Sunday, March 19, 2017

Prints of the Week

frog

I like the way the frog's camouflage blends in with the patterns of the water. I also figured it would go well beside the turtle blending in with the reflections. For a whole book of this kind of photo, check out Art Wolfe's Vanishing Act. I also like the eye and the way it appears to be looking at you.

I also printed one of the recent pronghorn photos.

Pronghorn

I thought it was one male (horns) leading a group of females, but if you look closely, the second last one also appears to be a male, probably a younger one. Apart from the horns, the males have a darker stripe on the side of their neck. I like the shallow depth of focus (from the long telephoto) making the foreground and background blurred and making the pronghorn stand out more. Also nice that there are no obvious fences or buildings or other signs of "civilization".

Both prints 13 x 19 on Exhibition Fiber, Epson 3880 printer.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ground Handling, literally

Like many sports, there's nothing like getting out and doing some to give you an appetite for more. Since we got back from our last flying road trip I've been reading paragliding books and waiting impatiently for spring to come so I can at least get out ground handling. (In paragliding, ground handling (aka kiting) is practicing with your wing on the ground - bringing it up and down and keeping it in the air.)

It's finally warmed up enough to start thinking about getting outside. Of course, the snow hasn't gone yet, and the melting is making a mess. But I figured I could get out early enough that the ground would be frozen.

Saturday morning and Shelley is off with SAR, but it's cloudy and the wind looks strong. I check the weather and it shows 30 to 40 kph (18 to 24 mph) - too much for my skills. So much for that idea.

But then the sun came out. And I'm a sucker for sunshine, especially after a dark winter. Is the wind really that strong? I check Weather Underground for local stations and they show less wind. I grab my gear and head out.

The park is a mix of snow, ice, and mostly frozen mud, rapidly melting in the sun. Not exactly ideal footing. But contrary to weather reports, the wind is actually blowing up the hill which means I might be able to fly down it. But as soon as I get my wing out I realize it's too strong at the top of the hill.

I bundle up my wing and move down to the bottom of the hill where the wind isn't quite as strong. Of course, it's more squirrelly due to trees. But although that makes it frustrating, it's also good practice.

In my mind, I was going to go out and kite the wing effortlessly overhead. Ah, how our memory tricks us! I was soon reminded that ground handling in rough air is anything but effortless, at least for me. But I managed to keep it mostly under control and the skills started to come back.

Stronger spells of wind would push me towards the hill where the wind was stronger. But I found that I could turn and forward kite and walk the wing back away from the hill. I did that a few times, until I let myself get a little too far up the hill. When I tried to forward kite back down a strong cycle of wind yanked me off my feet, dropped me on me butt, and then proceeded to drag me up the hill. Usually, if you're below the top of the hill you're less likely to get dragged because it takes a lot of energy to pull you up the hill. But the wind was strong and it had warmed up enough that the mud on the surface was no longer frozen. Imagine a tug of war where you're sitting down facing away on slick mud.

I managed to hold onto the brakes and pretend I had some control. But every time I'd get the wing down a gust of wind would reinflate it and drag me a further. I lost one brake but as I went to grab it again I clued in that I should just grab some lines and start reeling them in. That finally stopped the wing from taking off and I was able to regain my feet. I looked down the hill at my hundred foot track in the mud. I was now wearing a lot of that mud. Even my helmet was plastered, although I don't recall sliding on my head! But hey, I got off without a scratch (other than a bruised ego), and how often do you get a sled ride up a hill!

When I was younger, my current age seemed unimaginably far off. But what little I did think about it, I never imagined that at this age I'd be out getting dragged around in the mud. On the other hand, I think that younger me would have approved.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Still Winter

Now that it's getting light out by the time I walk to work, there have been some beautiful mornings with low sun shining through fog on the river and reflecting off the floating ice. But even for a photo addict like me it's been too darn cold to stop and take photos. By the middle of March I'd hope to at least be photographing melting ice. But no such luck this week.

Saturday morning wasn't much warmer but I bundled up and headed out anyway. It wasn't quite as early as I would have liked because we went out for breakfast first, but it was still nice. It's surprisingly hard to capture the sun glinting off the ice. Definitely a case where you need to take lots of shots and hope for some you like.

sun on floating ice

sun on floating ice

The fog is also tricky to capture, it only stands out against a dark background.

ice and fog  on the river

ice and fog  on the river

There were a few Goldeneye ducks around although, as usual, they tend to swim away as soon as they see you. Or fly away. The fog wasn't helpful taking pictures of these guys.

Goldeneye taking off

Although there wasn't much frost on the trees, there was some on the grass and bushes beside the river. (Although the wind was busy blowing it off.)

frost and ice

frost

In the back alley on my way home the pattern of light through a fence caught my eye.

light on snow

See all 18 photos as a slideshow or overview

Print of the Week

Agave

Taken at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. This is one of the kinds of photos that I like to print large - with both small details to look at close up, and larger forms and color to make it interesting from a distance. Interesting also because most agaves don't have such colorful "thorns".

17 x 22" Epson Exhibition Fiber, Epson 3880 printer

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Photo of the Day

cold March morning

Another shot out of my home office window. It may still look and feel like winter, but the days are gradually getting longer. 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Spring Mountain Ranch

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is near Red Rocks (where we climb) but we'd never stopped there before this trip. It's small but it has some interesting history (past owners include Howard Hughes). We also enjoyed the short walk through the park.

Spring Mountain Ranch

One of the things that made the ranch sought after was that it has water from a number of springs. The lake is artificial but is still a treat in the desert.

Spring Mountain Ranch

A hawk circled overhead, too high for good photos but I tried with the lens I had.

hawk

Some of the trees were starting to flower. (Ones that flower before they get leaves.) I love spring time!

tree flowering

See all 7 photos as a slideshow or overview

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Pronghorn are one of my favorite animals. What's not to like about a cute animal that's also the fastest land animal in the western hemisphere and is related to giraffes. They have an extensive range from Baja Mexico to Saskatchewan. They are one of the rare conservation successes, at one time down to approximately 12,000 but now back up to over 500,000, although the Baja and Sonoran subspecies are almost extinct Unlike deer, pronghorn have trouble jumping over fences. Instead they go under/through fences. It helps if the bottom wire is barbless or removed.

Pronghorn

Driving north on Highway 93 from Ely (bypassing the endless metropolis of Salt Lake City) we passed a large group of pronghorn lying in a field quite close to the road. Shelley was surprised I didn't stop, but I didn't have my camera ready and was already past by the time I recognized them. But I started having second thoughts so when I found a turn off I pulled over and got my camera and long lens out. Coincidentally, there were a few pronghorn across from where we stopped so I photographed them first. But there were only a few and they were quite far from the road. Still, one of them (a male) stood up and watched me closely.

I turned the car around and drove back to the large group. Of course, as soon as I stopped they started to get up and move away. Like hawks, they will sit peacefully if you drive by at 100 km/hr, but if you stop they get skittish. At least they had the courtesy to run somewhat parallel to the road. Usually they'd run directly away from you and all you get are butt shots.

They were a long way from the road and moving, and I was handholding a 900mm equivalent lens, so the photos aren't as sharp as I'd like. But it's still nice to get some shots of them.

Pronghorn

This is one of the reasons I prefer not to travel on the interstates. You might see some pronghorn from the interstate, but stopping and turning around would be next to impossible. I enjoy Highway 93 from Las Vegas to Twin Falls, with it's wide valleys and low mountains. Of course, in bad winter conditions you are probably better on the interstates. We ran into a snow storm just before Twin Falls and followed a snow plow past several people in the ditch. Thankfully it was only a short part of our drive.

See all 9 photos as a slideshow or overview

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Paragliding Jean Ridge, Las Vegas

After the rainy weather in Santa Barbara our best bet for good weather looked like Las Vegas. Usually we come to Las Vegas to climb at Red Rocks. This was our first trip since we learned to paraglide and we were keen to check out the local sites. Jean Ridge looked like the obvious choice - close to town and doable on our own without a second vehicle to shuttle. Driving to the top required a four wheel drive vehicle, but we could get to the bottom in a regular car and then hike up. We tried to contact the local pilots but didn't get any response.

Shelley launching

The first day we were the only ones there. We hiked up to the launch about two thirds of the way up the hill where the wind was about 12 mph, no problem to launch. It was forecast to get stronger later so we didn't wait around. Shelley launched first without problems. She went up right away but moved out front and seemed to be doing ok. I launched shortly after. I was more concerned about staying up but the problem turned out to be the opposite - I was soon well over launch and unable to penetrate. Even on full speed bar I slowly drifted back behind launch. On the positive side the air was smooth with no turbulence. I debated whether to turn and run downwind but I wasn't sure what was back there. I landed (if you can call it that) going slowly backwards. If I'd been thinking I would have killed the wing with the rears as soon as I landed. But I wasn't thinking that clearly. I was too busy cursing myself for ending up in this situation. Luckily there wasn't much rotor (turbulence) since the slope was rounded and not too steep and there was a big plateau on top.  It was hard to resist the instinct to flare (pull the brakes) but that's not what you want to do when you're landing backwards. I didn't even attempt to look behind me and steer. Luckily there was only scattered bushes and sand. Since I hadn't killed the wing and there was (obviously) strong wind, I got dragged until the lines caught in the bushes. Thankfully there was no cactus here! Every time I'd untangle some lines the wind would grab the wing and wrap it around a new bush. Eventually I got it free and gathered up. I was about half a kilometer behind launch and then had to walk down the hill. Holding my bunched up wing I couldn't see my feet and the stumbles on the walk down were more painful than the landing!

In hindsight, I obviously should have gone to the top of the hill and checked the wind up there. I knew it would be stronger up top, but didn't think it would be that much stronger. If we could have contacted the locals and got a site briefing that probably would have helped too.

The next time we drove out, the wind was the same at the bottom (about 12 mph) so we hiked up to the top without our gliders. Sure enough it was too strong at the top (over 20 mph). No flying that day.

view from launch

Our third attempt was on Saturday and there were actually other people flying. Winds were light and they weren't staying up long, but at least we could fly. There wasn't enough wind to ridge soar but there were some small thermals to stretch the flights out.

As we were leaving some other pilots showed up and offered us a ride to the top for another flight. We decided not to go since conditions were getting a little squirrelly. I felt a little guilty about passing up a flight, but it turned out they weren't able to fly due to the winds, so I guess we made the right call.

The next day conditions looked similar (i.e. light and unpredictable). Although it was still the weekend there was no one else at the bottom of the hill when we arrived. But a few minutes later, a truck pulled up. They opened the window and asked "You here to shoot?". We said, "No, we're here to fly". It turns out this is a favorite site for shooting. They can get up to a mile away from the hill. We countered by saying it was a favorite site for paragliding. Eventually they conceded that we'd got there first. Every day we flew here we could hear constant gun fire in the area. A bit disconcerting!

We also got visited by the dirt bikes and ATV's. One time I was coming in to land and was lined up to land on the road right beside the car. Three dirt bikes roared up and stopped to watch me land. The only problem was that they stopped right where I was about to land. I assumed they would clue in and move, but no such luck. I had to shift to the side and land in the bushes instead. They called out "nice job!" and roared away.

Another dirt biker showed up as we were packing up. He asked what we were doing and we explained we were flying off the mountain. But he was more impressed with us getting our Prius up here. (The road is marginal for a car with the clearance of a skateboard!)

Overall I've been pretty happy with my launches this trip. But I had a sketchy launch on my first flight that day. The wind was shifting directions and strength and my wing didn't come up straight. I lowered it almost to the ground, and brought it back up, straight this time. I turned and ran, but the wing again got off to the side. I followed it and steered. You can see in my video that I turned to look at the low wing tip, decided it wasn't too bad and kept going. I got off fine, but the corrections cost me some speed and I barely cleared the boulders below launch. It's a fine line between what you should try to correct and what you should abort and start over.

Jean Ridge is normally a ridge soaring site but unfortunately we didn't get soarable conditions. The wind was either too strong to paraglide or too weak to soar. We did get enough small thermals to stretch out a few flights to about 15 minutes, not bad for a 400 foot hill. One flight I managed to catch a thermal to about 300 feet above launch, but that was the best I did.

Luckily the one time this trip that I actually videoed my flight was the longest flight here. This is a few highlights. For more viewpoints and much more polish see Shelley's video.