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

Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road Trips...page 6

the weather gamble

During the next work week days, I regularly checked NWS and other sites for weather conditions and forecasts. The Sunday/Monday storm weakened south of central California adding just a couple tenths of an inch of rains to the Carrizo Plain. An exceptionally large storm moving down from the Gulf of Alaska was forecast to arrive sometime later on the following weekend. Another smaller storm preceding it would arrive Thursday evening though was not expected to extend precipitation south of the north SF Bay areas. South of there would however have clouds and winds as the pressure gradient moved through followed by a brief lull. Saturday was again looking to be quite windy with increasing pressure gradients. By Tuesday it appeared on jetstream forecast maps that the Carrizo area might on Friday be in a brief lull on a boundary between two windy areas further north and south. I gambled by applying for a day of PTO making for a three day weekend though it was likely I might again be in the monument a single day before leaving due to weather. On Thursday afternoon, I left directly from work late afternoon, driving south down Interstate 5. With the first storm's tail-end moving through, it was cloudy blustery. I drove south in what was looking like a lost gamble of windiness. Then suddenly about Coalinga winds and clouds diminished. With a smile I continued south to Lost Hills then south on SR33 to McKittrick and up and over the back door Crocker Springs - Hurricane Road into the monument and parked out of the BLM area overnight while a mild breeze flowed. About 4am a strong wind suddenly began noisily rocking my car and I wondered if the front had managed to move further south than forecast?

Carrizo Plain National Monument ...round 3


As dawn lightened the sky to the east on Friday April 9 I could see a large ominous altostratus cloud above the Temblor Range. Then a bit after 6am suddenly winds calmed again! My suspicion is the tail-end of the passing front ejected a torpedo of heavy cool moist air towards the south that quickly came and went. I didn't waste time fiddling with gear this time and was soon climbing up a new route I'd penciled out on the topographic map up to the same location I left late in the day the previous Saturday. Conditions still looked pretty good on north facing slopes however lower elevation and south facing slopes were noticeably drier and that especially affected goldfields, fiddleneck, filaree, and Parry's mallow. Within an hour I'd reached the location and was quiet happy to see wildflowers had not changed much in the intervening week. A close-up of phacelia and blazing star is above left.


The sun would not be illuminating the area for some time so I hiked on towards the crest of the Temblor Range to what I knew would be at an optimal orientation for the morning sun. By now it was obvious this was going to be one of those rare days of intense blue sky with little water vapor. The kind of sky one is more likely to see summer time at 10,000 feet in high mountains like the Sierra. In my big Black Diamond climbing pack I've modified for carrying photo gear, I pulled out my 300mm Nikor telephoto lens and exposed a sheet cross canyon down on the most colorful area I'd seen in the Temblor Range,    10-J-1.jpg   . This abstract landscape has a Y-ravine at upper left frame filled with grayish blue hued saltbush and with patches of magenta hued Parry's mallow. Bisecting the lower center is a small ravine full of yellow hued hillside daisies and goldfields. On the right side of that ravine are orange San Joaquin blazing star, bluish purple hued tansy phacelia and yellow green hued desert candle. Lower left are white desert pincushion and drying brownish yellow hued Bigelow's coreopsis on slightly pink soils. A small patch of California poppies are against greens in the upper right corner. A close-up of mallow and pincushion is above left. From the crest of the Temblor, one can visit many spur ridges trending to the west and southwest. So on one of these, next I attached a 90mm Caltar lens for the Painted Elephant under a deep blue sky,    10-J-2.jpg    one might compare with the cloudy image on page 6 a week before from the same location.

down a ravine

Back with my 150mm Nikor normal lens on the view camera front standard, I returned to my earlier location with the target scene now in sunlight. First exposed this sheet,    10-J-5.jpg   , on a smooth round knoll against the sky thick with side lit blazing star, desert candles, phacelia, and daisies. Then I went up to repeat the image at the top of page 6 but on this sunny day,    10-J-6.jpg    . Even with the poppies now open, I prefer the moody cloudy image a week early.

I returned out on the spur ridge to a spot I'd seen the week before. I was actually surprised to see flowers at this more sun sheltered slope were actually just now peaking unlike almost all other zones. Dropped into its hidden small ravine and immediately realized this might be my epic subject for the spring of 2010. By luck I had arrived at the perfect time because the foreground pink hued mallow would have been curled up tightly much like poppies earlier in the morning. After studying the situation some, billy goated up a very steep slope above the gully bottom to tripod atop a quite unstable surface, then carefully set up to expose this astounding glory,    10-J-7.jpg   , of broad diagonals of mallow, pincushion, and daisies, with blazing star and phacelia atop in the sky. Was I glad to have lens movements on subjects like this to bring the whole diagonal plane into sharp focus. For the new generation of DSLR toting photographers that think they understand light, that image was exposed about 10:45am!


journey up Painted Elephant Canyon

I noticed a few pretty wind poppies, stylomecon heterophylla down in the ravine bottom so captured one at right. It was by now late enough in the morning that light was becoming too harsh so I rambled down a narrow ravine to the master arroyo below for Painted Elephant Canyon where erosion effects from storms are most apparent as in the image at right where water has eroded through lumpy landslide debris coming off the steep slopes. As I climbed upward, I wanted to find a shaded spot to rest, eat lunch, and plan midday at. Quite a way further not far from where I had focused my 300mm earlier in the day, I found that on a rare rock outcrop where I rested for a couple hours.


As 2:30pm came, I continued to where I could size up possibilites for that scene hatching a plan for a route. So I moved up the small yellow ravine noted in that image to a little dried filaree knoll atop the area of coreopsis. There I set up my view camera then spent an hour working closeup subjects until I thought the light was optimal to expose the blazingly colorful sheet of film at page top, 10-J-8.jpg, with same species noted earlier. I then climbed down into the larger side gully and up onto its other side in order to frame this most colorful steep slope face on,    10-J-10.jpg   . Not needing to stop down since there wasn't a foreground, after carefully focusing, set the aperture to its maximum sharpness near f22. All the white flowers on the face are desert pincushion with drying Bigelow's coreopsis at the top of the face. The magenta areas lower left are Parry's mallow. All told I'd exposed 11 sheets of film with all exposures returning from development the following week near dead on.

chance meeting

The best color was by 4:30pm waning in the orientation of interest so I packed up and rambled back down the canyon. On the way suddenly appeared another tripod carrying photographer. Rather quickly found out it was Derek I knew from web boards that had just arrived that afternoon and wandered up this same canyon after parking where my lone sedan was parked. Since he had apparently joined the small Temblor club, I gave him some advice including where he might climb up to survey the area now late in the day. And that he did which had him excited about going back up on Saturday. I drove off several miles to a location out of the park to spend the night. A breeze visited at times during the night but by 4am had calmed. My suspicion was the forecast wind had arrived but was merely moving atop a layer of colder air that had sumped down on these low areas of the plains.

California Valley


Saturday April 10 broke and so did a stronger breeze. When the sky became light enough, I could see large groups of mid level clouds streaming in from the west northwest above thanks to the big system pushing ahead this airmass in its way. I had hoped to work some areas north of the monument but that seemed hopeless. Instead about 6am drove further north to California Valley and was surprised there was just a slight erratic breeze. I didn't expect that to last long so quickly drove to a favorite dirt road. I walked out and surveyed the area finding the close-up subject of Parry's larkspur, delphinium parryi, in front of tidy tips at right. Then soon afterward a modest landscape, with fresh bright goldfields, owls clover, larkspur, and tidy tips. Just a few minutes later the winds above took over ending any further work.


Instead of immediately heading home since I was already here, for exploration value I drove a loop south on Soda Lake Road then east on Panorama Road, then north on Elkhorn Road to SR58. On the way I stopped where I had parked Friday noting my acquaintance's vehicle and managed to find him high above near a ridge top. I took a blurry telephoto that the following week passed onto him for amusement. Although he was seeing some of the same amazing sights I had, gusty continuous winds made photography less productive even with the faster shutter speeds available with DSLRs. Photographers managing to reach the monument by time the big storm pushed through were going to be faced with most species well past peak changing into unaesthetic browns and drying. So the book on the great bloom at Carrizo Plain for 2010 was closing its book. On the drive home I took an indirect route including driving through the San Antonio Valley in Monterey County where I stopped along a road cut to image at above right these baby-blue-eyes, nemophilla menziesii.

Spring 2010 Wildflower Road Trips...page 6
Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

   David Senesac
   email: sales@davidsenesac.com

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