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Last Light on Saguaro Cactus

On one of our first nights visiting Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona some clouds rolled in. It was quite unusual! So Ray and I drove into the park and found an area with lots of Saguaros to photograph. There are actually more Saguaros here than in Saguaro National Park!

The light was grey, but I could see a strip of open sky near the horizon where the sun would set, so I knew that when the sun was low enough, it would light up the mountains if only for a few seconds.

In my post earlier this week, I made it sound like finding a good Saguaro was easy. Sometimes it is – it will be right there in your campsite. Other times you have to look a little harder to find a good specimen – one that you can isolate from the others and doesn’t have a bunch of scrubby brush around it.

On this night Ray and I went hiking out into a field only to find that all the Saguaros were in little gullies making it difficult to capture both the Saguaro and the mountains. Ray found a hill to scamper up on for a higher perspective.

I decided to put my butt in gear and hike off on a mission to find a good Saguaro to put in front of those mountains. Once I found one, I had to wait for awhile hoping the light would come, and it did, literally for just a few seconds.

This is a 2.5 second exposure made with my Sony NEX6. Please click the image to view a larger version.

Afterwards the problem became how far did I hike? I wasn’t paying attention. And how close are those coyotes anyway? I decided to head the road and walk back that way so at least I knew where I was. I was kind of hoping I would get picked up by a border guard and delivered to my truck, but alas, no, I had to walk all the way back.

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Chain Fruit Cholla

A cactus can be hard to photograph. Usually when I am photographing anything I am looking for a good graphic design, interesting lines and textures, and a clean background. With a cactus, you have the textures covered, but often the lines are anything but uniform and the background is often full of scrubby brush that just looks messy.

Near our campsite in Why, Arizona, I discovered there were some unusually large Chain Fruit Cholla, one of the varieties of cactus that has eluded me in photographic pursuits in the desert. Finding a good Saguaro is one thing, but finding a good Chain Fruit Cholla is quite another!

As with all plants, a big factor in making a good photograph is in finding the perfect specimen. So when I saw this Chain Fruit Cholla, with it’s green parts all at the top of the plant, and with an interesting graphic design in its branches, I knew that given a low angle, all my requirements would be fulfilled.

Chain Fruit Cholla by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

This particular cholla is quite unlike most of the others that I have found. They are usually much more disorganized. Here is another photo that I like of a different cholla, which shows the challenge a little more clearly.

Chain Fruit Cholla by Anne McKinnell

Even this one is more organized than most.

Do you have a particular plant that you’ve found difficult to photograph?

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Southwest Blue

The American southwest is so red and green, with the rocks and the cacti, except at twilight when the pastel blues of the twilight sky cover the reds and greens like a baby’s blanket.

I made this photo just down the road from our campsite in the Plomosa BLM in Quartzsite, Arizona.


Please click the image to view a larger version.

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Full Moon over RVs in Quartzsite, Arizona

Quartzsite, Arizona, is a small town of only a few thousand people. Until the snowbirds arrive.

In January and February the tiny town hosts over 1.5 million tourists, most of them RVers.

We arrived a few days before the giant RV show which is held in the town every year. We picked out our spot a little ways away from everyone else in one of the many BLM (Bureau of Land Management) grounds where you can boondock for free.

But as the show time got closer, more and more RVs showed up. Only a couple of days before I made this photo, this land was empty.

I thought the RVs made an interesting foreground to the spectacular full moon.

Full Moon Over RVs by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

This is a single 0.4 second exposure made with my new Sony NEX6 and the 55-210mm lens.

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Cholla Cactus Garden

One of the most interesting features of Joshua Tree National Park in California is the Cholla Cactus Garden.

But, it is really hard to get a good composition here. At least that’s what I found. I was disappointed with the photos I made here last year, so this year I was determined not only to be there in good light, but to find a cholla I could isolate.

One of the reasons they are so hard to photograph is that the bottoms of them have this burnt look that isn’t very attractive. When I first saw them I thought they actually were burnt, but they are all like that.

This is the “Teddy Bear” Cholla. The name is actually pretty appropriate because like a real bear, they may look nice but believe me, you don’t want to hug it.

In fact, this type of cholla drops little pieces of itself and those pieces jump out at you as you walk by and attach themselves to your pant legs (you better be wearning long pants). Ray actually had one go through his jeans, through his socks, and into his leg.

Ok, ok, they don’t actually jump, but it sure seems that way.

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Joshua Tree Sunburst

Do you process your photos in order? Just wondering… I usually process mine in order because I’m afraid if I skip over something I might never come back to it.

But on the other hand, maybe you’re tired of seeing Joshua Trees by now and I should change it up a bit and save some of them for another time.

I guess if I saved enough of them I would be able to jump around from location to location all the time in blog.

What do you think?

Today’s Photo: Joshua Tree Sunburst

Another photo from Joshua Tree National Park in California.

I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of sunbursts!

Joshua Tree sunburst by Anne McKinnell
Please click the photo to view a larger version.

If you have the sun in your frame, you can make a sunburst effect like this just by using a small aperture. For this image, I used f/25. But remember, don’t look through the viewfinder when the sun is in your frame! Use the LCD display and save your eyes.

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Belle – The Most Beautiful Campground in California?

This is one of the places I yearned to go back to this winter. Belle Campground in Joshua Tree National Park.

We’ve been to some nice campgrounds. Lots of nice campgrounds. But I always prefer the ones where we can get away from people and enjoy nature.

I particularly like ones where I can stumble out of the RV in the morning and the scenery is right there waiting for me.

This is one of those special places.

I think I could spend all winter here. Except we need to flush our tanks and pick up some water and propane once in awhile! In a place like this, we don’t leave until we have to.

Just down the way is Jumbo Rocks, where I made the photo of the best sunset ever, and the big round rocks. It’s the most popular campground, but the crowds make it less desirable to me. Plus the campsites are really close together and it’s all cramped in there. Our RV wouldn’t fit. Even if it did, I would rather stay at Belle where the beauty is all mine in the morning.

Whenever I’ve been to Belle, I’m the only person out photographing at sunrise. It is one of the most peaceful and enjoyable places. Maybe the most beautiful campground in California. Although there is alot of competition for that title.

I love California :)


Please click the image to view a larger version.

Although you can’t see it, our RV is on the other side of the rocks. I made this photo right in the campground.

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Finding New Compositions in Jumbo Rocks

A few months ago I wrote about how revisiting photo locations can help you grow as a photographer by forcing you to move beyond the obvious and find new compositions.

Last year when I visited Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park I discovered, through my telephoto lens, an interesting rock formation. Here is last year’s photo:

Jumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park

Since then, I have seen other photos on the internet where there is a second round balanced rock in front of the rock I found. I didn’t want to copy that composition, but I set myself on a mission to find that second rock and then see what new compositions I could create.

Here you see three rocks that stand out from the others. The middle rock is the one I was looking for that I had seen in other photos.


Please click the image to view a larger version.

While I like both photos, I think the second one is a more complex and interesting composition. I also had a great sky that day!

It makes me look forward to what I will create next time!

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I Speak for the Trees

I don’t know if Dr. Suess was inspired by these particular trees in Joshua Tree National Park, California, but as I am driving along I often hear the voice of The Lorax —

“I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues”

– and I think about how this place became a National Park and hear The Lorax again —

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”


Please click the image to view a larger version.

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Just Three of the Many Jumbo Rocks

I think I could spend days photographing in this location. The only problem with it is that the campground bearing it’s name is extremely popular so there are always lots of people at Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park.

Jumbo Rocks by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

Our RV is too big to fit in that campground, and I don’t think I would like being near so many people anyway, so we always stay at Belle Campground just a short drive away.

I made this photo just before the amazing sunset I shared with you earlier this week. You can see how the clouds are starting to break up and the colour is coming in. Always a good sign of a stellar sunset!

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