, California