On a recent road trip, we spent a day at Joshua Tree National Park near
Twentynine Palms, CA. The trip was, in part, motivated by a chance to
photograph the Milky Way over the park. It was our first trip to Joshua Tree NP
and we really did not know what to expect other than it was a desert landscape
with Joshua Trees. It was indeed a desert landscape typical of the American
Southwest. It has beautiful eroding, rolling hills covered by talus – piles of
rocks eroded from the hillside. There were large, weathered boulders throughout
the park that people used for climbing. We learned that it is a very popular rock-climbing
The desert was in bloom with ocotillo, cholla, desert senna,
Mojave mound cactus and many other plants. But, the signature plant of the park
is the Joshua Tree. The Joshua tree is a large tree like plant with hard spiky
leaves. Despite looking like both a tree and a cactus, it is neither. It is a
plant in the Yucca family (Yucca brevifolia). The oldest one in the park is
about 350 years old. Because it is not a tree, it doesn’t have the woody structure
to bear all of its weight, so, when branches get to big, they bend and fall to
the ground. We missed seeing them in bloom on this trip, but they were
developing their seed pods. I like them so much; I’d like to have one in my
backyard but they only grow in the Mojave Desert between 4,000 and 5,000 feet
Our night sky photo shoot was spectacular. The Milky Way
didn’t rise until after midnight. It was a pleasantly warm evening and we had
to scramble over some boulders, in the dark, to get to a ledge on another large
boulder. That location was picked because The Arch was directly in front of us
and our goal was to shoot the Milky Way over The Arch. I hadn’t done a night
sky shoot in a very long time, so it was great to knock the rust off my skills.
The only disappointment in the shoot was light pollution. When you look at the
Milky Way image, you’ll see the sky has a greenish cast along the horizon. That
cast is the light rom the Palm Springs and Indio areas of Southern California.
Indio is 25 miles from the park.
I want to give a shout out to Casey Kiernan of Joshua Tree Workshops for guiding us in a great night sky workshop and fun time.
Please click on caption to see image at higher resolution.
Commonly known as the Okefenokee Swamp, it is located near Folkston, GA – near the Georgia-Florida border. Though most people consider it a swamp, it is really a peat bog. A bog is a wetland underlain with peat, dead plant material that forms a woody, brown, fibrous blanket. Most of us know it from the peat moss we buy in garden stores. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife that live among the forest of balled cypress trees covered with Spanish Moss and the prairie, a tannin rich pond whose dark brown water is covered by water lilies and other plants.
The Okefenokee is not fed by any river or stream. It is a natural basin that is filled by rainfall on the pond and runoff from the surrounding terrain. Though it is only fed by rainwater, the pond maintains an average depth of 2 – 2 ½ feet of water. Twenty Five percent of its water drains to the Atlantic Ocean via the St Mary’s River. The remaining 75% drains to the Gulf of Mexico via the Suwanee River of “Way Down Upon the Suwanee River” fame.
During the late 1800’s it was heavily logged for its rot resistant cypress wood. The main canal through the swamp was an attempt to drain the bog to the east for purposes of transporting lumber. The canal was dug by hand but was not completed because it wasn’t deemed possible to dig through the natural berm on the east side of the basin.
Native Americans occupied the area surrounding the swamp between 500AD and 1840 when the Seminole tribe was driven off. There is record of Spanish settlement between 1625 and 1640. In 1937, the federal government purchased the Okefenokee and created the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge. The facilities were first developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1937 and 1941.
Note: Click on caption to see image at larger size and higher resolution.
Last week, we made a visit to Cowans Gap State Park in central Pennsylvania. We were fortunate to get two rare and interesting wildlife sightings.
The first sighting was a grey catbird dancing around at the base of a tree. We watched for a few minutes, perplexed by what it was doing. When I got my camera and tripod set-up, I noticed a northern black racer snake curled up in the bush near the bird. As we watched, we learned that the catbird’s elaborate dance, coupled with pecking the snake’s head was really an attempt to chase the snake away. Though we didn’t see the bird’s nest, we surmised it was nearby. It was really fun to watch this activity live rather than a scene in a TV documentary.
The second sighting was of a very large porcupine. It was the first time I have seen a porcupine in the wild.
I hope you enjoy these images.
Note: To see images in larger size and higher resolution, click on the caption.