Tag Archives: clearing storm

Anza Borrego Buttes and Slot Canyons

This weekend brought another storm to San Diego (wildflowers should be fantastic next month).  In anticipation of picturesque weather in the desert, my friend Alex and I decided to head to Anza Borrego Desert State Park (see his post on the trip).

As usual, below is a gallery of images from the trip.  Clicking on any of the images will launch the slideshow.  Read below for more information.

Alex suggested we visit a loop he has completed that took us from The Slot parking lot up the West Butte Borrego Mountain (one of the Sierra Club San Diego County 100 Peaks), down a ridge to the lower wash below the Dropoff, over some wind cave formations, and finally up through the Slot and back.  All told, this turned out to be about 5.9 miles.

Anza Borrego – Everything Is Green!

As soon as we descended Highway 78’s Banner Grade and down the San Felipe Wash, it was apparent that the desert had completely transformed over the winter.  Drought-hardened plants and barren desert were now vibrant and green.

I wasn’t shooting landscapes much back in the famous 2005 wildflower season, but this certainly looked like as superb as it could get.  In particular, the ocotillos really stood out.  Each branch was covered with beautiful green leaves, thriving in a superb winter season.  Some sprouted a few flowers, but it was a little early.  I like to look for Ocotillo flowers because they tend to be the earliest to signal spring has arrived.

On our hike, there were dramatic scenes unfolding to the West as the storm cleared the Laguna Mountains.  Beautiful cloud formations could be seen throughout the Borrego Valley. Occasional cloudbursts in the Hellhole and Borrego Palm Canyon areas were apparent from miles away.

Hiking Up West Butte

The West Butte was a relatively easy hike up.  There was a rock cairn on top that was assumed to be the peak, but that wasn’t the case.  The reason for the cairn placement was not apparent.  On top, there were seemingly three different “summits.”  It was difficult to tell which one was indeed the top.  If anything, there were within a few feet of each other.  Just in case, we went to the top of all three, so nobody can say we didn’t actually make the top.

The ridge walk down to the bottom wash was a couple miles of easy hiking, until we reached a difficult talus slope near the bottom.  This was not a great area to scale down with a camera around your neck, but I was loathe to put it in my camera bag because with the weather, there seemed to be a great scene at every turn.

Wind Caves And A New Arch

Alex took me up a scenic route straight up some steep slickrock to a wind cave section.  It reminded me of the Hole in the Rock area of Mojave National Preserve.  The personal highlight for me was a beautiful arch in the wind cave area.  It had a nice opening to Toro Peak in Northern Anza Borrego.  The arch is not named, to the the best of our knowledge.

The Slot

On the last leg, we reached The Slot.  This is still an area I struggle to make great images.  There is one section that is intensely narrow, and there is always a lot of people coming through on weekends.  The rock is also a neutral brown, and it doesn’t glow with reflected light (it is definitely not like Antelope Canyon).  Some of the slot canyon is also relatively open at the top. This makes it very difficult to keep the sky out of the image, resulting in a need for dynamic range that exceeds what our digital cameras can do.

I am hoping the coming weeks, with more rain on the way, will seal the deal and make this the best wildflower season since 2005.  Henderson Canyon and Hellhole Canyon will be extremely busy, but I am hoping to find some other places a little out of the way to enjoy Anza Borrego some more.

As always, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the images.

Morning Clearing Storm at Figueroa Mountain (12 Images)

A Morning Clearing Storm at Figueroa Mountain

This morning, I spent a stormy Spring morning up at Figueroa Mountain north of Santa Barbara near Los Olivos, California.  While I was a little late for the California Spring wildflower season in 2016, I knew that California Poppies tend to bloom late and I could take advantage of the storm clearing most of the Southern California.  Below is a gallery of images I made and some notes on how I made them.

I left my home in San Diego a little past midnight and got some rest at the Gaviota Rest Area on US Highway 101 (I was far from alone, many were there doing the same thing!).  At sunrise, I left for Los Olivos and proceeded North on Figueroa Mountain Road.  This road came to my attention many years ago when Google revealed the location of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, which is indeed right off the road.

As Figueroa Mountain Road winds its way up the mountain, it is a very narrow paved road, sometimes with only space for a single vehicle.  During Spring wildflower peak season, it can get very hectic, and you have to watch for vehicles rather than look at the hillsides.

I was here past peak, and I knew it.  But with California Poppies being late bloomers and the storm, I thought I could make some cool images and the weather did not disappoint.  Everywhere I turned, there were things to see, if I only I could find a turnout!

Even the turnouts turned out to be difficult once I found them.  Because of the storm that blew through, a lot of it was extremely muddy and my Honda Civic Coupe was not built to handle it well.  Mud caked all over the bottom of my boots and I gained a couple inches of height just from the mud.

The storm seemed to have two major clouds layers.  The lower cloud layer, which I drove through, was low to the ground and hugged the lower canyons.  There was also an upper cloud layer that was above the mountain.  At the ridge-line, there were many compositions of the canyon below which were amazing to see.

One of the best spots had light rays shining right through an oak tree off the mountain.  I found a turnout about 1/4 mile away, but by the time I got there, most of the mist was gone.  I didn’t get quite the image I wanted, although I like the color and black and white I selected for this gallery.  Still, I have another image that will stay in my mind forever.

I wanted to close with a shout-out to Jeff Sullivan, who posted an excellent blog post on Figueroa Mountain on April 3.  I was a little late for peak wildflower season, and staying only until the morning meant I had closed poppies, but it was a great refresher after not having visited in several years due to the persistent California drought.  Thanks Jeff!

Thank you very much for reading, and I hope you enjoy the images!


Ending January With A Clearing Storm In Santee

Ending January With A Clearing Storm In Santee

2016 - DSC_2991 Clearing storm in santee

Oh no, my rainbow is gone!

2016 - DSC_3073

Great late light over Mission Trails and Lake 2

2016 - DSC_3100

That was all she wrote. A little nice light right at sunset, but the clouds were too low to light up after 15 minutes.

Driving back last night from Phoenix, I knew a quick storm was blowing in.  I made it over the mountains in East San Diego County before the rain set in.  Today was very rainy, but this storm was also particularly windy.  I saw many a tree flexing in the wind, and I wondered how many gusts it would take for the tree to finally break. Continue reading