Chasing spring

We may be subject to another 6 weeks of winter (you know, because today is a cross-quarter day which means it’s 6 weeks to the equinox) but I’m dreaming of seeing these little flowers emerge again.

Yes, today is Groundhog day whereby we get to contemplate the weather-forecasting abilities of a rodent that lives underground. It’s also a cross-quarter day – half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox – which means that tomorrow we’re more than half-way through the winter season and looking forward to the official start of spring.

Of course, plants and animals don’t know that we humans have divided the year in this way, and they show their recognition of the lengthening days and warmer (!) weather by beginning to grow new shoots or singing the first songs of courtship and staking territorial claims. One aspect of hiking that I particularly enjoy is how we follow spring up to higher elevations through the season. Beginning at sea level with the first flowers in the city – I always look forward to seeing witch hazel bloom in January – before moving on to the forest flowers that bloom in April (yes, even the skunk cabbage), and up to the alpine flowers from June onwards.

My favourite (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) is the glacier lily and I really like trying to catch the very first wave of these in bloom. For me, they signify the beginning of the best part of the hiking season: the opening up of the alpine areas and witnessing the last gasp of winter at those high elevations.

Last year our timing was perfect; the road up to Blackwall Peak in Manning Park opened up the weekend we went there to hike another trail. Unable to resist, we walked the short Paintbrush Trail (you may recognize the above flowers in that post too) where the glacier lilies were only just beginning to bloom, the snow barely melted from around them. It was glorious. And with so many flowers so close to the trail, I could take my pick of photo opportunities. We left with many photos, dirty wet knees, and cold wet feet. A perfect day, in its own way.

Getting these photos is hard: the flowers are only a few inches tall at this early stage which means getting down on hands and knees. A tilting screen makes a big difference but it’s still easier to look through a viewfinder (and usually more stable, unless the camera is on a tripod – which is almost never the case for us). It helps that the main camera we were using (the Nikon D3200 with the kit lens) is able to focus at quite close distances even at full zoom. Coupled with 24 million pixels, it becomes possible to capture some tiny details on these flowers even without a macro lens. Then it’s a matter of finding the right flower with just the right shape, with just the right amount of water beading on it…

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Full moon shining

The nearly-full moon shines through the clouds above Cox Bay beach on New Year’s Eve. Hoping for clear skies next week to see the full moon, and maybe the lunar eclipse too – if I can wake up early enough…

Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was saying I don’t take many photos of the moon these days? Well, technically this isn’t a moon photo; it’s a cloud photo with the moon merely providing the light. I really like the crepuscular rays from the moonlight shining through gaps in the clouds, as well as the colourful iridescence. It almost looks like a photo of a distant nebula out in the Galaxy…

The weather forecast doesn’t look good for the full moon next week, but if it’s clear then I might try and drag myself out to see the early-morning lunar eclipse. I’d love to catch the moonrise like last year but there’s this thing called “work” that prevents that from happening this year. It’s about time I tried another timelapse though…

Sunshine and coffee

These last couple of days here in Vancouver have me dreaming of hot coffee and sunshine – flashback-Friday to sunset light on Coffee Pot rock in Sedona. Mind you it was pretty cold when I took this photo. I guess the fact it was December might explain that…

It feels like it’s been dull or raining all year so far (12 days in). I think we’ve had a couple of sunny breaks during the day, but they’ve only shown up during the working week, and when you’re working 9-to-5 you don’t get much chance to enjoy them. The highlight of this past week was seeing a barred owl right outside our office. Oh and hearing the first chickadees singing. But I digress.

Seeking winter sun was the very reason we headed to Sedona, AZ, back in December 2013. Alas it was not as warm as we had hoped; a large Arctic airmass had made its way south across western North America with sub-zero temperatures in Vancouver and distinctly chillier-than-usual here in this part of Arizona. We had driven up to Airport Mesa on the southern edge of Sedona to get a sunset view over the town and were greeted by a bitterly cold wind as we lined up to take our photographs. All I remember was shivering and trying to get out of that wind, and we escaped back down the mountain as soon as we could.

But it was worth it for the light: golden sunset light on red rock is unbelievably photogenic and we enjoyed glorious sunsets on every day we were there, from our drive in from Phoenix, to this view, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rocks, the Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest. It’s definitely a superb area to visit and explore. Just watch the red channel on the histogram…

About town

A few random-ish photos taken out and about in Vancouver for this week’s Flashback-Friday post. (I missed Throwback Thursday this week…)

1. Sometimes two U-locks are not enough

Sometimes two U-locks are not enough #bike #bicycle #oops #theft

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Bike theft is very common in Vancouver. Not just whole bikes, though, but pretty much whatever can be taken away (a friend had their bell stolen – just the bell, for some reason…). Unfortunately, not every bike owner is aware of how make best use of their lock(s): locking the frame to the bike rack isn’t enough as it leaves the wheels exposed. What mystifies me about this bike is the second lock that is just locked around the frame – it’s not doing a thing to help prevent any part of the bike being stolen. I’ve seen lots of cases where a wheel has gone missing because the lock didn’t pass through it, which is why I often carry two locks: one to lock the frame and one wheel to the rack, the other to lock the second wheel to the frame. It’s not foolproof, and it’s a pain carrying two U-locks, but if it makes my bike look like too much hassle to pinch then it’s fine by me.

2. Crows

Crows #birds #crows #Vancouver

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One of the notable features of Vancouver is its crow population. Every dusk they can be seen streaming east to a roost in Burnaby where hundreds if not thousands gather to spend the night. It’s quite the sight. Occasionally they fly right over our apartment, and I was glad to be able to get so many in the frame at once. It’s even more remarkable that the phone focussed on the moving birds…

3. Sun halo

Sun halo #sun #halo #atmosphericoptics

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I always look up. Maybe it’s my training as an astronomer. Or maybe I became an astronomer because I always look up… On sunny days I always check to see if there’s a halo or a sun-dog near the sun. A good way to view a halo is to block out the sun using the corner of a building. In this case I was fortunate enough to have a small corner along an otherwise featureless edge of this building. The dark building and uniform blue sky actually make a nice abstract picture in themselves, but the corner jutting out into the frame really forced me to look for a way to make it into a feature. Tilting the camera (well, phone) gave me this interesting angle. Simple lines and plain colours. Works for me.

4. Vancouver on a sunny day

Vancouver on a sunny day #Vancouver #mountains #bluesky

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Back in 2015, I was working in the Mt Pleasant area of the city and could just see Crown Mountain from my office. I can never resist a photo-op with Crown, and I walked up the steps of one building to catch this view over the flat-topped roofs across the road. With blue sky and lovely wispy clouds, the Google Photos HDR processing actually worked to make this phone pic worth posting.

Black in white

Black Tusk decked out in white, as seen from Brandywine Meadows on this day in 2013. Probably looks very similar today after yesterday’s snow. 🌨

Black Tusk is an obvious landmark up and down the Sea to Sky corridor, and we’ve taken many a photo of it. I always like seeing a familiar peak from different angles, and this is one of my favourite aspects on Black Tusk, especially late on a sunny afternoon in early winter where the low angle of the Sun highlights the texture in the landscape. This view is almost exactly opposite the view I posted a few weeks ago, though is much further away so I had to resort to the 55-200 mm lens to get in close. Ah those were the days when that lens would still focus on things at infinity…

And so, right on cue, winter begins again – yesterday we even had some snow in Vancouver, though it didn’t settle.

Petrified

A different kind of forest for forest Friday – the fallen logs of the Petrified Forest National Park. These stone logs messed with my perception: looks like wood, feels like rock. I’d love to go back and spend more time exploring the park when it wasn’t so chilly (taken in Dec 2013)!

The petrified forest was a place I’d wanted to visit ever since I was about 6 or 7 years old and I first learned about fossils and petrified trees. That dream came true just under four years ago and I have to say the experience was even better than I expected. The location is unreal: high, open desert which, at an altitude of 1700 m (5600 ft), is far from warm in December (there was snow in shaded areas). The logs – mostly fragments as the rock is extremely brittle – lie all around having emerged from sediments now washed away. In places, the end of a stone log pokes out of the landscape.

The biggest surprise for me was the disconnect between my senses of sight and touch. To look at some of the pieces, my brain said “wood”, yet the moment my fingers touched the cold stone, I only saw rock. I went back and forth several times, and it was like one of those perspective puzzles where you see a view that changes in time depending on how you concentrate on it.

I loved it. And being such a clear sunny day I was able to use the polarizer to maximum effect to enhance the colour and contrast. The bigger challenge was finding a composition that captured both the wonderful old trees and the sense of openness, almost desolation. I’ve just looked back through the full album on Flickr and I think we did OK.

Best seat in the house

Looking back 5 years ago today to a balmy Thanksgiving weekend in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This is one of my all-time favourite views, and possibly the best in the park. Black Tusk looks amazing from all angles but especially this one.

I love this view. Actually I love the entire view from this spot on Panorama Ridge. To the south is Garibaldi Lake and Mt Garibaldi itself, to the east lies the heavily-glaciated Castle Towers, while to the west is the Tantalus Range. For a hike that requires only relatively modest effort (at least when camping nearby), it offers the greatest value in terms of views. Plus the hike itself is quite enjoyable, passing through vast flower meadows or across volcanic cinder flats, depending on your approach.

I haven’t yet summited Black Tusk itself, and while I don’t doubt that the view from up there is superb, I still expect that it won’t be better than this view. After all, Panorama Ridge overlooks Garibaldi Lake directly, and of course you get to admire the stunning Black Tusk: Panorama Ridge is a much less visually impressive summit!

And I think that it looks best in the autumn too as the meadows on its flanks turn that lovely burnished golden colour as the flowers die back. Having said that, it looks pretty good in any season…