Desert Vision

Moonless nights can sometimes feel the brightest. Is this the sight I saw when I took the photo? 


But that does not make the photo untrue. 

This is 30s of light built up on a sensor. With light adapted eye I saw glimpses of the photo in my peripheral vision. 

Shadows on the ground, cast by photos traveling across the galaxy. One can see, experience, these sights at night with patience. 

This vision cannot be rushed, it must slowly build in your eyes and nervous system as it does in the camera.

Desert Wash

A small puddle of water in a dry wash reflecting the stars of our home galaxy.

I use to think the space beyond our planet was dryer than our driest desert.

However, liquid water is believed to exist on Mars, Ceres, Europa, Enceladus and Ganymede.

Perhaps Venus use to have a shallow watery ocean as well. 

Liquid water undoubtedly flows through a ravine on unknown exoplanets, currently carving canyons thousands of light years from our home.

And there exists a cloud of water vapor more than 12 billion light-years away and containing 140 trillion times more water than in Earth’s oceans.

It’s difficult for me to image that where there is liquid water the chemistry of life has not evolved.

Water is ubiquitous. Hydrogen and Oxygen are in the top three most common elements in the universe. 

Carbon is the 4th. 

Perhaps life is ubiquitous as well.

Lunar Crater Nevada

I drove into the Nevada desert hoping to find dark skies and a few Eta Aquariid meteors, the remnant dust of Halley’s Comet. I found the dark skies but the only a few meteors ignited in our atmosphere.

Instead I found a crater, a scar that once poured lava across this landscape about 15,000 years ago. A memory of our planet’s continuous metamorphosis.

For two days I wandered the crater’s edge. One other sightseer drove up for about 3 minutes. Took an iPhone photo and left.
A rattlesnake and the yipping of coyotes were the only other visitors.

The first night clouds and rains hid the stars and any chance of burning meteors. The second day the wind quieted and the pale blue sky stretched over head.

That evening, just past midnight, my alarm went off and I trudged around the rim once again. The air was warm. My ears listened for my rattlesnake friend hoping he had other plans for the evening.

The atmosphere meekly emitted airglow, smearing red and green under the Milky Way’s arch.

Rock Art

Rock art I stumbled across in Gold Butte a few months ago.

I saw some stone and a dirt track so I headed across the desert until the road ended.

Joints in the rock beckoned like hallways. Some spiraled to the summits. Other crawled deep and hid from the sunlight.

Memories of those who lived around these stones were etched on innumerable walls.

Many origin stories are tales of emergence. Peoples coming from the earth.

In a sense it’s true. Life emerged 3.5 billion years ago, a product of chemistry and and perfect conditions. Perhaps within deep hot hydrothermal oceanic vents, perhaps with organic molecules that rained upon the earth in comets and meteors.
Our origins are still an open question and perhaps we can never be certain.

However, our cellular ancestors arose early due to our planet’s perfect conditions.

The chemistry of life evolved in complexity and into consciousness, until billions of years later it carved this art upon these stones.

I find it fascinating that this chemistry could create meaning in this universe.

Joints in the rock beckoned like hallways. Some spiraled to the summits. Other crawled deep and hid from the sunlight.

Our galaxy and a hint of sunrise over an extinct volcanic crater.

Why black and white? I don’t know… I guess I like it better.
The feeling of the place. Strong contrast of land vs sky and wind vs silence. Like black and white.
The place feels existential. A small pox mark on a round sphere careening through time and space.
Diminutive consciousness peering into the desert’s big openness. Comparing my moments to geology’s moments… Humbling for humanity
As if my eyes were never there. The wind doesn’t remember.

A kiva just beyond the boundary of the original Bears Ears National Monument.

The cultural landscapes spill beyond our made up lines and ultimately covers the planet..
Some nights I questions why I take these photos. The weekend was hot. The bugs were biting. And the clouds were uncooperative, but my patience ultimately granted a view of the sky.
Long drives, wandering the desert, a lack of sleep, headlamp wandering following the small circle of light.

I go looking for some kind of meaning, foolishly hoping to package that meaning in a photograph. Landscape and signs of human consciousness all beneath the stars which created us and our homes.

Meaning is rarely felt in the act of standing there in the dark. Watching Jupiter glow and fade behind rolling clouds. Anxious. I should have gone to bed.

Then for 10 minutes or so things clear and a window opens outward to the stars which created all of this, a synesthetic round of applause to all of it.

Reflections of Mount Hooker, Wyoming

Hooker Processed1 32

Last week we ventured fifteen miles past alpine lakes and mountain passes into the depths of the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. We camped beneath Mount Hooker, a historic, if seldom seen big wall, whose steep face was first scaled in the 1960s by Yosemite climbers Royal Robbins, Dick McCracken and Charlie Raymond over a monumental three-day effort.

For several days we camped and hiked within the shadow of this continuously looming wall. We attempted to climb a lesser wall, but loose rock the sent kept us low

On the final evening after the sun set and the light was replaced with cold darkness I ventured across the lake near camp.

I had scouted a spot earlier to photograph the Mount Hooker. The lake was shallow; at it’s far end the low water revealed stones half out of the water. Following the narrow tunnel of my headlamp’s beam I leapt from rock to stone across the water, hoping another stone would reveal itself. The night was below my feet, above my head, close to my skin.

The sky was clear and the wind calm, stars shined above and reflected below. In the darkness I sat on a rock about twenty feet into the lake. Unworldly musical notes from a small herd of bugling elk accompanied me as the shutter from the camera rhythmically clicked.

Sitting calmly on the stone, engulfed in dark beauty, for me this type of photography is almost primarily about the experience, a beautiful photo is just an extra.

Crescent Moon and The Galilean Moons

Crescent Jupiter Clouds PROCESSEWD22Last Thursday evening as the sky darkened the celestial conjunction of the crescent Moon and Jupiter gradually became illuminated.  I pushed the exposure to pull out the detail moon’s aspect hidden from the sunlight and to draw out the faint moons of Jupiter.


In the bottom left you can see Jupiter with four of the Galilean moons. The two small dots to the right of Jupiter are the moons Ganymede and Callisto, and to the left are the two moons Europa and Io. These two on the right are too close to be resolved by my camera, hence only three dots are visible.


In 1609 Galileo was able to observe these moons due improvements he made to the telescope. It was this sight which began the dismantling of the millennia-old geocentric world view, that the Earth and humans are the center of the universe and everything revolves around the Earth.


This was the first time is could be started irrefutably that not everything revolves around the Earth. This was an extremely bold statement for the era and the beginning of his notion that the Earth orbited the sun and not the opposite.


This was a profound shake up of the current world view and cosmology, one that brought into question the validity of almost everything believed about humans position in the cosmos and the religion


It was this scientific discovery that eventually placed him in prison for heresy, where he eventually died under house arrest.


Galileo’s life of study was ultimately one of rebellion, a life scientists need to continually look to for guidance and to emulate regardless of the cultural or political climate.

Smoke, Sky & Mars

Skull Valley and Mars

The other evening, I ventured into a salt valley in the western Utah desert hoping for a glimpse of the sky. Smoke from California’s three hundred thousand burning acres drifted in acrossNevada and into Utah.

Ghostly tendrils fill our valleys and lungs with stinging haze. Is this the new normal for summer in the Western States?

The evening deepened as the sun sank well past the horizon. It’s light diffusing into red fumes, I watched the slow moving wall of smoke from the west cascade upon me and blur the nightsky into indistinct point of color.

Mars, the red planet, is close to us now visible to the left of the Milky Way. At night I feel as if it is a small sun shining it’s ocher light upon us, reminding us it once too flowed with water.

Ancient Lake

Great SL sunset BIRD7The other evening, I wandered the southern shoreline of the Great Salt Lake. The sun painted the sky red through the smoke and smeared ocher light upon the salty water. Gulls flew overheard and millions of tiny black bugs nibbled my ankles.  I keep feeling the pull of these Great Basin Desertscapes and hope to explore saltpans more and more. Many folks of Salt Lake City seem to disregard the Great Salt Lake. I’m continuously pulled towards it.

This Lake is a remnant of another era, it is literally the remaining puddle of the massive Lake Bonneville which covered most of western Utah for almost 800,000 years, expanding and contracting in a rhythmic cycle as the climate changed over those millennia. The remains of its shoreline can be seen on the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City.

When I first moved to Utah I was confused by what looked to be old flat roads running level on the hillsides. I learned those “flat roads” were remains of a primordial shore, places where waves carved away the rock and soil. Animals like Mammoths and Saber-Toothed Cats lived and drank there and possibility where some of the first people who ventured into North America lived out their lives. Gazing westward from the Salt Lake is a desolate view, but it feels like a small remaining glimpse of a world that use to be.