New Work

Traveler to an Antique Land: The bristlecones by moonlight are a special sight, but NEOWISE showing up at dawn one last time made this one for the books. The oldest surviving Great Basin Bristlecone Pine is a little more than 5,000 years old, but the last time NEOWISE made an appearance was before it sprouted 6,766 years ago. –Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, California

The Valley High: Some hikes are worth the odd hours. Clouds Rest is the highest point around Yosemite Valley, and while high points are no guarantee of photographic value, the view is spectacular. It’s nice to have friends that will wake up for sunrise, but even better to have friends who are willing to wake up at 2am to hike five miles to a viewpoint. –Yosemite National Park, California

Geothermal Summer Storm: One of the remaining active areas of the The Long Valley Caldera keeps Hot Creek flowing even during the coldest winters. Storm clouds dominated the sky this evening, and released shortly after sunset. –Inyo National Forest, California

Countless: Ripples in sand dunes can produce all kinds of interesting patterns, but the number of sand grains in one dune field is absolutely staggering. Meanwhile, the mountains that have been weathered to produce the sand, stand above the dunes. –Death Valley National Park, California

Streaming Aspen: I’ve had my eye on this line of aspen for years, but our fall trip never lined up with peak color. Living in Mammoth gives the advantage of patiently watching the leaves turn. –Inyo National Forest, California

Colors of a Rainbow: Several 4am hikes to this location didn’t merit an image including the sky, but the cloud forecast looked perfect on this day. When I arrived there were clouds to the south, but nothing looked like it would move into position. Standard landscape photographer coaxing (muttering to myself and the clouds), led to this set of cirrus clouds moving over my composition. –Devils Postpile National Monument, California

Phoenix Hatchling: Finding meaning in clouds is an age old favorite of our brains, and this sunset was a chance for me to exercise this. What do you see in the cloud? You can probably guess what I saw based on the title. –Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, California

Xanthophyll and Anthocyanin: The range of pigments plants use for photosynthesis and other purposes provide those of us with color vision such joy. From the rich greens of spring (chlorophyll), to the bright yellows of fall (xanthophyll), and the bright coloring of our fruits and vegetables (beta carotene in carrots or lycopene in tomatoes). They’re all fun to say as well! –Inyo National Forest, California

Between Two Pines: Yellow pines can grow to immense size, and are only overlooked because they live so close to the largest and tallest trees on Earth (Giant Sequoias and Redwoods). Holding onto their needles for many years stands in contrast to the aspen hurrying to drop their leaves for the coming winter. –Toiyabe National Forest, California

Yellow Ribbon: Finding patterns in nature requires a certain mindset, but sometimes nature hits you over the head. These aspen are growing in two separate washes with pines colonizing the drier areas above. This was a red flag warning day with winds gusting at 40 MPH, so waiting for a lull in the wind required patience. –Toiyabe National Forest, California

A Thunderstorm Provides: The thunderstorms from this week were responsible for starting dozens of fires in California. The largest fire on record, the Creek Fire, started and flooded the area with smoke for months. The balance of wildfires has been skewed for more than one hundred years, but nature will be paid its due. –Inyo National Forest, California

Crimson Fashion: Red color in the eastern Sierra is a hot commodity since it contrasts so nicely with the dominant aspen yellow. –Inyo National Forest, California

Rainbow Fall: The west coast doesn’t have the same variety of color that the east coast has, since yellow tends to dominate autumn colors. Every now and then a small patch of mixed colors presents itself if you look for it. –Inyo National Forest, California

Wading Pines: The overwhelming aspen root network on this hillside is incredible during fall color season, but a small number of pines manage to carve out a space for themselves. –Inyo National Forest, California

Extinguishing the Fireweed: During the day this is along a very crowded trail with a large number of maskless people, but I woke up at 3:45 to arrive at sunrise. I had the view to myself, and I didn’t run into anyone until I was about a mile from my car at 7:45. Surprisingly, the bloom in August was significantly better than mid-July. –Devils Postpile National Monument, California

What Storms May Come: Clouds were in short supply this fall season, but the dry air really brought out the colors in the aspen more than usual. I was standing here waiting for clouds to move into position for about half an hour, and this one was most pleasing. Fortunately, the sun was breaking through a thinner set of stratus clouds and provided backlighting for the aspen. –Toiyabe National Forest, California

Vibrant Decomposition: This downed branch stood out with its spotted markings, and the colorful leaves speak to the beauty and inevitability of decomposition in nature. –Inyo National Forest, California

Falling Together: The masses of Aspen below Dunderberg Peak tend to go out as a group. This typifies my feeling of what autumn should look like with crisp morning air and deciduous trees preparing for winter. However, being from the Bay Area, fall colors often coincide with hot weather. Maybe my associations with autumn will change with time. –Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, California

Owens Promise: The Owens Valley would look very different today without the water diversions that Los Angeles put into place (see Chinatown). Owens Lake is dry and the Owens River is a shadow of itself. Of course Los Angeles wouldn’t be what it is without these diversions, but human desire to build up population centers has changed the landscape of the Earth. On another note, the most intense rainbow I’ve seen in awhile showed up on the day before school started over Crowley Lake. –Inyo National Forest, California

Wind Tracks, Animal Tracks: The low hum of the singing dunes is especially nice at nice when the full moon is rising. Still the evidence of animal activity in between the dune ripples is clear. Beetles and kangaroo rats roam around in search of food and shelter from the daytime heat. –Death Valley National Park, California

Three Wishes: Aspen tend to grow with one main shoot due to auxins (a class of hormones), but occasionally there will be an aspen that has a split off of the main shoot early on in life (caused by cytokinins, a different class of hormones). This group seems to have bought into cytokinins. I’m not sure what caused it, but it was nice to look at. –Inyo National Forest, California

Gone Next Year: Convict Lake nearly always has some shoreline downed trees, but they don’t hang around for more than one season. The winter season always moves them deeper into the lake, and marking them for decomposition. No scene can ever truly be the same. –Inyo National Forest, California

Split Overlook: So many overlooks in the Sierra, so little time. This area is just a bit past peak for fall colors, but the clouds delivered at sunset. Looking into the depths of the high Sierra is meditative for me. I focus on nothing but the view (and mentally composing a photograph). –Toiyabe National Forest, California

Towering Scale: Cumulonimbus clouds have a size and scale that’s hard to fathom from the ground. This thunderstorm stands above the Ritter Range with peaks over 13,000 feet above sea level. –Inyo National Forest, California

Bathing in Ghosts: Science is helpful in pointing out why the fire season seems to be getting perpetually worse, yet policy is ignoring it. In short, we had a party where we suppressed fires for more than a hundred years to protect our short-term comfort, and the accumulated fuel will continue to cause catastrophic crown fires. Recommendations from a recent study by Rebecca Miller out of Stanford are for 20 million acres of controlled burns in California. Current plans are in place to burn just 1 million over the next five years. –Inyo National Forest, California

Family Bonds: Is it a clone? Underground there is a vast network of aspen roots intertwined and connected. These root systems give rise to new shoots coming out of the ground to produce energy for the whole. The oldest known root system is Pando which is over 80,000 years old in Utah. While the younger shoot may look like it is fighting to grow, it is bonded to the two shoots above it. –Inyo National Forest, California

Zebra Stripes: These aspen had consistent striping on the bark, and I’m not sure what caused this (hopefully it isn’t a blight). The base of the aspen felt much more like fall than the trees themselves. –Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, California

Nature’s Architecture: These spires and columns are the mix of hot and cold from a massive volcanic eruption and snowmelt seeping into the ash. The water of a man made reservoir weathered out the softer parts and left behind the harder columns. –Crowley Lake, California

Turning Seasons: Creeks in the eastern Sierra have mostly dried up by the time autumn rolls around leaving some rivers as shadows of their Spring-swollen selves. I’ve never seen this creek low though, and the wind battering these aspen lines the creek with fall color. –Inyo National Forest, California

Silver Screen: A smoke screen hovered over the eastern Sierra for the entire autumn of 2020. This morning it provided an ethereal mood to complement the fall colors. –Inyo National Forest, California

Favored: This ridge stands in front of a set of mountains, and at this time of year, it perfectly blocks the more distant mountain from receiving first light. –Hoover Wilderness, California

Rose Hulk: A climbing destination for elite climbers, this mountain stands 1,000 feet as some of the most consistent technically difficult climbing in the world. At sunset, reflected light cast a rose glow in the shadows. –Hoover Wilderness, California

Fingerprint: This juniper stump has a unique pattern of swirls that depend on the water for each season, and won’t be repeated. –Hoover Wilderness, California

Vertigo: People still swim in the water above Nevada Falls despite the large number of people who have fallen to their deaths. The power of the falls right before the drop is unnerving even in the middle of summer after a low precipitation year. –Yosemite National Park, California

Decanted Light: The last light to enter the giant staircase is filtered through trees and granite and has a prehistoric look fitting with its geologic history. –Yosemite National Park, California

Knife’s Edge: Clouds Rest is a knife’s edge that only seems to be a few feet wide in some areas, but all the exposure gives some of the best views in the park. Looking back to the high country where peaks crest over 10,000 feet, the sun rises. –Yosemite National Park, California

Tuolumne at Peace: The Tuolumne River stands almost stock still, and reflects the pastel sunset. The background shows off some of the highest peaks in Yosemite with Mount Dana, Mount Gibbs, and Mammoth Peak. –Yosemite National Park

Forest in the Dunes: Annual desert dicoria grows at the highest reaches of the Eureka Dunes and stands tall in the summer as perennials die back to deal with the summer heat. The playa at the base of the dunes is evidence of when water was more plentiful in the region. –Death Valley National Park, California

Pothole Reflections: The pockmarks in the glacial polish of granite can make reflecting pools after a rain in the Yosemite High Country. –Yosemite National Park, California

Riverside Reflections: The regular trampling of Tuolumne Meadows have led to necessary restrictions in the area. This riverside view from the trail was stunning this evening. –Yosemite National Park, California

Crystalline Reflection: Crystal Crag stands as one of the most recognizable features of Mammoth Lakes, but finding a perspective that makes it stand out in a photograph is difficult. This lake is our favorite spot to view it. Mammoth Lakes, California

Evolving Storm: Though most summer days are marked by endlessly blue skies, occasionally some warm fronts can cause evaporation from lakes, which can lead to thunderstorms. This storm gathered over the course of the day and began spitting lightning deep in the cell as we finished our hike. Peaks named for scientists who furthered the theory of evolution silently observe. –Inyo National Forest, California

Former Skipping Stones: The cracked clay of a dry lake bed comes most alive when the sun is at its lowest. The small stones that are embedded in the clay are a long way removed from when this playa had water covering it. –Death Valley National Park, California

Mountain Traveler: The last comet we imaged was Pan-STARRS in 2013, and it was tiny in comparison to NEOWISE. This was my first time seeing NEOWISE, and the moonlight, town lights, and dawn sky make everything about this image glow. –Mammoth Lakes, California

The Next Generation: As a child, cones were just an object to kick, but observing the differences between them, and learning their purpose gives them greater depth. It’s rare to spot a cone with seeds still in it since they’re picked out so quickly for food, but this cone sitting at the base of a tree has one remaining visible seed that very well might give rise to a sapling. –Inyo National Forest, California

Marmot Portrait: Marmots in heavily trafficked regions have grown comfortable with humans, though this marmot was fearful enough to stay away from us. It was happily snacking on flora along the riverside in preparation for the coming winter. –Yosemite National Park, California

Seeking Order: The jumble of chaos from a volcanic eruption can be overwhelming visually. Even though the date wasn’t recorded, detective work can reveal information that soothes the human desire for order. The trees downed in this eruption tell the history with their ring pattern, and it takes us back to the geologically very recent 1350. –Inyo National Forest, California

Tear Drop: The lakes and streams that exist in the Sierra were mostly the action of glaciers, but the Long Valley Caldera formed this lake much more recently than the end of the last Ice Age. This crater about 200 feet deep is filled with rain and snow melt tinged with minerals from the surrounding volcanic rock that formed at the same time as the crater in 1350. –Inyo National Forest, California

Be Fruitful: Humans have one of the highest reproductive costs between length of gestation and helplessness of newborns. Cone bearing plants (gymnosperms) are towards the opposite end of the spectrum giving out great plumes of pollen from their male cones, and dropping hundreds or thousands of female seed bearing cones in their lifetime. At least a few of these seeds will turn into a sapling. –Inyo National Forest, California

Green Valley: While the Owens River remains beautiful with its green banks and S-bends, it has a sad history. The development of Los Angeles in the early 1900s brought a desire for more and more water. William Mulholland championed an aqueduct that diverted water from the Owens Valley ultimately draining Owens Lake completely. Most of the lake is surrounded by signage that the land is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. –Lake Crowley, California

Returning to the Mountains: The peaks and spires rising above this valley typify the Eastern Sierra with snow into July and beautiful streams and reflections heading out. –Inyo National Forest, California

Magnetic North: North Peak sits towards the northern border of Yosemite, but this is outflow is to the north of North Peak. Naming conventions of mountains and lakes in the Sierra range from dead white guy, to specific location, or shape. In this case following directions would be very unhelpful. –Inyo National Forest, California

Making My Way: Trees are hard to find in this volcanic blast zone more than 600 years later, but this hardy specimen is doing its best to make a living in the small amount of soil it has. –Inyo National Forest, California

Major and Minor: Rainbow Falls can be very crowded in the summer time, but arriving at sunrise will usually mean having the place to yourself. The small falls spilling over the rock in the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River is below the 101 foot drop of the Rainbow Falls. The perspective can be a little disorienting. –Devils Postpile National Monument, California

Imposing: The mountains make their own weather, and evening thunderstorms often build during the day only to dissipate over night to a blue sky in the morning. This was our greeting upon our arrival to the Eastern Sierra. –Inyo National Forest, California

Duo: Mammoth Lakes is often just called Mammoth, but the Lakes part of the name makes a lot of sense once you get to explore the region. Mamie and Mary reflect a colorful sunset. –Mammoth Lakes, California

Soothing the Wounds of Volcanism: These volcanic fissures surfaced after some geologic shifting, and sit like an open wound from 13,000 years ago. Though this storm cell is looking fiery, it is dumping water that will eventually fill the cracks through weathering and erosion. –Mono Lake Basin, California

A Story of Spring: Most of us see the temperature ramp up in June, and even though most of June isn’t summer, we still usually call it that. This is among my favorite creeks flowing out of the east side of the Sierra, and it was showcasing everything I associate with early spring, but just before the summer solstice: green grass, fresh green leaves, a more present sun, and flowing water. –Inyo National Forest, California

Standing Post: Among the best examples of basalt columns in the world, Devils Postpile doesn’t cover a huge area, but there are many offerings other than the front face. This mountain pride penstemon grows out of one of the cracks formed to relieve the pressure as the basalt cooled. –Devils Postpile National Monument, California

Scarred Colosseum: The grooves, striations, and impurities found in granite give each section their own unique geologic story and tell the history of the mountains. –Inyo National Forest, California

Stadium Seating: The reeds growing along the Owens River begin their expansion in the spring as the snow melt swells the banks. A last bit of light from the setting sun gives them a glow. –Lake Crowley, California

Slip Back Into a Dream: Clyde Minaret stands taller than the rest of the Minarets, but it was hidden in the fog shortly after this image was taken at sunrise. –Mammoth Lakes, California

Sun Dog Days of Spring: It’s strange to me that the poppies blooming, green grass carpeting the hills, and fresh greens leafing out give me a feeling of tranquility, while the plants are fighting for space and sun. The sun dog (technical name parhelion) presiding over the plant fight is a result of sunlight being refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere, and is fairly common (though visibility isn’t usually this stark). I just enjoy being able to observe the show. –Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, California

Bountiful Wolves: The misconceptions about this flower run deep and is reflected in its Latin name (Lupinus means wolf). It was originally thought that because lupines grow where other plants cannot, that they were stealing nutrients from others. However, they are legumes and bring their own bacteria that enrich the soil with nitrogen which allows other plants to move in and benefit. This fits perfectly since wolves were sometimes thought to ravage and steal, but scientific research has shown that wolves enhance the communities in which they live and increase diversity. Bad ideas masquerading as wisdom can cause real damage as it did with the systematic hunting and extinction of wolves in the United States. –Quail Hollow Ranch County Park, California

Reaching Out: Clouds are at the forefront of my mind more often than I care to admit, and my version of a beautiful day is definitely one that includes dynamic clouds rather than a blue sky. When a storm rolls through I usually make some attempts to capture the swirling clouds. Our brains are so good at trying to make order out of chaos, that shapes will often appear to take on meaning. For instance, the fusiform face area is excellent for analyzing faces for quick recognition, but can get involved in finding faces in clouds, rocks, and other faceless objects. What do you see in the clouds? You can probably make a good guess at what I saw based on the image title. –Calero County Park, California

Attuned: Bristlecones of yielded a host of scientific information by giving a nearly complete record of the climate in California since the last ice age ended, and the confirmed half-life of Carbon-14 of 5,730 years. We have a lot to learn from these trees, but whether we act on that information is another matter. –Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, California

Flat Top: First light in the wilderness is something special since its much easier to wake up when you go to sleep at 9:00. Hiking in a range of elevations means you can almost always find wildflowers in the summer months. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Cyclops Skull: Decomposition can take a good long while in the dry air and soil of the Sierra, but this tree stump seems well on its way. This stood right by our camp and made for quite a subject. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Deep in the Glacial Recess: Carved out by a glacier, this lake complete with a waterfall and bog laurel. You have to head into the Sierra to get last light at sunset, where the roadside will only get last light on clouds. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Coloring Inside the Lines: Red Mountain Heather seems to climb any available granite rocks, but this plant looks like it was paying close attention to the quartz line in its trellis. –Kings Canyon National Park, California

Eroding Future: Whatever earthquakes and rock falls brought these granite boulders to their current position will only be temporary as they work to slowly fill in the alpine lake they surround. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Night Shine: The moon is one of the most important elements of a night scene image for me. The moon rising or setting highlights peaks in similar fashion to a sunrise or sunset, and brings the ground attention. –Hoover Wilderness, California

Mining Stream: This stream had a dozen turns in it as it came off the mountain, and the golden light coming in from sunrise helped to highlight each turn. –Hoover Wilderness, California

Walking Over the Pass: Erosion eventually exposes the roots of trees on hillsides, and this relatively young pine looks as though its ready to take a stroll over the snow fields. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Presiding Judge: A stately healthy white pine growing out of the top of some granite with a thunderstorm in the background brought out the sense of judgment. With looming climate change and recent droughts, its hard to know how far these delicate ecosystems can be pushed before they collapse. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Quartz Ladder: The formation of granite hundreds of millions of years ago came with all kinds of cracking and impurities creeping in. These veins of quartz are the most well ordered set of lines I’ve seen. –Hoover Wilderness, California

Atmospheric River: The peaks that run the border of Kings Canyon are stately, and the last glow of the setting sun on the thunderstorm that forced us to set up camp was a lovely end to a day in the backcountry. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Ladling Light: The Big Dipper spilling the light of Mammoth Lakes onto the horizon is buoyed by the rising moon lighting up a nearby peak. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Accents: The crags still standing in the Sierra stand in defiance of weathering and erosion. Cracked into millions of pieces by freeze-thaw weathering, erosion will eventually bring it down. Meanwhile the perennial mountain heather flowers for another year in the brief spring of the Sierra. –John Muir Wilderness, California

A Brief and Colorful Reign: A little bit of water reflecting the sunrise can go a long way, even if the effervescent glow is short-lived. –Kings Canyon National Park, California

Keep One Eye on the Storm: A storm is preferable to a blue sky to me every day of the week. This hammerhead cloud reflected in the enclosed pool looks onto some of the highest peaks in the Sierra. –Kings Canyon National Park, California

Granite Garlands: Flowers burst into bloom all at once on the shore of this alpine lake with red mountain heather, white mountain heather, and indian paintbrush. –Hoover Wilderness, California

Beachside in the Basin: This trip was a little different and involved bringing my friend’s thirteen-year-old son along. This sunset, was among the most spectacular I’ve ever witnessed with low clouds over the peaks and high clouds catching the color of sunset. Hopefully, this will stay with him forever. Images and actions can often do more to speak for conservation than words can, so I’m hoping that this stands as a reminder that “for the enjoyment of future generations” requires that we continue to lay groundwork to meet that. –Kings Canyon National Park, California

Flickering Light: Near one of the snow depth survey spots (current snow levels were zero) the trees grow as shrubs due to the harsh winters and low nutrient soil. This vertical cloud shape was unusual and gave the look of a candle. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Coupled: This wide stream was flowing strongly out of the lake above matched up well with the twin peaks lit by sunset. –Hoover Wilderness, California

A Tale of Two Falls: Two streams follow slightly different paths off of a rock, and are met with vastly different outcomes. –Hoover Wilderness, California

To the Spine of the Sierra: The nice thing about the Sierra Nevada is its seemingly inexhaustible supply of mountain peaks. One stately looking peak can lead your eye to another set of dynamic peaks. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Pointing the Way Home: The first wilderness hike of the season gave a sunrise with clouds telling the story for me as fifty mile per hour winds and a thunderstorm moved in that evening. –John Muir Wilderness, California

A Place in the Universe: Kings Canyon National Park has some of the most beautiful scenery within the Sierra and seeing it lit up by a setting crescent moon is an experience that makes lugging 15 pounds of camera equipment worth it. –Kings Canyon National Park, California

From the High Ground: The passes of the Sierra differ in many ways, but Paternoster lakes are typical for the glacial history of the region. As the glaciers moved out and melted, they often leave behind basins that were filled with snow melt, and the lakes end up connected through a series of outlets. –John Muir Wilderness, California

Alpine Outlet: King’s Crown (alternative name ledge stonecrop) overlooks an outlet from one alpine lake to another in King’s Canyon. Somehow both names are on the nose. –Kings Canyon National Park, California

Botanical Antenna: I have nicknamed this tree the tortoise for its bare branches on one side give way to a full backside of foliage. Bristlecones also seem to embody the moral of the Tortoise and the Hare with their slow growth allowing them to outlive every other individual organism. –Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, California

Longing for the Limelight: Let’s return to the lone tree theme. Here’s a local oak in the Santa Cruz Mountain foothills leafing out for spring, and getting a touch of the last light of sunset. The rolling green hills are so pleasant right now, and looking at them is extra nice for all the time spent indoors. –Arastradero Preserve, California

Few Footholds: Clouds Rest is hit by last light year round much like El Capitan gets first light year round. An impressive array of trees on the top of Washington Column get the best view of the show in one of the few comfortable places to stand in this image.–Yosemite National Park, California

Looking Down on Creation: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we didn’t have to join the irresponsibly crowded beaches to have a good view of the ocean! There had been interesting weather all day with hail and storm clouds, and after a quick drive up, we were greeted with crepuscular rays and a few stray hikers (who were easy to stay at least six feet away from). Spring looks like it’s here with all the green. –Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, California

Poise: Saplings in snowy areas have rough childhoods. This cedar was knocked sideways, but it will right itself and grow upwards thanks to auxins– hormones that cause plants to grow against gravity and towards light. In the meantime, however, it will pose like a dancer. –Yosemite National Park, California

Desert Snow Line: The desert doesn’t see much snow, but when it does, it’s all the more beautiful. It doesn’t look like much from here, but it was at least a foot at 11,000 feet, and the bristlecone pines at the top will get their annual water supply when it melts. Centuries of erosion from the snow melt carrying sediment produce the alluvial fan seen in the foothills. –Death Valley National Park, California

Alone with My Shadow: Lone trees fit with the COVID-19 pandemic. This one had caught my eye a few months before this image was taken, and the shadow separation from sunset light was right this time. This tree’s lifeline can be seen by the lichen that follows the path of water down the granite. –Yosemite National Park, California

Alone in the Canyon: The repeating hoodoos of Bryce Canyon encapsulate its iconic look, but all parks have smaller stories to tell. The erosion off this slope gives a characteristic pattern that I’ve seen in many places, and this pine tree carved out its place in the world. Erosion will eventually expose its roots and wash it away, but not before dropping its own seeds deeper into the canyon. –Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Dressed for Winter: Snow hasn’t stuck to Yosemite Valley much this winter, but when it did, it still evoked some kind of strange hybrid of cycling excitement and peace. These seem to be feelings at odds with one another, but it’s similar to when a sunset seems to be shuttering and opens back up with renewed vigor. Anyone know the feeling? –Yosemite National Park, California

Fire Barrel: The Valley of Fire isn’t far from Las Vegas, but the energy is vastly different between the two locales. Vegas strips me of energy rapidly, but I could spend days wandering with interest in the Valley of Fire. The red sandstone is incredibly vibrant and the Leconte barrel cactus subspecies has a much larger circumference than the California variety. –Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Weathering Wall: The last time we went to Bryce Canyon, it was eleven years ago and raining with high winds. This trip gave pretty spectacular lenticular clouds off of the nearby Wasatch Range, and dry cold weather. Earth’s Shadow crept across these clouds as the sky above kept the warm colors of sunset. Seeing evidence of progressive weathering of the orange-pink rock has me wanting to take some geology courses, though I’ll just enjoy the show for now. –Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Sculpted by Storms: Finding solitude in nature can sometimes be difficult when limited by weekday responsibilities, but this slot canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante had few people going through it. I suppose the location discouraged others since most of the travel was creeping sideways while hand-carrying a backpack and tripod behind me. We didn’t make it very far through since pausing to set up and take an image was time consuming. Imagining the water weathering this section of sandstone just a little bit more than neighboring sections to form the nascent slot canyon and picturing the progress over the the centuries brings my mind’s eye peace. –Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

Mourning a Friend: A trip down to a slot canyon following Fiftymile Mountain covered in snow, a small patch of iron rich sandstone, and some tough bunch grasses a sense of the place. This cracked bed apparently got enough water for one of the plants, but not the others. Or they are bunch grasses with hardy roots beneath the surface. –Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

Cold Shoulder: The moon has captivated our species for so long that it’s difficult to conceptualize an Earth without its partner. Though it is unlikely to ever leave Earth’s orbit, it will continue to drift farther and farther from us. The future inhabitants of Earth will still pay the moon attention as it slips away, but on this day Half Dome looks as though it is ignoring the moon. –Yosemite National Park, California

The Blues of a Spent Day: Fresh snow on the Yosemite Valley floor on a three day weekend is always enough to summon me. I felt revitalized despite lack of sleep, and the blue light with mist around Ahwahnee Meadow was a reward to end the day. It’s easy for me to spend a lazy day indoors, doing nothing of noted value, and being filled with regret at the end of the day. However, a day spent in nature is never accompanied with that nagging feeling that I could have done more. –Yosemite National Park, California

Open Choices, Indicated Path: Some recent rain and snow summoned me to Death Valley. The mud cracks keep calling to me, and this new rivulet (it wasn’t there in November) made a nice leading line and some smoother cracks around it. The desert offers so much to choose from in every direction, but there’s usually a clear path if you know what to look for. It might not take you where you’d like, but you can always change course. –Death Valley National Park, California

The Value of Weeping: Our first trip down this slot canyon found rich textures and this section had water weeping out of the sandstone. As the sun was close to setting a shaft of light hit the stream of water –Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

Rising Salt: A flooded Badwater Basin is always a treat, but it coincided with a setting waning crescent moon that lit the mountains. –Death Valley National Park, California

Lunar Bryce: The alien looking hoodoos of Bryce Canyon have an extra charm by moonlight. The storm clouds were moving in and out of blocking the light of the moon, and this was a brief opening in the clouds. –Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Beneath the Mirror: Reflection opportunities in Death Valley aren’t too common, so exploration of the temporary state of Badwater was rewarding. As the water evaporates, the salt crusts will rise and make their characteristic polygon shapes. I got to share this space with a nice Spanish man who had been driving around California and the southwest. He said this sunset was the most spectacular thing he got to see.–Death Valley National Park, 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

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

With Teeth: With quite a number of small storm systems, Yosemite has remained wet, and icicles abound in the park for those willing to look. The problem is finding a pleasing arrangement that fits. The vivid green of the moss combined with this even spacing at an angle hit the sweet spot for me.–Yosemite National Park, California

Pebble Imprint:One of the advantages of returning to locations over and over again is urging my eye out of a rut. I’ve been to this spot that I could describe large swaths of it from memory. However, the small details can peak out more, and the reflection of this conifer reflected in the Merced River and the focus on the rocks beneath water give this classic look a different texture. –Yosemite National Park, California

The Messenger God:The Transit of Mercury coincided with sunrise on November 11, and some local valley oaks. It wasn’t visible to us without the aid of a long telephoto lens, but it was satisfying to see three distinct distances from in one direction: the trees, Mercury, and the sun. —Ed R Levin County 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

Incandescent Filaments: As animals we tend to discount the relatively slow reactions of plants to their environment, but here we see phototropism (growth towards light) on full display. These aspen wasted no time in trying to reach the canopy to obtain more light, and have grown spindly trunks as a result. The fall colors contrast with their pine competitors who have the momentary energy advantage of holding onto their leaves year round.–Inyo National Forest, California

Baked: We spent a few days devoted to mud cracks in Death Valley, focusing on the washes below the Amargosa Range. Winter storms leave rivulets that form interesting patterns and deposit all kinds of objects, both natural and man-made. Though it isn’t the hottest place on earth in November, evidence of all that summertime baking abounds. —Death Valley National Park, California

One Way Through: A colorful sunset and gossamer strand clouds require imagination, but the human brain is capable of finding meaning. This small hole in the clouds glowed blue in contrast to the strong orange light cast by the setting sun. —Baylands Nature Preserve, California

Light Agitation: A light breeze and some reflected light is all it takes for ripples to emerge. —Baylands Nature Preserve, California

Winter Solstice Mask: It’s been awhile since the sun has been out in full force. We’re at a solar minimum, the winter solstice, and it has been cloudy for quite awhile in the Bay Area. This is the result of a cloudy sunrise, a solar filter, a supertelephoto lens, and the bright spot behind altocumulus clouds. It’s good to know that the sun is still there. —Mountain View, California

Backcountry Seasoning: Wild onions have such a delightful pink spray in their flowers, and if you enjoy onions, the smell is heavenly. –Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, California

Revolutionary Thinking: The mountains named of two of the most important thinkers in Biology sit below a gathering storm in the high Sierra. Mount Mendel stands high on the right and Mount Darwin at the left. Though they did not correspond, Mendel’s “factors” (now called genes) showed how advantageous traits can be passed on. –Inyo National Forest, California