Monday, December 10, 2012

My Blood is Sooo Thin

After a few years in California and a couple of extended trips to the Tropics, I reckon my blood is alot thinner than it used to be. I used to be very tolerant of the cold - quite enjoyed it really.

So when I casually turned up at the rim of Bryce Canyon, I got quite a shock. It is definitely a Dawn location, so you need to be there really early - especially it's particularly popular with photographers.

So there I am at 6:30AM (Pretty good start for me), at 9000ft on the rim waiting for the sun to come up in the howling wind. The trouble with the spot being popular is that you need to claim a spot and not move. The wind was strong enough that there was a chance of the tripod being blown over.

So an hour later when the sun has risen sufficiently for reasonable coverage of the bowl I am as cold as I can ever remember being. This is my excuse for this particular shot not being my best of the place...

I had a long hot shower after that.

Maybe I'll change my plans and go to Hawaii next year rather than Alaska. Hopefully I'll survive England at Xmas.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What Planet is This?

This is my second time to the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico, but the weirdness of the rock formations still amazes me.

This photo could easily be of another planet.

It is particularly spooky wandering around there by yourself. You do wonder if there are Alien eggs in there somewhere waiting for the right opportunity.

It gets even spookier because the best (read weirdest) rocks are about a half hour walk from the car park. And of course the best light is around sunset. And the location is miles from anywhere. So the walk back to the car is in almost complete darkness.

It's actually one of those times when a GPS is really useful for hiking.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The White Rim Road

I have been to Canyonlands National Park a number of times. There's lots of very high viewpoints, looking deep into the canyons. Of course I wanted to get down there and explore. Just as soon as I had enough time. Dead Horse Point State Park is right next to Canyonlands and it has one of the best views in the area. See that road down there it's called White Rim Road. 100 miles of 'off-roading', meaning you need a couple of days to do it and camp down there.

So I dropped by the Park office and got my camping permits. I also got lots of dire warnings from the rangers about rockfalls and ice on the road and questions about do I have enough fuel to get back out the way I came if I get blocked. 100 miles or so doesn't sound very much and on the normal road I'm getting a range of about 500 miles. But when you go off-road fuel consumption skyrockets. On a steep hill in 4Lo I've seen it go under 5MPG, at which rate I wouldn't make it round. So it totally depends on road conditions. I didn't want to have to buy extra fuel canisters, so I thought I'd wing it.

One of the campsites came highly recommended by the Park Ranger because it had the tree! The only facilities were what you brought with you. This campsite had a rock.

Alot of the road is fairly smooth gravel, but there are some very interesting spots where 4Lo is very handy. When it's very steep and rough, crawling along slowly is the only way to go.

Sometimes it doesn't look like there's enough road for even one car. Plenty of river though. That's the Green river, the biggest tributary of the Colorado.

But why is it called the White Rim Road? Seems like there's more red than anything else, right? Well here's another view of it from above...

If you like you isolation, I can highly recommend this trip, I saw one other 4x4 and 2 bikes in three days. Take a copy of Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" with you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wish I'd Ignored my Geography Teacher

My last exam in Geography (a long long time ago) was the worst exam I ever did. My sole remaining memory of the course was learning why Heathrow Airport was located where it was over and over again. But if he'd taken me to places where Geography came more alive I'd probably have pursued it further. The desert South West is somewhere every budding Geographer/Geologist should be taken.

If you have difficulty believing there are huge forces involved, there's Waterpocket Fold, where the strata have been broken and forced above the surface. You can drive along it for miles, although the best views are from the air.

If you have difficulty believing water can erode the landscape dramatically over eons giving us the Grand Canyon. There are smaller versions such as this in Canyonlands National Park, where you can 'help' the process if you trip over the wrong rock.

The whiter rock on top is the hard stuff, and the red rock is is like a very soft sandstone. Note the columns on the left where the red rock is eroding underneath the white, eventually the whole thing completely collapses.

On the way it creates some wonderful shapes.

But as you wander about taking photos, you can't really tell what is underneath you. Every now and then you realise you've crossed a crack like this. Any stones you drop in just completely disappear. So does mean you're standing on one of those columns?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Wave

Well enough commentary on the 4x4, time for it to get me out there and see the world.

One of the most famous photography Spot in the Desert South West is The Wave. Not known by everyone, but serious Nature photographers pretty much all know it.

It is a whole area of the Coyotes Buttes region in Northern Arizona, just full of weird and wonderful rock formation. Many of them petrified sands dunes like the wave.

These two girls had come a long way to try and get in, but access is limited to 20 per day, with 10 available by lottery the day before. They'd been staying in the area for days trying each day to get in. The day I was there, they finally got in and screamed the place down.

The Wave is a major focal point of the area, but it is full of many other weird and wonderful rock formations.

Car Camping (in the car)

I was pleased to find the 4Runner is big enough to sleep in. Either put the front seat down flat, or flip the back seat down. I've never actually slept in a car before, always setting up a tent, even when I couldn't see where I was. I presumed I'd need curtains or something to even get to sleep.

So somewhere in the wilds of Utah I found this spot and got out a few home comforts ...

Yep, I'm camping in luxury these days, with table and chair! Always had beer of course.

Note the table was specially selected to be compatible with the 22 year old Trangia Stove. Meaning it doesn't burn easily.

Later on the advantage of having windows in my tent really struck home.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Using ALL Those Buttons

So I headed out to the White Mountains to see the Bristlecone Pines. This time I'm headed directly for the Upper Grove which is along enough of a dirt track to stop my M3 - believe me I've tried. One of the reasons I knew I needed to go back to a 4x4.

The usual route up their from the town of Bishop is to go roughly 15 miles south then 15 miles east on the highway then 15 miles north, alot of it on dirt roads. Then I found another option - going directly east for about 15 miles. The difference is that the climb is very steep and on a dirt road - Awesome!

So I get to use all of the buttons on my new truck...

The green icon means 4x4, yes it seems like everyone has that these days. "4 Lo" - is an extra low gearbox for pulling up steep hills or heavy engine breaking, and is the big differentiator between car-like AWDs and 'real' 4x4s and the main reason I went for a heavier truck rather than one of those modern mall-terrain vehicles. Below that is the diff-lock on icon, meaning there should be less wheel spin. "VSC OFF" means Vehicle Stability Control Off - ie. you're in charge now. The "D" for those in the UK means 'go forwards and wake me up when we get there' in American ;-)).

The start of the trail was quite innocuous, although it did include a few surprise river (well stream) crossings. Then I passed a National Forest sign requiring "4 Lo" and "High Clearance" for the second half. It suddenly got really steep, with big drops to the side - well the route description did say "Exhilarating". It certainly was. I wasn't even stopping to take a photo.

At the top of the very steepest part the view was superb. That's the valley below, and you can just see the trail near the left edge by the dark hill. Tough to show just how steep it is in a photo (from above, anyway).

I have to say I was pretty impressed with the 4Runner, the trail was similar to some of the Land Rover driving we'd been doing in Costa Rica. I'd say it handled the trail just as well, and with more comfort too. It will be interesting to see how well the engine braking compares on the downhills. (I went home the easy way as it was dark.)

By the way there is another button I haven't mention - more to come later. Just a hint - It's why I bought a new(ish) 4Runner and finally accepted an Automatic.

M3 9538 points, 4Runner 11800 points

A few years ago when I bought my convertible, my little brother scoffed at what he saw as a City Slickers car (who me?). So I sent him a picture like this (but with the convertible in the same spot). It shut him up for a coupla minutes.

Ellery Lake just the other side of Yosemite, 9538 ft high.

I got both of them up in to the White Mountains to see the Bristlecones...

Trees so ancient they used them to correct Carbon Dating. There's 2 groves of them, the Schulmann Grove then the Patriarch Grove, higher up. The road to the Schulmann Grove is paved, so they both got there no probs. I tried to get the M3 further up but the pavement stops and the road gets quite bumpy. I got so far but the amount of rocks bouncing off the underside made me stop and turn around.
No such problems with the 4Runner of course. I had made it up to the Patriarch Grove in 2001 in my Jeep, but I'd stopped on the way to catch Sunset light on trees on the way up, and arrived in the dark.

In fact I got quite a bit further, all the way to 11800 ft, right to the start of the trail to the top of White Mountain. It's nice to be able to go anywhere again.

In this case those points don't mean prizes - they're vertical feet.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Finally - Resolution to the Big question in life (well mine anyway)

So my plan after Costa Rica has always been to get a truck to 'live in'. Or out of. The big question of course was which kind of truck.

Being a Brit of course means you have-to-have a Defender for an expedition. Ray Mears himself said  "There's something reassuring about the Defender. You see one coming and think everything's going to be alright".

But being a Brit in the US of A means the market it is rather different and the search is very frustrating. This is your typical Defender (NAS) in the US these days:

Normally a V8 petrol engine, and automatic. Great for posing about on California beaches, but not exactly great for long distances. It is quite a gas guzzler and usually has a soft-top. The longer 110 version is even rarer. Both are very expensive.

Driving Landys and other 4x4's in England, Africa, Iceland, US and Costa Rica has really reinforced my preference for a nice diesel with a manual transmission. So I was excited when I saw this.

Diesel engine, AND manual. Cool air intake. But pretty old, very high mileage, leaks underneath and VERY expensive. I pass it by often on Sunday mornings and 8 months later it is still unsold.

The sensible thing in the US is to go with the local market and accept automatic, and maybe even buy a Toyota. There's a local company that builds campers to go on the back of 4x4 pickup trucks. And when I realised one of my photo heros has one, then I thought perhaps my photos would look better if I got one of these...

I even went up to their showrooms near Sacramento and spent a few hours playing around in them. Very compact, but very comfortable with bed space for 3 and cooker and fridge. Ideal for my style of rocking up in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night wondering where to put the tent.

So getting one of those was my plan as I left work.

Then I arrived in Costa Rica to work with Raleigh International and spent the next few months driving around in these...

Ooooh. Brilliant. Yesss torquey diesel, and of course manual - like the rest of the world. And I met this German guy traversing the length of the American continent in one of these...

Yes that is a tent on the roof - a style much favoured for overlanding in Africa as you are up out of the way of the critters. He was very pleased with it, even considered it highly reliable. So I thought if it is reliable enough for a German, the reputation they have (especially in the US) may be outdated. I even thought about buying something like that down there and then driving it all the way through Central America to the US.

Then I get back to the US and realise 1) The lead time on the build of those campers had doubled 2) It was getting expensive and 3) I'd already spent alot of my budget.

So I start thinking - cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. Just around the corner I see one of these. I left a note on the windshield to get the owner to call me.

And he did! Yes it's 4x4, it has a built in bed, manual and a crawler gear. He didn't even want too much for it - they're rare especially in 4x4 guise. But the man himself told me he considered it more of a bad road car than off road capable.

So, in the end, after all that I went out and bought one of these...

Only 4 years old, and yes it's an automatic. A Toyota 4Runner (very similar to the Hilux Surf in the UK). But it is big enough to sleep in - I can either put the back seat down forwards and sleep in the back, or, put the front seat back and sleep in the front. It has no kitchen but it does have an Aux input to the stereo and a sunroof. It doesn't drink quite as badly as other 4x4's and it is very quiet. I'll have to buy a Land Rover as a 2nd car one day.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jungle Trekkin' Cattell Style

I met this cool dude in Costa Rica, his video editing is brilliant.
Around 1:30 in to it, there's me me trekking in style.

Thanks Matt, you've inspired me to give it a GoPro.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In California even the rain is dry

Just in case anyone is inclined to accuse me of sitting still for too long I left San Francisco again for a few days in the Sierras. A spot of mountain biking, hiking and photography around Tahoe and Yosemite.

A Raleigh mate was over from England so we rented a car (the Beemer is a bit sick and will be traded for the right truck) headed for Tahoe and nearly got caught the wrong side of the Sierras in a snow storm.

So I haven't got wet yet in California, as even the rain has fallen dry. Yup after being damp for nearly 4 months, I'm pretty dry now - niice.

We drove over Tioga Pass in a snow storm which cleared just in time to have a hike around Tuolumne Meadows in the sun.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Back in SF

It is sooooo good to be home.

Weather was way too hot for me though - my sweat glands need a rest for the next decade or so after the Tropics. Temps were in the 100's all over the Bay Area.

Then yesterday, the fog rolled back in, blew the tourists away and restored the place to how it should be ;-))

Went for a ride over that bridge and blew all the cobwebs away.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Amazing Technology

Being big into technology I thought I knew how it all worked. But then this happened.

Driving along, these rocks appeared at the side of the road and the GPS said "Alert: Falling Rocks"

It's only blurred from the shaking caused by the falling rocks. Nothing to do with poor photo technique - of course.


What not to buy just before National Independence Day in a Central American country...

Just in case you don't recognise it - it's the Spanish Footy shirt. I bought it just as a tough shirt to wear in the jungle - a cotton T just doesn't cut it, and this was the least offensive - at least to me.

Everything for Sale

Yep you can even buy your own tourist bus here...

For Sale

There's so much property owned by foreigners in Costa Rica, sometimes it seems a shame the locals don't get more of a look in.

But then you see this 7000 square metres at $17 per sqm. Plenty of room for my tent...

We could all get together - there's a whole hillside of lots available.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Life on Life on Life

You really get a sense of the vibrancy of Nature here in Costa Rica. Animals live on animals, animals live on plants, plants live on plants etc etc ....

Even when you are really small, there are insects looking to live on you. This Poison Dart frog is about half an inch long.

Still there's an insect ready to live on him (her?).

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Other Side

Then on the same river you also get to see the more peaceful and beautiful side of river life ...

[One for you Mom]

Careful Now

There are a few animals here in Costa Rica that will try and kill you given half the chance. Generally you can stay away from where they hang out.

The American Crocodile is one such beast.

Read this chaps Tshirt and then look at what is in the water in front of him...

Things get a little more interesting...

... and ...

The Croc gets the chicken...

If you want to see these guys, you'll find them on the Tarcoles river on the West coast of Costa Rica.

Fascinating Creatures

There's so much weird an wonderful wildlife here in Costa Rica.

Meet the Common Basilisk, or Jesus Christ Lizard as they call them over here. Their webbed feet and fast legs mean they can walk on water. At least whilst they are small.

They're not quite as threatening as the Harry Potter versions, being only inches long.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gimme yer Lunch

Sometimes it's just easier to follow the tourist crowds as the wildlife follows their food.

They pose for pictures on the understanding they get fed...

Quantity rather than Quality

Following a guide around can be quite bewildering, particularly somewhere like Corcovado National Park. There's so much to see that while you're still trying to get a better pic of one thing the guide is yelling at you to look at something else. By the time you move to that he is on to something else.

So I'm going for quantity and leaving the quality for when I have more time alone with my BIG lens... Here's what I've seen and identified so far...

Collared Anteater, Tamandua, Bairds Tapir, White Bat, Anhinga, Back Hooded Anstrike, Bird Forest Falcon, Black Bellied Whistling Duck, Brown Pelican, Common Black Hawk, Crested Guan, Double Toothed Kite, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Curacau, Great Kiskadee, Bare Throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tiger Heron, Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Mangrove Swallow, Pale Billed Woodpecker, Plain Wren, Roseated Spoonbill, Scarlet Macaw, Spotted Sandpiper, Squirrel Cuckoo, Toucan, Tropical Kingbird, Violaceous Trogon, White Ibis, White Whiskered Puffbird, Yellow Headed Caracara,, Hermit Crab, Neotropical Land Crab, White Tailed Deer, Black and Green Dart Frog, Tree Frog, Ants, Butterfly, Great Owl Butterfly, Grasshopper, Lobster Grasshopper, Honey Bee, Paper Wasp, Golden Web Spider, Stick Insect, Termites, Central American Squirrel Monkey, Howler Monkey, Spider Monkey, White Face Capuchin Monkey, Raccoon, American Freshwater Crocodile, Brown Anole, Crested Chameleon, Green Iguana, Jesus Christ Lizard, Bird Eating Snake, Spectacled Caiman,Sloth, Brown Throated Three Toed, Hofmans Two Toed, White Nosed Coati, Coatimundi, False Bird of Paradise, Quinine Plant

Can't See the Buggers for the Trees

So how do you become a wildlife photographer when you can't see the animals for the trees? No idea. Do it on the African plains instead maybe? Not only is alot of the wildlife here quite small, but being in the dense jungle makes them really hard to spot. I'm slowly giving up on the idea of trying to learn it all myself. I've tried out a few of the local guides...
They will walk along next to you, suddenly get all excited and point into the trees. You won't see anything. So they set up the scope and you look down it. There is this colourful animal clear as day. You move away from the scope and then spend the next 10 minutes trying to figure out where it actually is.
So even the normal tourist guides bring the places to life. I've walked back through the same places and hardly seen anything. I'm starting to get the hang of it though. Well a little.

It's Tough Out Here

The worst part of photography these days is sitting in front of the darned computer processing all those photos. I've just got back from Corcovado National Park - THE most intense nature experience possible (according to National Geographic). The wildlife is brilliant.

 Now I have thousands of photos to dig through and see if I can find any good ones. But if you have to sit in front of a computer - sometimes it ain't too bad....

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Grandes Cojones, Mono Pequeño

No wonder these guys howl alot when they have to carry around big balls like this all day. I imagine they bang against the branches fairly often - judging by the noise they make anyway.
There are Howlers monkeys all over Costa Rica, and their howling can be heard all over the place. You'd expect the animal to be at least asbig as a large bear. The first time I heard them was on the prison island - San Lucas, where many prisoners had died in awful circumstances. It was dusk and the place was pretty spooky anyway.

Weird Dogs

The dogs here in Costa Rica are distinctly weird. Hopefully it is pure schizophrenia rather than rabies, but they rapidly go from being super friendly to trying to chew you hand off. Even if they know you well. This one is Splatches the adopted dog of Fieldbase.
We have to be careful when sweeping as She's obviously been beaten in the past and runs away. She must have some Greyhound in her as we've clocked her doing 40kph. This makes it difficult to shake her off when going long distance on a rough road.

Monday, July 2, 2012

BIG Wildlife

This guy with the scary face is about 4 inches long...

I think it's a Grasshopper.