March 19, 2017 Success Lake COE Campground, California

Wildflowers Across Lake Success
Wildflowers Across Lake Success

Looking for Sequoias

The scene above is what I see when I leave my campsite in the Army Corps of Engineers Campground on Lake Success just east of Porterville, California. This is a nice enough campground with paved interior roads and lots of green grass with sites that are for the most part, pretty well spaced. The spaces are all backins and are reasonably large but very few are terribly level.

Unfortunately there is only a very weak Verizon signal here and I was unable to even get weather forecasts online here. There is 50 amp electric at some sites and some sites have shared water spigots. There is a dump station in the campground as well as trash dumpsters. $30 night with 50% discount for old farts.

Fields of Wildflowers
Fields of Wildflowers

While here I took a couple of trips in the Prius up into the mountains to explore Sequoia and King’s Canyon NPs for Sequoia trees. I drove Route 190 from the campground up into the Sequoia National Forest until I came to where the road was still closed by snow.

Red Buds Blooming
Red Bud

At around 3000′ elevation, I ran into lots of red bud in bloom, hope to get some better shots into a future post because there are areas where entire hillsides are dotted with these colorful trees.

California Route 190 in Mid-March
California Route 190 in Mid-March

Once up around 6000′, there are snowbanks still hemming the roadway …

The End of the Road, Route 190
The End of the Road, Route 190

… and around 7000′ you come to the end of the road, where they just stop plowing in the winter and wait for spring ( May or even June ) to reopen the road.

Entering the Giant Forest
Entering the Giant Forest

This is the scene as you enter the Giant Forest along Route 198 east of Three Rivers in the Sequoia National Park. To reach this point traveling up into the park from the south, you will have negotiated about five thousand switchback turns as you ever so slowly ascend from 300′ elevation to 7000′, don’t even think about driving an RV up here! These were the first sequoias I ran into but I had to turn around here for an appointment I had back in Visalia, but I will venture farther up and into the park in the next week ( weather permitting, lots of rain coming ). Stay tuned!

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September 22, 2016 Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck

Teton Bison and Pronghorns

Clouds Over the Tetons
Clouds Over the Tetons

Been fighting the weather here recently, very mixed bag of conditions, lots of clouds, heavy morning fog, and late afternoon rain. The early morning image above is a good example of the mountains creating their own weather conditions. This was taken several days ago and was one of the last mornings the Tetons were even visible.

The Oxbow and Mount Moran
The Oxbow and Mount Moran

Fall has officially arrived here as the trees are starting to put on their autumn show.

Mount Moran
Mount Moran
Teton Foliage
Teton Foliage
Teton Foliage
Teton Foliage
Cottonwoods
Cottonwoods

Mormon Row

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

Mormon Row is a north/south dirt road connecting the Gros Ventre Campground to the Antelope Flats Road. I drive this road every morning that it is not raining because there is a large herd of bison grazing in the area, plus a couple small bands of Pronghorns, and, if the animals are on the correct ( west ) side of the road, in just the right portion of the fields, they can be photographed with the Tetons in the background with the mountains being bathed in the early morning light.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

The past week, I have had a few opportunities to almost get the perfect shot. But something is always just a little less than perfect. The sun is covered by low hanging clouds leaving nice light on the mountaintops but the bison and foreground in shade …

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

… or I manage to get some light on the foreground and the sky clouds up over the mountains …

Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison

… or the clouds throw some part of the image, trees in the mid ground above, in weird dark shadow.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

What seems to happen most often though is that the herd will be grazing on the wrong side of the road, west side in the afternoon so you are shooting into the sun, or the east side in the morning …

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

… resulting in this kind of impossible shot.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

But still, I have some really nice reference photos for when I finally get back to painting, where I can then paint in the perfect sky or well lit foreground.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

You might ask why I don’t just hop out of the car and hike out in the field to get the herd between myself and the mountains with the sun at my back? Well, these fields  ( flats, meadows? ) are hundreds of acres in size, on both sides of the road, and there is not a single tree anywhere in those hundreds of acres, so I don’t really feel it would be too wise to go tromping around out there amongst hundreds of bison with nowhere to hide if one of them happened to take offense with my being out there.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison

These guys are seriously large, and even with the car as my protection, when you are right in the midst of them, they can be very intimidating.

Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison
Teton Bison

Pronghorns

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck

These beautiful animals are one of my favorites out here in the west. But, like the bison, they just refuse to cooperate for this photographer and are always located in the worst possible lighting conditions when I encounter them up close enough to get some nice shots.

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck

In dead shade wth the rising sun behind them, like in the two shots above.

Pronghorns
Pronghorns

This group I actually encountered in a place where I could get them out in good light, with the sun at my back, as you can see with the sun on the mountains behind them. But just when they arrived at the perfect spot for a ridge top photo, a cloud blocked the sun behind me … just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to these guys.

Pronghorns
Pronghorns

And they are moving fast, so there is no waiting for the sun to pop back out and get that great shot.

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Bucks
Pronghorn Bucks
Pronghorn Bucks
Pronghorn Bucks

These guys put themselves in position to get some great light on them, so, of course they moved out onto a section of the flats that is being reclaimed  for native grasses to take over.

Pronghorn Bucks
Pronghorn Bucks

Someday I’ll get that perfect shot!

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July 15, 2016 Ridgeway State Park, Colorado

Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird

Exploring Back Roads Through the Rockies

I have spent most of the last week taking day trips out of the state park hitting many of the county roads that head up into the mountains around Ridgeway. These are all dusty gravel roads varying in condition, mostly washboarded, narrow in some places, and some bad enough to force me to turn around and backtrack, wishing I had a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle. Most have yielded little more than the opportunity to travel to higher, thus cooler elevations, escaping the heat down below, few have yielded any great panoramic views, and wildlife sightings have been few and far between.

Ridgeway State Park
Ridgeway State Park

Ridgeway State Park

The image above is of my campsite in the large, crowded, campground here at Ridgeway State Park. I was fortunate that the park ranger found me a level site after the site I had reserved online was way too severely sloped to even get close to level even maxing out my hydraulic leveling system. If coming here, and this is a very nice campground, be aware that at least half the sites are unusable for larger rigs, not because of length, but because of slope.

All interior roads and sites are paved and there are water spigots located throughout the campground for filling tanks. 30 amp electric is provided at each site and some, not all, sites have a shelter. Sites are reasonably spaced and there is a pretty good Verizon signal here. The campground is full every night this time of year so reservations are necessary. I would stay here again, but would probably do so in the fall for foliage, just a little too warm for me this time of year even at an elevation of 7,000′, mid to high 80’s every day, but cooling off nicely to the 50’s at night.

Along Last Dollar Road
Along Last Dollar Road

Last Dollar Road to Telluride

Open Range
Open Range

After reading quite a bit about the Last Dollar Road, a county road up through the mountains to Telluride, off Route 145, I figured I would give it a go and see how far my Prius could make it. Surprisingly, I made it all the way, though certainly would have been turned back had there been any rain lately, the road would be way too slick and deeply rutted for a low clearance vehicle in wet conditions.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

There was one weird aspen grove on the ascent, where the trees were all twisted and leaning in every direction, not the straight, erect forest you usually encounter.

Above Telluride
Above Telluride

After a loooong steady climb on the northern end of the road through meadows and forests, the road makes a long, steep, very steep descent towards Telluride. As I inched down this road, a herd of sheep was being driven out of the woods below to a large field.

Above Telluride
Above Telluride

As I watched they spread out and grazed for a short while ….

Above Telluride, Shepherd and Dogs
Above Telluride, Shepherd and Dogs

… then the shepherd and his two dogs hurried them back into the woods. Kind of fun to watch how quickly and efficiently the two dogs worked from this vantage point. When I looked at the photo above on my monitor, I noticed the shepherd had a rifle slung over his shoulder, must be for coyotes ?

Boondock Site Above Telluride
Boondock Site Above Telluride

At the bottom of the long descent, just a short distance above the spread of multi-million dollar homes and ” ranches” you encounter before coming back down to the highway just outside Telluride, I found a few folks camping on this spot ( image above ), what a great view from this popular boon docking spot, one I might consider approaching from the south end, but certainly not from the way I just came. If you look closely at the image above, you will see a local resident  using the rocks surrounding the fire pit as a vantage point to take in the great view.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

The beautiful aspen groves here near the campsites are, of course, marred by carvings.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

The weather during my stay here has been incredibly consistent, 85 and sunny days, cool, clear nights in the 50’s, every day. A little warm by day for my tastes, but if you drive up into the surrounding mountains, it becomes fairly comfortable. So far, the afternoon thunderstorms I was warned about, have not made an appearance.

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July 11, 2016 Ridgway, Colorado

Columbine
Columbine

Exploring Back Roads Searching for Wildflowers

The last couple of days I have been driving the dusty, washboarded back roads around Ridgway and off the Million Dollar Highway, searching for mountain meadows carpeted with wildflowers. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any.

Columbine on the Edge of the Woods
Columbine on the Edge of the Woods

Columbine is in bloom along several of these roads and I have found some small patches with several clusters of flowers, but nothing on a grand scale … yet.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove
Columbine
Columbine

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed this single clump growing out of the sheer face of the road cut  along the Million Dollar Highway. It was hanging on about twenty feet up the sheer vertical face of the rock cut and with no shoulder on one side of the road ( just a straight drop down about 200 feet, no room for a guard rail ), and the rock wall just three feet from the fog line on the other side, the only way I could get the shot was setting my tripod up on the road, dodging in and out of traffic.

Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive
Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive

Caught in Yet Another Cattle Drive

Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive
Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive

This is getting to be a regular occurrence for me, I believe this is the fifth cattle drive I have gotten involved with in the past couple months.

Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive
Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive

I’m getting to be an old hand at staring down these bovines.

A Young Cowboy
A Young Cowboy

And this is definitely the youngest cowboy I have photographed to date !

Approaching Red Mountain
Approaching Red Mountain

More Shots From Route 550 and Roads Outside Silverton

Approaching Red Mountain
Approaching Red Mountain
Along the Million Dollar Highway
Along the Million Dollar Highway
View From the Million Dollar Highway
View From the Million Dollar Highway
From Yankee Basin Road
From Yankee Basin Road
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton

Caught Up in My First Sheep Drive

Sheep Drive
Sheep Drive

I ran into three large and empty livestock carriers ( tractor trailers, 18 wheelers ) parked on the side of a narrow dusty road outside of Silverton and assumed I was going to run into yet another cattle drive, but when I rounded the next corner I encountered my initial “sheep drive “.

Sheep Drive Chaos
Sheep Drive Chaos

Several hundred sheep, one sheepdog, one guard dog, three shepherds on foot and another walking with a horse. At times the sheep were bouncing all around the place and the three shepherds were running like crazy trying not to have the herd breakup.

What made it really interesting was the fact that they were driving them down the road and one side of the road was a National Forest designated camping area, full of people and tents … and many of the sheep were running through the campsites and among campers and their tents as the men and the sheepdog attempted to get them back to the flock. I felt kind of sorry for the campers because the road and all the ground in the flocks’ path was now covered with sheep droppings, and several hundred sheep leave a lot of droppings.

Sheep Drive
Sheep Drive

Eventually the flock was driven off the road and up the side of the mountain.

Sheep Drive
Driving Them Up the Mountain

And the side of this mountain was very steep, probably a 30 degree slope or more and they were being pushed straight up by the shepherds. These guys had to be in some kind of great shape for this job since this location is about at 10,000′ elevation and they were driving the flock straight up the mountainside and it was a long way to the top. How they don’t lose individuals is beyond me.

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