The photos for 3-24-2013  Joshua Tree National Park

This trip was centered around spring break because that was when our friends Jakub and Yvonne Jasinski were going to be available.  From the beginning Jakub dubbed it our CAAZ trip because it started and ended in California and mixed in a few good Arizona days along the way.  We all left on the same day, but they departed from Philadelphia and we flew out of our local airport.  The Jasinskis flew into San Diego and made their way to Yucca Valley, stopping for the first day and night at Anza-Borrega.  Barb & I landed in Palm Springs and headed north to Yucca Valley, making a note to photograph the thousands of wind turbines just outside of town when we returned on our last day.

Having arrived too late to visit the park the night before, we eagerly jumped out of bed and were shooting before the morning light allowed us to focus.  I studied enough maps to know that the earliest light would be on the east side of the park in the Pinto Basin, but this first morning I wanted to see how the more unpredictable light would reveal the Joshua trees in the northwest.  The first 27 photos in the gallery were taken during this revelation, and, yes, I replaced the sky in a few.  There were no clouds to punctuate the beautiful blue.  During processing there was a bland feel developing which the magnificent scenery did not deserve so I took artistic liberty to dress up the sky.  Replacing the sky in a photo is often a very easy process, but the trick is to make it believable.  You have to make sure the light source remains the same and that the type of sky and time of day are complimentary.  You’ll notice that some are better than others at accomplishing this blending.  The observant reader will notice something wrong with photo 8.  The fact that I enlarged the replaced sky to increase the size of the buttermilk clouds is not the problem; it the quality, the color, of the light.  The sky does not match, but I didn’t care.  In photo 25 I couldn’t help adding water for the Joshua tree to wade through as he raised his arms in alarm.

After the morning session we had time for a brunch of I forget what and where.  We didn’t expect to meet up with our co-travelers until nightfall if at all on this day.  When we got back to the hotel we wanted to call them to see how their morning went and what progress they were making, but were surprised when the phone rang.  It was Jakub and they were already checked in to the same hotel.  Yvonne had been fighting a fluish thing since before they left and it was taking a toll on her resolve to beat it.  They were going to rest until going to the park for some evening shots.  We were to call them when we arrived at the park.

As we pulled into the park to meet them we discovered that we have little or no service.  We kept trying but no connection could be made.  After checking some of the more popular spots, including Hidden Valley where it turns out they were, and not finding them, we decided to head up to Keys View.  The sun was setting on one side and the moon was rising on the other.  A beautiful night.  The evening breeze was cool and I was glad I brought that jacket Barb insisted I bring.  In some of the photos you can see folks gathering at the designated lookout point to celebrate the beauty of a day ending.  I walked a bit downhill to capture them in silhouette and particularly like the cheering at last light in photo 48.  Soon others were spilling over to my vantage point and I noticed one lady noticeably shivering.  Her 30-something daughter suggested she return to the car to stay warm; her coatless dad and her were there for the duration.  When I heard the mom say, “I can’t leave this,” I handed her my jacket.  “Won’t you be cold?” she asked as she covered her shoulders.  “No,” I lied, unless you consider the relativity.  After several shots of sunset, remembering to occasionally spin the camera for moon shots, I decided to move closer to the top of the hill for the last rays.  I totally forgot about my jacket until I saw her husband standing next to me.  Soon his wife came and handed it to me, thanking me and wishing me a good life.  I took it, smiled, and re-gifted the wish, only later realizing a lens cap and wad of money were in the pockets.  I lose more coats that way.

On our way out we stopped to capture a distant moon overlooking some Joshua trees, which required 30 seconds to adequately illuminate.  We finally connected with Jakub when we returned to the hotel.  He and Yvonne enjoyed the Hidden Valley loop, got some good photos, and now Yvonne was back in bed jousting with the flu crew inside of her.  Jakub and I agreed to meet in the breakfast area of the lobby, spread our maps and vaguely plan our next morning.  He was visibly happy for his wife when I suggested she and Barb sleep in and meet us after our morning shoot, and I knew Barb would be equally enthused when I returned with the news.


The photos for 3-25-2013  Joshua Tree National Park

We arose early enough to get to the Pinto Basin when the light first appeared in the park.  Our target was the Cholla Gardens to capture some backlit teddy bear plants.  When we finally got to the parking lot there was a sign telling us the area was closed.  We knew there was somewhere in the park where road repair was taking place and 30-minute delays were said to be expected.  It was too early for road construction so Jakub noticed a ditch on the other side of the road that didn’t have a No-Parking sign, and I was happy to see we were going to shoot first and answer questions later.

These spiny cacti seem to shoot needles that stick to every part of your clothing, including boots, and can be as painful when pulled out as they were going in.  Later, on the plane ride home, we even found little bits of them in clothing that wasn’t even with us in the garden.  No matter how carefully you step through this unusual place, you will surely come away with more than images of these special creatures.  According to the time-stamp on those images we were there about 30 minutes before the road crew showed up.  At first we ignored the truck pulling in by Jakub’s Ford Edge and the driver waving his arms from the safe side of the garden, but eventually we had to acknowledge his schedule and agreed to follow the guide vehicle out when it arrived.  I think we missed the first one, but eventually complied, memory cards full of cholla and faces full of smiles.

There was still plenty of time before we expected to meet the girls so we stopped to see how the arch rock looked this beautiful cloudless morning.  Yes, I did it again this day.  Several exposures were treated to a new sky in the digital darkroom.  After an hour’s play climbing in and around this eroded natural sculpture we moved up the road to Jumbo Rocks.  Jakub had seen a photo from this area that he wanted to recreate in his own special way.  We parked and ventured down the trail at our own pace.  I stopped many times and found many interesting shots that turned out to be unworthy for even this very inclusive gallery.  After a little over a half mile of walking nearly parallel to the road I caught up with Jakub.  He, too, was eyeing up a rock grouping that sported a Easter-Island-like head naturally carved into the soft stone, see photo 31.  Being disappointed at not finding the rocks he wanted to shoot, we headed back to the car.  Jakub drove around the Jumbo Rocks Campground hoping to spot a glimpse of the supposed treasure, but, finding none, drove back to meet Barb & Yvonne who were waiting for us in the lobby.  Actually they were more in the lobby having their own brand of fun rather than waiting for us, but we are always more important when we tell the story.

We had a delightful lunch and when someone asked, “Where are we going tonight?” Jakub said, “I have a suggestion.”  This was the first of many times he would say that phrase, and each time we’d stop whatever we were doing to listen.  We learned that he always had the best suggestions, usually being the only one to have real suggestions.  Barb and I were much better at planning spontaneity, like “Let’s go this way and see what we find.”  Jakub’s first suggestion was the Geology Tour Road and it looked great on paper.  It turned out to be such a bust that there was always a little tongue-in-cheek that accompanied our future acceptances of Jakub’s suggestions.  On the other hand, his suggestions always put an end to the dreaded I-don’t-care-What-do-you-want-to-dos that normally bounce from person to person when “planning questions” are asked.

After cutting the geology tour short we had enough time to follow Yvonne’s suggestion to see the Cholla Garden in the evening light.  We had just enough time to capture some fine examples before being once again herded out of the area.  I swear I saw that little cholla bear in photos 48 and 49 moving toward me when my back was turned.  You can see his chest was peeled off through some event that now exposes his skeleton.

Since we were heading to Tucson the next day you would think that suggestions were unnecessary.  But we had options, and that meant decisions had to be made.  Yvonne researched a park near Phoenix where we expected to see many wildflowers in bloom.  We also wanted to see the Lost Palms Oasis near the south entrance to Joshua Tree.  But should we drive through the park with its built-in 30-minute delay, or do we take a quick loop around through Palm Springs and find the Lost Palms quicker?  Jakub suggested we go through the park and we took it before anyone could say, “I don’t care.  What do you want to do?”


The photos for 3-26-2013  Joshua Tree National Park & Lake Pleasant Regional Park

We saw no reason to get up too early on this day because we didn’t want to get to Phoenix too early and didn’t expect to reach Tucson until well after dark.  After the complimentary breakfast at the hotel we finally made it to the park.  The plan was if anyone saw something to shoot they would flash headlights and pull over.  After driving almost 5 full minutes in the park and after we passed by several spots that I thought we could shoot, the Edge finally pulled over.  Jakub said, “Hope you don’t mind.  I’ll be quick” as he pointed his lens at a posing Joshua tree.  He saw that I was already rushing into the scene winking a What-took-you-so-long look in his direction.  After a few more stops because we didn’t really want to leave, we finally got in line for our delay and guide-truck tour down the Pinto Basin.  I gathered a few sky shots for future use as we slowly made our way to the Lost Palms Oasis.  It wasn’t until well after noon when we merged onto I-10 heading toward Phoenix.

Yvonne had called ahead and spoke to one of the volunteers at Lake Pleasant Regional Park and was assured the wildflowers were blooming EVERYWHERE.  After a pleasant ride along the interstate followed by a beautiful stretch of US60 we arrived at our destination.  We started in the visitors’ center and met volunteers who were quite enthusiastic about the beauty of the park.  Yvonne recognized one of the voices as the one with whom she spoke earlier.  After looking EVERYWHERE, we all realized that Yvonne’s earlier question was asked of one who lives in the desert and is used to seeing mostly brown on the sides of the roads.  Jakub suggested we head north and walk (what was it?) the Pipeline Trail, and we all fell in line behind him.  Whatever the spot was called there was a lookout point where we could see a portion of Lake Pleasant.  On the other side of the parking lot was the trailhead and we started descending to an unknown bottom, stopping along the way to shoot what we saw.  Before long our womenfolk had enough of the heat and told us they would meet us at the marina restaurant.  I peeled my dry tongue from the roof of my mouth and said goodbye, but couldn’t help thinking they may have the better plan.  Seeing that Jakub was engrossed (photos 35 & 36) I decided to stay and hope for the best.  Soon I abandoned the decent and headed back for a few shots toward the water while I figured out where to setup for sunset.  At first it was just me, and a few donkeys who were nibbling leaves, but soon a pleasant guy appeared to say he was there to witness the setting sun and rising moon.  By the time Jakub caught up to us, this local lad with a love of landscape was telling us of two good spots to worship and record the colors.  We thanked him, headed back to the car and drove to the closest one.  After several minutes of scrambling over this hill to catch the fleeting sunset and moon rising we ran out of light and headed back to find the restaurant.

We were more than a little concerned when we pulled up to the hill overlooking the marina and found a locked gate.  A quick phone call confirmed that our ladies were still on the other side.  While waiting for Jakub’s suggestion I mulled over some options in my head: A) Leave one car here and return tomorrow after the morning shoot.  B)  Leave the girls here and they could catch up with us tomorrow after the gate is opened.  C)  Camp here for the night and…  Just then Barb & Yvonne drove up and the gate opened automatically.  Well, we still had a few hours to Tucson and no one was suggesting we stop to eat, so we ate whatever we could find in the car on the way.  Jakub & Yvonne booked a fancy resort uptown and Barb & I were expected at the main-drag Best Western so we left the highway at different exits and loosely planned on meeting in the morning.  Our exit was #252 and that was also our room number, and the number came up a few other times throughout the trip, like on our return trip to Palm Springs when Barb asked how far and the GPS read 252 miles.


The photos for 3-27-2013  Saguaro National Park West

The photos from this day are all from the Saguaro National Park West.  We met at our place after breakfast, then, following Jakub’s suggestion, Barb & I followed the Edge to the park.  By this time we knew that if we ever got behind the wrong black Edge we’d probably follow it anywhere.  The first photo in the gallery was taken at 10:41am so the morning shoot certainly spilled over into the harsh afternoon light.  All of the photos were taken somewhere along the Hohokam loop road (I believe).  After a couple hours of roaming the trails and shooting what stopped us, Jakub had a suggestion for the afternoon.  He wanted to go to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to try out his new 300mm lens on the birds there.  Yvonne had a counter suggestion: drop Jakub at the museum, enjoy her afternoon at the posh resort, and return to find him for the sunset session.  We opted to go that way and see what we find.  First we found a great restaurant on the way, Mimi’s Cafe.  Apparently there are nearly 100 of these across the US, but this was our first experience and everything was superb.  After dessert we had about an hour and a half before we were to meet Jakub and Yvonne where we left them.

We got to the museum before Yvonne and found Jakub who looked a bit exhausted.  When Yvonne arrived refreshed he suggested we drive back to one of the spots we shot earlier to see if we could find a cactus in the sunset.  We walked out to the high point of the trail where Barb & Yvonne found a bench while Jakub and I scurried about looking for the shot that didn’t exist in that area.  From earlier discussions we knew we were looking for the classic Arizona shot with a cactus in foreground and a beautiful Arizona sunset in the background.  From this vantage point there was no cactus that was high enough to qualify, and we tried substituting some cholla.  Eventually at least I got the beautiful background (photo 24) and later added a few cacti from the Phoenix session and sort of made what we hoped to find (photo 25).  When the light left us we hurried back to the car to be sure to get through the gate before we were locked in.  Jakub suggested we try the restaurant at their resort, and we were very happy to follow him once again.  Man, those Jasinski’s know how to travel, and we must give credit to Yvonne’s planning abilities.


The photos for 3-28-2013  Sabino Canyon

Jakub’s suggestion was to follow Yvonne’s suggestion to visit Sabino Canyon near Saguaro NP East.  This was one of the spots I researched and wanted to visit.  There are trams that run about every 30 minutes up the 4-mile road with 9 stops along the way.  Visitors can get on or off at any of those stops.  We rode all the way to the top at stop #9.  Here we found a trail leading down to Sabino Creek.  What could go wrong –a nice path along the creek?  Well, the decent was pleasant enough.  Jakub spotted a red bird (sorry, you’ll have to ask Jakub weather it was male or female, what was it’s Latin name, was it indigenous, et cetera).  At first everyone seemed to always be quite a bit ahead of me as I stopped here and there to enjoy the sounds, the smells and the photo ops.  Eventually I caught up to Barb & Yvonne who found the perfect log under a cooling shade tree to solve the world’s problems.  If only the world would listen…  Jakub was just upstream from them shooting the sounds of rushing water.  We bobbed in and out of each others way until there were no more problems to solve.  Then we all headed to the path that would lead us downstream, climbing over boulders and around obstacles until there no longer was a path.  We either had to climb around or walk and crawl along a steep rock embankment that threatened to send us on a slide ride into the shallow Sabino Creek below.  We were too far to go back, but unsure of what obstacles lay beyond this one.  Later Barb said she kept looking up to make sure the rescue helicopter could get to us.  Apparently Jakub was oblivious to the danger dilemma because he was already somewhere downstream filling his memory card.  The girls seemed safe and on their way, but I turned back to cross the creek a little ways back to capture some of the formations I could see on the other side.  In the process a thorn somehow pierced my knee just under the knee pad I was wearing.  I’m sure my fellow travelers heard the screech of my big-baby voice echoing down the canyon when I yanked it out.

Of course the grass wasn’t greener on the other side, and, because the terrain got so treacherous, I had to cross back and forth several times just to make progress.  Eventually I caught up to them again by photo 21, and there were still difficult spots where we had to cross back and forth.  After a few hours of hiking and climbing we finally came to a cool little swimming hole where many were enjoying the natural waterslides carved into the banded granite.   We could tell we were very close to a tram stop and guessed it must be only #6, which would have been a 30-minute walk had we stayed on the road.  I rushed up the hill to the stop, turned and read the number.  “Eight!!!  We only went ONE stop.”  We waited for the tram and headed back to the beginning pleased with our journey and thanking our lucky stars.


The photos for 3-28-2013   Mission San Xavier del Bac

Same day, and another suggestion by Yvonne –again a must-see place for me, San Xavier’s church built in the late 18th century.  It promised to be a much easier walk than the creek side stroll down Sabino Canyon.  Ben Prepelka of Scenic USA said we were lucky to see the White Dove of the Desert without scaffolding clinging to it.  He’s also right about the magnificent job they do in maintaining the magic.

After we pulled into the dirt lot we decided to stroll around the shops and look for something to eat before heading to the church.  Not finding what we wanted we decided to search for a nearby eatery, knowing that the church wasn’t going anywhere and the light, especially on the inside, would be the same or better after we were fed.  Well, we may have been full when we entered the church, but there is immediately an incredible feeling of awe that envelopes you and fills your whole being with reverence when you enter the building.  The awe is not just respect for the craftsmanship that created a church in this spiritual place, but for the worshipful ways that that craftsmanship represents humankind’s desire to please the Creator.  On the other hand, if we spent as much time and effort on the way we treat each other, we might appear more pleasing.

In the first photo of the gallery you can see Yvonne way ahead of us.  She was on a mission, and had no need to wait for us to decide which lens would be best.  According to the time-stamp on the photos we were only there about an hour and a half, but the feeling, if not the photos, will last forever.

It was too late to get to any vantage point for a sunset, so we toured some of the downtown area before turning in for the night –our next to the last night in Tucson.


The photos for 3-29-2013  Biosphere & Mount Lemmon

We were in time for the 9:30 show at the Biosphere.  As stated many times in other parts of the Stories Of The Photos, this isn’t a good place to learn about things like the history of place, the textbook stuff on flora and fauna, and, in this case, the story of the Biosphere.  Here you can learn about things like our guide boasting of having special birds within the enclosure, and how Jakub was the one to find the little critter and point it out to the group.  So that’s all I got on the Biosphere part.

Mount Lemmon was Yvonne’s suggestion.  You may have noticed that one of Jakub’s best suggestions was to follow Yvonne’s suggestion whenever she had one.  It was a long, winding road to the top, and we made many stops along the way to slowly soak in the visual variations of height as we climbed.  The afternoon light was harsh, especially trying to capture the hazy distance without any shade, but the view was outstanding and the feeling was uplifting.  We stopped at the Sawmill Run Restaurant for a pleasant dinner on the deck where Jakub suggested we might still make it back to Saguaro for a final attempt at the shot.

We were in 2 cars but parked together.  At one point we either left or lost the Edge while searching for the right cactus.  I found many thatwould have been right if the sunset occurred in the East.  After exhausting all of the maybe-over-theres, we decided to get back on the road that would eventually lead us out –and hopefully before the gate was locked.  We could see several more maybe-over-theres just ahead, but unfortunately were following a family that really enjoyed the darkness at an incredibly slow pace.  Maybe they were sharing ghost stories and the slowness increased the scare, but imagine how much scarier it would have been for them if they would have kindly pulled over to let the 6 cars behind them pass.  Finally they pulled into a lot on the left, not to be kind and share the road, but apparently that was where their story was going.  We found Jakub and Yvonne at the same spot.  None of us had much success at the shot (see my last attempts in the last 3 photos in the gallery), but we all had a great time.  Although we weren’t flying home for 2 days, the fact that this was our last night together on this trip was weighing on our mood.  You know, when you want to hug them until their eyes pop out, but you must remain dignified as we all were taught.  As always seemed to happen at the appropriate time, Jakub had a suggestion.  There might yet be one more over-there on our way out.  We stopped and he tried.  The ranger that pulled in to hurry us along so he could lock the gate behind us probably wouldn’t have been so understanding as the road-crew foreman that coaxed us out of the Cholla Garden.

Well, in some stories they ride off into the sunset, but in this one we write off the sunset shot.  We shook and hugged each other, then took our own trails home.


no photos for 3-30 & 31-2013

They were going to Madera Canyon to shoot migrating birds before heading back to San Diego airport, and Barb and I left this part up to spontaneity.  [Did I mention that Jakub brought seed to leave outside his window overnight to attract quail for early morning bird shots?  You gotta love a guy like that; he pays his models well.]  When originally setting our plans, Barb and I weren’t sure yet where to spend this last night.  Barb wanted to stay in Palm Springs from where we would fly on Easter Monday, and enjoy the town; I suggested we leave the Joshua Tree option in the mix in case there were places we missed or must revisit for better light; or we could stay the extra night in Tucson for similar reasons.  By the time we were checking out of the Best Western we decided to head back to Palm Springs and shoot the wind turbines we noted on our arrival.

We felt great arriving in Palm Springs, and that feeling constantly improved except for one bump in our stay in this beautiful town.  We enjoyed the look and feel as we searched for our hotel, another BW on the main drag.  When we finally spotted it we knew it was not to be the same ol’ drag.  This place was meticulously manicured with a luscious landscape theme, and it had three stories with a wrap around porch on each floor.  Our room was so convenient it should have been reserved for guests less capable of movement (at least we were more capable upon our arrival).  Our parking spot was so perfect we decided not to leave this oasis and its walking-distance surrounds until we left for the airport.  The pool and bar were right outside our door, and it was happy hour.  How convenient.  The bartender was great and he recommended a place for us to eat that was so good we went there twice.

The next morning we looked for the map they gave us when we checked in to see where to go for the complimentary breakfast.  Breakfast was right outside our room, right next to the bar and pool.  After the perfect breakfast we toured the town and even wandered into a casino.  Barb had to take a picture of me with her phone to send it to many who would not believe I was in a casino (ask those “many” what that might mean).  We visited every gallery and antique shop and eventually made our way back to the room.  We planned on hanging out until happy hour, then walk over to our favorite restaurant, and who knows what else we’d have time for before turning in for an almost midday rise for our flight home.  We had a slow hour and a half before the happy one so I setup the laptop to process some photos while we waited for the bartender to cut up some lemons and dish out some peanuts.  Barb said she was just going down the street to buy some souvenirs and return a call to one of our daughters and would be right back.  An hour later was getting close to that time when I was changing from a “Yeah, sure, she’ll be right back” attitude to one of concern for her delay.  Just then I heard her cardkey fumble in the lock and jumped up to save her the trouble of trying again.  She limped into the room with a fake Lucy Ricardo cry telling me she had fallen.   After just days earlier successfully navigating the boulders and stream of Sabino Canyon, she tripped over that part of the curb that lowers at intersections in this calm springs town.  I asked her if she was looking up making sure the helicopters could rescue her and she told me to get ice.  She couldn’t even make it to the bar outside our room for happy hour, but insisted on walking to our favorite restaurant, normally a five-minute commitment.  Let me drive?  No.  A cab?  No, I can make it.   She did, and back, too.  Then it was into bed for her and trips to the ice machine for me.  She went to sleep with the belief that she would rise with improvement, but rose in the morning without it.

A day of flying can be much improved from the normal grind if you get yourself on the needs-assistance list.  That is, for the passenger who gets to ride the chauffer-pushed wheelchair.  Her companion will need to maneuver twice the number of carryon luggage (with emphasis on the lug), and, at least in the city of brotherly love, also be the chauffer.

But we made it home and enjoyed every minute of this very special trip (no pun intended), spawning two wonderful friendships, and promising to do it all again somewhere else.


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