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Entries about desert

On Healthy Deserts and Blue Water Animals

Whale Shows, Dolphins in Blue, Healthy Deserts and Lost Landscapes

sunny 81 °F

I apologize. I started this week with grand intentions of writing a well thought out piece about travel writing. I forgot how grueling working the night shift could be. It turns out, staying up all night turns my mind to mush. My creative endeavors died without a whimper.

Whale Show
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That being said, I have had a jaw-dropping week, even by my standards. I saw four different kinds of whales. This includes the giant sperm whales, orca and pilot whales. Get this, there were orca attacking a pod of sperm whales, trying to get at the newborn calf. The sperm whales were getting defensive forming a circle around the calf and batting at the orca with their flukes. There was a gigantic male taking charge of the pod. His enormous white head was scarred from a life full of battles. The orca had met their match.
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I watched a large pod of short finned pilot whales for over three hours. I should have been sleeping, but it was too good of a show. I even saw them breach for the first time. As we cruised along side of them, they passed right by another pod of sperm whales. There was another giant male logging on the surface. As I stood on the fantail of our ship, I passed not more than thirty feet away from it. It was awesome!
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Dolphins in Sapphires
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One morning we came upon a pod of dolphins. I decided to head up to the lido deck to watch them from up above. Judging from experience, I figured that the glassy seas and morning light would make for good underwater dolphin photos. I was not disappointed. These are among my favorite dolphin pictures I have. I will never forget how beautiful it is to watch dolphins glide just beneath the surface of the water.
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A Healthy Desert
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I went for a walk among the boojum trees. Boojums are endemic to a very small region near Bahia de Los Angeles on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. They look like an upside down hairy white carrot. I love this desert. It’s very healthy, full of blooming cacti, birds, bees and vibrant desert fauna.
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I sat in a narrow band of shade of a skinny cardon. It felt good to sit in the dirt. I could only hear the soft rustle of wind through the desert. I let my mind relax. Ahhh.

The only thought that came to mind was that I should continue to visit the desert in March and April. It feels really good to me be here. I don’t know if it’s the sun, warmth or desert itself, but I need to work this into my overall plan for healthy living.

Hiking Isla Danzante
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There will come a day when I will be able to spend more than just three hours on Isla Danzante. There are just too many adventures waiting to happen. I want to walk around the island along the shore. I want to see the views from every high point. I want to anchor my sailboat in honeymoon cove. I will listen to the breeze and watch the stars.
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It’s going to have to wait.
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Ah well. I had a great morning hike on Isla Danzante. I walked around the north side of the island along the shore. I saw all kinds of sea stuff. I like calling the animals and plants of tide pools “sea stuff.” The ocean is so diverse and interesting, it’s hard for me to identify and understand what is going on in just one small section of shoreline.

Fortunately, my new adventure buddy knows a lot more than I do and she tells me all about it on our walks.

Walking Through Heaven
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I took an early ride to the rocky shores of Isla Santa Catalina. I was exhausted from working all night, but I wanted to hike to a distant beach to try to find a certain kind of seashell I was convinced could be found there.
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I never found the shells. Instead, I found a gorgeous desert landscape bathed in changing light. I don’t know if I was hypersensitive to the conditions due to my weariness, but I felt like I was walking through heaven.
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I love this scene. I can't decide which one I like better. Let me know which one you prefer.
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Thank you for putting up with this sad excuse for an entry. I promise I will get more sleep, which hopefully will lead to better stories.

Cheers!

Posted by Rhombus 17:28 Archived in Mexico Tagged desert cactus mexico whales oceans dolphins photography Comments (0)

Vagabond Interrupted: A Spectacular Week in Baja

Swimming in Bioluminescence, Painting with Light, a Vagabond Interrupted, Whales, Dolphins, and a Day Off

sunny 85 °F

I promised myself that I would jump in the ocean and drink a beer after work. By the time my shift ended, it was dark out. This didn’t deter me in the least. When I stepped ashore, I stopped briefly to say hello to some friends of mine near the bonfire, before slipping away to fulfill that promise.

I walked a couple hundred yards away from the landing area to a secluded sand beach where I couldn’t see or hear the ship. I set my pack down, and turned to look up the stars. Orion, Taurus, the Milky Way, and a hundred others twinkled above. I grinned. I turned to the water and padded over the cool sand to its edge. I dabbled my toe in an inch of water. It felt delicious. I entered the water, making sure to shuffle my feet along the sandy bottom in order to warn any rays or puffer fish of my arrival. When it was waist deep, I dropped to my knees, gasping from the chill of the water. I felt my body relax, my grin widen, and I started giggling. This was what I was dreaming about all day.

When I swished my hands through the water, tiny glowing orbs swirled in my wake. The bioluminescence glowed like fireflies on a late July evening. I am totally immersed in the grandeur of the desert seascape. At that point, I just let go. I figured the sea would take care of me. The gentle swells pull me in and out. I thought to myself, “I am riding the breath of the ocean, if not the breath of the world.”

I’m not sure I’ve had a better swim in my life.

Back on the beach, I cracked my beer. I took that first sip and looked up at the stars again. I had an idea. I grabbed my camera and tripod and set up a basic composition at the mouth of an arroyo. I tried a few exposures before I dialed in my ISO, my shutter speed, and aperture. Then I started experimenting with “painting” the rock with my flashlight.
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I like the results.
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My friend wandered down the beach to see what I was doing. I set down my camera, and we sat in the sand talking of constellations, whales, dolphins, birds, and Mexico. A single shooting star streaked by. After awhile, I grew chilly as I stopped taking pictures. I gathered my gear and we walked back to the bonfire.
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We grabbed a drink and settled around the fire. Who doesn’t love a bonfire on a beautiful beach with friends? Alberto played flamenco songs on his guitar. A large waning moon rose over the ocean, gradually rising high enough to light the eerie sandstone formations of the desert.

I can’t think of a better way to cap off a great evening.

Vagabond Interrupted
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I’ve had an amazing week. It’s been hard for me to write this entry on the count that I keep being interrupted by all of the awesomeness happening around me. For instance, this morning there were fin whales right off of our bow. Fin whales might be my favorite whale species, but that can change depending on if I ever see a narwhal or not. As it is, the fin whales were less then forty feet away. They had relatively short dive intervals going down for about three minutes before coming back up for air. I watched them for an hour. I even caught a quick glimpse of a fluke. Fin whales rarely show their flukes.

This episode led to more downloading and editing of photos for this entry. When I was in the middle of editing, the call came over the radio that there were mobula rays skimming the surface of the water off the bow. Once again, I set down my computer and tromped off to the bow.
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I’ve never seen mobula rays up close before and was soon lost in the moment. The mobula rays could be the most graceful animal I‘ve ever seen in the water. They glide with elegant strokes from their wings, the tips breaking the surface of the water by a few inches.
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I ran off to wake my friend who was taking a nap. It’s common among crew members to make “wake up” promises if something awesome is happening near the ship. The mobula rays definitely triggered the wake up clause. Experiences like this are better shared than not, and I was glad to rouse everyone out of their naps.
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When I got back on deck, the rays glided along our port side, less then twenty feet away. I decided to get my camera… Ah jeez. See? Even as I write this, there are dolphins leaping just outside of my window. Well, I gotta go. I’ll be back.

From Sunrise to Sunset
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It’s difficult to explain to people what a typical day is like working on a ship here in Baja. If you were to read my journal, or look at my pictures, one might think I spend all day relaxing on a beach, watching whales, or taking photos of dolphins.

What you don’t know is that I work twelve hours a day-everyday. This gives me the chance to experience the wonderful wildlife and play on the gorgeous desert islands. Generally, I keep myself very busy with the boat operations and up keep. But when there is good wildlife, I set down my angle grinder and pick up my camera. When I’m off shift, I take off my uniform and head to the beach.
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Each day has been remarkable enough to deserve its own chapter. But, I’m not writing a book. It’s difficult to make time to write when there is so much to experience just outside that door.

The pictures that follow are this week’s featured bouquet. My days have been awesome from sunrise to sunset.

Sunrise Over Mexico
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Bow Riding Dolphins
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Land’s End
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Dolphins in Flight
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Humpback Whales near The Gorda Banks
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These humpback whales breached dozens off times in a three-hour period. The food was plentiful. They would rise half way out of the water and fall atop the bait ball with a tremendous splash. Then they would eat the stunned baitfish.
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Fin Whales
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What you are looking at here is a fin whale just beneath the surface of the water. You can see a thin white line just below and right of the spout. This is the right side of the mouth of the fin whale. The left side doesn’t have this coloration.

Magic Water
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Sunset Over the Pacific
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I often wonder about my path in life. Sometimes it feels as though I look for greater meaning and miss the point completely. I don’t think I’ve made that mistake this week.
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Cheers! To the good life…

Posted by Rhombus 01:53 Archived in Mexico Tagged desert wildlife hiking whales oceans dolphins climbing rays photogaphy Comments (3)

A Quiet Week in Baja

A Meeting of Desert, Ocean, and Vagabond

sunny 79 °F

I’m sitting on a table on our bridge deck (our highest deck). My legs dangle in the breeze. I lean back and look up to the rising moon. I have a cold beer in my left hand and my Ipod with select cuts in my right. I’m rocking out to a big moon, and a beautiful Mexican seascape. I’ve got it pretty damn good.

I’m thinking about what I want to write about this week, but I can’t come up with anything. It doesn’t matter. I take a sip of beer and smile. This week is good. I’m doing good. And sometimes, there just isn’t anything to say.

Bonanza Bay Slack-Line Session
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It took me three tries to find the right set up for this line. It was hard to find the right combination of distance, boulders and height to make this line happen. It’s hard to wrap a line around a boulder and make it hold. A taut line on boulders tends to slip no matter how hard I pull the tension. Using a couple of different knots, I finally got the line to hold.

This was the highest line I’ve ever walked. I know it doesn’t look very high, but the landing was sketchy. Should I fall, a small bed of boulders would break my fall. It took me a couple of tries to get comfortable on the line, but I overcame my fears and relaxed. I told myself it’s no different than a low line, it was just higher. For some reason, this line of logic worked, and I walked it.
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The best part of this session was soaking in the cool crystalline waters of the Sea of Cortez afterward.

Orange Whispers
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I love dawn. There’s something proper to sipping a good cup of coffee and watching the sun rise over the waking world.

The Magic of Isla Magdalena
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Isla Magdalena never fails to impress me with its diverse beauty. I’ve written extensively in the past about the finer features of Isla Magdalena. It never fails to provide me with a sense of peace, a sense of place, and a sense of time.

My buddy Paul and I walk across the wind swept dunes to the Pacific side. A fine layer of sand blows over the dunes as thin as smoke. We lose ourselves in conversation, the dunes and our destiny.
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On the Pacific side, I drop my accessories and run off into the ocean. I run until the waves trip me and I fall forward into the water. I love this beach. I love this ocean. I love this place. I time the waves and jump with them hoping for that magical feeling of flying. It’s elusive, but I finally catch the perfect wave. I accelerate as the wave curls and breaks. It seems I‘m better at flying in water than I am in the air.
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I leave fully satisfied and refreshed. To swim in the Pacific is good for the soul.

Sea Lion in Death
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A dead sea lion lay on the sand. Paul and I walk around it, inspecting it. It smells like death. It’s interesting and puts life into perspective. Everything here is temporary, so what the hell is all the fuss about? I don’t know. Neither does Paul.
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Isla Magdalena is home to the dead. The bones of countless animals, and perhaps men, litter the island. I can’t think of a more beautiful place to lie still.

Undocumented Moments
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This week I experienced several moments I can only tell you about. I’ve kept camera mostly tucked away this week. I didn’t want any distractions. I kept my senses wide open, receptive to it all. I was not disappointed.

I saw three blue whales this week. One of which brought its fluke into the sky as it dove away into the wild blue. I was inches away from several gray whales this week. When they breathed, I was blasted in the face with their breath. Some whales expel their breath at over 100 miles and hour. I breathed the same air a whale expelled. That has to be some kind of good karma, right? I watched streaking dolphins glide through black water. They are ghostly, lit by bioluminescence.

My favorite part of the week was realizing I love my job. I’m a mariner, and I work on the sea. Sometimes the sea gets lumpy and hard to work on. Every move I made was difficult. I was at the mercy of the water and the wind.

I worked with my mates and we got the job done, despite the challenging conditions. We ate a late dinner in the relative peace of the crew lounge enjoying the camaraderie of a good days work done well.
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To work here, you need a sense of timing, physical coordination, and knowledge of the sea. It’s an ancient craft, and I’m happy to say it is mine.

Posted by Rhombus 22:51 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches night desert mexico whales sunrise time photography moons slacklining Comments (0)

A Week on the Sea of Cortez

Beach Combing on Isla Montserrat, How Puffer Fish Thwarted Death, The End of My Day, San Juanico

I made my first island landfall on south side of Isla Montserrat. It felt good to be one of the two humans standing on the large desert island in the balmy winter waters of the Sea of Cortez. I had never been to this particular beach on Montserrat, having made several landings on the north side of the island last year. See Time Management and the Modern Explorer
[http://rhombus.travellerspoint.com/70/].

I jumped off the zodiac into knee-deep water and walked ashore letting my senses make the initial investigation. I was tired having worked all night from 7 pm to 7 am, but I find when I get tired, I am more in tune with the details of life. That is a good thing. The beach subsisted of hard packed compressed sand with lots of ancient seashells mixed in the particles. It created shelves of hard earth that I stepped onto like humongous stairs as I walked along the jutting shoreline I had no real intentions of walking far, I was tired, but happy to be ashore.
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We walked northwest along the beach amidst the harsh protests of the gulls. I believe they had some eggs hidden amongst the rocks, and seeing their distress, I chose to give them a wide berth walking across the gravel desert plain covered in familiar desert plants. It was kind of like meeting acquaintances from your past, “Hey, I remember you, Mr. Sour Pitaya. And there is a Chain Link Cholla.“ I zigzagged my way around the desert garden, assuming the wandering path of a snake to lead me through.
What I Found On The Beach
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Climbing down a rock shelf I found myself once again on the shore and surrounded by the white skeletons of sun dried lobster. I wonder why so many lobsters die here? The beach offered no clues, but the lobsters themselves, and they were not talking. I wandered back to my friend and looked at what she had found. She showed me quite a few vertebrae, shells, casings, invertebrate homes and the like. It was quite a feast for the eyes. It wasn’t long before I became totally absorbed into digging around the bone bits and fragments of shells that made up the top layer of beach. It was a fine way to spend a couple of hours of the morning.
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How Puffer Fish Thwarted Death
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I found a medium sized Puffer Fish fighting for its life, caught on the edge of sand that separates water from land. It was beached, and a fish on land just does not do very well for itself-- compared to a fish in water. I decided to document its struggles, rooting for the little guy to make his escape, and snub Death for another day. I pondered how came to be in such dire straits: I think it lost track of the receding tide, and one big wave pushed it onto the beach. The tide still in the early stages of flooding taking some time before more waves could reach the fish.

This puffer fish was lucky. It hung in there, conserving energy and making the best of it, waiting for a wave to reach it.

The fish was gulping for air, and to be honest, its odds didn’t look that good. It looked happy, but that was just the shape of its mouth, and not necessarily its disposition. After a few minutes of dry gulps, a single wave came far enough ashore to submerse the head of Puffer Fish, allowing for a few breaths at first, and then as a few more waves reached it, a few kicks of the tail (but still to no avail).
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As the tide began to rise, more and more waves made it far enough ashore to reach the puffer fish, allowing for a few important breaths. I began to root aloud, and my friend looked at me quizzically, but said nothing, as she has been around me long enough to accept my eccentricities. Finally, a strong wave washed up and sucked the puffer fish back into the intertidal zone where it makes its home.

The End of the Day

I love the six o’clock hour. For one thing, it marks the end of my day and I can usually ease through the last hour of my workday with ease, having completed all of my chores and projects by that time. It also marks the start of the day for everyone else, and I enjoy the feeling of winding down while others are winding up. I’ve always enjoyed being a nonconformist.

I love watching the sunrise. It begins subtle, a slight lightening of the sky to the southeast. Clouds, islands become more distinct from the dark of night. The stars wink out, one by one, fading into the beautiful dark blue of high atmospheres (from my vantage). As the sun nears the horizon, it trumpets its arrival with an intensifying shade of gold appearing around the breaking point. Often this heralding also highlights the clouds far above the scene adding to the dynamics. The air is fresh and flowing. It immerses me with coolness before the coming of the heat of the day. It is kind of like wading slowly into 70-degree water. It is neither too hot nor cold, but refreshing all the same. It is comfortable to be in a tee shirt in the balmy weather of the region.

Finally, the sun breaks the surface, and for a few minutes, the encompassing golden glow holds all of us on deck entranced in its beauty.
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I just realized it is only day two…

Morning Recess At Punta San Juanico

I was dragging ass all night. I was tired, weary, but functioning, and definitely not ambitious. The dawn came as it usually does, and I regained some energy catching a fourth wind. Then seven o’clock rolled around, and I checked out for the day. The sunlight had once again revived me from my nightly occupations; that of cleaning, fixing, and patrolling the ship I work on and call home.

I arranged a ride to shore with our bosun and soon I was once again standing on a sandy beach with my good lady in tow. It was good to be back at San Juanico, Last year I went for a long ridge walk high above the bay to a secluded little cove. I didn’t have the energy for that this year, and I wanted to explore some of the beaches on the north side of the bay.

We walked into the desert wanting to traverse around a high rock bluff which would’ve required us to rock climb, scramble and most likely fall down the other side. The desert was quiet. Deserts have a sublime silence to them, which I appreciate. I tried to be very quiet, and added no sound except that of our footsteps.

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As we made it around the bluff, we found a small river banked in bright green bushes. What a contrast to the drab colors of the surrounding landscape. We disturbed the cormorants, herons, and ibis that were hanging out there, and they flew off with their warning squawks.
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We passed into the bright sunshine once again, and I stripped off my tee shirt to feel the warmth of the sun that much better. I wanted to find a tide pool or at least a Sally Lightfoot, and so I hiked up onto a rocky point. Just beyond the rock shelf was another sandy beach perhaps a hundred yards long and arced beautifully to another jutting triangular point of rock. The beach was bordered by the large rock bluff that I had just walked around. The scene was inviting, and I knew I would soon be underwater.
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I stripped down to my knickers, stepped out of my sandals and tested the water. It was perfect, not a trace of warmth to be found, and I commenced to sing my “frozen balls” song as I waded up to my knees, then my waist, and belly. I love wading into cold water, I really do. It’s very refreshing, and to do it slowly takes all the shock out of it, prolongs your suffering which in turn builds character. For some reason, I always hold my arms out of the water as long as possible. I’m beginning to think my armpits are actually calling the shots, and not my brain. Looking at the scene from there perspective, this seems logical. Anyway, I gave in and dunked myself under the clear, aquamarine tinged, salty tasting seawater.
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Having no towel, I sun dried myself, and caught the next zodiac back to the ship. I ate a dinner of bacon and eggs, crepes, sausage and orange juice, took a long hot shower, and settled into my bunk for another “night” of slumber.

Good Night!

Posted by Rhombus 07:40 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches fish desert ocean rocks Comments (2)

Landscapes and Seascapes of Baja Mexico

Spatial Experiences By Land and Sea

sunny 80 °F

There is a timeless quality to the landscapes of the southern Baja Peninsula. I feel as though if I visited these same vistas five hundred years ago to compare, nothing would have changed. They are timeless. The peninsula is perhaps one of world’s greatest interactive natural history museums.

These are peaceful views of incredible magnificence. They have grandeur.

From Land

Punta Friars on the East Cape
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I’m sitting high up on a rock far above the coastline and watching the quiet movements of the earth cycle and flow. The swells are deceptive. They are a lot bigger than they look from the sea. They roll in and stretch over the beach in a thinning white carpet of foam. The distant coastal mountains arc back, and form “points” out to the sea. The sun has warmed everything, the rocks, the earth, the sand, and me. There is always a wind here, and I’ve grown accustomed to its enveloping embrace around me. It’s like getting a soft hug from a swirling warm ghost all day long. The sun also provides the light, which make this whole gambit possible.

I don’t know it yet, but In a few minutes, I’ll be sprinting over two hundred yards of boulders to assist in helping a kayaker who flipped over in the big swell get back to shore. But I don’t know that yet, and so for these last few minutes, I’m at peace. It is kind of funny how life is; you just never know what’s going to happen next. One second I’m completely at ease, and the next I’m completely in motion in body and mind. Let this be a lesson to you Chuck: Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean.

Boojum Trees and Skylight
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I love bright, diffused light through thin clouds.

To Hike Punta Juanico
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It was an unexpected stop at an unknown location. It looked cool. When I say cool, it means it was gorgeous, and better yet, I could get on the beach and explore. I was ahead of the curve by two hours--I was alone and had a plan. I started south, hiking up the first trail I’ve used here in Baja. There just aren’t many trails down here. Hiking on a trail again was kind of a novelty, after four months of making my own. Stepping easy, and making good progress (I was designed for walking up steep hills), I was soon atop the first overlook and blown away by the view. I stopped to smell the roses, so to speak.
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The thin trail continued to stretch further south over and up a much higher ridge, and I was happy to oblige my sense of wonder and excitement as I climbed higher to an ever improving view.

At the apex of height, the trail descended to a perfect secluded beach. I had visions of meeting my one true love at the bottom, or at least some alluring senorita, but alas, it wasn’t to be. One day….
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I did find a beautiful cardon cactus standing tall at the edge of the beach. It had five stalks rising high like the fingers of a skinny hand. I liked its position in life. Not too close to the sea, but close enough for an excellent view.

Dry Wash

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I purposely angled to the shady side of the arroyo in hopes of finding highlighted cactus scenes. Instead I found myself on the cusp of shadow and light, perfect for black and white. This common scene of a dry wash gets much more interesting in low angled light.

Last Hike on Danzante

The climb was sketchy at best. Loose chunks of crumbling rock and gravel pieces lay on a steep hillside of scratchy desert brush and small cactus. To fall, meant pain. I was climbing my way up to the top of a high bluff that would overlook the entire north side of Isla Danzante. This would mark my last hike on this island for awhile, and I wanted to make it a good one. On my first hike on this island way back in December, I hiked up to a high point, that I could see not to far away. This would make bookends so to speak, with all kinds of memories in between.

With deliberate steps I made it up, and took in the view. It was satisfying, over looking the rugged landscape of rock bluffs, islands, the mountain ridges of the Sierra de la Giganta, and the sea. A single clump of cardon was placed perfectly, and I knew that was the picture I would take home with me. I took one photo, took in the view, and said farewell.
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From Sea

The Layered Ridges
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I love the layered shades of the coastal mountains and rocks. These landscapes are begging to be drawn; I want to sketch them out in shaded charcoal on my sketchpad. For now, a photograph will have to do.

Dolphins and Mountain Light
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Baja a remarkable experience because of the ocean wildlife melds so nicely with desert scenery and mountains. This photo has several names that come to mind: “Bottom’s Up”. “A Dolphin Mountain Gallery” or “Dolphins at Dawn.”


In looking at these photos, I wondered what goes into a good landscape? I decided one of the more important elements is space. With a strong subject and artfully arranged, they become appealing to the senses. That’s really all I am, an observer who arranges his own artwork to take home.

I hope you find time to get outside and see what it looks like beyond that next ridge.

Posted by Rhombus 10:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscapes beaches desert rocks seascapes oceans photography Comments (0)

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