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2015 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Arroyo Seco 4/11
Point Reyes National Seashore 4/18
San Francisco Bay lands Newark 5/1

Spring 2015 Trip Chronicles:  Page 5

Arroyo Seco in the Santa Lucia Range


Two weeks after my second successful work down in Salinas River basin areas, returned on Saturday April 11 where I had left off at Arroyo Seco. The week before was Easter that had kept me close to home. Like my previous visit, woke before 5am and was onto US101 in San Jose, reaching the area 120 miles to the south a bit after sunrise. A beneficial modest sized storm had come through April 7 with about a half inch of rain in areas about San Jose that I hoped would keep things green down in these areas of the Santa Lucia Range also. A paved road from Salinas Valley leads west up the wide lower river canyon amid private lands to Los Padres National Forest lands where a well used campground and trailhead provide access to further areas beyond. A narrow dirt road that crosses over to the San Antonio River headwaters to the south, has been gated off for years and is used as a trail to hike up the river canyon. Many visitors hike the couple miles up from the campground to gain access to the river. The wilderness boundary used by backpackers is another further mile. Most of the river is in a narrow gorge with riversides often impassable with access from the road limited due to cliffs. In this extremely dry year, the river had a surprisingly good flow showing reasonable precipitation in its basin that was reflected in numbers of wildflowers still upon its slopes. As a result of human activities, considerable areas of the Santa Lucia Range have burned every few decades leaving much low height chaparral on sunny exposures while islands of oak woodland are older.


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Sunny cloudless skies, temperature 48F, and a light breeze started the morning off, though the NWS forecast stated a breezy afternoon was likely. One of the first people I met on the road mentioned a campground employee had related the storm days before had put 1.5 inches of water into their rain gauge. It looked it too on the slopes and in places water was still seeping down onto the road. Much of the uphill sides of the road are steep slopes that cannot be easily climbed however there were considerable numbers of wildflowers right beside the road, on steeply angled slopes that is more convenient for photography versus level ground. Poison oak is also abundant in many areas reducing access even where one might venture. Around the initial north facing slopes, the road turns to dryer west facing slopes where I found elegant clarkia, clarkia unguiculata, per image above that also inhabit lower Sierra Nevada slopes. This late season species like other clarkias were common in patchy areas of the canyon. Its flower petals have an unusual shape so is easily recognized. Notice how the deep red of the anthers contrasts strongly with the white stigma with a hollow end and how they twist and curve about. Also the part in back with hairs is one of the sepals or bud enclosure. For this above subject that was still in shadows at 9am, used a lens extension tube and fill flash.


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A bit more than a mile along the road is a long shady north facing slope with coastal live oak and California bay where I found considerable green tangling jungles of vegetation. Poison oak is particularly abundant on those slopes including right at road edges so I was often avoiding their leaves while setting up tripod positions. The most abundant flower on this hike were the delightful Chinese houses, collinsia heterophylla, with most plants short with new blooms apparently just rising up given a boost from the noted rain. The above image was another subject still in shadows so used fill flash with a lens extension tube. These flowers covered large areas of less exposed slopes though were never particularly dense. In many regions of the Coast Range, collinsia tend to look like these specimens with light bluish-purple to white hues. About lower Sierra Nevada elevations they are more often deep purple. However here about Arroyo Seco I saw a surprising range of saturations. Notice how a bug has already chewed through a hole in the flower petal at frame bottom a bit left of center. Better viewed via the enlarged vertical slice view.


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This next image has another Chinese houses plant at right while at left is blue dicks, dichelostemma capitatum. I look for situations where flowers of different species are close to one another. Per my natural style, I never touch or move subjects nor anything behind subjects within a frame. However I do move other vegetation including flowers and often grass, out of the way in front of subjects in order to set up my tripod and camera with a clear lens view without distracting near blocking elements. Thus set up gear carefully so as not to disturb subjects. The way I have played the game for decades and am proud that I can say so. Subject was in shadows, lens extension tube and fill flash.

A couple decades ago when I was using a 35mm SLR Olympus OM-4T and Kodachrome 64, a good friend Doug and I found a deeply saturated rose fairy lantern subject along the lower Kings River. I set up my Benbo Trekker low to the ground first then captured a fine image. He began to do the same, but just before taking a shot as his head was down eye looking into his Pentaprism viewfinder, his eye socket bumped the camera and it with tripod fell forward mangling the little beauty. He let out some 4-letter words while I was rolling around laughing. And we let the disturbed result alone haha.


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The white flowers above are shade loving woodland star, lithophragma affine. Note the small yellow male anthers around a greenish female stigma. I also look for situations where multiple flowers on the same plant show different perspectives as these. Subject was in shadows, lens extension tube and fill flash.


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Another Chinese houses but these were an uncommon rich magenta hue. Note the white hairs where petals join. Subject was in shadows, lens extension tube and fill flash.


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Above is another shade loving species and flower enthusiast favorite, white globe lily aka fairy lantern, calochortus albus, that I like to locate two adjacent flowers of since they appear head-shaped with a nose and a hat or hair. Notice the translucent lower petal edge at left and how the nose is yellow. Subject was in shadows, lens extension tube and fill flash.


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Parry's larkspur, delphinium parryi, in another situation where I found multiple views. In the vertical slice view notice how what appears to be petals are actually sepals and the real petals are covered with white hairs. Subject was in shadows, lens extension tube. By noon with temperatures now pleasantly in 60s, had hiked about 3 miles to the Ventana Wilderness boundary up on the Tasajara Creek fork. Then hiked back to where the trail crosses the river and stopped riverside for lunch and a refreshing torso/head dunk in the chilly waters. Numbers of other groups were also on the trail with a couple groups on their way to climb peaks. By midday the breeze had become strong enough that I didn't bother trying to work more subjects even though I saw many. The canyon does have an impressive number of different species that on a calm day with flowers at peak like this I could probably have come back with several times as many images. Among the flowers were 3 species of larkspurs, 3 species of clarkia, and 3 species of paintbrush. To have some idea of what one might find in these areas or to identify a plant after a visit, one should go to the http://www.calflora.org web page and select Monterey (county) on the right side pop-down list, chaparral in the community list, then run SEARCH. Was back at the campground by early afternoon and had driven home within a couple hours. A less tedious drive than similar length trips to say Sonoma County where I have to negotiate the unpleasant freeways across our core urban areas.


Point Reyes National Seashore on a breezy day

And that in fact was just what I did the following Saturday on April 18. Messages on Calphoto noted flowers at Point Reyes were near peak which surprised me as being rather early. I did want to check some other areas of coastal Sonoma County so spent the Friday night at a convenient way point near Bodega Bay. Then at sunrise on Saturday, did a quick tour up and back along the coast that was still several weeks early as expected and continued south on Highway 1. At about 8:30am stopped for an hour south of Tomales along Keys Creek where there are usually nice species in the road cut below chaparral slopes. Another roadside where one needs to be careful of abundant poison oak. Set up this species on image below, roadside between the shaking of cars buzzing by, a beautiful 4 petal saturated rose rockcress, arabis blepharophylla. Subject was in shadows, lens extension tube and fill flash.


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Continued on to Point Reyes National Seashore, that took about another hour given the tedious driving along Drake's Bay, Point Reyes Station, and Inverness. The breeze seemed stronger than the 5 mph or such that had been forecast, maybe 8 to 12 mph so declined driving out to the headlands that is exposed. Instead drove to the Abbotts Lagoon trailhead where the parking lot was about 70% full at 10:30am with a couple dozen vehicles. Skies were mostly overcast with blue holes increasing from the east. And by this time the breeze was obviously increasing so my expectations were rather low. It is about 1.3 miles from the parking lot to where a bridge crosses narrows in the lagoon. Reasonable numbers of flowers were along the trail including poppies however they were more sparse than normal in this drought year. These grasslands species would be moving in the breeze so didn't bother to work any. But maybe I could find some low to the ground species in just enough protected spots? The first two subjects I took my gear out to work were uncooperative moving with the wind so looked for a belly flower species right at ground level.


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Another flower enthusiast favorite at image above, found this white pussy ears aka hairy star tulip, calochortus tolmiei, atop the knoll just south of the lagoon bridge and there were many others as well as some goldfields and yellow beak owl's clover. I used both my collapsible disks to block wind that was coming from the south and the diffuser to also block the sun. I was in a precarious location where if I lost my grip on one of the disks, it would instantly go flying down the hill, over a steep cliff-like slope, and into the lagoon where I would not be able to retrieve it. In one of my hands that held the diffusion disk was also my infrared remote shutter release that I use to take all photos with. In other words for serious subjects I never directly depress a shutter because that will tend to cause camera vibrations except in the infrequent situation I use the shutter 10-second countdown timer. I modified the tiny infrared transmitter tool with a short loop cord that is usually looped through a chin draw string of a hat I'm usually wearing during photography work. Thus the transmitter is always right in front of me at about the level I need it to be for actuating the shutter. To make matters worse well I mean embarrassing, a few dozen people were roaming about below across the lagoon and not a few must have been wondering what that guy was doing. Despite my efforts to block wind, the focus stack set of shots suffered usual small movements of elements between shots. And that back on my computer required about an hour's tedious work with Zerene Stacker to create the now clean image.


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After crossing the little wooden lagoon bridge, wandered away from everyone else and out north across the sand dunes. Noticed how little concave areas of the sand became catch basins for bits of dried grass seeds that were swirling about. Up close it looked like it might make for an interesting macro so put both lens extension tubes on the 60mm lens, sheltered the spot with my two circular disks, and captured the above. These are mostly Douglas bluegrass aka maritime bluegrass seeds, poa douglasii. The enlarged vertical slice view brings out fine textures of this subtle subject.

Next I wandered further into the dunes where there were wind protecting hollows and found areas of beach evening primrose, camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia per image at page top. The detail of sand on the plant in the enlarged vertical slice view is well worth a look. Sand grains in this image also reflect geology in the area contains more dark rocks than light that is typical of the majority of our shores. Used lens extension tubes and diffuser.


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Continued on then came upon this Pacific gumplant, grindelia stricta var platyphylla, in image above. Again I used my two circular disks to help block the wind as well as positioned the diffuser to block the sun that was increasingly poking out moment to moment behind thinning clouds making exposures between focus stack sets less consistent. Note the black beetle munching on a disk flower.


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About 1:30pm PDT on the way back around the north side of the lagoon came upon areas of beach morning glory, calystegia soldanella, and after some time chose the above specimen to photograph. Again had to use my 2 circular disks to block the wind with diffusion disk to block the sun, and extension tube on my lens. After that continue the long walk back to the trailhead parking lot where I saw quite a number of flowers I would have liked to work but that will have to wait for a calmer day during another spring. A 24 megapixel sensor, sharp prime lens at f11, and focus stack blending, allows the tiny sand grains to add a wonderful aesthetic component to these 3-dimensional beach flower subjects that in the past were impossible due to limiting depth of field.

San Francisco Bay vernal pool beauties

Sunrise Friday May 1 visited a small San Francisco bayside lot in Newark where Willow Street crosses railroad tracks that contains the only vernal pools open to the public where flatface downingia, downingia pulchella, grow in springs these pools fill. Scattered about an area of grass and the rayless asteraceae, matricaria discoidea, commonly known as pineappleweed, were masses of this unusual species. As is usual at dawn, these belly flowers were covered in dew. Up close they have a comical creature-like appearance with two rabbit like ears, two arms coming out of white shoulders, a torso, a yellow lower face with nose and two eye dots. And happy bees quite love that face.


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   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

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