popcorn_hills mottled_hills1 telegraph amboy_sr 2trains desert_lily_sv desertgold_sky five_spot3_sky wal_eriophyllum desert_star_pm cryptantha
Amboy Crater,   08-C-2.jpg

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
by David Senesac

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

Southern California Road Trip
March 12 thru March 21, 2008
page 5 of 9

another long drive south

After nine days at home since returning from the Joshua Tree road trip, on Wednesday March 12 about 5am, I was off again driving south with my car packed with gear. I'd left early enough to be able to drive through the valley orchard areas while the sun was still at a low angle in order to possible find a good blooming orchard scene. Three hours later I was making my way along rural roads beside orchards in the Fresno and Tulare County towns of Fowler, Del Rey, Sanger, Reedley, Cutler, and Woodlake. Skies were more white than blue with haze and thin clouds that lowered expectations. I did not see anything that peaked my interest. Almost all orchards I passed by looked the same with the various commercial tree species like almonds and peaches all pruned in similar rectangular ways and below trees, vegetationless dirt rows to maximize irrigation water passage and not waste water on other interloping plants. Thus very few areas with naturally shaped trees or ones with yellow mustard or green grasses growing beneath that might have added interesting color. I continued south past Lindsey and Porterville and onto state route SR-65.

brilliant orange California poppies in Tulare

At one point I noticed brilliant orange patches of color off in fields to the west of the highway. A frontage road followed the highway. So at the next crossroads, I turned right and then drove back along the frontage road to that orange area. Yes indeed they were California poppies, eschscholtzia californica, with as deep an orange color as I've seen anywhere. All were off in a mile wide expanse of natural knee to thigh high lushly green spring vegetation.pic3 There were no fences, signs of livestock, or property signs in the area, so I could legally explore into such an area as long as no one came along and informed me otherwise. I wandered off a minor distance to the poppy patches and was quite impressed so went back to my car for 4x5 gear. The poppies had all apparently risen up about the same time and were now consistently at a rather low 6 to 12 inches in height. The only areas where poppies were visible were where other higher grasses and plants were thin. The density reminded me of the thickest expanses I'd experienced in Antelope Valley. I also noticed there was a broad shallow concave stream channel across the landscape that apparently drained the local topography. In the lowest areas, I noted some areas of dry caked mud where water had likely pooled up after the large January storms. It was late morning so in the direct intense sun, the open poppy areas were blindingly orange. I exposed a couple of sheets of Provia 100F film. After the trip and reviewing my film, the first sheet apparently had a minor light leak into the film holder that causes characteristic orange areas on film. Gee weren't those just out of focus poppies?

It was only one of two sheets out of 50 I would expose on my trip that was later tossed. The other tosser was due to some sand that got in the slide path of a film holder thus preventing reinsertion of my dark slide. For a second frame,    08-C-1.jpg   , (select such links to bring up my 4x5 images) I used a horizontal format with my 150mm Nikkor lens that is the normal angle lens with large format with about 47 degrees of view, and it turned out nicely. I oriented my lens downward for direct backlighting to maximize translucent glow while not including sky. The sun altitude at noon at this latitude is about 50 degrees high in the sky so it was easy to block flare into my lens with a removed dark slide that is used to cover film in film holders. Short beautifully fresh green blades of grass were poking up here and there between the poppies adding an aesthetic I really liked. Here and there amongst the poppies in these obviously former farmed lands were four blooming alien species; telegraph weed, heterotheca grandiflora, with small yellow blossoms that after seeding create round dandelion type puff balls visible in the frame, beautiful deep rose-hued redmaids, calandrinia ciliata, a pretty little pink-hued species, clasping hensbit, lamium amplexicaule, and small white blossoms of shepherd's purse, capsella bursa-pastoris, with their distinctive triangular shaped seed pods. The Central Valley's most common wildflower, fiddleneck, amsinckia intermedia, was of course present and here are much of the denser green at frame top.

lush wildflowers in Kern County foothills

pic1 I vectored off southeast on SR-155, where some areas of popcorn flower were so dense that the hilly grassy landscape looked like a dusting of snow had fallen. At the rural hill community of Glenville amid blue oak woodlands, I turned southwest on Bakersfield-Glenville Road where I had passed through three weeks earlier. All areas now had far more dense areas of wildflowers. An afternoon wind had developed that removed any opportunity to use my view camera so I just clicked off a few for the record digital images with my tiny 7 megapixel Coolpix 7900. In the below image in addition to the above species, the yellow areas were goldfields and purplish tints on the north facing hills at right, tansy-leaf phacelia aka lacy phacelia.


Now late afternoon, after gas and fast-food in Bakersfield, I drove southeast on SR-58 over Tehachipi Pass then east the long ways to Barstow. Arriving in the our largest eastern desert city well into the evening, I gassed up for the last time then continued further east on Interstate I40 until tiny Ludlow, where I turned southeast on the National Trails Highway aka as old Route 66 towards Amboy. About 9:30pm after 16 plus hours and 550 miles of indirect routes, I'd reached my distant destination about a mile west of Amboy Crater. After rejecting a couple short forays onto dirt roads looking for a camp spot, I liked the third because I was suddenly amid the considerable fragrance of desertgold sunflowers. Winds were blowing from the west so I laid my sleeping gear out on the lee side of my trusty old Subaru and tried to go to sleep. However rather quickly I was interrupted by an extremely loud rumbling train on the tracks just north across the highway about 300 yards away. Amtrack and freight trains continued to pass all during the night making my first night's rest unpleasant. At night in this wide-open valley, one would need to park several miles south along Amboy Road to escape the train sounds.

Thursday March 13 morning at Amboy Crater

At dawn on March 13, I awoke early as is usual on my field trips, then organized gear for a morning photography session. I drove the short distance east to the signed BLM gravel spur road to a nicely featured parking lot with a modern restroom, shaded picnic tables, information kiosks, and paved paths to a viewpoint. One SUV was already parked at the lot as I said hi to a gal photographer getting her gear out. Skies were mostly cloudy but the stiff wind that had been blowing most of yesterday was now just a modest breeze. In a few minutes, I set out on a trail that leads to the summit of Amboy Crater. The whole area is recent volcanic geology. Yellow-hued desertgold sunflowers, geraea canescens, off-white-hued brown-eyed primrose, camissonia claviformis, and magenta-hued sand verbena, abronia villosa, were the three star wildflowers of the area, that had been prominent in web pictures and trip reports over previous weeks. pic4It was good to see verbena in somewhat sun sheltered locations still in relatively good blooming condition without faded color. And it was good not to see any alien Sahara mustard anywhere. The cone of the broad crater itself is about a half-mile from the parking lot over gradually rising terrain. The trail routes across small washes, lava flows, and sedimented plains. The desertgold tended to dominate the flat plains while sand verbena filled the lee sides of abrupt drops in the irregular lava rock where blowing sand tends to settle. With some modest dawn colors in the mostly cloudy skies, I snapped a couple Coolpix shots. Before reaching the crater, I vectored off trail southwest towards a higher lava ridge where I had better overall views of the surrounding landscape. From the ridge I could see the densest areas of sand verbena were due west of the parking lot about half a mile.

pic5 With the sun having risen behind thin clouds, I snapped a picture northward as two freight trains passed each other beyond the yellow and magenta flowers I was hiking towards with the Bristol Mountains in the background. On the way I passed a number of familiar species ones finds in the eastern Mojave Desert including good numbers of blooming desert lily. The areas of better sand verbena were closer to the valley center where winds had more effectively blown in loose sand that the verbena thrive on. I roamed about looking for the best locations for possible view camera shots. Some of the best areas of plants had obviously peaked about mid February and were now rather dry and shriveled.

I set up my Wisner Expedition exposing two sheets with my 150mm lens towards the south-southeast about 8am. The first modest frame, 08-C-2.jpg at page top, had dense sand verbena in the foreground with a patch of desertgold at center, and included Amboy Crater mid right about a half-mile away and the more distant Sheephole Mountains just right with a diagonal band of clouds overhead. Rather fortuitously the breezes had finally nulled so all the desertgold had stopped bobbing about. Some wildflower species with long stems up in a breeze are especially difficult to photograph in landscapes with larger formats because they so easily blur up fine detail on the large film area.

close-up wildflower work

Satisfied I would not find much more worth pointing the big camera at, on my way back towards the parking lot, I looked about for close-up pictures on a few lower desert species I would not likely get a chance to shoot once I moved south on my trip. My primary interest in smaller wildflower close-up images is in photographing showy species in beautifully aesthetic ways. Thus I don't make serious close-up images for the purpose of identifying what various plants and their flowers look like. And I tend to ignore species that are inconspicuous or lacking in visual interest. Not because I don't think they have botanical value but simply because they may not have aesthetic photographic value.

pic6In each patch of sand verbena, I looked about for any desert lilies growing up within the magenta flowers and soon found a good subject with one large flower and several buds. The species is one of our desert's favorites for visitors and I would also recommend one get down and smell their sweet fragrance. Just don't do it in this type of situation next to sand verbena that have an overpowering fragrance one doesn't need to get close to in order to notice haha. My own preference in close-ups is for sharply focused detail on intended subjects without soft or out of focus areas novice photographers often don't address. That requires understanding the depth of field possible on one's camera and not moving in too closely. Here one will note, the entire lily is crisply focused while only the important frame foreground area of verbena below the lily is in focus.

pic7Next I found a nice tall desertgold sunflower I could lie on the ground in order to put the flowers and stems up against the partly cloudy blue sky. One of the most important skills of a close-up wildflower photographer is a willingness to lie on the ground and get dirty. Thus I wear appropriate clothes for doing so and at times may bring along a small body sized blue plastic tarp if say the ground is wet. A breeze was now strengthening from an easterly direction so I spent quite some time laying on the ground waiting for a moment the bobbing might stop and thus not blur the image. That key skill is intently watching flowers until they stop moving from breezes and then instantly actuating one's camera shutter as a lull may be just fractions of a second. And it is not just one's eyes that can be used as one can readily feel even a slight breeze on the hairs of one's skin. At times when a wait may be several minutes or longer, instead of intently watching a little flower, it is often easier to relax and instead watch vegetation up wind some distance for calming and when such occurs to move back into ready action. Luckily that calm occurred briefly and I actuated the shutter. pic8Because I only bring my large Gitzo G-1325 with G-1318 center column along when using my view camera, I tend to position the tripod legs near where I will shoot and then brace up against the legs handholding my shots. Without my view camera, I put the Coolpix atop an old Benbo Trekker, back from my 35mm SLR days, that is a master of odd positioning.

Further along, I also located a nice tall desert fivespot plant with stems and flowers oriented so I might get those elements all in good focus glowing from backlighting. One of the primary strategies in making images of wildflowers, is finding situations where the subject elements are relatively equidistant from a lens position in order to allow good overall sharp subject focus. The more uneven the distances, the more one has to back off in distance. pic15 This turned out to be the best situation I've yet found for these uncommon flower favorites. Note for such backlit shots it is important to block the sun from shining anywhere on a lens else flare may result. And I even managed a nice image of one of the cryptantha species that with tiny white flowers are a type of flower I don't usually expect to provide aesthetic situations. However if one slows down and moves close to smaller species taking a few experimental images, the magnified results given aesthetic geometry are sometimes surprisingly pleasing.

north along Kelbaker Road in the eastern Mojave

Back at the parking lot, a half dozen cars were now parked at this otherwise lonely site and no doubt most had read the same web reports I had about blooming desert wildflowers. It was good to see increasing numbers of people seeking out our beautiful spring wildflowers in this age of the World Wide Web that provides such information to the general public as never before, allowing many to now experience the wonder of these fleeting remote blooms. I drove off east past the railroad stop of Amboy where large Bristol Dry Lake has salt and brine mineral mining, then a few miles further turned north up Kelbaker Road. Elevations along Kelbaker slowly increase as one moves northward and accordingly so do the numbers of wildflower species. In March of 2005 I had stopped at Brown Butte just south of the I40 junction and did so again for a lunch break. The noon sun was now intense, so I drove down the sandy 4WD track into a sandy wash where a palo verde, cercidum floridum, provided some shade. Winds had picked up too and were blowing my gear about some. After cooking a Knorr Lipton Pasta Sides Chicken package for lunch on my MSR Whisperlite backpacking stove and eating a banana, I continue north to Granite Pass at 4,024 feet in the Mojave National Preserve where most vegetation was still green above flowering elevations.

pic10 I turned around and drove back south past Brown Butte to areas where I had noticed considerable purple mat growing beside the road. I went to work trying to capture three species of belly flowers. It was the only constructive work I might pursue in windy conditions and the area had a lot to look at. I captured a nice situation of purple mat, nama dimissum with desert stars, monoptilion belloides. Another belly flower, yellow-hued Wallace's eriophyllum, eriophyllum wallacei, was not as abundant but I still managed to find a reasonable subject next to the showy magenta-hued purple mat. pic9 A couple hours later I drove south then explored down a remote dirt road into the Bristol Mountains. Nothing special there and I continued south back to Amboy Crater without a certain plan for late in the afternoon, that night, or the next day.

My open-ended trip plan was one of flexibility I would modify depending on conditions and weather. I wasn't too keen about staying in the Amboy Crater region as I'd already exposed a couple 4x5 sheets and nabbed several close-ups of species I wanted for my body of close-up work. I'd visited Kelbaker and there was nothing special to be done further thereabouts and in fact there were more wildflowers out when I passed through in March of 2005. On the east side of Amboy Crater well away from trail areas, through my binoculars, I could see some nice areas of sand verbena that I was rather certain would not have any tracks. Winds had been picking up and I expected that was due to a forecast storm set to move into California the next couple days. So staying about Amboy was not likely to be productive even if I did find some good subjects simply because it would be too windy. Thus with more clarity I made the decision to head to the south side of Joshua Tree.

south through Joshua Tree National Park

I drove south on Amboy Road past miles of drying lupine over Sheephole Pass and into the US Marine base community of 29 Palms that also contains the main JTNP headquarters. After adding some gas, it was north into the park at about 5:30pm, through the Pinto Mountains and down onto the Joshua tree highlands that was still too high elevation for many wildflowers. I just had enough time in the day to reach southern areas of Pinto Basin where I expected wildflowers would be peaking, so continued south without stopping. Arriving at the Porcupine Wash area I could see my expectations on where the flowers would be was correct. I briefly drove down the Black Eagle Mines dirt road and was surprised with the amount of flowers and especially one of the smaller desert poppy species. This was where I would work in the morning if winds allowed. With the sun setting, I continued south out of the park and onto a familiar dirt road into the nearby Orocopia Mountains I had previously camped at during my trip three weeks earlier.

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles...page 6

   David Senesac
   email: sales@davidsenesac.com

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