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Entries about mexico

An Interesting Juncture

Quitting My Job, Mexican Pee Breaks, Flying Home, Starting the Next Epic Adventure

sunny 69 °F

I am at a very interesting juncture at my life right now. I’ve just quit my job, I’ve recently broken up with my girlfriend, and I’m setting off on another epic adventure with no far placed vision as to where it will lead or end. Lately, there have been moments in my day when I think about my situation, and start chuckling, or even break out in full on laughter. Life sure is interesting, and you just never know what twists the next path will hold.
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In the last three days, I’ve traveled from the Pacific cooled beauty of Magdalena Bay on the west coast of the Baja peninsula across the barren deserted peninsula by van to La Paz. From La Paz, I flew down to Mexico City, to connect to Chicago, and finally found myself knee deep in a cold winter snowy wonderland that is the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan in late January.
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I have been finishing my tenure as a deckhand on the good ship Sea Bird, and I have had no ambition to work at all, no interest in painting anything else, or improving the boat in any way. I was done, and waiting for January 28th to roll around which marks the beginning of the next path.

Since I really wasn’t working very hard, it gave me plenty of time to hang out with my friends on the boat, and I was lucky indeed to have a lot of familiar and friendly faces show up at some point during my last two months on the job. Having good friends around led me down the path of very little sleep trying to cram in as much desert exploration, and conversations that I could with my mates on the boat.

When I did sleep, it was out of necessity, and I often slipped away to unconsciousness wondering what is going to happen next.

Finally, the big day came when it was time to leave, I was up early to pack, and clean up my cabin. I went around to my friends remaining onboard the ship to wish them farewell. Then, without looking back, I began the first steps of the rest of my life, and my next adventure. My life and adventure often walk hand in hand, and, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The van ride across the desert was great. My good friend Amelia was driving, I was riding shotgun sipping cold Mexican beer, and digging the sights of new roads. It was quiet, and we enjoyed an amiable conversation as the hours passed. In the other van, was most of the crew I had been working with for the last year, and they were having a loud boisterous car ride punctuated with shots of tequila, and cheap beer. I was glad I was in Ame’s car, because I was too exhausted to put up with that rabble.

On two occasions, we stopped for a pee break. Now, Mexican roads are without rest areas. So if you have to go, you pull off on side of the road, find a cactus to your liking and let fly. There is no privacy, and the barren landscape offers little if any protection.

We all piled out, ten of us at a time, and had at it. You have never seen anything so funny in your life. There were ten half-drunk gringos, piling out of two pure white vehicles, giggling, laughing and yelling. Each of us chose a spot, some faced traffic and peed right in plain sight, and others ran off into the desert to pee on a cactus. One guy, inadvertently chose to pee on himself, a fact he was not aware of at the time (sorry folks, it wasn’t me).

Having been a lands surveyor for 8 years, I was used to peeing with little cover in public places, and I used one of the doors, and the rest of a vehicle to block the wind and passing cars.

It was great fun, and I highly recommend a Mexican pee break given the opportunity. We made it to La Paz, unscathed.

I had a quiet night in La Paz. I went out for a pizza with a friend, and since neither one of us knew much Spanish, we weren’t sure what we were going to end up with. I have to say, we did pretty well for ourselves. The pizza was delicious, and I have very high standard for my pizza. We returned to the hotel, and I passed out from exhaustion and carbohydrate overload.

I slept for about six hours. Then I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes, grabbed my bags and went down to the lobby to catch a cab to the airport. I was tired. I was a bit uneasy. I had never flown into the U.S. before from a foreign country, and flying to Mexico City. On the ship, Mexico City International Airport is deemed “The worst airport in the world.” I was told many varied tales of torture that the crew had experienced while traveling though Mexico City.

I trusted their advice, but knew that most of these people hadn’t flown through there in a few years. For my situation, the fastest way to get home was to go through there, and so I figured to try my luck in Mexico City.

When I landed, I stepped aboard a bus that shipped us to Terminal 2. From there I was on my own, and so I started making some educated guesses to find my way to Terminal 1. I know I looked like that guy who doesn’t know what was going on, but without having any idea of the layout of the place, I found my way to the elevated train which took me to terminal 1. Once there, I followed the signs to international flights, found American Airlines kiosk, and stepped through three sets of id checks and sat down to wait for my plane.

It was no big deal. Maybe I’m just lucky.

I landed in Michigan at 11:20 at night. It was 14 degrees (F) out. I was wearing jeans and my adventure shirt, shoes and my wool watch cap. I was cold, exhausted, and happy to see my brother. I was even happier to see my checked bag arrive. How can the airlines get my bag from La Paz to Michigan without any problems, but can’t seem to get it there from Ohio?

I settled in at my brother’s house and fell into a deep sleep. The adventure begins when I wake up. I’ll be off to Duluth, Mn, St. Paul, St. Michael, and then drive across country to northern Idaho…

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Onward!

Posted by Rhombus 20:28 Archived in Mexico Tagged travel mexico deserts life jobs philosophy drives Comments (1)

Project: One Good Photograph A Day

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

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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)

The Dusty Vagabond's 100th Entry Extravaganza

Some Thoughts My Blog, Thirty Pictures of Adventures Past

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This entry is somewhat special to me, as it marks one hundred small chapters I have had the pleasure of presenting to you. My blog has surprised me. I never expected it to be as fun as it is to write, or how many people I’ve been able to reach with my twisted, yet well-timed views of this universe.

When I started writing about my travels way back in November of 2009, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t know if my writing would be like so many of my other “projects” that I’ve been intensely interested in, only to let them fall by the wayside. I’ve had a variety of doomed projects such as: learning Hawaiian, Spanish, and German (I‘ve a short attention span). I‘ve also given up ice skating (for good) bottle collecting, volunteering, golf, ventriloquism, and geology among many others. However, at the time I really wanted to start writing again. I had been to some cool places, and I had plans of going to many more. I knew I was leading an interesting life and I wanted to share it with others. At the time, I didn’t quite know where I fit into the whole scheme, but in time, I knew I wanted to inspire people to go play outside and see the world for themselves. I also wanted to show off my photos, a gift that I’m quite happy in sharing with you.

I’ve always been a better photographer than a writer, so to those of you who simply enjoy or review the photos I thank you for your time. For those of you who waste perfectly good minutes of your day and actually delve into the text and struggle through my invincible wall of typographical and grammatical errors, you have my respect, both of you. I can only imagine the fun you have trying to understand my awkward metaphors. At times, I have to try hard to get what I want to say written correctly and sometimes words fail the imagery I’m trying to relate.

Here's what I find interesting. People from the US, Canada, Great Britain have visited my site the most often. People from Afghanistan, Estonia and Zimbabwe have spent the most time reading the entries. I’m quite surprised and delighted at who has read about my travels. It has truly stretched across the globe, and I’m excited that strangers from around the world can read what a rambler like me is doing with my life. The planet is smaller than ever thanks to electronics.

I’m going to look back at some of my old photos and entries to reminisce and think of my past excursions. This is a good self-analysis of my craft more than anything else. I will repost thirty of my favorite photographs from the last one hundred entries, and tell you a bit more about each one.

Above all, I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to listen to what I have to say. I have had a good run, and an author is useless without an audience. In particular, I’d like to thank the good people at Travellerspoint (www.travellerspoint.com) who’ve put together a fantastic travel website free of charge. They also have taken notice and featured my blog (five times), photos, and have answered my questions. They’ve opened some doors for my craft that otherwise probably would’ve remained closed, lost in large pile of other traveler’s stories.

For those of you who want to know more about Travellerspoint, it is a website designed by travelers for travelers. It has well over a quarter of a million members, and offers free blogging, mapping, and photography. They have a featured blogs, travel photos, a travel forum to discuss anything travel related, a travel guide written by members, and an accommodations page to help you plan your travels. It is a fantastic site, and one I’m damn glad to be a part of.

Thirty of my Favorite Places

Rain and Sun
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I was leaving the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic Nat‘l Park. It was February. The campground was freezing cold, deserted and lonesome. I grew restless. I was hopped up on the high-powered coffee that I had been drinking all afternoon. As I drove out, the heavy clouds broke apart briefly in front of the setting sun lighting up the road and the intense rain shower I was driving through. I stopped the van, and took this photo out of my driver side window. Sometimes you only have a split second to decide if you are going to go for the picture or not. My advice? Shoot first. Drive later.

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I love the City of Rocks. It was late afternoon, and I had just finished bouldering for the day. I was setting up some climbing shots when I experimented with my shadow on the rock. I stretched my lanky frame and tripped the shutter.

Diving into beautiful Lake Superior
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This photo had perfect timing. I took it on the first attempt, looking at my watch and guessing when I should be airborne. At the time, I was shooting film and didn’t know if I had the shot or not, so I took half a dozen takes. Luckily, my guess was right on.

Sunrise and Ice
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Excerpt from my journal:
“I started my day with a debate. ‘Should I go out and take in the sunrise, or not.’ It's not an easy discussion to have with yourself. I decided to set up a system of rewards; a.k.a hot coffee and a muffin upon my return. Outside: cold, snow crunching, slicing wind. Protected by 1970's big green jacket, I find the atmosphere awash with an intense orange quality that sparkles magnificently on the ice. Like a 10 minute wink, the eye of the sun opens briefly, then is gone. Satisfaction. I find my rewards, listen to Yo Yo Ma play some Bach (appropriate), and happily plunk myself in front of my cheery fire. Good morning.”

Bull Elk at Dawn
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I’ve always wanted a good elk shot. Up until this point, I had many pictures of the ass end of an elk, which was somewhat awkward to both the elk and myself. Finally, one magical winter dawn in Yellowstone Nat’l Park I was driving east from Mammoth to go Nordic skiing when I saw two elk on side of the road. I used my van as a blind and took this photo just as the sun crept over the side of the distant mountain.

Madison Valley and Rocky Mountains
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Montana is awesome. This is taken just off the highway near and is a fine example of Montana’s alluring wide-open spaces.

A Rainbow and Passing Storm
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I was staying at Bruneau Dunes State Park in Idaho when a very powerful storm rolled through. The intense storm packed a punch and the rain pounded the van. It was a fast moving squall however, and sunlight soon lit up the clouds that had passed by. I jumped out to take advantage of the beautiful lighting. I was busy taking pictures of the trunk of this tree and its shadow when a rainbow appeared. I took this photo, set up for another, and my battery died.

Crab in Death
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I was biking on the hard packed sand of Cape Lookout State Park in Oregon when I came upon this crab sprawled out in a good dramatic death pose. I put my lens very close to it, crouching down in the wet sand. I wanted to convey the crab as my subject, yet show the expansive beach and surf at low tide. I still like this photo.

Moss Coverage
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I worked hard to get the angle just right for this photo. There were a lot of distracting sticks poking out of the water that I wanted to eliminate. After ten minutes of fussing, I finally found it.

Sitka Landscapes
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I went for a bike ride out to Jablonski Island one evening in early May. I was heading out to John Brown’s Beach when the sun cracked with intensity through a small window in the cloud highlighting the fishing boats, town and Spruce in very warm color but leaving the mountains in heavy gloom.

Devil’s Club and Waterfall
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I really love the intensity of the green of the Devil Club, and surrounding brush compared to the whiteness of the waterfall. If you like green, go hike through the temperate rain forests of Southeast Alaska to see the wide varieties of Earth’s most common color.

Embracing Alaska
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This is still one of my favorite photos and the best example of what I am all about. I had hiked up to Beaver Lake near Sitka, Alaska with a friend of mine. We found the rowboat, bailed it out, plugged the holes as best we could and rowed out onto the lake. I spied this log sticking out of the water and inspiration struck. I had her row me over to it, so I could climb up on it and pose while I shouted to her how to compose the photo. What you don’t know is that my finger on my right hand is painfully numb and bleeding profusely as I had sandwiched it between the bow of our rowboat and the log before I climbed up.

Free Spirit in North Dakota
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I found this field of rapeseed (horrible name) near my campground at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. It made a beautiful backdrop, and it was easy to set up this self-portrait. I was thinking of how damn good it was to see the Great Plains in color for once, and how free I felt.

The Caboose
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This caboose sits silently near the small town of Poplar, Wisconsin. I passed it one afternoon as I was driving by and stopped and turned around. Too often in the past, I had blown by scenes that intrigued me. I often regretted it. Not this time, I stopped, left the van running, ran over into the clover and buttercups, got low and took the photo. Everything was perfect, and I haven’t seen this caboose in such conditions since.

Playing with shadow on an untouched beach
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It had been raining all day, and I had sat inside through all of it. Bored, I decided to go watch the sunset down on the beach. I was surprised when the low angled sun broke through the dark clouds and lit up the sand and forest. I set up a self-portrait and posed as to give myself a long, funky shadow.

Cloud clearing in Sitka
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I was trying to sneak up on some blue herons that were feeding in the estuary, near Sitka. I was bumbling around on the boardwalk as loud as I could, and the herons had all flown away by the time I “snuck” up on them. Disgusted with myself for not being quiet, I walked around to the front of the river when this scene unfurled in front of me. The clouds briefly cleared in front of the mountain peaks and the sun showed bright through the high clouds lighting up the meadow and river beautifully. No herons this time, but I captured one of my favorite Alaskan memories instead.

A Vibrant End to Autumn
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This was the only photo I took on this day. I was walking in my mom’s yard and these maple leaves struck me as being particularly vibrant. I started thinking about the last leaf of autumn, and a short story formed in my head about it.

Oak Leaf and Wave
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A quiet Zen moment of early winter.

Moonset
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I had been watching this full moon all night. I had just gotten off work, and I had a few minutes to grab my camera and compose this shot before the sun came up. It was a magical morning with moon on one side of us, and the sunrise on the other. I preferred this moon.

Cactus, Kayakers and the SeaBird
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I often compose the desert landscapes of Baja with the surrounding sea. I had just descended a high mountain peak on Isla Danzante when I noticed two kayakers about to cross the small cove. I saw my composition, setting up a leading line of cactus, kayakers, and the Seabird in the distance. I waited for them to separate a little and snapped the shutter.

An Arc of Dolphins
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I took hundreds of dolphin shots down in Baja, but none of them were as well timed as this one. For every hundred shots of the spray of where a dolphin had just been airborne, you might get one nice one. Luck was with me this day.

The Coyote
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This coyote passed within 4 feet of where I was standing on the ski trail in Yellowstone Nat’l park. I will never forget it.

Standing man statue
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I went for a bike ride in La Paz, Baja California Sur. As I headed back into the sun, this shadow and statue caught my eye. Luckily, I had the sidewalk to myself. I was in the right place at the right time, and took my opportunity.

White fences of Idaho
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While biking along “The Trail of the Coeur d’alene” I biked by these brilliant white fences and barns of a horse ranch. Since it was winter, and the world was drab, I turned to black and white to help contrast the scene, and let the fences be my leading line.

Water colors at dawn
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I love this kind of water. This is as brilliant and colorful as I’ve ever seen it. It was just before dawn in the Sea of Cortez, and the sky was fiery orange and pink with a wonderful sunrise.

The end of the earth
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Cabo San Lucas is home to a tip of land made of majestically carved rock called the end of the earth. Because the entire city of Cabo is a blown up little America, and the cape is beleaguered by tour boats and chaos, I was lucky to compose this shot without anything manmade appearing in it. I like this shot, because I was able enough to eliminate all the hubbub of the place and capture a quiet and compelling moment when the cape was quiet just before dark.

Strong-armed cactus landscape
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This Cardon Cactus was unique. It looked like to me, that a man was buried to his waste holding his hands straight up. I was wandering among the unique boojum trees found only in this part of Mexico when I stumbled upon this cactus.

Ame and Thom’s album cover
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We had gone for a stroll down by the Santa Cruz lighthouse and there were huge concrete forms used to protect the light called riprap. I had been playing around on them while Ame made a phone call. When she was done, I had her come and join me for a photo. She perched up high, and I sat low and the shot was perfect. Part of what makes travelling special is the people you meet along the way. I've met a lot of good people, I would never had met if I had stayed home.

Ice detail
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I’ll never forget this iceberg. It was the most uniquely colored berg I’ve ever seen, and I was mesmerized by blue. This berg wouldn’t look nearly so vibrant under a sunny sky, and fortunately we had a foggy drizzle to witness this masterpiece.

Islands in the mist
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The mists of southeast Alaska are amazing. When they begin to break up and dissipate, it creates beautiful land and seascapes where the mists mingle with mountain, islands, sea and sky.

Brown bear fishing
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I had been hoping to see a brown bear up close all year. In August, the salmon begin to run up the small streams of the islands and the bears come in for the feast. This bear was one of three who were fishing in Pavlov cove on the day we visited. I had just woken up, and the chief mate asked me if I wanted to go and look at the bears. I grabbed my camera hopped in a zodiac wearing shorts, light fleece and flip-flops. We rode up the small stream where we could see the bears. I hopped out of the zodiac and walked up the shore to the join the mob that watched these bears fish beneath the falls. I took this picture, caught my ride back to the boat and ate breakfast.

The Ohio and Erie Canal
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I love how grown in and swampy this picture looks. This was once a viable shipping canal running between Cleveland and Akron. It’s good to see nature reclaim its territory after man abandons their work.

The next one hundred entries begin once again in Alaska. I’ll be back aboard the NGS Seabird sailing south on a two week photo trip through Alaska and British Columbia. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a while, and so I here I go again.

“We were curious. Our curiosity was not limited, but was as wide and horizon less as that of Darwin, Agassiz or Linneaus or Pliny. We wanted to see everything our eyes would accommodate, to think what we could, and, out of our seeing and thinking, to build some kind of structure in modeled imitation of the observed reality.” The Log From the Seas of Cortez, by Steinbeck.

Posted by Rhombus 16:08 Archived in USA Tagged travel mexico usa canada photography philosophy blogging Comments (5)

Small Scenes That Give Greater Perspective

A Collection of Views of the Baja Peninsula, Photographic Anomales, Really

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Upon reviewing my pictures for the year so far, I discovered that I had several photos that I really liked, but remained unpublished due to their peculiar uniqueness. In other words, I have some photos I’d like to share, but they are random and without theme. I thought I would give them their own entry this week, because these photos, while narrow in scope, will help show the big picture of the Baja peninsula experience.

I rarely give myself a photographic assignment. I take pictures everyday, often stopping work just long enough to take a picture of a beautiful scene, and getting back to my job. Some of these photos, fit this entry, and others are just extra photos from the many hikes I’ve been on, that I couldn’t or wouldn’t show before.

Two paragraphs of explanation, when I could’ve simply said, “It’s a mixed bag of random scenes from Mexico.”

Without further ado, here they are.

Cardon in Late Evening Light
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The rugged mountain landscape of the Sierra De la Giganta from Puerto Los Gatos is among the most dramatic and beautiful that I’ve seen on the Baja Peninsula. I love this place, and I have stared at these mountains for hours, wondering what secrets they hold. If I could have one Baja wish, it would be to make the place a base camp, and go hiking here for a week.

Sandals
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Baja is the only desert I’ve been able to hike around in my sandals. True, I earned the bandage on my big toe by hiking in sandals, but it was worth it. It’s really nice to have your toes open to the open air; getting dusty, dirty, cut and scraped. The simplicity of a good sandal appeals to me, and I’m quite happy with mine.

Clouds
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These clouds remind me of summer, though it was winter when I took this picture. These are floaters, high above Magdalena Bay.

Self Portraits
I’m still shamelessly throwing myself into my landscapes.

Isla Magdalena
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My self-timer’s longest setting is ten seconds. In this picture, I hit the timer, jumped down a 20-foot sand dune, sprinted across a sandy plain, and up to the top of this dune. This was while I was counting down in my head down to zero. Often it takes several takes to get it just right, and in this case, I sprinted that same length three times, before I was exhausted, and “satisfied” with my first picture. After review, I am happy with this shot.

Made In the Shade.
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As I’ve said before, I can find a seat anywhere, and often times a shady spot to sit and relax as well. This beach was a challenge. There were mangroves, but they were near water, and nowhere near sand. Finally, I realized that I had to lower my standards, and lay down in the dirt instead of sitting in it. Perfect.

Summiting “The Nipple” at Bonanza Beach

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Climbing the nipple, a rock protuberance sticking high out of the ridge west of Bonanza beach was probably the best hike I’ve completed down here in Baja so far. The conditions were perfect, meaning, I had 4 hours to do the hike. I didn’t care about weather conditions, I just wanted to have enough time to enjoy and complete the hike.
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Every vertical step I took was on a bowling ball size boulder. It was a mountain made of boulders. I mostly hiked straight at the peak, until I hit the loose ledge rock. At that point, I veered to the right of the peak until I hit the summit ridge. The view from the ridge was amazing. A higher ridge rose far to the north, with a deep canyon dropping in front of it. Another high mountain was just taller than where I was. It led to a higher flattish peak, some distance away. To the west, my ridgeline led down to the sea, leading my eye to other high points and beaches I’ve been to.
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This was a magical place. Turkey vultures soared beneath me, curious to see who had come to sit on their throne. I spent the better part of a half hour drinking in the views, and clowning around in front of the camera.
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Magic Water
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Dawn. A fiery orange tinge to the sky in the southeast. Calm winds all night made for a glassy surface to the water. Our wake gave the glass a gentle bend, creating gorgeous coloring and designs. It was like watching psychedelic oil patterns on the surface of the sea. I find the water’s mesmerizing kaleidoscopic shimmering quality amazing, and beautiful.
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The South Ridge of Isla San Francisco
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I hiked the entire south ridge of Isla San Francisco in about 3 hours. It’s not a long ridge, but it’s height above half moon bay makes for some good views. There’s a trail that runs the length of it, and I had a ball running down the slopes and hiking up to the high points. I saw an osprey sitting atop a high cardon, perhaps its favorite perch. I watched it with my binoculars for ten minutes; it seemed content with my presence. It was quality time, in my mind.
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I found a rock cairn that had tumbled over, and I decided to rebuild it. It was in a good place, and the rocks were easy to stack. After that, I scrambled back down to the salt flats, back to where I started. I kept my distance from everyone and jumped in the water. It was cool and refreshing, and beautiful. The high salinity of the water here keeps one more buoyant. Either this is true, or it’s all in my head. I’m fine with it, and it felt good to soak in the ocean before I had to return to the boat, and get ready for work. Consider this day seized.

The End of the Earth.

In Steinbeck’s day, Cabo San Lucas was a sleepy, tired little village, with a “sad cantina, full of sad men, waiting for something to happen. They’ve been waiting for perhaps generations.” This is roughly quoted from “The Log From The Sea of Cortez.” My how things have changed. Now it’s a Disney land of tourism, you might call it “Little America,” or perhaps I’m a bit cynical. If you want a Mexican city, go to La Paz. What San Lucas does have going for it, is its physical beauty, if you can see past the condominiums. The arch at the southern tip is beautiful. The sightseeing boats, including ours, are a nuisance, but it is possible to take an alluring picture here. I offer this as my proof.
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Posted by Rhombus 15:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged mountains hiking mexico deserts baja photography Comments (0)

Climbing High Into The Baja Islands

On Pelicans, Magic Lighting of Puerto Los Gatos, The Heights of Isla Santa Catalina, and Whales

sunny 72 °F

On Pelicans
When considering the birds of the Baja Peninsula, the one that comes first to my mind is the Brown Pelican. They are quite prevalent and found all around the Gulf of California. The pelican is an interesting bird to watch, and I see these birds everyday. The pelican is a large bird, perhaps three feet long from head to foot with a long wingspan to accommodate such girth. The pelican has a brown goose like body, but beefed up and far bigger. Its neck and head are white compared to the brown of it’s body. Its bill is also quite imposing, and very pronounced and heavy. Picture a “dunce“ cap connected to the face of a bird. While swimming, they often have it tucked comfortably on its chest, probably for support of the monstrous thing.
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Underneath its heavy bill is a thin expandable gullet like skin sack. Talk about a double chin, this thing is amazing. While feeding, the pelican snaps at a fish catching it and a lot of salt water in the sack, then it drains the water and eats the fish. I don’t know how much it can expand, but it looks as though they could slam a quart of water in about a second.
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I love watching the pelican skim over the surface of the water. All birds try to conserve their energy, and the pelican will pump its wings for five strokes to give it lift up off the water, then arc its wings in glide position and soar over the water, slowly falling lower until it pumps again. This is how they cross the water, often in a single file group.

Its feeding behavior is quite impressive. It will fly above the water, anywhere from 3 feet up to 15 feet high. When it spots fish, it straightens its body into an arrow bill first diving fast and straight into the water bill first. The fish rarely stands a chance against such an attack. It is impressive to watch, and on my list of photographs I want to take.

On a darker note, this amazing feeding behavior is also its downfall. The big pelican doesn’t have eyelids or protection for its eyes. Every time it dives into the water, it does a little bit of damage to the eye. Over time, the bird goes blind. A blind pelican is more or less a dead pelican. It’s somewhat sad really, to watch the birds snapping at fish they can’t see.

What I’ve been contemplating lately are the piles of pelican bones I find in the rocks of the desert islands around the region. One of our naturalists informed me that the pelicans go for “one more dive.” Think about that. I don’t know if pelicans have much of a thought process, they might not ever know what they are doing; they are just doing what they’ve always done when they make that final dive. They might even think they are still over water, who knows? It’s a sad affair, but a good death.

A Magical Two Hours at Puerto Los Gatos
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I woke up out of a sound sleep kind of groggy, but hungry and wondering where we were. To my delight and surprise, we had anchored at Puerto Los Gatos, a beautiful bay surrounded by the majestic Sierra de la Giganta mountain range that runs along the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula.

Our ship has visited this PLG before, but I had to work during that visit. My tongue was hanging out on that visit. I longed to hike around in the foothills and up to the sharp desert peaks of the surrounding mountains. It’s just so damn beautiful here. The mountains recede in layers to the distant horizon a different shade of purple gray with each jagged layer.

I grabbed my daypack that I keep handy, put on my sandals and caught the next shuttle to the shore. I didn’t have a lot of time, and I didn’t have a plan. I just started hiking, and figured to get up on a nearby ridge. Walking across the low areas around the creek was a cactus maze. I had to back track at each dead end, as the cactus and thorns were impassable. Finally, I reached the incline of the ridge, and started up. The ground opened up, and I was able to zigzag my way up to the top of the ridge. Success!
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This was where the whole landscape opened up in a beautiful display of cacti and flowers that led to the distant rolling hills and eventually distant mountain peaks. It was breath taking, and one of the more magical hours I’ve had in 2011. Everywhere I turned, there was another dramatic view, and an easy composition to make with my camera. Puerto los Gatos had the most flowers in bloom of any place I’ve visited so far. This makes sense, as it has been the only place with running water. After awhile, I found my rhythm for photography waning, and I put my camera away. It was time to simply sit and take it all in. I let my senses take over, and I didn’t try to focus on anything, but to take it as a whole.
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“Sometimes one has a feeling of fullness, of warm wholeness, wherein every sight and object and odor and experience seems to key into a gigantic whole.” John Steinbeck from “The Log From The Sea of Cortez.”
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Hiking High Onto Isla Santa Catalina
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I finally made it through ten days of night shift. My reward was 18 hours of freedom, and an afternoon at Isla de la Catalina. I’ve written about some of the virtues of Catalina before, about the giant barrel cactus, and the rattle less rattlesnake. This time I mostly want to show you more of the desert beauty that makes up this island. I decided I wanted to hike up high to a nearby high point, which would have elephante rock as my backdrop. Elephante is the elephant looking rock at the point of land near where we anchor. Not only is it very picturesque, but it also has great snorkeling to be had along its underwater ledge rock.

To my knowledge, I was the only person on the whole island. Everyone else had gone snorkeling, but I opted to go hiking instead. I was well ahead and away from the crowds, indeed, nobody else had the inclination to head up into the high country. I love the desert high country. The vistas to I saw were spectacular and I really enjoy climbing straight up the loose gravelly hillsides covered in cactus and shrubs.

My foresight was correct, and I had increasingly elevated views of elephante. I really wanted to show case some of the giant barrel cactus along with the elephant rock. To me, nothing would say Catalina better than this composition. I also was hoping to see the rattlesnake, but it remained unseen.

What's Your Favorite Pic? Let Me Know...
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The hike was pleasant, peaceful, and perfect. I could also add placid, peak ridden, and parrot free, but that’s just silly. Anyway, the views from the top of the highest point were gorgeous. Almost all of Isla Santa Catalina opened up. From my high point, I saw that a ridgeline led from it to a number of other high points. To the south, I could see the rugged peninsula. I couldn’t see the eastern end of the island, however. To do that, I would’ve had to climb up the high distant ridges, something I wanted to do, but didn’t have time for. As it was, I slipped and fell a few times as I scrambled down to a hidden cove for a refreshing swim in the surging sea. What a great way to end a hike. Too bad, I had to retrace my steps and climb back up the steep cactus covered ridge before slipping and stumbling back down to the drop off area. In the process, I managed to slice my toe open on a sharp rock, but oddly enough, there wasn’t any pain. It just bled a lot. Ah well. So it goes.
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More Whale Sightings
Recently we’ve been getting into some great whale watching. Three days ago, I spent all morning watching humpback whales breeching and fin slapping the water. Whale watching is terrific pastime, especially when you are supposed to be working. The ship was fairly far south, down by the tip of the Baja Peninsula near a place called the “Gorda Banks.” I hadn’t seen humpbacks in a long time, and to see them launching themselves out of the water was a great reintroduction to these magnificent mammals. There were mobius rays going airborne as well, launching themselves completely out of the water with gusto.
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Yesterday, Gray whales surrounded the ship for most of the day. There were five different whale mom and calf pairs making feeding runs by the ship, and in their other favorite spots around upper Magdalena bay. The ship was anchored all day, and our naturalists were giving zodiac tours around the bay to see the whales. I was lucky enough to get aboard when I finished my shift, and I was excited to get to see the Grays from up close. We followed two sets of mother and calves, getting within twenty feet of the surfacing pair. We aren’t there to harass the whales; they were quite indifferent to our boat, which we kept at a safe distance away. What’s really cool about the Gray whale is their curiosity. Sometimes, the whales will approach one of the zodiacs, doing a spy hop to more or less check us out and see what we were. At times, they’ll even approach the boat, allowing people to touch them. Two of my friends were lucky enough to touch a whale yesterday, and I can imagine the experience would be another of my all time great life moments. It is completely dependant on the whale, if they want to come visit you, they will. There is nothing one can do to influence a whale to come close.
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As it was, we watched whales up close for two hours. I’m looking forward to our next visit to “Mag bay” and perhaps, if the stars align, I’ll be able to meet a whale up close and personal.

Onward!

Posted by Rhombus 00:18 Archived in Mexico Tagged birds mexico whales deserts oceans baja photography Comments (2)

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