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Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
by David Senesac    page 5 of 7

Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road 6
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road 4

plains of the monument


With dawn rising Sunday March 28 after a long night of sound sleep, I quickly organized gear. Morning minimum temperatures were not as chilly as the previous morning though a bit of frost was here and there. The hazy skies had moved east with today starting clear and sunny. Most significantly the winds had died down leaving quiet dead calm. My view camera exposes low ASA film at slow shutter speeds in order to capture maximum detail. For wildflower landscapes where foreground flower movement from any breeze would result in unacceptable blurring, calm even if momentary is necessary. I drove off then out to an eastern plains area on Simmler Road where on my drive by Saturday morning through a sink often impassable during wet weather, I had noticed bright freshly out of bud, fragrant, ankle high goldfields amid scattered saltbrush. That contrasted with other areas along the road where goldfields had apparently begun blooming earlier in the month and were somewhat muted. The area had a slight ridge where in the past I had seen both coreopsis and hillside daisies. With sunrise rays on the Caliente Range at the western boundary of the monument, I wandered off on the ridge a few hundred yards carrying just my G10 and Benbo Trekker tripod primarily looking for close-up situations. Goldfields on the plain below vied with fiddleneck areas for dominance. I will often capture close-up images before sunrise using the even skylight or flash as on many days it is a period of calm.

I saw an interesting situation that immediately changed my strategy towards thoughts of a view camera landscape. Below amid otherwise solid areas of bright yellow hued goldfields were just-rising small islands of either purple hued phacelia, fiddleneck, or grass entwined saltbrush. So I quickly rambled back to my car, grabbed that gear and continued out to those flats. By that time the first rays of sun were hitting this colorful landscape and was I glad to be there holding my 4x5! In past years I have made many merely good images on the plains however great images have been more elusive due to a lack of graphic elements. I needed to survey a modest zone for an optimal frame while not tracking a path through flower areas I might shoot. Thus quickly chose a route mostly through areas of the less interesting fiddleneck and found a couple potential foregrounds at which I exposed two sheets of film including this, 10-H-3.jpg at page top above. Along with the above noted species were a few white with yellow center hued tidy tips, an optimal even plain subject for view camera front standard tilt movements to bring a whole frame into sharp focus. The early low altitude sunlight skimming just the tops of flowers helped that sense of sharpness by providing an excellent definition of surrounding shadow to individual flowers. In the background seven miles distant, rose the green Caliente Range and further with a scattered blue light cast, the highest range in San Luis Obispo County, the Sierra Madre Mountains.

Temblor Range


By time I returned to my car, it was about 8am. I had to drive several miles of dirt roads to reach the Temblor Range base where I planned an all day hike into a trail less remote canyon. The lowest elevations in the monument are at the alkali sink containing large Soda Lake and many smaller often dry lakes and interconnecting channels containing shallow though impassable deep mud at about the 1900 foot elevation. Between highway SR58 and the Hurricane Road, a distance of about a dozen southeast trending miles, are 19 canyons that reach from the foothill base that varies somewhat above the 2100 foot elevation, fully up to the crest that is as high as 4332 feet at McKittrick summit and as low as about 3000 feet at saddles. Base to crest distance varies between 1 1/2 to 3 miles. South of the Hurricane Road are at least a couple dozen more canyons though the plain to crest rise is lower and the base to crest distance less. In the future I hope to explore many more of these canyons during spring wildflower blooms as most remarkably have never been visited by anyone at those times. That situation is very similar to Death Valley National Park where there are many arid canyons rarely if ever visited during their infrequent spring blooms. There is something foreboding to we humans about venturing out into such dry desert badlands.


Unfortunately a few gear issues caused me to delay my departure so I didn't get going until about 9am. Another out of state photographer, Matt, carrying a DSLR with an interesting story drove up at the time and I decided to allow him to tag along some despite the fact he didn't even have a water bottle. We headed up a familiar ravine that I had explored with another view camera photographer in 2006 one of five Temblor Range canyons north of the Hurricane Road I've extensively explored. From where I left my car, plants and wildflowers were often solid along the route. Where possible I step on mineral earth or grasses, however in places like the Temblor Range or out on the open Carrizo Plain, plants and flowers often grow so densely that one is wading through plants, sometimes thigh deep, stepping on several with each step. The vast majority are flowering plants termed annuals that started from seeds a few months before and would go to seed in a few weeks, dry, die, wither, decay with only the dormant seeds left to start the next generation in a future season. Above left is one such unavoidable "bombhole" where I laid down my daypack and set up my view camera. Thus a few humans in a vast landscape stepping on plants has trivial ecological effect. In fact far heavier hoofed cattle graze the Temblor Range as their dried pies were common in some areas like the ridge tops. Black-tailed deer, odocoileus hemionus columbianus, and wild pig range the hills making bombholes in the deep dense flowers much like mine. There are also pronghorn antelope, antilocapra americana, down on the plains. These areas have very few plants that are perennials. It is the latter plants like very hardy drought resistant bushes as saltbrush that one must avoid trampling.

journey into monument badlands


After a half mile we reached a wonderful morning scene, stopped, and I opened up my daypack to pull out the view camera. Well we walked forward up the left slope but saw shadows, back across to the right slope that blocked part of the canyon view, and finally came back to this area where I plunked my tripod down three times before moving forward some with this frame,    10-H-5.jpg   . It was an unusual view for these badlands that captured much of its unique character. In the foreground was a marching army of well spaced saltbush coming down from a low gradient slope at right mixed in with another hardy perennial bush blooming with yellow hued flowers, narrowleaf goldenbush, ericameria linearifolia. Surrounding each of these bushes benefiting from their shade are rings of small green annual grasses black-tailed deer in this area feed on. The steep lower slope at left was solid lemon yellow hued goldfields while higher shows brighter yellow color of hillside daisies. In the canyon throat itself are several areas of bare erosion, trademark of badlands. Then in the background where the canyon splits, a lower slope shows pink areas of Parry's mallow while on higher rounded hills topped appropriately by a crown of cloud are solid swaths of purple hued tansy phacelia, orange hued San Joaquin blazing star, yellow hued hillside daisies, and bronze hued fiddleneck.

How ironic it is in this era of unprecedented human communication in a state with an abundance of world class natural wonders, that here in this ignored range exists some of the most colorful wonders on God's Earth, yet is still almost unknown to the public. Thank you Bill Clinton for dedicating these special lands that so few yet have been introduced to their value as a national monument.

After returning the big camera to its daypack, we continued up the rugged eroded badlands gully with dense slopes of hillside daisies and tall goldfields plus several other less numerous wildflowers like tansy phacelia, fiddleneck, desert candle, chia, salvia columbariae, wild cucumber, marah fabaceus, chick lupine, lupinus microcarpus, bottlebrush, camissonia boothii, Mojave suncup, camissonia campestris, owls clover, and cryptantha. Matt was able to follow me up to the target area despite overstressing his body by a sheer will to see the wonders of this place. I advised him on how to return safely and after a final sip from my water supply he departed. It was 10:30am so light was harsher than I prefer to expose film on. Thus in that regard, my early morning work on the plains and subsequent delays resulted in a failure of my intended plans. However the image I made down on the plains was worth it. Conditions were generally a bit better than during my 2006 visit. Regardless it was a fantastic jaw dropping place so I exposed three slides within an hour though was not optimistic about results due to the bright light. Instead I decided to linger a few hours at midday, exploring, resting, and having lunch, until about 3pm in the afternoon when in better light I would work the area.


By 3pm I was climbing up a canyon wall ravine where upper areas had colorful diagonals. Over a period of two hours, I only managed to expose three slides because an afternoon breeze had come up that did not calm adequately for sharp foregrounds but for brief moments about once every 15 minutes. Worse I had to wait about 45 minutes for an ugly jet contrail above the ridgeline to slowly drift out of my frame. Note unlike most landscape photographers today per my rigid style, I never clone out in post processing ANY such graphic elements in any of my images. Instead I wait or don't get the shot. The following image,    10-H-9.jpg   , was the best of that session with a diagonal of purple phacelia, then more hillside daisies, then a diagonal of phacelia mixed with pink to magenta Parry's mallow, more hillside daisies, then on the background headwall below the sky, brownish yellow Bigelow's coreopsis, orange San Joaquin blazing star, and bronze fiddleneck. I moved closer for the following image,    10-H-10.jpg   , and had to crop the sky low to make less obvious yet another jet contrail at center.

By 5pm flowers in the best areas were losing saturation since the general slope was somewhat perpendicular to the sun axis. I bagged my gear then took my time hiking back down the ravine occasionally stopping to rest or consider close-up flower images. Reaching my car, I was glad to see my acquaintance's vehicle had left indicating he managed to hike back. A botanist from Santa Cruz drove up asking questions about where she might legally disperse camp so I told her about a nearby abandoned dirt road not on BLM lands I often use. She kindly corrected what I had been referring to as some kind of pink clarkias on the mountain slopes, as Parry's mallow, eremalche rotundifolia. Like me she also was carrying a Canon G10 camera but had forgot to bring along her battery charger and was distraught with a discharged battery in a world of wonder. And it was even more painful for her to see my own charger plugged into a dc to ac converter in my car. But unfortunately I could not linger as it was getting late in the afternoon and I had to get up at sunrise Monday for the work week, so didn't waste time putting miles on the long road north that was uneventful.

photography notes

A week later my 11 exposures of 4x5 Provia film came back in the mail and all looked fine. The most difficult technical issue shooting low ASA fine grain narrow exposure latitude slide film is figuring out exposure levels. Being off more than one-half a stop is unacceptable and even being off by one-third stop may make a slide unusable. I almost never bracket the expensive film that with processing costs over $4 a sheet. That experienced guess is never a matter of simply using what a lightmeter reads. A reason only a low percentage of photographers could ever be successful at it. In my case, I spent many early years outdoors using a manual exposure 35mm SLR camera with spot metering. My Shepard Polaris Dual 5 is a digital meter that has a 5 degree spot function and none of the usual shutter speed and aperture modes that may interfere with a simple sense of light levels. So unlike most who use digital meters, I work entirely and think exposures in EV levels. I also tend to use diffuse reflective metering off the sky instead of incident spot metering. I noted a few images with expanses of the bright yellow flowers would have worked better about a 1/4 stop lower so would adjust slightly when I returned.

Spring 2010 Wildflower Road 6
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road 4
Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

   David Senesac

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