Ivanpah Pt. 2 – Dawn

Friday, April 27 We were up at 5 am to be sure we got to our dawn location in time. The winds had mostly died down and some sparse clouds were overhead. We made it to our chosen spot about 15 minutes before sunrise. Once on top of the hill, we could see light already reflecting off the thousands of mirrors positioned around the 3 towers of the complex. The color varied depending on where the mirrors were pointed. I was surprised that even at this distance, my 17mm lens was almost not enough to get all three towers and their mirrors in one image.
As the sun rose, sections of mirrors would light up. Soon the previously dark tower tops began to glow orange, then white. Light also spilled across the desert floor slowly illuminating details of the landscape. The effect was one of viewing some otherworldly cubist lake. Once the sun was up, we drove I-15 toward Primm until we got back to the main public paved road. This time I turned off onto the perimeter road that seems to surround the entire complex. I’m not certain this is public BLM land, but we never met security at any time. While we were still restricted by the 10’ fence, there were gaps between fence posts that allowed just enough room to poke a lens through. Up close a few things really stood out. An amazing number of mirrors and their stands were not just broken, but mangled and collapsed on the ground. Wind? Also the way they were positioned didn’t seem to make much sense. Side by side they pointed in much different angles. My goal for today (the red circle) was to find and climb a particular hill that ran right up to the edge of mirror perimeter. It looked climbable on Google Earth, but I couldn’t tell how high or steep it was. The road was a breeze. Here and there a rough or sandy patch, but all easy to drive. I stopped at a couple of locations to walk up hills. I felt like if I could get just a little higher it would be amazing.
When we reached the nearest point, it was clear the hike up would not be difficult. A lower hill with a gradual slope that I could walk up ran into a steeper one that rose to a panoramic view of most of the complex. The mirrors reflecting sky in some sections took on the look of a mechanical lake in the way it appeared pieced together. I made a number of multiple exposure panoramic images from this point that will require careful stitching. When put together, they should be dramatic. I lost myself in this landscape until I simply could not make another different picture. Again, I was both awed by the technology but revolted by the habitat destruction.There was another highpoint I was hoping to get to, so on we went. We continued around the perimeter for another 5 miles or so. At one point we passed a couple of official looking people doing some sort of research on the landscape outside the fence. We waved and moved on.
The road seemed to veer off after another mile and moved up higher, but away from the complex. We followed for a while, but decided to turn around because the vantage points were not working here. The actual perimeter road ended at the branch and what was left of it became much rougher and ungraded. I didn’t want to risk it with the Rav so our photo day pretty much ended there.This was a great way to end this latest road trip. We will be wending our way home via the California coast with stops in Pismo Beach and Paso Robles. We will be home again in San Francisco on Friday. Thanks everyone who follow the blog. There may be one more post, but the blog will be going dormant until the next trip, probably in the fall.

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Ivanpah Solar Thermal System

Thursday, April 26
So, the plan was to drive from Flagstaff to Primm, NV where we would dry camp in one of the several large casino parking lots there. The plan was a little dicy though because it will be in the 90’s for the next couple of days and with no hook-ups and no shade it could get real uncomfortable. It still seemed the best solution because Primm is just a few miles from the Ivanpah Thermal solar plant. It is the largest (at this time) plant of it’s kind in the world. I’ve wanted to photograph there ever since I saw photographer Jamey Stillings images from the area. His work is primarily from the air. Mine will all be earthbound, although I used Google Earth to first explore possible sites I might be able to drive to.Driving in from Flagstaff on highway 164, we came to the micro-town of Nipton, CA. It is maybe 30 miles from the plant – 20 from I-15. We stopped because the Ivanoah plant came into view. Even though it was windy and the air was very hazy, the sight was impressive. Visions of Tolkiens’ Mordor came to mind with the way beams of light seemed to emanate from the towers. Of course, it’s the other way round. The surrounding mirrors reflect light to the towers.

While in Nipton, I noticed a long-term RV park on one side of the road. On the other was a small motel compound complete with a gift shop, cafe and 8 teepee’s. When I asked if they also administered the RV sites, I was told they had 4 sites behind the motel just for overnighters. We could have our pick! This camp was not on any of the camping information we had.The sites turned out to be kind of funky nice. Ours was shaded by 40’ eucalyptus trees and a nice breeze was blowing through. There was quite a lot of activity going on because a yoga group  was coming in over the weekend. Also, a biker rally was going on in Laughin, NV and the cafe made a nice rest stop. Train tracks ran along behind the camp perhaps 50 yards away, so when they came through, they were loud.Even from 30 miles away, we could see the plant, so we decided to stay here instead of the casino. Air conditioning means a lot. After our 250 mile drive, we were worn out. But seeing the plant energized us enough to want to drive out for an evening look around. We got camp set-up and took a  brief rest. Late afternoon we were on the road again to scout out the terrain.I didn’t have a lot of hope for the afternoons pictures. The light was harsh and hazy, but I did want to find locations I could get to in the morning. Where highway 164 met I-15, I found a dirt road that led off all the way down to the array 15 miles away. I found a nice highpoint that would serve well for a dawn location. We spent a short while there, but quickly moved on to find other access points. All the time stopping along the way for more images.It didn’t take long to find our way in. Following a paved road off the next exit of I-15 brought us right to the plant. Right through the plant I should say, because the road travels between two of the towers, but with fences on both sides. It is built on leased BLM land and so there are dirt roads running all over the area. We first followed the main public paved road until it ended at a 10’ locked gate and perimeter fence.I had to resort to photographing between gaps in the fence and standing on road barriers again to get a view over, but even so, some nice images were there to be made. The wind wasn’t so bad right down here in the middle of things, and moving around a lot provided various looks at the equipment.When we wound around one bend, the reflective surfaces of the mirrors made for some nice abstract images. I was able to maneuver to capture the few clouds in the sky reflecting in the mirrors. It was quite challenging and while I like some of the images for the day, I was a little disappointed in the lack of vantage points. We retraced our route to another pull-out that led to another locked gate. This one had a dirt road branching off that seemed to run along the entire perimeter of the huge plant. I’d seen this road on Google Earth, but wasn’t sure it would be open to the public or even drivable. If I could drive 5-6 miles on it, I could reach the exact spot I wanted to get to for a higher vantage point. It looks good for tomorrow. Wind should not be an issue during the morning hours and the forecast is for clear skies.

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Wupatki Sunset Crater National Monument

Tuesday, April 24The rising temps around Sedona have finally chased us out for good. We moved up three thousand feet in elevation to Flagstaff for a couple of days and planned a visit to Sunset Crater for the late afternoon. There is another section – the Wupatki ruins – in the northern part of the monument, but we just want to do the crater section.The Lava Flow trail is a one mile loop that starts with a nice overlook view of Sunset Crater, then drops down into the ancient lave flow and along the base of the volcano itself. It then circles back to the parking area. Not a great distance, but it will take us a couple hours at this time  of the evening.I always enjoy photographing the smooth curves of the cinder cones here. The volcano erupted sometime between 1040 and 1100, and still it remains a sparsely vegetated landscape. Walking up the cinder cone is not allowed, but even if it was, I wouldn’t. The ash of the cinder cones is like sand and very steep. Walking on it does extreme damage. We plan a series of short stops on our way home. Tomorrow we plan on staying at a casino parking lot in Primm, Nevada for a day or two. The Ivanpah thermal solar farm is near there and I have been wanting to investigate whether I could photograph the project for my latest series, Into the Anthropocene. It’s going to be in the 90’s there and camping in the Casino lot means no air conditioning – dry camping only.

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Sedona – Cathedral Rocks

Sedona – Cathedral RocksFor our final day in Sedona, we wanted to view Cathedral Rocks in late afternoon light. We drove to the Crescent Moon Picnic Area and Ranch, where trails follow Oak Creek along the base of the formation. It was very busy. We waited 10 minutes at the gate and paid our $10 before we were allowed to drive in to find the vacated parking space. But once in, it was a leisurely walk out to the creek and formation.Along the way we noticed the latest disturbing trend in vacationland – rock stacking. Here it has gone amok. Whenever we walked by a rocky riverbank, hundreds of stacks were also seen. This is a conservationist nightmare. What seems like a fun, nondestructive activity, actually greatly disturbs the soil underneath, leading to excessive erosion. The smallest critters utilize these areas as well. Often, stacks built in the water itself, disturb spawning grounds for fish.I’ve seen these all over the west for many years now, but they’ve been isolated and relatively small in area. Now it seems the trend has really caught on. Too bad. They are kind of interesting to see, but knowing how much it disturbs the environment, dims my interest.Oak Creek separates into several smaller channels as it moves through the park. Some sections the water moves over rocks creating small cascades and reflecting pools. One must remember this is the site of a vortex. People seem to bring their own way of honoring the site – wether it’s stacking rocks or etching their beliefs into the earth. I also heard nice a cappella scale being sung somewhere down creek that devolved into a screeching wail. Oh yes, and the fellow dragging his giant salsa blaring boom-box on a suitcase carrier. It was a Saturday afternoon after all. In some of the wider sections of creek, the water becomes very calm and reflective, creating nice mirror image possibilities. We walked upstream until the light started getting low. Moving back down the creekside path, we came to a nice open area previously covered with folks making their own images of the rocks. Now almost everyone was gone and we could make images without people in them.We beat a hasty retreat to get back to the meadow farm area. I wanted a couple of images more in context of the surroundings and the light was going fast. This was a nice easy, if not too crowded, walk with lots of nice scenery. But it was time to head back to camp. We’ve decided to cut our stay in Sedona a little short. Not just because of the rising temps in the next few days, but because our free BLM campsite has gotten a little crowded. A group of “off the grid” campers pulled in the same evening we arrived in their 40’ school bus painted in red, white and blue. They weren’t disruptive exactly, but they did make us a little nervous with their 8 dogs (4 puppies) – a couple of which roamed free. There were three adult men, one adult woman, one young boy, maybe 10, and a couple of like aged girls.They would leave late morning each day and return late afternoon.

Yesterday, as they were trying to leave, the airbrakes of the bus locked up, blocking the entrance to the large pullout we were all staying in. They managed to get the bus clear, but they were now stuck. I had a short very sobering conversation with the group leader. They were here from New Mexico hoping to find work for the summer. Didn’t appear to have insurance or means to get it towed or worked on. They had friends in the area who popped up from time to time, but it didn’t look good. All I could offer was a ride into town they didn’t really need.

So we decided to move on. The BLM land was crawling with campers and hikers and off-roaders (including early morning hot-air balloon rides over our camp) and it was feeling a little too crowded. The hiking has been great, but we decided to spend a few days up higher near Flagstaff before starting our official dash home. Less than two weeks left on this road trip.

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Sedona – Hiline Trail

Friday, April 20
After yesterday’s canyon hike, we changed it up a little with a hike that runs up along the side of a butte with high views of the greater Sedona area all along the way. Well, it only seemed appropriate we do this hike today. It is 4/20, after all, so in honor, we chose the Hiline trail, a little east of Sedona. The Hiline was championed by trail bikers and is recommended for expert level only – you wouldn’t want to fall onto some of the deadly sharp plants all along the way. Apparently they had input into the design, and parts of it look a bit like a racecourse instead of a trail. Anyone can hike it though. Bikers are restricted to traveling one-way on the trail, so there is usually plenty of time to see and avoid problems. But it is very narrow in some spots, so getting off it can take a little doing. Both the hikers and bikers we encountered were friendly and courteous and the trail itself was spectacular.From the parking area, the trail rises up around 300’ in a gradual accent, and hugs the butte side. Steep drop-offs on the open side kept us on our toes. You wouldn’t want to slide down one of these slopes. A little disappointing was the weather. Instead of clearing as the day went on, it got cloudier and darker. No chance of rain really, but the flat light it created was really messing with us. We only had occasional  breaks of sunshine, so when it came out, so did the cameras.The Hiline itself is about a 6 mile out-and-back hike, but the butte is webbed with other trails and a longer loop walk can easily be created from several of the other interconnected trails.
One of the more prominent features seen along the trail (and another vortex), is Cathedral Rocks. They came into view after rounding one bend. It’s configuration made it seem almost like some kind of celestial emitter and I could understand how it became known as a power point. This trail is really a view trail. It is very open – on a hot day there would be little relief from the sun. The huge expansive views just don’t get old, and they kind of overwhelm the more intimate surrounding landscape we were walking through.  Mary’s feet were beginning to bother her, so at about the 1.5 mile point, she turned around and I kept going to the main viewpoint – about 10 more minutes of walking. I lingered there awhile waiting for a spot or two of sun to illuminate Cathedral. From this point I could see about 250˚ around. I could also see other connecting trails all around.  On the way back down, the clouds finally began breaking up and various landmark formations began getting spotlighted. This was really a terrific hike and I would love to do a more extensive loop next time we visit. Other than the narrowness and the steep drop-offs, I would class the out-and-back portion of the hike as easy to moderate. Just from looking at the other trails from the high point, it doesn’t look to get more difficult – at least for walking.

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Sedona

Thursday April 19A day before we left for Sedona, I got a text from my sister Kathy and brother-in-law Mike saying they were near Flagstaff, coming from L.A. They were visiting with their son and daughter-in-law, and their new grandson. On their way back to the Bay Area, they decided to tour parr of the southwest and planned on coming through Sedona for a short stay. As it happened, we would be there at the same time. We managed to meet-up later in the afternoon – after we got to our dry-camp boondock site about 8 miles south of Sedona.But what to do? So much to choose from, but just one evening. One thing we’ve never done here was take a “Pink Jeep” tour of the area. These jeeps are all over the place, taking visitors on any number of tours in the backcountry. We’ve always just made our own tours, but I thought it would be a nice way to show them a bit of the area in a very short time without have to navigate and drive this busy place.We met up with them for a 2 hour sunset tour that would take us to some nice viewpoints on a wonderful evening of calm air and clear skies. Us four were joined by a friendly other couple, and Duff, our driver/guide entertained and educated us about some of the prominent features of the area. He was friendly and engaged everyone on the jeep and kept us all laughing as we drove from point to point. It was a fun thing to do during their surprise visit. We had a late dinner together afterwards, but they are off again tomorrow. It was really sweet of them to come find us.

Boynton Canyon
April 20For our first full day in Sedona, we wanted to walk one of our favorite hikes through Boynton Canyon. It is a 6.1 out and back trail. It is mostly easy until the final rise out of the canyon, onto a sandstone bench. It is pretty steep and rocky on this stretch, but with a little care, not that bad. Once on the bench, views back down the canyon await.
The day started off quite calm and cloudy. High winds will be kicking up later on, and I’m hoping it will help break up the solid cloud cover. The first mile or so of the trail runs alongside a sprawling high-end resort, whose nightly rate starts at $600 – with a 3 day minimum. New age music wafts over some areas, while leaf blowers are heard in others. The canyon is quite wide at this point, but as the trail begins to rise, so does the canyon narrow.
Just toward the back-end of the resort there is an area with 4 painted crosses. Boynton Canyon is said to be home to a energy vortex and these sorts of things tend to be seen along the way. These have been here for many years, painted in different ways.The trail winds it way gently up and down across a slowly changing terrain, sometime granting brief views of the pink and orange sandstone walls.  The tree forms also captured me. Interesting bark and swirling deadwood trunks were everywhere. Long stretches of trail go by between views of the surrounding walls, but when they open up, it is often dramatic. Much of the trail winds through an oak forest. I found this tree fungus wrapping itself around some branches, while on others, various lichen grow in half a dozen colors. Once we got ourselves up above the canyon floor onto the bench, we had amazing views all the way back down. At this point, the trail officially ends. The view is good here, but we followed the unofficial trail a bit further. There was a little scrambling involved, but once around the first bend, the view opened even wider. We walked along the bench as far as we could as it wrapped around another bend.  Water stains from longtime seeps created an interesting pattern over the already crazy texture of the sandstone cliff face. Some of the patterns rival anything in Utah, and Mary was willing to stand on the edge to get the shot. We stopped for lunch at this far point and just enjoyed the view for a time. On the way back down off the bench, I noticed another little offering under a small ledge. Looks like clam shells, burnt wood and a bit of leaf. We could feel the wind increasing even while we were having lunch up there in the open. As we made our way back down the canyon, it steadily increased and was wiping up sand by the time we got back to the trailhead. We were done for the day anyway, and headed back to camp. This hike is also great in the fall when the oaks are turning color.

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Deadhorse Ranch State Park

April 16
By jumping through a few hoops, I managed to book 3 days at Deadhorse Ranch State Park near Cottonwood, a little over 100 miles north of Roosevelt Dam.  I got us into the Quail loop. It’s got better shade options in each site than the other 2 loops. All of the loops have water and electric. I first booked 2 days in one site (the most I could get consecutively), then a single day in another site. Only a few odd single days were available after that.The park is actually quite close to town, but remote enough so that not much traffic noise can be heard. There are 3 large pond set aside for wildlife, mostly birds, in the park,  but we’ve seen Javelina’s in the past trotting through the campgrounds as well.  We were up early on our first morning to walk around the ponds before the winds come up later today as predicted. The stillness of the water created reflections of both sky and shoreline and the early morning light streaming in through the trees made for some interesting image making.
A heron flew overhead, too far away to photograph, but a cormorant sitting on a stump in  another pond stayed put. Red shouldered blackbirds, grackles and swallows were seen in numbers. Much later on another day, I saw a bald eagle flying high over the park. These grackles seemed to be doing a mating dance on the tables around the ponds. They would trill and strut and lift their heads high. Fun to watch.Jerome
On Wednesday, we drove up to the ex-mining town of Jerome that’s perched high up in the surrounding hills of the area. The town can  be seen from our campground. For a long period after the mine closed, Jerome was essentially a ghost town. Few lived here and only the earliest signs of tourism were showing. Each time we’ve visited since it has grown. Now to the point that the streets were busy with tourists walking, eating, buying trinkets and such.We go for the views and to photograph some of the remaining relics of the towns’ past. Some of the less reclaimed buildings were now outdoor gallery spaces for the town artists. Others were in the process retrofitting and reconstruction. More rooms to rent and places to eat. Unfortunately, I managed to overwrite the image files I took there, except for the one above – an art installation. The afternoon got very windy and kind of shot our photo day back in the park. We did take a windy walk through the rolling grasslands around the park, but the few photos I made there were also lost (frowny face).

Thursday, April 19On our final morning, before heading north to Sedona, we were out again walking around the ponds of the park. Another very calm morning, but with no clouds, the sky was less interesting. Almost at the start of the walk, we came upon a blue heron at the mouth of a water inlet. I could get pretty close for a nice image – this bird was not moving. I walked a different route this time, which gave me a slightly different perspective. It was still the reflections that were most interesting to me. I caught up with the heron we’d encountered on the other side of the pond. It let us observe for a short time, but soon found a morsel to eat and took off for another corner. We were left with a cormorant, a duck and a turtle. We finished up our morning walk and returned to camp to prepare for moving up to Sedona later today.

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