A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about deserts

Project: One Good Photograph A Day

Attempting to capture one good photo, Ocean Scenes, Island Scenes, Desert Scenes, and Dolphins

sunny 73 °F

I like to think I take one good photograph a day. Now, I realize this idea is purely subjective. When I say this, I realize that not everyone would agree with me on what a good photograph would consist of, or agree on my choice of “good” photographs. However, I am the only judge in this competition of self-satisfaction, and so I only have to please myself to place in this contest.

That being said, I offer you my subjects for the past week. I do not take photographs everyday, some days I am either too busy, or nothing of interest caught my eye. On other days, it seems like I take up my camera at dawn and set it down after sunset. This week, there were only two days that I didn’t take out my camera, and so offer other satisfying pictures I captured to balance out my week.

These photos are of various subjects on the Sea of Cortez, east of the peninsula of Baja California Sur.

LONG BILLED DOWITCHER
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I was strolling along the boardwalk near the beach one early morning after work. The human-like early birds of La Paz were all out, walking, jogging, biking or sitting. La Paz is a friendly city, and I nodded to a lot of people, offering a sincere, “Buen Dias” and receiving the same with a smile in return. The sidewalk neared the edge of the sea, and I noticed this Long Billed Dowitcher foraging for its morning meal. I stopped at a bench, took out my camera, and took this photo of the bird.

ON THE CUSP OF SHADOW AND LIGHT
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I had spent the afternoon perched on a bluff high above the emerald green waters of San Juanico. It was an amazing place to hang out. Turkey vultures soared by riding the wind currents not more than 35 feet away from me (probably an exaggeration). I was exposed to the elements, and therefore in my element. Upon descending (also known as skidding recklessly down) the trail, I was making my way back along the beach to the land when this scene appealed to me. I have always loved shadows, especially when I can position myself on the very edge of dark and light. In this zone, the light moves very quickly, but I find these scenes to be quite alluring compared to full on shadow or full on light.

ORGAN PIPE CACTUS ON THE NORTH RIDGE OF DANZANTE
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I went for a hike on Isla Danzante (Island of the Dancer). This is a great name for an island. The Spanish supposedly name it when they found the island. There was a clutch of native folk rejoicing in their way-- dancing up a storm. I was performing my own dance on this beautiful island. I had climbed my way to the highest point on the north end of the island. It was a scramble up a steep loose gravel trail. It was mildly taxing, but not that long. I had climbed to this point last year, and when I reached the top, I decided I wanted more.

Looking southward, I saw another high point that I had never climbed, and it sparked my interest. To get there, I was going to traverse the north ridge of Danzante. This was no easy task. The entire ridge looked to be made of crumbling rock along a narrow knife-edge. I pondered my moves, and held firm to my one spot of good footing. I decided that I would only take one step to see how it was. If I didn’t like it, I could take one step back, and call it a day. So I took that step, and it held true. It turns out, the worst looking part of the traverse held the best footing. I would have never known, if I hadn’t tried. Halfway across the ridge, and finally on better ground, I found this attractive clump of organ pipe cactus. It was an easy composition, and I decided upon a sepia exposure, as there just wasn’t much color to the scene. When there is not much color in a scene, why try to make a color image?

FIRST LIGHT ON PUERTO LOS GATOS
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To me, the Sierra de la Giganta, are among the prettiest mountain ranges in North America. Their dramatic backdrop has improved many of my photographs, and I’m longing for the day when I can spend an entire month roaming along their rugged peaks and deep arroyos.

We were on approach to our morning anchorage just as the sun came up. I had time to take these photographs of the beautiful morning glow that reflected off the sandstone to a gentle orange blush.

ANIMALS IN FLIGHT
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I am lucky. I’ve been blessed with very good photographic timing, and I offer this shot as my proof. I had never taken a successful picture of a magnificent frigate bird before this shot. We were watching a feeding frenzy take place on the surface of the ocean just off the rocky point of Los Gatos. This frigate bird flew by fairly close to where I was standing, and I panned my camera along with it in flight shooting the whole way. I didn’t know the common dolphin was airborne as well, until I looked at the photo on my computer. When I saw it, I laughed aloud. How lucky can a guy get?

This is my favorite picture of the week.

FEEDING FRENZY
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As I mentioned, we were watching a full-blown feeding frenzy take place not more than a hundred yards away from the boat. There were common dolphins driving the bait to the surface, and the sea birds were getting in on the action. It was interesting watching the various techniques used by the birds, the large brown pelicans would fly above the mass and dive missile like into the ball breaking through the surface with their large beaks. The frigate birds don’t like to get wet, and would streak in, hovering briefly to snap up a fish with it’s beak before snapping its wing and gliding away. The frigate bird looks to be the inspiration to the skydiver’s spandex wing suit. It has a forked tail, and narrow, yet very maneuverable black wings. The gulls would simple land, and swim nipping at the bits left by the others before squawking and moving on.

It was awesome to watch this kind of behavior first hand, and not on a nature documentary.

SUNRISE OVER ISLA SAN JOSE
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Looking at the pre-dawn sky, I knew the sunrise had potential to be a good one. It isn’t often that there is a nice layer of scattered clouds over the eastern horizon on the Sea of Cortez. As the sun climbed closer to the horizon, the most brilliant oranges I have seen in some time began to erupt over the island. I finished my duties as quickly as I could in order to have time to grab my camera and document this amazing display. The last zodiac full of guests was heading directly into the fiery sky, and it was an easy leading line into the scene. I shot my fill, and then went up to the highest point on the ship to drink this scene into my memory.

CARDON CACTUS OVER ENSENADA GRANDE
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Having worked a full day, all I wanted to do was go to the beach and go for a swim. This seems like and easy enough task to accomplish, but in reality, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. During the full moon, the tides on the Sea of Cortez pull a little higher than normal, and the shallow bay of Ensenada Grande is victim to them. I could not get a ride to the shore, I had to get out and shuffle my feet a hundred yards or so to get to the beach. From there, I took off my life jacket, and proceeded to walk another hundred yards along the shore back out into the bay to find water deep enough to sit down in. It felt good, and I sat there with my body immersed up to my neck in beautifully clear green water. Satisfied, I stepped out of the water and air dried. Who needs a towel in the desert? Not me. As I was about to make my way back to the populated beach, I noticed a cardon cactus with some character perched high above me. I thought about it, and figured with the right angle, I could make a compelling scene of the cactus and the bay. So I went rock climbing. How did going for a swim get so complicated? Anyway, I love spontaneous decisions, and my hunch was well rewarded.

I couldn't resist one more.

DOLPHINS TAKE FLIGHT
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Cheers to a great week down in Mexico!

Posted by Rhombus 13:14 Archived in Mexico Tagged birds islands wildlife hiking mexico deserts sunrise oceans dolphins photography Comments (1)

To Baja By Hammock

An Evening Spent in a Hammock, Sensing Baja, Our Passage South

sunny 63 °F

We have reached the Cape (Land’s End near Cabo San Lucas) and the tropics. The air is humid, the air temperature is comfortable and warm. I’m back in my desert paradise. It hasn’t really set in, I suppose. I think it will when I see a pod of dolphins leaping through the air, or when I hike around the giant boulders of Bonanza Beach, and most definitely, when I swim for the first time. Where I come from, swimming in December is a death sentence. Down here, it’s like dipping yourself into the fountain of youth: so rejuvenating.

I rose out of bed at about 3 p.m. I went up stairs, fixed myself a breakfast of honey on toast, apple juice, and a double shot Americano. I brought it up to the bow, and sat down on one of our line lockers to eat. As I enjoyed the crunchiness of my toast, I realized a post breakfast in the hammock would be just the thing to start this day off right.
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I set it up on the bow, stringing the slap straps between our anchor box rails and portside bow rail. Then I grabbed a pillow, two books, a journal, and my camera. I wrote in my journal (in fact, everything you are reading is excerpted from my journal), and read from Yutang’s “The Importance of Living.” I wish I had brought my hammock last year, but now I am a year older and a year wiser. I’m still living a good life.
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It is glorious. I’m rocking easy with the swells, comfortable in my nylon nest. The sun is setting, beginning its last hour of sunlight in the sky. The distant mountains of the Sierra de la Giganta are layer in the humid mists of the tropics. The sky is serene. Light cirrus clouds wisp southeasterly. The distant thrum of the engines is constant, and my white noise is occasionally broken by the non-distinct words of passing crew. The best noise is that of the wake off our hull. It’s a soothing chuffing rhythm, a rolling breaking wave followed by a moment of quiet before another crash of water sliced over on top of itself. The air is a mixture of ocean saltiness and cool humid air. Finally, though I am not eating, I realize that this tastes a lot like paradise. I’m glad to be back.
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Our passage south was uneventful. We had one day of sloppy seas, the ocean had become quite confused with ocean swells and wind blown surface chop coming from two different directions. We rocked side to side for most of the day, making it very difficult to work or sleep. I enjoyed it. I love being at sea, and I accept what the ocean offers with a calm appreciation. You cannot fight the ocean, you just have to accept it and go with the flow. The ocean is a great metaphor for life.

I’ve been working nights once again, and I enjoyed seeing the beauty of the night. This week, the thinnest sliver of a waning moon would rise just before sunrise. Looking at it through binoculars is still one of my favorite views of the moon.

In working this shift, I would watch the sunrise break over the ocean scape, eat a good dinner of bacon and eggs with orange juice and go to bed by 8 a.m. Often I would sleep until sunset, stepping out my cabin to a glorious arrangement of colorful sun, sea and cloud.
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So begins my next Baja adventure. “Ah, Is this not happiness?”

Posted by Rhombus 18:35 Archived in Mexico Tagged boats deserts sunsets oceans baja hammocks Comments (0)

The Best of a Mexican March: Part 1

A Vagabond's Last Takes On A Winter in Mexico.

sunny 79 °F

With only just over a week left here in Mexico, I feel a bit overwhelmed thinking about all the writing and photography I’d like to share about this remarkable peninsula. The problem lies in the fact that I want to get out and play, savoring my last week before starting the long ten-day voyage back to the United States and Alaska. Once again, I’ll solve this problem by offering a photographic journey through some of the desert and ocean scenes that I’ve enjoyed so much.

Sperm Whales
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Sperm Whales were on my list of whales I really wanted to see while down here in Mexico. I had visions of Melville’s classic ‘white whale,’ and I wanted to see one for myself. Sperm whales have a very different shape than the other whales I’ve seen, and their spout is distinguishable from others as it comes out diagonally from their blowhole

I witnessed three separate pods, and a huge solo male. Sperm whales are very social; the females tend to stay together with calves and it almost as though they are synchronized swimming. They would rest on the surface in between dives, and it was during this time when I could get a really good look at them. When at last they had rested enough, they would take a final breath, and begin the long slow process of diving. First, the head would go down, and like a cracking whip, the rest of the body would follow. I could see the dorsal bend and submerge which would lift the huge flukes of the whale’s tail to a near vertical position. Seeing the humungous fluke lift out of the water is amazing. It is among my favorite views of the whale, any whale. It’s as though they are waving goodbye before disappearing into the depths for several minutes.
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Animal Prints
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The desert is full of nocturnal animals. They come out at night to eat, drink, and be merry--avoiding the harsh light and heat of the day. I was lucky enough to get out at first light, and spent the golden hours of the morning admiring the simple beauty and design of animal prints on the sand dunes.
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Two Sunrises
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I told Clay our Chief Engineer that the sky would light on fire this morning. He was skeptical, and impatiently called me out when at first the clouds remained unlit by the rising sun. I told him to be patient and wait, that it would happen. Ten minutes later, the sky smoldered and caught, briefly highlighting the large gray clouds in sunrise orange over the ocean and Isla San Francisco. Sunrise orange is hard to describe, it’s not pink, orange, or gold but some amazing mixture of them all.
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It was a cold, windy morning on Magdalena Bay. It was brisk. I watched a panga of anglers slowly work their lines in the choppy seas. I thought about the life of an angler here in Mexico; the long hours, the hard work, for not very much money. Two things stuck in my mind. One was that I was more or less living the same life, working all night on a boat to watch the beauty of the rising sun and cloud. The other thought I had, was that to work outside for a living is a good life. To immerse oneself in the golden glow of a sunrise for its entire duration is better than the best corner office with a good view in the world. Money is worthless in comparison to a life lived well.

Desert Plants and Landscapes
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What do you think of when you think of a desert? Perhaps you think of a flat, bare, plain, rocky, desolate with the odd scrounging a living here and there. The desert of Baja is a lush desert full of desert plant life. It’s varieties of plants, cactus, shrubs and flowers is quite impressive for how little water falls here.
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Boojum Trees
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We took a field trip in buses to a Boojum Tree forest. The Boojum tree is a funky looking tree, with a white trunk and hundreds of think twig like branches extending about a foot from the trunk. It grows tall; maybe thirty to forty feet high twisted and bent high into the desert sky. It looks like a tall inverted white carrot.
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The desert where these trees are located was superb. It was full of a wide variety of flowering plants and cactus. I loved the silence of the desert solitude. The only sound was that of the occasional bird, or the buzzing of giant bumblebees, and the cursing of your absent-minded author as he accidentally thrust his foot into an extremely sharp ball of needles that punctured deeply into his foot. This marked the first time I had received a puncture from a cactus spine in four and a half months of sandal wearing wandering. I was due, and didn’t let it slow me down.
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Snorkeling at Isla San Marcos
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The island of San Marcos is a geological gem, and an amazing setting to don your snorkel gear and see what’s going on below the surface of the water. The shoreline was a jagged rock wonderland of arches, sea caves, overhangs, spires and coves. The water was cool and refreshing, and as I made that first lunge into the darkness of the sea cave, I gave a little yelp as the water reached my sensitive areas. I don’t dive with a wet suit, as the water temperature here is about the same as Lake Superior in mid July.
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I swam deeper into the dark water, heading underneath a giant arch and to the greenish glow of sunlit water some distance away. It was very cool to swim through the darkness of that cave, and to emerge into the bright sunny water beyond. I saw at least ten varieties of fish swimming lazily through the coral covered giant rocks and boulders. The water was warmer in the sunlight, but occasionally a cold current would swirl over me, mixing warm and cold water over my body leaving my skin tingling in delight.

This was among the best snorkeling I’ve done here in Mexico, and I hope to return one more time before I leave.

Dolphins

Dolphins are good for the soul.
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Desert Insects and Animals
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The desert is full of life. The best advice I can offer is to walk slowly, take your time, and look at each rock and plant before you move much. Often these insects, birds, and animals are lazily sunning themselves in the heat of the day.
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So Ends Part One. There's more to come this week, so stay tuned!
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Posted by Rhombus 11:06 Archived in Mexico Tagged cactus plants whales deserts oceans insects dolphins photography dunes Comments (0)

On Deserted Beaches

Utah By The Sea: Punta Colorado and Boca la Soledad: The Gem of Magdalena

sunny 70 °F

Utah By The Sea
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I was leaning on a rail on the stern of the ship looking at our destination with mix of excitement and fatigue. I had been up for 17 hours, having worked the night shift, and I was tired. My eyes felt like they had been sand burned on the backside of them and squeezed in a vice. However, I was looking at one of the more compelling landscapes I had seen here on the Baja Peninsula, and I was catching my 4th wind of the night. My day was definitely looking up.
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When seven o’clock hit, I gave my partner a high five, signaling the end of my day, and I headed directly to my room to get ready for my adventure. I was ready to go in seconds, donning my quick dry tan shorts (which are see through when you get them wet, thanks, morons) an adventure shirt and my day pack. I went back upstairs and our boatswain (bo’sun) was ready to give me a ride to the beach, an hour earlier than anybody else.

This is one advantage of being a deckhand for this company: if you plan ahead and have your things together, you can find yourself all alone on a beautiful desert island taking in the early warm sunlight glinting off of the water. And that’s where I found myself on this morning.

I was dropped off a mile away from the ship, around a huge rock ampitheater and past several jutting rock fingers, and on a beautiful soft sand beach. As the zodiac motored away in the distance, I took stock of my surroundings. I had options, I could hang out by the beach and scramble around on the ledges and boulders as I made my way to my pick up location. Or I could hike up into the high country, following an arroyo far up into the mountains. I chose the former, because this beach was too irresistible. The sandstone rock ledges that jutted into the sea were too intriguing to pass up. I wanted to dive in from the rock. I love diving, though not from any height. I love the all or nothing feel of it. To fly, even briefly in a perfect arrow into cool refreshing clear water is a pastime I hope I never tire of. There is a moment in mid-flight when I wonder what the water temperature will be. It’s far too late to change course, and my destiny has already been sealed, but I like the fact I think of these things after it’s too late to change my momentum.

Punta Colorado is located on the northeast corner of Isla San Jose in the Sea of Cortez just off the east coast of Baja California Sur. It reminds me a lot of southeast Utah, where the red sandstone cliffs form cool rock statues and walls. The only difference is, Punta Colorado has an ocean at the base of its gorgeous cliffs.
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It was hot. I shed my shirt, and hiked around in shorts, sandals and sun hat. I climbed down to a secluded sand beach and rolled around in the cool, rolling surf. I let the swell throw me around, rolling on my back and stomach right next to shore. It was so refreshing. I continued along, climbing on a rock shelf tip and took in the scene. The mountains dropped down to the sea. Rocky fingers led my eye to distant islands, and the sea was aqua-marine (of course) and crystal clear. I watched schools of fish swim around the submerged rocks. I drank some water, smiled, and looked for a suitable diving spot.
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I set up my camera on my tripod, and tried timing some jumps. After seven tries, I still didn’t time out a perfect mid air dive, but I had fun trying. I finally gave up and just swam around. The day was glorious, and I seized it with all I had left.
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The Final Footprints on Isla Magdalena

The ship was anchored near the Boca la Soledad at the extreme northern tip of the south island that makes up Isla Magdalena. Isla Magdalena is actually two separate long and skinny barrier islands that protect Magdalena Bay. A narrow and turbulent body of water separates the two islands and this entrance is called the Boca la Soledad. There are strong currents here where water from the bay flows out, and meets the rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean.

As usual, I was the first person to step ashore, and I was alone. I love being alone on deserted desert islands. It’s one of my goals to have dessert on a deserted desert island. Would that mean I would have been desserted on a deserted desert Island? Only Dr. Seuss could say. I digress. Sorry.

It was a cold day. The wind had been blowing hard for three days straight, and it reminded me of fall. If I was still in the states, I would’ve considered the weather almost summer like, but I was used to the summery weather of winter in Baja, and not ready to be cold yet.

I walked north along the shore into a grove of dead mangrove stumps. The bent and twisted trunks were bleached white with the constant sun and were sand blasted by the wind and sand. I switched to black and white and set down to capture some appealing scenes. This mangrove graveyard was very cool, the warped stumps and branches worked well with the patterned clouds in the sky.
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I crawled through the mangroves and back to the beach. It was covered in a wide variety of appealing shells. The surf kept rolling high up on shore as a very thin carpet of sea water tumbling the thin shells around before letting them lie once again. I’m turning into a shell fanatic. I love looking for interesting designs and colors that I haven’t seen before, and I think they are quite beautiful. I enjoyed picking up some of the shiny pearled ones with intricate designs on them. I’m a bit like a raven, I suppose. “Oooh! Something shiny!”

The hard packed sand near the water was ruffled and patterned from the retreating surf. It was like the ocean was making a sand painting, blending black and brown in an elegant display of natural art.

The sky added its own design to the scene. It was beautiful azure blue, and a wide set of small puffy popcorn ball clouds floated along directly overhead. The contrast was magnificent, especially combined with the dynamic sand painting in front of me.
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The strong currents of the sea caused the breaking waves to curl ashore in a power display of water. I watched a little blue heron look for its lunch in the shallow surf. It’s long twig like legs look like they might snap at any minute, but it held its own as the water surged around it. A flock of sanderlings ran out in the retreating surf to eat, and before the next wave would arrive, they would sprint back toward shore. They never were caught by the water, and I was impressed by their speed.

That was where I spent my afternoon, simply amazed at this magnificent landscape before me. I have a good sense of my landscapes, and some of them “speak “ to me more than others. I find myself hyper-sensitive to the subtleties of the scene, and I am truly living in the moment.
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I set my camera down and sat down in the sand to take it all in. I breathed deeply, taking in all I could of the fresh ocean air. I knew I was making my last footprints on Isla Magdalena, and I knew I had made good ones. I didn’t plan it, but I had inadvertently saved the best for last. The Boca la Soledad is an amazing place. It was textural, sensual, and beautiful, and I will take it with me, stored in my memories, my journal, and my photographs.

Posted by Rhombus 16:18 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches birds diving hiking deserts oceans sand photography philosophy mangroves Comments (0)

To Kiss a Whale

Coyote Encounter, Humpback Whale Aerial Show, Kissing a Gray Whale

sunny 75 °F

Coyote

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The parallel sand lines were crisp and perfect. They led off into the distance as far as the eye could see over the never ending the sea of dunes. These lines were unblemished, except by that of the paw prints of roving coyotes. To be fair, my own yeti like footprints marred the surface of the dunes as well. I try to walk a path of little impact- trying not to wreck the more beautiful sand art pieces nature has patiently etched into the sand with unceasing wind.
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I was admiring the dunes and the delicate sand features found upon them, when I noticed high up on the rise of a dune a coyote scanning the horizon. I saw it before it saw me, and the wind was blowing my scent away from it. I crouched down, and swung my camera out, and started shooting. As luck would have it, it didn’t run away. Instead, it seemed curious and comfortable with the distance between us.
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I crouched behind the dune I was on, and keeping hidden from view, I circled around and higher up on the dune I was on. Then I popped up slowly, more not to startle it, and found a better composition than my quick attempts. It still hadn’t really moved, and had sat down, obviously enjoying my amateur “sneaking” attempts, and taking notes to tell his buddies later. It wasn’t long before it became bored with me, and moved on, trotting west into the lumpy bumps of sand that separate the dunes from the western beach of Isla Magdalena.
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Later that night I heard the long lonely howls of several coyotes coming from the dunes, and I smiled.

Humpback Whale Aerial Show

My friend Kathy, who is the BIGGEST fan of whales you’ve ever seen or heard about, started pounding on my door one morning as we were sailing south towards the tip of the peninsula. “Whales, Thom! They are breeching, and fin slapping the water right outside of the boat! Come on, come on, come on, I want you to seeeeeeee.” She said, while hopping around my room shaking me. Kathy tends to get excited when there are whales around. As the whales get more animated, so does Kathy, and it is hilarious.

One afternoon, the entire crew was sitting down eating lunch in the dining room when Kathy detonated a sonic boom of a scream. When we recovered from the initial concussion of the blast, we looked to see her pointing out the window as she bolted out of the room to the fantail of the ship. All of us thought she cut off her finger, witnessed a horrible tragedy, or saw one of the Beatles, but when she came back, she sheepishly informed us that she say a baby whale breeching. Then she started laughing hysterically about her amazing scream, and when Kathy laughs hard, you can’t help but laugh right along with her. The whole room was laughing, and it was a great moment. Long live Kathy Miller and whales.
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When I came upstairs and saw the mother and calf humpbacks pectoral slapping, and breeching, I grabbed my camera, and headed out on deck. The whales were only a couple of hundred feet off our portside, and to me it looked like they were playing a game of follow the leader. One would roll on its back, and begin slapping the water with their extremely long pectoral fins. Humpbacks have the longest pectoral fins of any of the whales, and they stretch out to near 20 feet in length for an adult. After mom would roll, the calf would roll, and do the same thing. Then the calf would dive down showing its characteristic tail fluke as it dove. Then mom would dive, and it would be a few seconds before they both launched themselves skyward breaking the surface of the water and into the air in an amazing display of power.
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The calf was completely airborne. To see a whale launch itself like a surface to air missile is awesome. Emphasis on AWE. To see the size of the splash when they land into the water makes me feel like my half ass “cannonballs” into a pool seem pathetic.
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The whales didn’t do this just once; we spent the better part of an hour watching them play. It was a terrific way to start the day. I shot over 80 pictures, most of them I deemed exceedingly crappy, but I did get collect a few gems. If you missed the shot today, you might as well have set down your camera for good. It was that easy to get a fantastic shot.

Kissing a Gray Whale

My friend Ame woke me after only 5 hours of sleep, informing my clouded mind that I should get up and come on a whale watching tour. I mumbled something about door locks, and said thanks. She let me be. I immediately went into the time honored bargaining session I hold with myself every time I have to wake up earlier than I want to. “They’re probably not any whales out today anyway, and you are dead tired. Wouldn’t you just rather sleep here in this comfortable bed? You can go next time. It’s probably cold out, and man, you sure are comfortable.” I happily talked myself out of going. As I shut my eyes and was about to walk into dream land again, there was another knock on the door.

I decided against my better judgment to open it. My buddy Paul was there, telling me there was a whale tour leaving in a few minutes. I asked him how many minutes I had, and he said just a few. I told him I was going, and jumped out of bed, put in my contacts, put on my comfortable jeans over my shorts, grabbed my toque (my warm winter hat), and was out the door in about 2 minutes. I’m not sure why I changed my mind, but I think I decided that if my friends are going to put this much effort into getting me to go, that I better go. I have good friends, and I’m damn glad I chose to go.

As we rode south in the bright overcast of a passing cloud bank, I wondered if I made the right decision. I decided to make the best of it, and breathed in the fresh ocean air, and looked out at the peaceful watery scenes all around me. It really was gorgeous out, and I began to enjoy the ride.

We followed a mother and calf pair around for awhile, and since they were on the move, we passed them by. Grays on the move are cool, but we were in search of a pair that wanted to play. We motored towards a pair that looked like they were just hanging out, and when we got close and slowed way down, they indeed came over to check us out.

The mom stayed near the surface and out of reach, keeping a maternal eye on the calf that was having a ball rolling off the side of her, and coming to play with us. It bumped our zodiac’s bow, moving it around like a bow thruster. Then it popped up along side, and after our clients had a chance to touch it, I took my turn.

My first touch of a Gray whale was an opportunistic passing touch that wasn’t fulfilling at all. It left me vaguely disappointed. After all, I didn’t make the connection with the whale. It didn’t really know I was there, and it felt like I stole the touch. But technically, I touched a whale. That thought made me smile, and I got more excited by my chances. I hunkered down on the side of the pontoon, and began splashing at the passing whales, and sure enough the calf came right up the boat, and popped its head out near enough to make a solid touch, and I petted its eggplant like body as it cruised by.

That was really cool. The scene was beautiful. I saw the mother’s humongous eye just underneath the surface of the water as it came up to breathe. It was a huge whale, an adult gray grows to a length just over 50 feet, and has a mass of over 35 Tons. To see one up close is awesome. Everyone onboard our zodiacs were very happy, and moved by the experience. There were many smiles, and a feeling of peace fell over all of us.

I was already satisfied with touching one. I am very easy going, and make no demands of what I can’t control. Some days the ocean will provide you with its bounty, and some days it won’t. The nearby zodiacs were leaving, and I made sign language with Ame who was onboard that one. We both had made the connection and we were both smiling. Her boat motored off, and everyone on my boat was watching the mom on the far side of the boat. Just then, the calf popped up right next to me, spy hopping high out of the water. I didn’t even think, I just reacted, bowing my head maybe 8 inches and I kissed that whale right on its head. It was a good kiss. I didn’t French kiss it, like my friend Taylor did, and it wasn’t a peck on the cheek, it was not too long, and not too short, in a word: perfect. It was like kissing a salty eggplant. My friend Ame saw it all and screamed, “Thom Kissed a Whale” to which she received some confused looks on her boat. She told me that immediately after I kissed it, I raised my arm in triumph, like I had just kissed the prettiest girl in the world. I don’t remember that, but I don’t doubt it. Whenever I kiss pretty girls, I like to celebrate a little, who doesn’t?

The most charming moment was when we had to return to the ship. The whales started swimming after us, trying to get us to stop and play for while longer. I don’t think it was mere coincidence, I think these whales wanted to stay with us. It was cute, and a friendly gesture. It was really hard to want to leave them, after such a moving experience.

I was surprised at how moved I was by the experience. I still smile at the thought of it. To touch and to actually kiss a whale is one of the highlights of my life. It seems like I say that a lot these days, but it’s true. The Baja Peninsula has a lot of magical qualities to it, and to experience these moments has made my life a little better with each one.

Posted by Rhombus 15:07 Archived in Mexico Tagged whales deserts oceans sealife photography dunes coyotes humpbacks Comments (2)

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