A Secret Oasis of Barrel Cacti

Somewhere off the beaten track in middle of nowhere, Nevada, I saw an interesting rock outcropping in the distance.

“Let’s go explore!” I said to Ray.

I could see the look in his eyes.

“Long Pants!” I exclaimed.

So we donned our long pants and set off amongst the prickly pear cactus, the teddy bear cholla, the walking stick cactus, the spitting needle cactus, the attack cactus, and the grabby cactus. And there were some Joshua Trees too.

After half an hour of careful stepping, we reached the rock. We photographed all around and as the sun went down I decided to walk around the back.

To my surprise, I found my own secret oasis with barrel cacti working their way up the rock cliff.

Barrel cacti in Nevada by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

But the light disappeared quickly and I didn’t get any more photos.

I am keeping my special location a secret for now. It’s my first secret photo location :)

Next year I will return, with reinforced pants, to photograph here again.

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Abstract Rock Art in the Southwest

The thing I like the most about photographing in the southwest USA is the limitless opportunities not only for the grand scenic landscapes, but all the smaller abstract scenes that are inherent in them.

After you’ve seen places like Zion National Park, or the Valley of Fire, some miscellaneous rock formation in the middle of nowhere, like this one at Whitney Pocket, Nevada, may seem less impressive at first.

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

But when you look closer, the details equal what you find in the more iconic locations.

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

It’s wonderful to be able to take a stroll from the RV in any direction you choose, explore a nearby rock formation, and come away with such interesting abstract photos. Here are a couple more from the area near our campsite.

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

The sheer diversity of the landscape in the southwest is overwhelming. Especially when I think of how much of it I have yet to see.

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Arch at Whitney Pocket, Nevada

Way out in the desert, at the northeast end of Lake Mead in Nevada, lies one of our favourite new boondocking spots: Whitney Pocket.

In amongst the crags we set up our RV and spent a few days wandering this remote and peaceful area. Well, peaceful until the boy scouts showed up with their black powder guns, but you know it’s Nevada and you can do stuff like that!

It’s similar to the Valley of Fire with all the colours in the rocks: stripes of white and red with patches of yellow and blotches of purple. But different from the Valley of Fire because it’s at a different elevation, so there are Joshua Trees as well.

Here is an arch I discovered last year, which prompted us to return this year. I wanted to photograph here on a sunny day in the late afternoon light. I could imagine there would be nice shadows and the interior of the arch would have a golden glow. I got my wish this year with a beautiful clear day.

Please click the image to view a larger version.

I knew there would be lots of things to discover here, and I wasn’t disappointed with what I found! I’ll share more photos from this location coming up soon.

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Can Using a Tripod Inhibit Your Creativity?

When exploring in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, I discovered this really neat rock formation. I really liked all the rings and layers of rock, and the peak that comes up from the lower rock and touches the top of the arch, like it was molded on a pottery wheel. It’s a very unusual formation.

Sunburst in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell
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The sun was just about to set so I positioned myself so that the sun would peak through the opening and I used a small aperture to create a sunburst.

Although I had my tripod with me, and I’m a firm believer in tripods, sometimes I find that using it can inhibit my creativity by limiting my perspective to something I can easily achieve on the tripod.

When I made this photo I was standing on a relatively steep hill, made of this same rock, and it was hard to get the tripod positioned just right so I could capture all the elements I wanted to include in the frame. I kept getting a cramp in my foot while crouching down trying to set up my tripod so it wouldn’t slide down the hill!

Eventually I decided to take my camera off the tripod and just increase the ISO so I could take handheld shots. Suddenly I was able to move around more freely and make images from different and more interesting perspectives.

Perhaps using a tripod doesn’t always mean getting better images.

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Light Painting a Ghost Town

It’s great to have friends to meet up with and share experiences with when we’re on the road! Especially when we all get to learn about photography from each other at the same time.

Last year one of my blog readers contacted me when it looked like we were coming his way and invited us to stay at his small RV park in Moapa, Nevada, which is how we ended up at the Valley of Fire. Don and Marsha Davis are wonderful hosts who are very generous in sharing the beautiful locations they have discovered in Nevada, and I’m so happy we have become friends. Check out Ray’s review of their RV park. If you’re planning on visiting the Valley of Fire, and you’re in an RV, this is a great spot for a home base for day trips.

We enjoyed it so much that this year we decided to go back and another great experience was waiting for us. Don had arranged for us to go on a night shoot at a nearby ghost town! Not only that, but we were meeting up with a friend of his, another photographer, who has recently been learning about light painting. Cool!

So off we went to a ghost town called Nelson, in El Dorado Canyon, about an hour away from Las Vegas. It was exciting to explore the ghost town looking for a good photo location and figuring out how we were going to light it. We settled on this abandoned gas station with a cool old car in the garage. We stayed in this one spot and played with different lights, shining them this way and that for hours! I have a lot to learn, but this is my best shot from the night.

Gas station in El Dorada Canyon, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell
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This is a 30 second exposure, during which we all ran around shining lights on the building and the signs and there was also a flash with a green gel on it set inside the car.

I learned that light painting is as much about the shadows you create as it is about the light.

I have to thank Jim Sage for showing me his light painting techniques. Next year I might go on one of his Cowboy Trail Rides – that would be fun.

Now I can’t wait to go back to this place next year because there were a lot of different photo ops both for day and night shooting.

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While I was roaming around the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, trying to get a new perspective on Fire Wave, I ran across this rather large lizard!

I had no idea what it was when I photographed her, but she’s a Chuckwalla! I’ve never heard of a Chuckwalla before.

It turns out they are a stocky wide-bodied lizard with a flattened midsection and prominent belly about 15 inches long. I believe this one is a female.

Chuckwalla in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

It’s wonderful to discover new things like this while out in nature.

The only problem was that because I had rented a wide angle lens and was playing with that, I didn’t bring my telephoto lens along. I made this photo with my Sony NEX6 and the 18-55 lens. In post-processing I cropped the original image to less than 1/4 of it’s size. I’m pretty impressed with the sharpness even with such a severe crop.

After I saw her I crept up ever so slowly, moving only inches at a time, and stopping frequently so she wouldn’t be alarmed. You can see she has her eye on me and her escape plan ready to put into action. She let me get pretty close, but eventually she crawled into the hole never to be seen again (at least by me).

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More from Fire Wave

Well, the snowbird season is just about over. I’m sitting in our campsite in Port Angeles, Washington, where we will spend a day before hopping on the ferry to head back across the line to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where we will spend the summer.

It’s been an amazing winter with 80 degree days almost every day and I have about a gazillion more photos to share!

I’m about a month behind in photo processing and I skipped lots of places along the way, so I’ll have many more photos from the trip to share with you over spring and summer. Plus, I’m sure I’ll be making new photos, hopefully more photos of Orcas taken from my boat :)

Today’s Photo: Fire Wave (again)

Here’s yet another photo from Fire Wave in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. In case you missed it, I have other photos from Fire Wave here and here.

I could spend days photographing here!

Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell
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I made this photo just after the sun went down, so the soft light gives it a very different feel from the previous shots yet it still shows off all the different colours and patterns in the rock in the Valley of Fire.

I like making photos of the same place under different lighting conditions. You really learn a lot about light by doing that. Give it a try!

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Another Look at Fire Wave

One of the main attractions at the Valley of Fire State Park, in Nevada, is Fire Wave. It used to be hard to find, but now there is a trail with signage to help you get there. You have to walk through the rocks from marker to marker that eventually lead you to the most fascinating rock formation.

After photographing here pretty extensively last year, I challenged myself to find a new perspective.

Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

In post processing, I slightly increased the detail in the rocks using Topaz Detail. I really like the intelligence of Topaz Detail. Instead of just increasing edge sharpness, it has a way of analyzing the image to determine which areas contain detail and which do not. So unlike using other sharpening tools, it doesn’t sharpen your sky. It only sharpens what needs to be sharpened. Pretty cool!

You can try out Topaz Detail for free and if you like it they are having a 50% off sale until the end of this month. That brings the price down to only $19.99. Pretty good deal for getting tack sharp images without adding noise.

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Fire Canyon Arch

The Valley of Fire State Park, in Nevada, was one of the best discoveries we made last year so it was high on my list of places to return to this year.

There is so much to see and explore there with interesting rock formations in all the colours of the rainbow.

Last year, the road to Silca Dome was closed, so this year we made a point of exploring in that area. We didn’t get too far down the road when we found a convenient place to pull over and then we just started walking down a wash, exploring. I was busy photographing when I heard an “over here” from Ray. So over I went and there was this beautiful arch!

Fire Canyon Arch in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell

It’s known as Fire Canyon Arch. In the surrounding area there are white rocks that suddenly change to red rocks, and places where there are stripes of red, white, pink, purple and yellow. It’s a fascinating place and I’ll have many more photos to share with you coming up on the blog.

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Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Another one of the fantastic state parks we discovered in Arizona this year is Picacho Peak State Park, which is just south of Tucson. It’s a landmark we noticed last year when we were driving by and we made a point of exploring it this year. It has a beautiful campground with huge sites and some nice hiking trails.

You can actually hike right up to the top of the peak with the help of some cables! I’ve heard it’s the best hike in Arizona. But I wouldn’t really know, I didn’t go up there :)

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona by Anne McKinnell

I was too early for the wildflowers, but I managed to find a teddy bear cholla cactus to put in the foreground. You can see how it’s little pieces fall off and if you step anywhere near them they will gleefully attach themselves to you.

I’ve learned to always wear long pants and step carefully when searching for my perfect photo location in the desert.

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