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A Day At The Wave, North Coyote Buttes, Part IV

Arizona, Stories, The Wave

Once I reached the Wave and got over my initial wonder, I began to wander around and explore the whole area. For a photographer it is hard not to start taking photos as soon as one sets foot inside the Wave. Just like everyone else, I immediately shot some pics, but then set the camera back in the bag and left the main bowl of the Wave behind for a while. While the Heart of the Wave, as the main bowl is sometimes called, is the natural focal point for first time visitors, the surrounding brain rocks, alcoves, layered and cross-hatched sandstone are all curious and mesmerizing in their own right. After a few hours exploring I found that what caught my interest the most were the details within the heart of the Wave itself. The more prominant striations seem like ribs on the inside of some great geologic abdomen, holding the skin taut. It is amazing to think of the years of Jurassic history represented by the countless layers seen so beautifully in cross-section in the Wave.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.
Image ID: 20607
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

The wind did strengthen during the day, but it could hardly be felt within the heart of the Wave itself. The bowl-shaped Heart of the Wave and the surrounding cones and bluffs made it nearly dead-calm within the bowl. Hiking up and out of the bowl to explore the shoulders of the ridge and up towards the alcove and notch high above, I encountered some stiff wind that grew stronger as the day went on.

There were some other visitors at the Wave, of course. Interestingly, at least a third of the visitors the day I was there were German: three independent couples all making multi-week trips through the American Southwest (e.g., Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bisti Badlands, Page, etc.) One German fellow, who had been to the Wave twice previously, kindly pointed me to the “Second Wave“, which I hoped to photograph at sunset. He also informed me that the Wave has become particularly popular with Germans after it was featured in a movie. Most of the other hikers arrived some time after me and left earlier in the day, so it was not hard for me to find solitude during the day. In fact, everyone else had left by about 3pm, so I had the entire Wave area to myself from that point on. It was perfectly quiet with the exception of wind gusts sounding on the ridge above and the occasional bird. I stayed until sunset and hiked out in the dark. Once I left the becalmed heart of the Wave and hit the trail, I was met head-on with a stiff, sand-filled wind. In spite of the dark I kept my sunglasses on, hitched up my jacket and jammed back to the car, trying to ignore the constant trickle of sand slipping between my neck and collar. Once in the car I blazed back through Kanab, Hurricane, St. George then on to Vegas arriving after midnight. A great day, but killer tiring.

More in the coming days.

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

A Day At The Wave, North Coyote Buttes, Part III

Arizona, Stories, The Wave

The walk to the the Wave is really not all that difficult. There are only a few hundred feet of elevation gain, and it is only about 3 miles from trailhead to the Wave proper, so one would be hard-pressed indeed to consider it anything more than a moderate hike. The terrain is wonderful and varied: striated and eroded sandstone slopes, dramatic buttes and a number of large cones are seen along the way. Some of the trail is soft sand, while the rest is sandstone slickrock. Lightweight hiking boots (the kind with grippy soles for adhering to the slickrock) or running shoes are what is called for in this area. I tried to use my walk as a workout in lieu of my daily run, travelling out to the Wave at a fairly quick clip, only stopping once for a photo. Nevertheless, in spite of the pace I was able to admire the grand surroundings that rose up around me. About 60 minutes after leaving the trailhead I reached the top of the final sandy section of the trail and had arrived at the entrance to the Wave. Turning around to view the area I had just covered gave this view. Note the bluff in the distance, in the upper left of the photo: the entire bluff is an amazing cross-hatched display of stratified sandstone, with every shade of red, yellow and orange imaginable. In the foreground is the bowl-like entrance to the Wave. More tomorrow.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.
Image ID: 20644
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

In case you want some GPS coordinates, here are the ones I logged on my walk. They roughly correspond to the GPS coordinates provided by the BLM, with a couple additional ones thrown in for good measure. I found that my GPS differed from the BLM waypoints by 50-100′ or so and decided it was best to store my own series of waypoints on my walk to the Wave since I was planning to return to my car after sunset in enough darkness that I would not be able to rely on the visual cues that make the hike simple in the daytime. (As it turned out the return to the car was still pretty straightforward after sunset, in spite of the lack of light — I did not need to use the GPS.)

37.02000, -112.01589 (Wire Pass trailhead)
37.01723, -112.01313
37.01541, -112.00893
37.01311, -112.00835
37.01015, -112.00832
37.00328, -112.00689
36.99945, -112.00633
36.99597, -112.00619 (The Wave)

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

A Day At The Wave, North Coyote Buttes, Part II

Arizona, Stories, The Wave

The last 20 minutes of my flight to Vegas were crazy, with the plane dipping and bobbing all over the place in the wind. The steward seemed to enjoy it, stating that it was just normal flying conditions for Vegas when summer approaches and the weather warms up, so I figured it was no big deal. However, driving from Las Vegas to northwest Arizona on Tuesday afternoon I was pretty worried. The winds were HOWLIN’ and visibility was down to about 2-3 miles, with occasional near-whiteouts. There was no way any photography could be done in those conditions, and I figured if the winds did not subside significantly by the next day my visit to the Wave would be a big bummer. The big fat gas-guzzling SUV rental I was driving was getting buffeted as I made my way from Hurricane to Page on Highway 89. In fact, I wondered whether it would be a mistake even to simply hike to the Wave (leaving my camera junk behind), given the unrelenting winds and the frequent very strong gusts. I made a stop at the BLM station to get some advice about what to look for on my hike other than the Wave itself, and they sort of laughed at me and wished me good luck dealing with the wind, suggesting it might be a good idea for me to take a parachute (wa-huh?). After a pause, one of the rangers informed me that the entire state of Arizona was awash in a Navaho dust storm, and indeed the sky was quite red. But, he said, a cooler front advancing down from the northwest was due to arrive Tuesday night, and would (hopefully) settle things down a bit. OK, I thought, hope springs eternal.

Wednesday morning in Page dawned much cooler (cold actually) and calmer, with just a twitter of movement on the tips of the tree branches. By 6:30am I was on Highway 89 for the 30 minute drive to House Rock Valley Road, and was at the Wire Pass trailhead by about 7:30am. Not a cloud was in the sky and the air was clear, no longer filled with dust. The sky was deep blue (great for photos) and there was still very little wind. It looked as if cool temperatures (which I prefer when hiking) were to be the order of the day. All looked promising! There were a few other people at the trailhead as well, putting on shoes and adjusting packs and locking their cars. One family had their dog with them; what a great day for a hike with the dog I thought, telling myself that our old dog Bailey (who had passed on a few years ago) should have been here with me too. And so I began my walk to the Wave.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.
Image ID: 20623
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

I should mention that when your permit to visit the Wave arrives in the mail, it is accompanied by a three page set of directions for finding the Wave amongst the rolling sandstone bluffs and sand dunes. Azimuth headings are provided for those using a compass, while latitude/longitude coordinates are given for five waypoints between the trailhead and the Wave for those using GPS. Hmmm, this looked serious. Rangers and other authorities are always telling us to take the outdoors seriously, don’t underestimate the risks involved in hiking in the wilderness, and other stuff like that — and usually I sort of note it and file it away, recalling it after I’ve gotten myself in trouble. Also, I had read some comments on the internet about how tough the hike to the Wave was (not knowing these were apparently fairly inexperienced or unfit hikers). However, better safe than sorry this time. Not being a desert expert and not knowing what to expect, I brought both my GPS and compass, but really did not need either. The directions, which included some annotated photos identifying major features along the trail, were more than sufficient. The fact that one couple was ahead of me, leaving their footprints where the trail was sandy, also helped a little. At least if they were lost, I was lost with them. I did check my GPS against the waypoints provided in the directions and they matched reasonably well. The conditions were so perfect for walking that it was hard to imagine how I could go wrong. But considering the surroundings, I could see how a hiker could become lost easily in the North Coyote Buttes area if the weather turned bad, or stayed out past sunset and was unable to find the visual landmarks needed to return to the trailhead at the end of the day.

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

A Day At The Wave, North Coyote Buttes, Part I

Arizona, Photo of the Day, Stories, The Wave

I have long heard comments from hikers and landscape photographers about the beautiful and bizarre sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes area of Arizona. I am not a serious landscape photographer nor am I a what you would consider a “desert lover”. However, on a lark, I decided to apply for a permit for a hiking permit to the Wave, a particularly fantastic and odd section of the North Coyote Buttes. The Wave is so popular that the Bureau of Land Management must limit access to the Wave to only 20 people per day, by lottery. Summer is to be avoided due to the heat, and winter is not particularly pleasant due to cold and possible ice, snow or rain out there. Spring and Fall are the times to go. In spite of my applying for the most popular time of year, I lucked out and scored a permit. It came in the mail about 5 weeks later, along with some cool topo maps and directions to find the Wave amid the crazy random sandstone confusion that is the North Coyote Buttes. (More about finding the Wave in future posts.)

Geometric joints and cracks form in eroding sandstone, North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona

Geometric joints and cracks form in eroding sandstone.
Image ID: 20610
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

As my permit date (April 16) approached, I was besieged with work and family responsibilities, and it became clear that I would not be able to take a proper four- to seven-day trip allowing me to explore the area immediately around the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (in which the Coyote Buttes and the Wave are located), which includes cool places like Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, etc. Instead I pulled a virtual overnighter, hopping the hooker flight to Vegas on Tuesday, driving four hours to Page, getting up at dawn on Wednesday, hitting the trail, spending the whole day out in the area of the Wave exploring and admiring the sandstone formations, getting back to my car after sunset, driving back to Vegas, settling down in some nasty hotel next to the airport (should have stayed on the Strip, what was I thinking), finally hitting the sack at 1am only to rise at 4:30am Thursday for a 6am flight back to San Diego. Back in my office at 8:30am on Thursday. Door to door about 40 hours. Whew. It was worth it though: it was one of the coolest hikes I have ever taken, and I am looking forward to going back to look around the area more.

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

Watching Wolves with Laurie Lyman

National Parks, Stories, Wyoming, Yellowstone

Update 12/28/07: Wow! This morning Laurie was pictured and quoted in an Associated Press article about the trend of people moving to western states such as Montana and Wyoming, appearing in newspapers throughout the United States. [AP Photo][AP article]

Our main motivation for visiting Yellowstone National Park this past October was to find an opportunity for my daughter to see wolves, in the wild, with our friend Laurie Lyman. Laurie taught at the Rhoades School for many years. Our daughter was part of her swan song class, the 3rd graders of ’04-’05. Following each vacation, which Laurie would spend in Yellowstone, she would entertain her class with stories of the Druids and Sloughs, of the alpha and beta wolves in each pack, which packs were faring well and not-so-well, and of the pups that would appear in spring. She was so loved that her class donated a radio collar, in her name, to be placed on one of the Yellowstone wolves so that it could be tracked using radio telemetry. I believe the collar is still transmitting. Immediately after retiring from teaching, Laurie moved to Cooke City, Montana to study wolves in the northern part of Yellowstone National Park, including the Slough Creek pack (which she has known since its inception in 2002) as well as the Druid Peak, Agate, Hayden and Molly packs. Her husband Dan splits time between Montana and California but is often with her in the field when he is in Montana. During the past few years, having rarely missed a day in the field, Laurie has gathered volumes of detailed field notes and considerable understanding of the complex social dynamics within and between various wolf packs in the Yellowstone area, including the roles played by key individual wolves and movements of individuals between packs. She can often be found in the field with noted wolf researcher Rick McIntyre.

On my several visits to Yellowstone, when I decide I want to see a wolf, I start by finding Laurie. Each time I have met with her, she has shown me wolves, so I have a perfect record so far! (I have seen a few wolves without her help, but honestly I am much better at spotting whales than wolves. I am well out of my element in Wyoming and need all the help I can get.) This year we spent two mornings with Laurie in the Lamar Valley and were treated to some fantastic wolf action. On our final day there we saw the Druid Pack cross a broad snow-covered field to pursue a bull (male) elk, a big fellow with an intimidating rack of antlers. This was the real thing, Wild Kingdom-esque, right there in front of us. Laurie made it clear that we should pay close attention and appreciate this special sight, so we did. Both elk and wolves were running at full speed through snow, across a river bed and over a number of small hills. For a while it appeared the wolves would catch the elk and make a kill, but eventually it seemed either the wolves grew tired, lost interest or perhaps concluded that they were not ready to tackle such a formidable adversary; the elk got away. What was particularly intriguing was that the chase was also watched by a grizzly who was positioned on the far side of the wolves. The bear seemed put off by the commotion and moved away into the trees, but stopped several times to watch the action. Much of the time we were with them, Laurie and Rick were in frequent radio communication with others elsewhere in the Lamar who were watching the same wolves from different vantage points or other wolf packs in the area. Rick kindly offered his scope to a few people who just happened by so they could get a glimpse, and patiently answered all of our questions.

Most wolf observation is done through high powered field scopes, Swarovskis and the like. Only once have I had a good look at a wild wolf without a scope. I have no real interest in trying to photograph wolves, at least not in any serious way with high end photo equipment, preferring to leave them to their business. Checking on them from afar through a scope is satisfying enough for me. Wolves receive enough attention already, from wolf lovers who just want to watch them to ranchers who believe that the only good wolf is a dead wolf, that they do not need to be further pursued by yet another photographer looking to shoot yet another wolf photo. We stayed high up on a hill with a great view of the entire Lamar Valley, listening to the howling of the wolves and watching them do their thing. Laurie’s friend Pauline, an accomplished digiscoper (what’s that you say?), allowed me to take a few photos by pressing my super-duper-ultra-mini-pocket digicam to the tiny viewfinder on her field scope. I even managed to get a shot of 10 Druid Peak wolves in one frame. It turns out that the simple act of aiming a point-and-shoot camera through a field scope and pressing the trigger, which even a simpleton like myself can do, is considered a “technique” and has a name: digiscoping. So there you have it, we were digiscoping the wolves. Photography for the masses: all you need is a scope and a point and shoot camera, and it’s pretty fun to boot. No strenuous hiking around either. I thought our digiscope shot was pretty good for a first wolf photo, and a fine souvenir of our morning watching the wolves with Laurie.

South Carlsbad Reminiscing

California, Carlsbad, Stories, Surf

When I was a kid, my family would drive down from Newport Beach to spend a week or two each summer camping at South Carlsbad State Beach with two other families. This was going on 30+ years ago. (Now you know how old I am; everyone looks like a grom to me.) Back then we just had fun and didn’t ruminate over things too much. Now I realize how excellent these trips were. For a boogie-boarding wanna-be grom, mornings in the surf here were heaven. Our parents gave us all the freedom we could want. The 10 of us kids, plus friends who we might bring along, had the run of the beach and surf while the old folks would kick back and keep half an eye on us from up on the bluffs. We would get up early, crawl out of our sand-filled sleeping bags, grab our boards and fins, double-time it down the wooden stairs and paddle out over glass. Sometimes it was clear, other times overcast. The north county bottlenose dolphins, the ones that inhabit the coastline and forage for fish in the rips, would often swim by just outside the break, same as they do today. We knew they were dolphins but also half-imagined that they were sharks; I was sort of nervous around them. We would have wave after wave all to ourselves with not another person in the water for hours as far up and down as we could see. I suppose everyone was at work. Most of Carlsbad was undeveloped, agricultural land or just empty, so there was no pressure on this break. I would spend so many hours catching waves my Churchills wore holes in my heels.

I have been catching some of that old vibe shooting photos in the water. I realize the shots I am trying to score are not those of surfers and other people but rather of sunlight, empty breaking waves, barrels closing out, blue-green water and the mist that hangs over the coast just before the sun is high enough to burn it all off — these are the images etched in my mind from our Carlsbad camping weeks. Nowadays I live 2 minutes from South Carlsbad State Beach, how is that for coming full circle? My fins are longer, hair is shorter, however I still like to be in the waves from the campground down to the Ponto jetties. A kid again.

ponto
Those are the south Ponto bluffs looking toward Leucadia in the background. Some damn developer is planning on building a hotel or something on that spot. Travesty.

ponto
Ponto jetties, the entrance to Batiquitos lagoon, are just visible if you squint real hard. I live on that hill back there.

Revenge of the Mahi Mahi :: Part II

Hawaii, Stories

Continued from Part I

You see, mahi, as open water fish are prone to do, seek cover underneath and beside any floating object that they can find. This mahi is no exception. He has seen manfish before, swimming gracefully below the surface and sporting deadly appendages that send out flashing darts, impaling his comrades. Under normal circumstances the mahi would keep his distance from any manfish that he saw. But he is now desperate and willing to consider anything. Furthermore, the mahi observes that this particular manfish is so bloated that it can only bob at the surface. Has it fed recently? Apparently not, since the manfish is so weak that it swims no faster than sargassum and can only vaguely wag its worthless rubbery flippers. The mahi seizes the moment and races for cover.

For a moment poor manfish is confused. Where has the mahi has gone? Why are the false killers now so keenly interested in him, swimming so closely and showing their teeth? The false killers are in manfish‘s face now, pinging him with their sonar and looking very agitated. The FK’s repeatedly swim off, turn and rush hard at the frightened little manfish. The false killers are smiling. Smiling with their famous false killer teeth. This is strange, manfish thinks, why are the FK’s suddenly acting like this?

A flash of gold and green catches my eye. Holy shit, the mahi is next to me! When did this happen? Either this mahi is the most frightened fish I have ever seen, or the most fearless, or both. It dawns on me, too late, that the mahi is using me for cover. I am insulted to think that I could, even for a moment, be mistaken for drift garbage or a stray fishing net. I realize that I have been outfoxed, that this fish knows exactly what it is doing, and that I am not only his protection but an alternate and perhaps preferable food source for the false killers. I punch at the mahi to get him away from me. The fish is too quick. I end up punching nothing but water, hard, and my shoulder starts to hurt. If I had a speargun I would serve this mahi some cold steel for having put me in this position. The guys on the boat are laughing. One of my fins is slipping off from my backpedaling. The fish is laughing.

It is assumed that when large toothed cetaceans are playing with something, they do not appreciate an interloper who comes along and takes their toy away. From the perspective of the false killer whales, I had just taken their ball and might be getting ready to go home. They were considering how to get their ball back, as well as whether I too might be some form of toy or food. Trying to explain to them that the ball just rolled over to me on its own accord was not an option.

Try as I might, I cannot keep a steady shot of the false killers as they corkscrew around and underneath me trying to get at the mahi. My fins keep getting in my way and theirs. Occasionally the mahi swims across the camera, two inches in front of the lens, but for the most part he does an admirable job of keeping me between himself and the false killers. I begin to make my way back to the boat, hoping that no other false killers show up. As I near the swim step, I look down to see the mahi hiding between my fins. I try to swipe at the fish with one of my fins, cutting the fin through the water sideways like a knife as hard as I can. I miss the fish and the sharp edge of my fin caroms off my other ankle. I cannot swear because of the water that has leaked into the top of my snorkel and is now coming out my nose and causing me to choke. The mahi ditches me for the boat. I feel used. The false killers stay on my heels as I shoot out of the water onto the swim step. No one is there to assist me with the camera, they are high-fiving on deck and laughing too hard.

Revenge of the Mahi Mahi :: Part I

Hawaii, Stories

REVENGE OF THE MAHI, or, The Hapless Research Videographer

Perhaps their reputation is unjustified. I know of no documented case where a human has been attacked by one. Nevertheless, false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) are intimidating creatures. Have a false killer swim up to you and smile, displaying its many sharp and gleaming teeth, and you may wonder what possessed you to enter the water in the first place. False killers are pack hunters and are capable of taking on any animal in the ocean, with the possible exception of true killer whales. Roughly the size, color and shape of pilot whales, false killers produce canary-like vocalizations to communicate with one another as well as sonar echolocation to locate prey. On many of the occasions that we have observed false killers, they have been consuming or harassing large fish. On at least one occasion they were inquisitive of, and possibly harassing, a humpback mother, calf and male escort.

On my first day back in the islands after a three week break, we run into a group of false killers off the south side of Lanai. They are leaping out of the water and not traveling, an indication that they are on prey. I enter the water to videotape what is happening. “No problem,” I think, as I swim toward a pair of false killers herding a large fish, “finally we’ll get footage of FK’s taking prey, to complement the other footage we have shot of them clicking us with their sonar and interacting with bottlenose dolphins.” It appears to me that the FK’s are playing with their fish, and that perhaps the larger FK is teaching something about hunting to its much smaller companion. The fish, a large male mahi mahi, is flashing his colors and turning wildly, trapped at the surface by the FK’s. He is in deep trouble and knows it.

But this mahi mahi is a very smart fish, and a lucky one. (This of course is obvious. Had he not been smart and lucky, he would have been consumed by his brothers long ago). The FK’s have let him live long enough so that he is still alive when the rare manfish swims towards him and his FK adversaries. It is thus that in the manfish the cunning mahi mahi sees both salvation from his desperate situation and a remarkable opportunity to turn the tables on the species which has cruelly hunted his kind with hook and spear for millenia. Poor manfish.

As I approach the trio, one of the FK’s peels off to make a brief pass by me, then resumes his harassment of the mahi. Our policy as research videographers is to stop approaching and float at the surface when we get within decent video range, which is what I do. I am now a short distance from the boat, twenty feet away from the hunt. Much to my good fortune the action moves nearer to me and I sense that some in-the-face action is coming. My attention alternates among each of the three animals. It is when I briefly take my eyes off of the mahi that he delivers his coupe de grace, a stunning maneuver that shifts the balance of power in this silly drama. I do not recognize how thoroughly I have been outwitted until it is too late.

Continued…

The Kelp Forest :: Part V

California, Natural World, Stories, Underwater Life

When the goal is simply to swim in and admire a kelp forest, nothing beats the (relatively) warm clear waters of Southern California’s San Clemente Island in late summer. On a good day the panorama at San Clemente is stunning: kelp in all directions reaching from seafloor to surface, summer sun and canopy shadow constantly changing, fish swimming the avenues of the forest and visible over a 100′ away. One is enveloped — literally — by life as far as one can see, an effect I have experienced only a few times, and fleetingly, elsewhere in the ocean. On a day like this I will spend as much time in the water as possible, staying just below the surface to take advantage of the wonderful quality and variety of sunlight in the canopy, waiting for subjects to photograph against a backdrop of kelp. There are always garibaldi, kelp bass, various wrasses and juvenile fish hidden among kelp fronds to photograph year-round. It is September and October — the magical Indian summer months at Clemente — that are my favorite as they have brought torpedo and bat rays, seals and sea lions, huge schools of salema and mackeral and enormous sea bass though the forest in front of my lens: wonderful animals in a spectacular setting to spite my limited ability to capture them on film.

Garibaldi in kelp forest, Hypsypops rubicundus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Garibaldi in kelp forest.
Image ID: 01055
Species: Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

California bat ray in kelp forest, Myliobatis californica, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

California bat ray in kelp forest.
Image ID: 00267
Species: California bat ray, Myliobatis californica, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Jack mackerel and kelp, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Jack mackerel and kelp.
Image ID: 00380
Species: Pacific jack mackerel, Trachurus symmetricus, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

Kelp fronds, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp fronds.
Image ID: 03423
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

See more kelp forest photos

The Kelp Forest :: Part IV

California, Natural World, Ocean Sunfish, Stories, Underwater Life, Wildlife

Further to the south, Santa Barbara and Catalina Island kelp forests offer somewhat less profuse animal life but warmer and clearer waters. While I don’t dive these two islands often anymore, I do dive kelp originating from these islands throughout the summer: drift kelp. I was introduced to the notion of seeking out floating paddies of kelp by bluewater photographer Mike Johnson and have been hooked ever since. It is a strange pursuit, driving miles of open ocean in search of drifting kelp in the hope of finding something under it. You see, kelp plants that lose their hold on the reef continue to float and grow, drifting with the winds and currents until they are beached or reach warm water. Along the way they gather a variety of passengers including juvenile fish, Medialuna eggs, barnacles and pelagic nudibranchs. Paddies and their passengers further attract a variety of open ocean life: diving birds, bait fish, yellowtail, tuna and marlin, blue and mako sharks. Perhaps the oddest of these visitors is the ocean sunfish (Mola mola), which recruits small fishes at paddies to clean it of parasites — a cleaning station for the largest bony fish in the world, miles from shore in deep oceanic water, circling a scrap of drifting seaweed.

Continued…

Ocean sunfish schooling near drift kelp, soliciting cleaner fishes, open ocean, Baja California, Mola mola

Ocean sunfish schooling near drift kelp, soliciting cleaner fishes, open ocean, Baja California.
Image ID: 06308
Species: Ocean sunfish, Mola mola

Blue shark underneath drift kelp, open ocean, Prionace glauca, San Diego, California

Blue shark underneath drift kelp, open ocean.
Image ID: 01006
Species: Blue shark, Prionace glauca
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Pacific white sided dolphin carrying drift kelp, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, San Diego, California

Pacific white sided dolphin carrying drift kelp.
Image ID: 00043
Species: Pacific white-sided dolphin, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Half-moon perch, offshore drift kelp, Medialuna californiensis, San Diego, California

Half-moon perch, offshore drift kelp.
Image ID: 01933
Species: Halfmoon perch, Medialuna californiensis
Location: San Diego, California, USA

For more photos of the kelp forest, see http://www.oceanlight.com/html/kelp.html