Happy Halloween. Look out for the grotesque Zombie hand clawing its way out of the grave through the mist. It’s a Halloween nightmare. This past week was a bit of a nightmare for me. As the Bomb Cyclone, also called the Atmospheric River, descended on Sacramento bringing record rainfall in a 24 hour period, the multi-trunked Live Oak in my front yard split in half and crashed into the street, blocking it completely. I heard about it in a text from my next door neighbor while I was far away in Alaska. Thanks to my friends Jesse and Lyle, the tree was quickly cleared from the roadway and most of the branches hauled away. When I returned home yesterday, I was shocked to see the devastating results of the storm. Four major trunks of the tree, the entire front half, broke off at root level. Several feet of branches remain protruding from the ground in a grotesque gesture. This is a photograph of those trunks, rendered on the Nikon Z6II using the Graphite picture control with a bit of mist added. When I took the photograph, I knew immediately that the grotesque hand would make the perfect Halloween blog post.
Finding moose to photograph last week in Alaska was difficult so on a couple of occasions we watched cargo planes taking off and landing from Ted Stevens International Airport. The beauty of this is that the runway parallels the road, there is only a cyclone fence that separates the runway from the roadway and a convenient embankment across the road that allows for viewing the aircraft as they take off without the fence blocking the view. It was a very fun diversion from the frustration of not finding moose to photograph. This airport is a major air cargo hub, equidistant from major cities like New York and Tokyo so there were lots of opportunities to photograph lots if different cargo planes, including this one from FedEx. The stormy skies and the gorgeous mountains framed this FedEx cargo plane as it took off to deliver its packages.
We called him Mr. Buttons, the bull moose that had recently shed his antlers. We saw him briefly on Wednesday afternoon after several frustrating days with hardly a moose sighting and with no photographic opportunities for those few we did see at a distance. Finally, on Thursday afternoon at Kincaid Park, we found a couple of bull moose, a cow and a calf or two meandering along the road and into the aspen groves of the park near the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. It is amazing to me that such huge animals virtually disappear in an instant in the dense groves of trees making them very hard to spot, even if you have just watched them walk by and into the forest. In a flash, they can disappear and still be right under your nose. That was the case with Mr. Buttons. As he and a cow, a calf and at least one other bull passed through the grove of trees, we paralleled them from the road. Then, as they one by one disappeared into their forest camouflage, we walked along a trail and found them feeding a short distance away. One by one, they lay down despite our presence and even seemed sometimes to fall asleep. We spent a couple of cold hours watching Mr. Buttons. When the temperatures dipped, the snow began to fall, a kind of ball snow, and that began to accumulate on Mr. Button’s snout and haunches. I slowed the shutter speed so that the falling snow is blurred a bit and visible as short white streaks around his head. As he chewed his cud, his breath was sometimes visible in the cold air.
Wednesday was our coldest morning so far in Chugach State Park near Anchorage, Alaska. The temperature was about 19° when we hiked from the Glen Alps Trail Head up to the viewpoint over the valley looking for moose. The moose are proving elusive this trip. On Monday, we saw one cow and were told there was a bull in an area of the valley known as The Hump. On Tuesday we made the 6 mile round trip hike to the Hump but found no moose. We needed traction spikes on our boots and trekking poles to make the trip over the narrow, icy, snow-covered trails. On Wednesday, with more snow predicted, we did not to hike down to the Hump again. As the snow began to fall, low clouds engulfed the nearby mountains. It was a cold morning in Alaska.
Over the years, I have learned to love photographing Bighorn Sheep. I’ve photographed both Rocky Mountain and Desert Bighorn Sheep in several different states. One of the things I’ve learned from Moose on these many trips is how to do “the dance” which is choreographed in such a way that it creates trust and establishes a good relationship with the sheep. The dance is a success when the sheep accept your presence and ignore you so that you can photograph them without disturbing them. To do “the dance” you must first respect their space. Your steps in the dance include approaching slowly but not too close, keeping your feet low to the ground, keeping your eye on them the entire time so that you’re instantly aware if your actions are bothering them, keeping your voice at a whisper. In the 18th Century, dances like the Minuet began with elegant formal bows and curtsies. This Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ram looks as if he’s bowing to start the dance.
These Rocky Mountain Bighorn rams were inseparable. They seemed to move almost in unison. When one laid down, the others followed. When one moved, the others quickly caught up. Much of the time we were with them on Friday afternoon, they were munching on the grasses. They were often within just a few feet of one another but when all three lined up I had to capture that moment.
The leaves are barely visible but this young Rocky Mountain Bighorn lamb found the few remaining on the alder-leaf mountain mahogany on this hillside. The mountain mahogany is a western native that is considered deciduous to semi-evergreen and is eaten by deer and apparently Bighorn sheep as well. They keep this local delicacy pruned back and low growing on the rocky slopes it favors.
The elusive rams showed themselves on Friday afternoon. After spending hours this past week searching for the band of rams we encountered on our first morning at Red Canyon Lodge in Flaming Gorge, suddenly there they were, three rams walking down the road in front of our cabins. As soon as we saw them, we were out our doors and down the road following them, being careful to play the game of respect with the sheep so that they got used to our presence. In the end, we spent five hours with them, from noon when they suddenly appeared until 5 PM when they decided it was time to return to wherever it was in the canyon they bedded down for the night. The three rams munched grasses, flicked their tails and flailed their hooves at the relentless flies that plagued them, then they lay down and napped, rose again, stretched and repeated this pattern over and over for hours as they moved around the grounds of the lodge. They accepted the four of us as we photographed their activities but bolted when a couple of teens careening on noisy scooters decided to drive past us and the sheep. Two lodge employees quickly intervened and admonished them so the scooter riders were forced to curtail their shenanigans and idle slowly past us until they disappeared not to return. What a fun afternoon spent getting to know these rams. This is the oldest of the three with the biggest horns. He’s flicking his rear hoof at the flies that seemed to be their constant companions. It was such a treat to spend the afternoon with these magnificent critters.
Sheep’s Creek is certainly named right. We turned off Highway 44 and crossed Sheep’s Creek and there they were, heading straight for us down the middle of the road. It was a small band of ewes and their lambs. Moose pulled into a turnout and we watched as they left the road, climbed the hillside, and crossed the ridge top. We drove a short distance and got out to watch as they came off the ridge top and down the slope toward us, then grazed on the hillside directly above us. Some ventured down to the road toward us. The lambs were adorable like this little one curious about the creatures below taking his photograph.
Bighorn Sheep were reintroduced to the Uinta Mountains in the Flaming Gorge area of Utah starting in 1983. Bighorns have continued to be reintroduced here, with some transplants occurring as recently in 2014. We were fortunate to spot a small group of three young rams in the campground near the edge of the gorge on our first morning here. This curious ram stopped to check us out before catching up with his mates and disappearing from view. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, this area currently has between 150 and 200 Bighorn Sheep and they estimate the area can sustain a population of about 450 sheep. There are several small bands spread throughout this area. We’re hoping to see more during the week we’re here.
The place that offered us the most spectacular color and even doubled it for us was at Willey House on the Saco River in New Hampshire. When the resident mallards weren’t paddling to the shore for a handout from a passerby and when the wind was not rippling the water, it was calm enough to provide a clear second look at the reflected colors on the shoreline. I still can’t get over the range of colors we saw.
The morning mist was aglow in the hillsides off Crawford Notch Road in New Hampshire one morning. We didn’t have to go far to get this view. We pulled over to the side of the highway and turned around. In a few minutes the mist had dissipated and the mystery of that moment was gone.
The Ammanoosuc River is a picturesque little river that seems to be off the beaten path. We turned onto Jefferson Notch Road (there are lots of notches in New Hampshire) and basically took over the road. As I recall, only one or two vehicles passed by us and we were there a couple of hours. At the bridge we used long exposures to make the water silky and seem even lazier. The river seemed to fit Hoagy Carmichael’s lyrics to his classic “Up a Lazy River.”
New Hampshire is the Granite State, after all. Many of the hillsides in the White Mountains were ablaze in glorious fall colors but the color was interrupted by large swaths of native granite where trees cannot grow. The white and gray streaks of rock seemed to make the fall colors even more brilliant.
The scenic and winding Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire parallels the Swift River for much of its length. At the river’s Lower Falls, a few of the maples were sporting their fiery orange-red autumn finery on a green and yellow backdrop of evergreens and birch.
The Albany Covered Bridge was first constructed in 1858 over the Swift River in New Hampshire. It carries automobile traffic today and it has been restored and rebuilt. However, it was originally built to accommodate hay wagons and its size is a “load of hay high and a load of hay wide.” Covered bridges were built to help the bridge itself last longer by protecting the road bed from harsh winter weather. New Hampshire has 54 covered bridges, all protected by state law. It takes patience to photograph this and other covered bridges in New Hampshire. I waited until no one was in sight to take this image. It was sometimes a long wait between clicks as there was a contrast stream of visitors and vehicles entering and existing the bridge.
Simply looking up can give you an entirely new and unexpected perspective on a scene. Using a wide angle lens and pointing the camera straight up reveals a unique symmetry in the forest. The tree trunks all appear to tip inward to a central point where the canopies of each tree meet. The colors mingle. Close down the lens and a starburst from the sun adds a finishing touch.
The breeze was stiff so the colorful leaves at Willey House on the Saco River in New Hampshire were shimmering too much to get good photographs of the fall colors. We ventured into the woods. The ground was strewn with decaying bark and leaves which made the perfect base for Waxy Cap mushrooms to thrive. These tiny fungi (less than an inch in diameter) were the most colorful thing on the ground as most of the red and gold leaves were still attached to their branches. They reminded me of the mushrooms in the China Dance in the Walt Disney classic Fantasia. I kneeled down and placed my Nikon Z6II with the Nikkor MC105mm macro lens on the ground. in front of me. I needed a small stick to elevate the lens to the right position and thankfully, the monitor pulls out so I didn’t have to scrunch my body down to see through the viewfinder. I decided to try focus shift shooting which in this environment was new to me since I’d only tried it indoors with a tripod. I took 20 shots to combine into this final image, not enough to get every part of the mushrooms in focus but I like the end result and the colors are a lively contrast to the brown compost beneath. I expected to hear strains from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite at any moment and for the mushrooms to leap and spin. It was Fantasia in the forest.
We called her Charlotte when we found her busily constructing a huge web between the posts of Covered Bridge No. 51 in Jackson, New Hampshire. When I realized the background was the fall colors on the banks of the Ellis River, I knew I had to photograph her. I used my Nikkor Z70-200MM lens to capture the intricacies of her legs and of the web as she spun concentric strands that connected the radial lines of the delicate silk.
As its name suggests, the Silver Cascade is a waterfall that cascades down a granite slope. It is like a silver thread visible in the midst of the tapestry of glorious autumn shades of gold and red and orange and yellow and green in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. For all its striking beauty, you could miss it if you’re driving too fast. Unlike so many gorgeous places, this one is not a hidden gem. It is literally on the edge of Crawford Notch Road (US Route 302). If you’re not paying attention, you might not notice the cars parked on either side, or you might run down one of the visitors slowly ambling across the highway, or you might smash into the gawker in front of you slowing their vehicle to a crawl for a drive-by iPhone shot of the cascade. It is smart to pay attention when you’re in this neck of the woods, especially during the peak of fall color. It’s a sight you don’t want to miss.