Category Archives: Photos



I stood tonight at sundown at the south edge of the Mojave National Preserve after a day spent seeing one wonderful aspect of the Mojave after another and the thought came to me: “I live here.”

It’s not the first time I’ve had the thought, but it struck me hard tonight.

This late summer I made one of the hardest, most personably frightening decisions I’ve ever made. It felt correct at the time even when I feared its consequences most.

Had that decision gone the other way, I realized, I would have had to amend my thought to “I could have lived here.”

As painful as that decision was at the time, I have never been more convinced that I chose the proper path this past early September.

Math problem


The feeder is eight inches from perch to the fulcrum from which it hangs. It weighs approximately four ounces empty, and has just filled with a pint of food, consisting of one pint of water plus a half cup of table sugar. There was no wind when the photo was taken.

Given that information, estimate the weight of this ladderbacked woodpecker.

Riverbed sand

[Photo by Anne Rohrer, large image]

A few years ago I was on the banks of the Green just inside Utah, in Dinosaur National Monument, watching the tears of the Wind River and Wasatch ranges flow past. The river bottom was a broad stretch of smooth, shallow ripples in the blonde sand. The current carried trace amounts of darker sand, iron oxide or something similar. Slowly, a few grains at a time, the dark sand would spill into the ripples, there to gather on the bottom until a stray current lifted them back into the flow.

I laid on my stomach on the sandbar watching the sand beneath the water. Slowly, slowly, lines of dark sand gathered, bent around the traces, drifted one into the other. I realized after an hour or so that I’d been trying to read the patterns, as if they were Arabic or Japanese characters assembling on the river bottom, scattering just as I felt I was about to comprehend their intent.

This is a collaborative post with Anne Rohrer of Yellowstone Wolf.

Embarrassing a family member, again

Sorry, Allie, but I just really like this photo. (Who knew that my baby sister’s tiny little kid would grow up into the sort of stunning woman that makes grown men stammer?) This shot was taken on some mountain in Germany after some theoretically scary incident that Allison is being coy about.

Depth of field

January 17, 2005: Panamint daisies (Enceliopsis covillei) bloom on the Virgin Spring Canyon alluvial fan. In the background 32 miles away, snowy Telescope Peak (11,048 feet) presides over the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere (-282 feet) just west of Badwater, here obscured by the south shoulder of Smith Mountain.

Waves in the desert

Lake Manly, Badwater, Death Valley. January 17, 2005.

Last Thursday I sipped coffee, the sand cold against my sandaled toes. The muddy, foam-flecked Mojave River flowed before me. Twenty years of visiting and I had seen water in this part of the river only once before, and then without stopping.

The truck engine clicked cooling in the morning air.

The river was swift and shallow. Small standing waves covered almost every square inch of its surface. A line of ripples before me like tiger claw marks on brown corduroy pivoted upstream and down. Standing waves’ key characteristic is that they, well, stand. They stay. They are static. I decided that the river’s flow must be fluctuating to make these ripples dance. Cubic feet per second on the Y axis and time elapsed on the X: waves within waves.

The full flow of the river right before me. Upstream, a dozen braids converged, to split again downstream. Water sounds echoed off the old Fred Harvey building. Houses are scattered among the red rock hills on the far side, up towards Old Route 58. In 1856 Illinois sent two delegates to the first Republican National Convention. One went on to the White House and martyrdom, the other moved here and built a mill across the river for his silver mines. Robert Whitney Waterman’s workers later remembered him treating them well, and their wives appreciated his ban on liquor, gambling and whoring. When the price of silver dropped, all scattered to the four winds. Little trace remains of the mill.

A man in an impossibly run-down house on the south bank rummaged through one of five cars in his yard, shouting at his dog. A Barstow cop drove by, waved at me, smiled.

The night before I drove through downtown Barstow after the sun had set. Scattered groups of men huddled around brown-bagged bottles. At a stoplight corner three of them stood facing me, no eyes nor noses visible, only gaping, questing mouths. I thought it a hallucination spurred by driving and peripheral vision. I dared not take a second look.

Waves in the desert. Chart most anything out here and you find troughs, breakers. In Death Valley on Tuesday I hiked up into Coffin Canyon, a high-walled slot carved out below Dante’s View. A hundred yards in I was stopped by a dry fall, fifteen or twenty feet of smooth vertical rock. I turned to face down-canyon. Ten feet above me, pasted to canyon walls, a bathtub ring of leaves were stuck still drying from floods of a week before. The newscasters called the storm “unprecedented,” the most rain ever recorded in two weeks in Southern California. At the mouth of Coffin Canyon the flood had carved a small notch into a broad alluvial fan, exposing layers of head-sized rocks moved by ancient storms. On the floor of Death Valley old Lake Manly had returned, a foot or so of water covering the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, 282 feet below sea level. It would dry up within a month or so, leaving a thin layer of mud and salt.