More sunsets in the desert

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I don’t think I’ve seen as many gorgeous sunsets in my entire life as I’ve seen in a couple of years in Scottsdale. Truly a benefit of living here! This one was taken November 26, 2011, from Pinnacle Peak Rd between Scottsdale Rd and Tatum.

Below is a picture taken while on the ‘Gateway Loop’ trail, in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, of an Ocotillo on October 9, 2011.

Here’s yet another sunset, this one taken again from the Windgate Pass Trail, on December 17, 2011, returning to the trailhead.

Owls!

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Sitting outside at one of my favorite restaurants in Scottsdale, my friend happened to look up and see the following, about 10 feet from our table. Three baby owls, quietly and patiently sitting there watching us and the world go by. During the course of the evening, one of the parents flew to the nest (presumably dropping off a meal – rodent, rabbit, etc) and immediately departed.

Our waitress was very familiar with them, explaining how the owls return each winter, and always pick this one spot. They arrive in November, raise a few kids, and depart in April.

Yet another surprise here in the desert!

I rushed home to get my bigger camera, which has a telephoto lens, etc. Here’s another picture of the beautiful babies!


I returned a few days later hoping to see them again – no sign of them whatsoever!

Sunsets in Scottsdale

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Driving home from a friend’s house in Troon, I pulled over to catch this gorgeous sight, looking Southwest from Happy Valley Road and the intersection with Alma School Rd:

I decided to drive around and see if I could find any majestic Saguaros that would provide a good ‘subject’ for the great sunset that was developing. I soon found a veritable forest of Saguaros on Pinnacle Peak Rd between Scottsdale Rd and Tatum Blvd:

A couple of weeks later I drove to the same general vicinity on Pinnacle Peak Rd and captured this sunset; quite different this time:

Drive to Tucson

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One lazy afternoon I decided to drive to Tucson to get a first look at the roads that wind through the foothills. I took Highway 60 from Phoenix, past Gold Canyon and Queen Valley, towards Globe. Once I reached Superior, I headed south on highway 177, which then joins up with highway 77 and leads into Tucson from the North East.

Highway 177 was great – virtually no traffic, and rolling through Saguaro-laden hills. Along the way, you also get to see some very large open-cast copper mines – not exactly pretty, but interesting to see. Here’s a video I took of a small segment of the drive (and here’s part 2), partly as an experiment to see how good the video feature of my camera is.

Typical view of the road itself:

View towards the south-west:

Approaching Tucson on highway 77, you see the Santa Catalina mountains on the east side:

Phoenix Mid-Town from Phoenix Mountain

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Looking west from the Phoenix Mountain trailhead (Squaw Peak Rd), you can see the tall buildings that make up Phoenix Mid-Town.

More Sunsets!

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While shopping in downtown Scottsdale, I saw what looked like a decent sunset brewing, so drove out to the Fountain Hills border (on Shea) to capture this one.

Christmas Day in Scottsdale

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Driving back from Fountain Hills on Christmas day, I took a detour from Shea Blvd onto Via Linda, just past the Mayo Clinic. Perfect timing for this shot, looking South-West towards downtown Phoenix.

Fountain Hills

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After taking a cruise on Saguaro Lake, I drove through Fountain Hills and caught these two shots. The first was taken from just outside the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation, the second taken at the Fountain Hills lake.

Fountain Hills Lake:

Eastern Sierras

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In late October, I drove from the Bay Area to Phoenix via Lake Tahoe and the Eastern Sierras. This picture was taken from US 395, just north of Mono Lake, in the late afternoon.

Salt River Canyon

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About 40 miles outside of Phoenix begins one of the finest drives I’ve ever taken – highway 60 through Globe and on to Show Low. In about 150 miles, you pass from desert to canyon to alpine forest, with temperatures dropping around 30 degrees (appreciated when it’s 105 in Phoenix!) as you rise from 2,000 feet (Phoenix) to 6,400 feet (Show Low).

The road starts in classic desert landscape (passing through towns named ‘Apache Junction’ and ‘Gold Camp’) before entering the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. Saguaro cactii can still be seen on the roadside, letting you know you are still in the desert …

The road winds its way through the mountains and across bridges at roughly the same elevation for a short while.

and

A small river can be seen not far from the road.

As you approach Miami/Globe, you see some pretty dramatic open-cast mining. Both towns have pretty extensive mining operations going on.

After passing through Globe and heading north-east towards Show Low, the terrain softens a little and is noticeably greener, and the Saguaro cacti are gone.

About an hour out of Globe, you drop down to the main river through the canyon, and rise up on the other side. This truly is a spectacular part of the drive! (I have pictures from the base of the canyon from another trip, which I’ll dig up and add here later!).

Risng from the base of the canyon, you get some pretty spectacular views …

When you get closer to Show Low, the terrain really softens out and looks quite gentle, quite ‘ordinary’ – green fields, trees, hills … like you would see in many places in the world perhaps … but pretty!

Finally, driving north from Show Low towards Holbrook, a pretty amazing sunset was going on all around. There was actually a big rainstorm too, off in the distance, but I could not find a safe place to stop where I could get a good picture, so it will have to remain a memory only …

And one last view of the sunset from the road … I can’t resist a good sunset!

Flowers in the Desert

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Scottsdale in April/May is proving to be a real surprise, as all the various cactii and succulents sprout an enormous variety of flowers.  Just driving around the neighborhood is a treat.

These gorgeous items were all spotted by the roadside, along medians, or on trails 10 minutes from civilization.


Here’s a typical Saguaro, just starting to sprout some flowers on the side furthest from the sun. Soon, this will turn into a burst of white flowers.  Each ‘sprout’ comes out of one of the bumps where the needles are anchored.

This is a saguaro with more developed flowers. It’s as if each saguaro has a little ‘hat’ on!

This is some kind of ‘Agave’ or ‘Aloe’ plant, which sends out a giant pole which then displays horizontal branches. This specimen was seen at the ‘El Pedrogal’ building in the ‘Boulders’ complex in North Scottsdale – a fabulous place to observe all manner of desert vegetation (and a fine place to enjoy a beverage or two, or even a meal!)

Scottsdale Neighborhood Vegetation

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One of the great features of the northern and eastern parts of Scottsdale is the focus on desert-friendly landscaping (compared to other parts of the Phoenix Metro, where lush green landscaping seems to be the goal). You don’t have to go far to see a wide range of beautiful desert plants. This one is on a street corner near 92nd and Shea.

These are some pretty typical street scenes in Scottsdale/Fountain Hills.

Fountain Hills above, Scottsdale below.

Sunsets

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You see sunsets everywhere, but there is something about the sky in Phoenix that seems to inspire some of the best.

This is one of my favorites – taken in late February while driving down Pima Rd in North Scottsdale. It was actually very cold at the time!

This sunset was taken just a few feet from the one above, but has a different ‘texture’ and is worth looking at!

The following sunset was taken just a mile from my office, and much later in the year (July). I saw the sunset taking place from my window so went out looking for a good place to capture it.

Bush Highway/Saguaro Lake, Arizona

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This awesome drive is located just outside of Phoenix/Scottsdale; you can approach it from Scottsdale at the north end, or from Phoenix at the south end. The drive on Bush highway will take you past the gorgeous Saguaro Lake, and then past some very pretty local terrain.

Another view:

Outside of Saguaro Lake:

Saguaro Lake itself:

Snow in Phoenix!

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Well, not exactly ‘in’ Phoenix, but you can certainly see it from there!

Apparently this happens every few years when the conditions are right.  These pictures were taken from the town of ‘Fountain Hills’, a community East of Scottsdale.  At the center of Fountain Hills is a small lake with a huge fountain, which ‘runs’ every 15 minutes or so – so not present in all pictures.

Here the fountain is active, with the snow-capped mountain to the right  …

This is the view from a little higher up in Fountain Hills …

And another view from higher up, with more of the mountain range visible:

Here are some condo’s overlooking the lake – typical ‘Adobe’ style, blending in with the surroundings:

Here’s the view to the west, from the other side of the lake, as the sun finally sets:

Snow on Mount Diablo

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Only happens once every few years, and I was lucky to be driving along with my camera this sunny afternoon in Walnut Creek, CA.

New Moon Setting

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Managed to catch the New Moon from the deck tonight as it sank towards the horizon, with just a sliver of light reflecting from it. I love the color of the sky and the fact you can see the entire moon in outline. This is an un-retouched shot from my Canon SLR. 6 seconds, F5, ISO 200.

Moonset

Larger version

Wild Turkey

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Over the past several years of walking at the Lafayette Reservoir, we’ve noticed more and more wild turkeys on the grounds.  But this year was the first time we saw what we assume to be a mating ritual.  Every day for weeks, some of the turkeys are strutting their stuff, puffing up their bodies, spreading their tails, and … most fun of all – doing a synchronized set-piece where three or four turkeys all rotate in unison … pretty amazing!

Wild Turkeys1

Now there’s something to look forward to next year!

Wild Turkeys 2

San Francisco

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People say San Francisco is crowded, but here we are on a weekday afternoon in May, and not a soul around us in Lincoln Park, a few feet from the Palace of the Legion of Honor.   Pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge are pretty common, but I couldn’t resist taking this one on this beautiful, warm, sunny afternoon.

San Francisco

Rainbow!

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Haven’t had time to post anything recently, but this view from my deck caught my eye and deserves an update! Not often you get to see a full-blown rainbow, end-to-end!

Rainbow

Eclipse

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I didn’t manage to capture the full extent of it, but I did catch the tail-end, and this is better than nothing.  Took me a long time to figure out how to get the various features of my camera setup right for this on – mirror lockup, delayed shutter release, exposure settings, etc.  Could be a lot better but still, not bad!

Eclipse

Christmas Day in Japantown

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The original plan was to go to our old favorite Chinatown restaurant ‘R & G Lounge’ for Christmas dinner, but at the last minute we changed our minds and went to Japantown instead, heading for Benihana (not a very authentic Japanese place I know, but it can be fun once in a while … their lobster is a real treat!).  Crossing Post Street, this was the scene … crisp, clear evening, lots of light, lots of people – what more could you ask for?

Japantown

Life in the ‘Burbs

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Moving away from San Francisco after 12 years was not easy, but after 12 years of the fog, the homeless, and the impossible parking, the idea of a spacious house in the sunny suburbs sounded appealing. And when you discover that for almost the same price as a 2 bedroom condo in a decent neighborhood of SF, you can buy a large house on half an acre of land, surrounded by designated open-space dotted with old-growth oak trees and deer wandering around, it was a bit of a no-brainer.  This is the view from one of the bedrooms.

Deer n'trees

Night Time

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Playing with my new camera, I did a long exposure shot from the deck, overlooking downtown Walnut Creek.  There were clouds in the sky, but the visibility seemed good.  This was my first attempt with the new camera, many more will follow! (8 second exposure, 11pm)

Walnut Creek Night

 I’m trying to replicate the ‘mood’ of the picture below – an early evening shot of the San Francisco Bay, taken from the Berkeley hills.  For this shot, there was still a good deal of natural light around, unlike the shot above which was much later in the evening.

San Francisco Bay

I’d also like to draw attention to a new page of images taken in Bryce Canyon a few years ago, and also these pages, covering Lake Tahoe and San Diego from 2006. The Lake Tahoe page needs a lot more images, but it’s a start.

Sunset

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Today was not quite as warm, with quite a few clouds during the day. But every cloud has a sliver lining, as they say, and those clouds turned in a pretty good display at the end of the day, once again at the Lafayette reservoir!

Sunset at the reservoir

Click here for a larger version, sized to fit larger monitors

Bird in flight

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Another perfect day – 67 degrees, clear blue skies.  Caught this bird in flight at the reservoir today.

Bird

Here’s a couple of similar shots from last month (click for larger version) …

Wings

and …

Take off

Thanksgiving, Chinatown style!

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With 99% of all Americans (I would guess!) planning to sit down to a traditional Turkey dinner, we headed into San Francisco for our annual ‘Thanksgiving, Chinatown style’.  But first, a quick stop at the Lafayette reservoir, to get in a bit of exercise! 

Lafayette Reservoir

PyramidArriving in San Franciso at around 4pm, it was a perfect 65 degrees.  The Pyramid building rose above the other buildings with the Chinatown Hilton hotel to the left.

CrabDinner Consisted of a variety of unusual and delicious items, such as pea-leaf in garlic sauce, Squab, and … the signature dish of R & G Lounge, ‘salt and pepper crab’ – battered, deep fried, totally delicious crab! Beats turkey any day in my book!

Red PyramidLeaving the restaurant at around 5:30pm, the setting sun cast an unusual light on the Pyramid building, with a near-full moon setting to it’s right.

ChinatownSunset Here’s another shot of the pyramid, with the moon to it’s left, taken from Grant Avenue in Chinatown.

Walking down Grant Ave, we came across my favorite bakery; always a long line outside, best pastries you could ever hope for!

Golden Gate bakery

Vital LeafAnd here’s my favorite tea store – Vital Leaf, a place where you can sample all kinds of teas, ranging in prices up to hundreds of dollars a pound.  I picked up a refill of my favorite.

Grant AveWith the sky almost totally dark, the lights of Grant Ave started to shine.  

MoonsetAnd here’s a final look at the moon, sitting above another interesting San Francisco building, with the lights of the Embarcadero Center in the background.

All in all, a great way to spend Thanksgiving!

What a difference …

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… a day makes!  One of the best things about the bay area is that, even in the rainy season, we get crystal-clear blue skies much of the time.  This is the same view from the deck 24 hours after the previous picture:

Clear Skies return

Time LapseHere’s a rudimentary animated gif showing the transition from cloudy sky to blue sky.  I’ve done these before using actual time-lapse photography (eg, one frame every hour or so), but for this I simply took the original frame (cloudy) then in photoshop, blended the second frame (blue sky) as a layer with an opacity of, say, 10%, then created another frame with opacity of 20%, etc, then created an animated gif from the frames (layers). Tedious but fun – I’m going to try to perfect and streamline the process!

Rainy Day In Paradise

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After what seems to be the longest, driest summer in memory, we had a full day of rain yesterday and it was quite attractive in its own way!  Can’t complain when it’s dry until mid-November (though it does drive home why we are having major fires all over the place).  View from the deck on this damp day:

Not much chance of a walk in the park this day, but good opportunity to go to San Francisco and check out Japan Town!  Sounded like a great idea, so jumped in the car, but fantasy turned into reality at the Bay Bridge …

Stuck in traffic, stuck in rainStuck in traffic, stuck in rainStuck in traffic, stuck in rain

Japantown was hopping, though – full of local teenagers, tourists, you name it!  Good antidote to a rainy day.  

Growing fast

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Over the next few weeks, the babies were a constant factor every day, running around in the garden, flocking to the mother as soon as she returned.  The baby here (May 30th) has a rounded face, and dark fur, compared to the parents.  This changed dramatically over the course of just a few weeks.

The father disappeared somewhere along the way; not sure if that’s the nature of the fox family structure, or whether perhaps he was trapped, killed by predators, or otherwise killed.

Feeding time – the mother was attacked by the babies as soon as she returned, all of them squeezing underneath, fighting each other for space while the mother patiently waited for them to finish.  This lasted for several minutes, and happened a few times a day.  Looks painful to me!

Happy pairAfter feeding, the mother would hang around for a short time, then disappear – probably to find more food for herself and the family.  The babies would frolic in the garden, play-fighting with each other, chasing each other, rolling in the grass, and so on.  But they never went beyond the boundary of the garden – it was as if there was an invisible fence in their mind.  After a few weeks, however, they started to go outside the fence, but still never far away.

Here’s a couple shots of playful foxes, taken with the new 350mm lens:

Play fighting
This one a few days later …
Play fighting 2

Graceful pose Here’s the mother, checking out the garden (June 17). With the babies getting larger and larger, and their color and facial shape becoming more and more adult, it was harder to tell them apart, but – the mother was still quite a bit bigger, and the tail of the mother is still a lot fuller.

Sitting pretty This is one of the last pictures of the babies, taken June 22 – about 2 months since the first appearance of the parents (April 13), and a month after the first appearance of the babies (May 26).

Compare the facial structure and fur color of these babies now to how they were just two or three weeks ago.

Mixed diet, June 23rd) Over the course of the next several weeks, the number of babies gradually dropped, with only two babies left after a few weeks. The only reason I could imagine for this is that they are getting picked off by predators – birds, probably. But maybe … just maybe … they rapidly achieve self-sufficiency and go off on their own.

They still continued to feed on the mother, even as they grew. Note the bird lying on the ground, in the foreground … looks like they are transitioning to solid food! At different times, we saw the mother bring snakes, birds, and squirrels.

Final VisitSeveral weeks later (July 3rd to be precise), I caught this shot – the first sighting in over a week. A pair of the ‘babies’ returned for one last visit. Perhaps remembering that this was a safe place to hang out for a while…

Click here for a Windows Media Player movie of the same visit, using the movie-mode of my ‘other’ new camera – a Panasonic Lumix with widescreen movie mode.  And here’s a direct link to the same movie in Quicktime format, for those who need it – only click this link if you can’t get the WMP version to play, and if you can wait several minutes! I don’t know how to embed the Quicktime player into a web page, so this is a direct link to the movie itself, which means all 4 Megabytes have to download before it will play.

Mr and Mrs Fox come to town

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img_8246-crop-sml.jpgHeading up the stairs for my first cup of coffee in mid-April (half-blind and brain-dead), I happened to catch an unusual sight in the garden … not the neighbors cat, nor the occasional skunk or raccoon, but a fox, complete with bushy tail and pointy face! This was a rare treat!

There he was, prancing around the garden like he owned the place, not bothered by me peering at him through the window.

FoxOver the course of the next few weeks, we got to know not only Mr. Fox, but also Mrs. Fox.  They seemed perfectly happy to bask in the sun in the garden, and had evidently taken up residence under the deck – they disappeared down through a tiny hole (a ‘fox hole’, I guess!) into the large space below.  They would often be seen late at night, returning from hunting adventures.

Basking Foxes
It became my daily treat to watch them.  I did wonder what might happen if I went down to the garden to water it … whether they would become territorial and chew my legs off … but what the heck, I was enjoying this too much to worry about minor details like that! I figured that if I called the local animal control folks, they’d setup cages, trap them, then put them to sleep – so I decided to just go with the flow for a while and let nature take its course!

Then came … the babies!

BabiesIn total, I counted SIX furry little balls, though for some reason there were often only five at any one time.

A regular pattern set in; the deck would be silent, not a hair in sight. Then the babies would get anxious or hungry, and start lining up, waiting for the return of the mother. They lined up along some imaginary line beyond which they were trained not to pass. The mother would return, often with a snake, a squirrel, or a bird in her mouth, and feed the babies. Then the babies would play around, chasing each other, fighting each other, having the best time in the world, then all of a sudden, they would all disappear down the fox hole and not be seen again for several hours.

I decided I needed a camera with a good zoom lens, so spent over $1,000 on a Canon Digital SLR and an 18-250mm zoom lens (giving me an effective 350mm zoom due to the magnification factor of the D-SLR sensor). I figured with a 350mm lens I could capture the babies as they grew! We all need excuses to spend money … this was mine!