Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ethan fire

Lightening during yesterday's storms started a fire on the west side of Phoenix. It's called the Ethan fire. This afternoon at work I thought it seemed like it was getting dark outside. I looked out there and the sun was blotted out by the smoke. Reminded me of the fires we drove through in California last year. I decided to climb Lone Mountain and see if I could get some good pictures of the smoke. On the way up, I came across what looks like a buzzard feather. I was tempted to keep it, but left it there. Here are pictures of the smoke and the feather.


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About half way up the mountain, a refreshing breeze started blowing. Then it blew harder. Then it almost blew me over. I looked behind me and there was a small shower in the distance. It sure was generating a lot of wind. I was concerned about it sending some lightening my way. On a mountain is not a good place to be during a thunderstorm so I headed back down. Here's a video I made when the wind started. It's kind of noisy because of the wind.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A storm

We had the first storm of the monsoon rainy season today. There was a little dust and even a little rain. The unusual thing was the thunder. It was coming from a cloud directly overhead and it rumbled continuously for at least 15 minutes. I never saw any lightening. It was all in the clouds.


Monday, June 23, 2008


I think I have solved the video upload problem, at least for now. Here's the video that illustrates what it was like hiking up Ice Box Canyon.

Here's the video of walking up to Calico Tanks.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Red Rock Canyon

Suzanne attended a nursing conference is Las Vegas on Thursday and Friday. I went along to keep her company, to see Las Vegas (well, a little bit of it) and to explore the desert around Las Vegas.

I spent as much time as I could at Red Rock Canyon. It's at an altitude of over 3000 feet, which made it 10 or 15 degrees cooler than Las Vegas. Still, the time I could spend there was limited by how much heat I could take. When it's in the upper 90's and you can't get out of the sun, it's hot.

The first day out there, I hiked the Calico Tanks trail. It goes up the Calico Hills to a tinaja near the top of the hills. The rock there is formed from sand dunes that had piled sand over half a mile deep. It reminded me of Zion National Park, and it turns out that Calico Hills and Zion were formed from the same huge dune field.

Here's a video made as I walked along a narrow ledge to get around the tinaja. I really wanted to get to the other side and I thought this was the only way. I wanted a video in case I fell. Normally I wouldn't walk along a ledge like that, but there were other hikers around. I figured they could call for help (I had a cell signal up there) and my body would be out of the hills before Suzanne knew I was dead. Sorry about all the popping noises. I don't know what does that, but I've got to find out and stop it.

As I was standing on a cliff above the tinaja, a large bird landed on a ledge near by. I thought it was a red tailed hawk at the time, but I looked it up in our bird book and it's a peregrine falcon. Here's a video of the falcon getting a drink of water. Sorry it shakes so much. I was zoomed in all the way and couldn't stand still. Maybe I was still shaking from the stroll along the narrow ledge.

Sometimes (well, probably most of the time for me), pictures can't show things in perspective or how they look in relation to each other or how big or small things are. That's why I made a video walking up to the tinaja from the southeast (you approach from the northwest on the hike).

Oops, that video is broken. I've been having a lot of trouble with Google videos lately. OK, I guess I'll go on to videos I made at the Bellagio on our last morning there. The first is a cool fountain at the Conservatory.

There are several G-gauge trains set up there. Here's one.

This is a model of the Bellagio with a fountain in front.

I'm still having a lot of trouble with my video uploads. Until I get that figured out, here are the pictures.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Vegas Preview

Just a quick update. Suzanne and I have been in Las Vegas the past few days. Everybody here seems to be trying to get rich off internet connections. I can't afford to keep this connection on long. It's insane.

I put a few pictures on my web album. Don't have time to get into an descriptions or explanations right now. The place I was hiking (Red Rock Canyon) is about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Las Vegas, but it still felt pretty warm. Well, it's been around 110 in Vegas.


Sunday, June 15, 2008


OK, this has nothing to do with exploring the desert, but it was fun. Lindsey and I got Havoc Heli's today. We've only flown them once so far. They're a lot of fun. Here are some videos.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Yes, I went for a hike today, and it was beautiful and wonderful, but it's late and I'm too lazy to write about it. Here are the pictures.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Pictures from yesterday's hike

I put pictures from yesterday's hike in a photo album this afternoon. Most are geotagged. I also have a bunch of pictures that I used Photomatix to enhance. Unfortunately, it also enhances the spots on the polarizer lens. I've about convinced myself that I need to buy it. The only problem is that I also found out that I pretty much need to carry a tripod with me if I'm going to use Photomatix. It takes less than a second for the camera to get the three pictures that serve as input to Photomatix, and Photomatix is able to compensate for some camera movement, but some of the processed pictures from yesterday make my eyes water if I look too closely at them.

I have a small tripod that I use for self portraits on hikes. It takes up very little room in my backpack and weighs almost nothing. I really need a full size tripod for the Photomatix pictures, though. My full size tripod is light, but I don't think it will fit in the backpack. At this time of year, I have to have a water bottle in one hand. If I have a tripod in the other hand, I won't be able to swat at gnats (or bees). Such a dilemma.

I put captions on most of the pictures, so I'm not going to talk about them here.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

A new peak conquered

It was only about 100 this afternoon, so I thought I had better take advantage of the relatively cool weather. I headed towards Canyon Lake but decided to try the gate at the Apache Trail entrance to Bulldog Canyon OHV area. My map of the area is reproduced below.

View Larger Map

I was looking for something to climb that I hadn't climbed before and found a peak that looked like a possibility. It has a "gentle" slope on one side and shear cliffs on another. I was able to drive pretty close to it, but had to park at the cliff end and hike to the other end to start climbing. It wasn't a long climb; about 570 feet. The view from the top was better than I had hoped, though. Unfortunately, it looks like some of my sweat had dripped onto the polarizing filter, so a lot of the pictures are messed up. I didn't notice it until I got home.

As I was walking around on top, taking pictures and enjoying the view and the breeze, there was a bee that kept buzzing around me. They frequently do that when I'm hiking and I used to just ignore them. I read recently, though, that before they attack, killer bees will bump a person as a warning. So I was watching this bee. It didn't seem to be bumping me. It just buzzed around and around. Once, it quit buzzing and I found it on my shirt. I decided to try to ignore it, though. I was walking back and forth getting pictures when I thought my sleeve felt funny and I brushed it. I felt a lump. I was thinking that was odd and wondering if it was a piece of a paloverde I had brushed past on the way up when I realized that I couldn't hear the bee buzzing. Ack! There's a bee in my shirt! I tried to get it out before it stung, but it was too late. When they sting, they release chemicals into the air that signal other bees to attack. I watched and listened nervously for more bees as I got my knife out to scrape the stinger off (if you grab them with your fingers, you will squeeze more of the bee venom into your skin). I had also read recently that many people who die as a result of bee attacks in Arizona, do so as a result of running off a cliff or something like that. Well, I was right next to a killer cliff. Even if I tried to run down the way I came up, it was steep. If I didn't go down exactly the way I came up, I would probably be stopped by another cliff. Well, the story has a happy ending; I didn't fall to my death. No more bees showed up. Whew!

I tried to make a couple of videos looking over the cliff. I couldn't get close enough to the edge, though. Nobody can make fun of me until they go up there and make a better video, though.

That's going to have to be all for now. It's late and I'm tired. I'll put the pictures up tomorrow.

Friday, June 06, 2008

More stuff from yesterday

I've added some pictures of barrel cactus and fishhook pincushion flowers to the web album. I also added a couple more processed pictures.

There have been many times when I've stood looking at a scene and knew that my camera could not possibly come close to capturing what I was seeing. The eye has a much wider dynamic range of operation than a camera, as if each "pixel" seen by your eye was represented by 32 bit word for each color, but the camera only has 8 bit words. In a picture, some areas may be too bright and washed out. For example, instead of seeing the clouds in a picture, the sky will just be solid white. On the other end, instead of seeing what is in a shadow, a picture may just have a black area. You can take a picture that will show the clouds, but everything else will be too dark. You can take a picture to show what's in the shadows, but everything else will be too bright. You can't have both.

Until now. There's something called High Dynamic Range Images (HDRI), which combines pictures made at different exposures so that the entire range of brightness can be in one picture. Well, sort of. One reason cameras don't capture a wide dynamic range is because monitors cannot display a wide range, and you can't print a wide range. So after the software combines images with different exposures, it then has to "compress" the range so it can be displayed. The user can adjust parameters to get the desired effect.

The software I've been trying out is called Photomatix. Since I haven't paid for it, it puts a watermark on the pictures it produces. In some of the pictures I've used it on, I can't decide if I like the originals or the modified pictures. Maybe that's because I'm not very good at modifying them. The first picture on which I tried it seemed impressive. Here's the picture the camera would normally give you:

And here's what I got with the default settings in Photomatix:

If you look at all the pictures in that album (the final result comes from combining data from 3 pictures), you can see that none produced by the camera show near as much as the one from Photomatix.

My results with landscape photography have not been nearly as impressive, but I think that's because the conditions haven't been quite right (or wrong) to make Photomatix useful. As soon as I produce a stunning picture that I couldn't have gotten any other way, I'll buy Photomatix.

When I was up on the ridge yesterday, a couple of lesser nighthawks (aka goatsuckers) kept flying in front of me and then flopping around as if they were injured. They must have been trying to lure me away from their nest (but I never saw it). Anyway, I tried to make a video of their antics. They never flopped around after I got the camera out, though. You can hear their strange monkey-like songs, though. I was about to turn the camera off when I heard coyotes howling. They were loud enough to record, so I kept the camera going. OK, so there are some interesting sounds on the video. You have to turn your PC sound up pretty high, though. I talk quietly a couple of times during the video, but it turns out it's too loud. Sorry about that. Also, there wasn't much wind, but it's kinda loud when you turn the sound up enough to hear the birds and coyotes.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A slightly cooler day

Yesterday it was very windy. There was a lot of dust in the air as a result. Today there was only a light breeze. I guess the wind had blown some of the pollution away, because the air was very clear. I hiked up to a ridge in Bulldog Canyon. It was very quiet. Not as many bees buzzing around, though I did smell some very sweet flowers now and then.

I saw some lesser nighthawks up on the ridge. They seem to make their nests on the ground. They would fly 20 feet or so and then flop around on the ground as if they were injured. I figured their nest was near by and they were trying to draw me away from it. I tried to make a video of them but they didn't flop around any more. You can hear them making some of their peculiar noises, though. Then, when I was about to stop the camera, coyotes started howling down at the base of the ridge. They were loud enough to get recorded. Anyway, it's late and I'm tired so I'm not going to get the video uploaded tonight. I also have a lot of picture processing to do. I'm trying out some software that I'm thinking about buying. Anyway here are a couple of pictures for now.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Atempts at a self portrait

I've been lazy lately. And don't say, "Lately?". I didn't hike all weekend because it was "too hot". It barely got to 100. By this afternoon I was determined to get outside, even if it was hot. It was only about 93 by the time I parked the truck, though.

I went out to Bulldog Canyon. When I was just about to the place I was going to park, I spotted a large lizard up ahead, furiously doing push ups. I decided I had better take a couple of pictures through the windshield in case opening the door scared him away. It was in a pretty shady spot, and he was doing push ups pretty fast, so the pictures are blurred. Of course, he did run off when I opened the door.

There's a pretty, rocky mountain ridge where I parked. I was tempted to take a picture, but I have hundreds of pictures of it. I decided to just go sit on it. When I got up there, I decided to take some pictures of myself sitting there not taking picture. I set up the intervalometer to take a picture every minute. The first one is when I started it.

Then I got in the picture. When I use the timer to get pictures of myself, I usually don't have time to get in position. These are a minute apart, so I didn't know when the camera was going to take a picture.

I tried counting to 60 and posing at the right time. My eyes were drying out. ...64, 65, 66, what the heck, I gotta blink.

I was almost ready for this one. I forgot about this being the pair of jeans that are really worn out.

I can't count to 60 with these gnats distracting me.

Speaking of gnats, there's one in my nose now!

Working at avoiding dehydration results in other situations. Actually I'm just enjoying the scenery.

Then I got a phone call.

There are lots of sharp things in the desert. Seconds before this picture was taken, a humming bird was hovering in front of me, looking like it was trying to decide if I was a big, ugly flower. I wish it had hung around for a few more seconds.

43, 44, what's that over there? 56, elebenty 23, huh? where was I? CLICK.

I think that was the last picture. CLICK.

It's just darn difficult to get pictures of some people. Even if any of these had turned out OK, it was too late in the day and everything but the sky is red. Oh, well, I'll try again some day.

A winner, almost

Somebody figured out what was in the contest photo of the previous blog. Unfortunately, he didn't send his entry until yesterday, which is after the deadline. Since he (Justin) is the only person that got even remotely close, I'll have to think of some sort of consolation prize to give him.

Oh, BTW, the answer is "snake track". The wet sand was fluffed up by an ATV, and when a snake crossed it, it left a trail. You can see the faint trail near the center of the picture, going from the lower right to the upper left. I don't know if that's the direction the snake was going, though.