red_monkeyflwr goldfield_dawn tl_phacelia4 red-blue-green trackh_poppies
Our Lord's Candle flower patch    08-C-41.jpg

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
by David Senesac

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

Southern California Road Trip
March 12 thru March 21, 2008
page 8 of 9

wildflowers by track home hills

pic1 A young woman that lived nearby had also managed to find these flowers and wandered a bit through the color. J and the woman left as I did shortly afterward. Amazingly the three of us were the very first people to witness this amazing sight, as there were absolutely no trampling footpaths through the flowers. Down where I parked, was a bush with an impressive red flower I immediately recognized as the red bush-monkeyflower, mimulus puniceus, species I'd seen on some San Diego flower websites.

J had told me about another location he had visited that quite impressed him so I was driving highways again. A location that I subsequently related on the wildflower reports site. Driving along I15, exit at the Railroad Canyon Road interchange and drive east a couple miles. At a traffic light turn right southeast on Cottonwood Hills Road then after about half a mile right south on Lost Road. After a short ways turn right west at Cedar Hill Lane into a track home development. Follow that road uphill that will bend left at the end and then take Birchwood Drive right, the short ways to the end of that street and park in front of one of the homes. pic5 The view east shows a huge track home development in the distance all bulldozed out yet without homes, more hills with wildflowers, and distant snow capped San Jacinto Peak. At the end of the street is an iron fence with a gate the water company uses to access a paved path up to a water tower off to the right. There is a narrow parallel entrance slot beside the gate. To the left is a canyon where wildflowers were quite dense in each ravine up the canyon. The map also shows a significant area of undeveloped hills beyond this first canyon I expect are worth hiking about and exploring. I drove off to another remote location I'd found among flowers to spend the night in peace.

Thursday March 20
return to Our Lord's Candle flowers

pic2 Up at dawn once again on March 20, I was out on the road at sunrise and drove straight to where I'd left off Wednesday afternoon at the ridge with Our Lord's Candle flowers. It would be over two hours before the poppies opened up so I had time to explore some nearby areas and capture close-up images. Thankfully it was for the third straight day a relatively calm morning. Leaving my view camera behind, I traveled light with just my Coolpix atop the Trekker. Moving up a ravine, I found numbers of the light purple hued tansy-leaf phacelia, phacelia tanacetifolia on a conveniently steep slope then looked around for one to put up against the sky. pic3 Moving to another ravine I noticed blooming bushes of red flowers that had to be more of the red bush-monkeyflowers I had photographed Wednesday in the wash. Except here was the real source of the flowers in an area of boulders about 50 feet below the ridge top in a ravine. More than a dozen bushes were blooming in the rocks of that area. I captured an image of their red flowers alongside baby blue-eyes among green herbs. pic4 I walked back down the hill and noted yet three more species, California coreopsis, coreopsis californica, that look rather like large goldfields and were rather dense in some areas, tidy tips, layia platyglossa, and a species of yellow lotus.

After some gear re-organization in my car, I walked back up the hill with my view camera and daypack to a location on the uphill side of the area I'd wanted to shoot from in order to maximize a frame best displaying all the variations of flowers and colors. To do so required making a new trample path through flowers, something I always do rather carefully after considerations of minimizing the inevitable and what I might be photographing next. Indeed it was a superb location so I placed my 150mm Nikkor lens at maximum tripod height standing up atop my stool in order to look down on more species. I used a patch of purple canterbury bells in the foreground to anchor my frame center line and pointed the lens down so the top of my frame was where larger areas of canterbury bells mixed with dense goldfields at the end of the field. Within a lush green herb matrix, in the near foreground were orange hued poppies, yellow hued coreopsis, yellow hued goldfields, blue hued baby blue-eyes, and light whitish violet hued birds-eye gilia. At midframe right were areas of pink hued ground pink and at mid frame center a dense area of coreopis and gilia. A portion of the main dense poppy areas was at the upper left frame edge. After setting up it was still too early to shoot so I walked back to my car and took care of some other chores.

glorious flowers

A short while later, my watch showed 10am and walking back up the hill, could see that indeed most of the poppies were fairly opened up and the general morning light in this partially backlit orientation was magnificent. Climbing to the top of my stool, peering into my dark cloth at the groundglass, I verified it still looked sharply focus and was exactly positioned as I'd left. So I made an incident measurement at the sun with my Shepherd Polaris Dual 5 digital meter that showed the usual EV 15.2 for that time of morning. Thus given the orientation of light and the nature of the landscape, I targeted a value of EV14.7. Thus set my shutter speed to 1/15 second and aperture to f/40. I shoved in a film holder, then pulled out the dark slide, and used it to block the sun on my lens. Looking out at the scene I looked for any movements due to a gentle breeze, and then in a magic moment of calm actuated the shutter release cable exposing the film. In went the dark slide and I pulled the film holder out putting it in the film bag. The resulting image is at page top,    08-C-41.jpg   . The image at the center page column is a 100x2900 pixel top to bottom slice of that image from above the p in patch in the description, by a crude flatbed scan. A drum scan at my normal sized prints would contain nine times as many bytes for that same area.

I almost never bracket a shot even for important shots as this. Of the 48 exposed sheets of film during my trip, only 2 were off by 1/3 stop and 8 off by about 1/6 stop that is trivial to correct after scanning. All the rest were dead on. Something I'm always rather amazed about because setting exposure for transparency film is easily the most difficult and critical decisions made with large format and a major reason few photographers would ever be successful working with sheet film in complex outdoor landscapes. It is rarely simply a matter of reading one's meter and then using those values to expose film.


For my second image, I reduced the tripod height to about 3 feet and repeated the shot. The resulting image improved the shape of the poppies while the lower height reduced the numbers of species and flowers visible across the scene. My next target was to move closer to a dead cholla nearer the center of flowers that I'd noticed was absolutely covered by the densest areas of flowers. Leaving my daypack at these first bombholes of work, I gingerly stepped through plants to the top side of the cholla area and indeed it was the ultimate location in the whole field interestingly clothed in its interior areas with beautiful baby blue-eyes. I went to work composing an image, then exposed a sheet,    08-C-43.jpg   . My resulting slightly bright exposure was about +1/6 stop above optimal. Looking at the utterly dazzling cholla on this Holy Thursday, I let my imagination run freely with thoughts that this was the appropriate Easter shrine of an otherworldly powerful being and I was the humble human being allowed to capture its passing on the day our world celebrates Christ's Last Supper with his beloved group of Apostles that has changed our world.

Grabbing all my gear, I moved above the main field and captured some Coolpix images of the two blooming tall Our Lord's Candles. About then, J drove up. I wasn't at all surprised. What else could hold a candle to this? I moved around to a particularly dense blazingly bright area of flowers and set up a direct backlit composition,    08-C-44.jpg   , that looks like the creation of some color crazed painter. Next I moved down the hill to where J was, where we had created several trample paths Wednesday about a few beautiful spots. Today with better morning light, it was prime to be captured on film. On the top of my list was the composition of a dense mix of light violet white hued birds-eye gilia amongst other flowers that was simply incredible to look down at like a dusting of snow,    08-C-45.jpg   . Two young mothers with three children drove up the dirt road in a couple SUVs and parked beside J's vehicle. We waved to each other as I continued to go about my business. I watched as they struggled to get their little ones to pose for pictures in front of various groups of flowers on the periphery of the main flowers. I wondered if the woman we had seen yesterday was already spreading the word down in the neighborhood. I moved to an area of densest baby blue-eyes with poppies for a vertical format composition,    08-C-46.jpg   . Finally was a composition where I could emphasize the beautiful ground pink and chose a less dense spot providing better separation of the individual goldfields, birds-eye gilia, and baby blue-eyes,    08-C-48.jpg   .

David heads back north

It was nearing noon with the light becoming harsher and I had exposed 9 frames. There was certainly quite a lot more I could have milked from the area especially with more intimate close-up compositions. However I had just experienced one of the ultimate photographic mornings I'll ever experience and it was now time to start my journey back north. I had the goods in the bag now. Well I hoped I did haha. Reflecting the saying, "don't count your chickens until they hatch", photographers are never quite sure till they see their developed film. In the first 6 days I had stingily exposed but 15 sheets of film while during the last 3 days, 34 most valuable colorful sheets of film. J had already left and the others were back at their cars. I was soon driving north on Santa Rosa Road passing near Lake Mathews all the way into Riverside. Along the way I noted several undeveloped hilly areas where the same kinds of wildflowers were growing that showed the widespread nature of wildflowers in the area. There were some slopes with much larger areas of blazing orange poppies. I continued north on city boulevards through Riverside and Fontana streets until finally getting on the I15 freeway to pass through Cajon Canyon.

During mid afternoon I was driving through eastern areas of the Antelope Valley northwest on SR-138 towards Palmdale that looked noticeably drier with less flowers than usual beside the roads. After all it had not rained in over six weeks. I took Avenue K west through the poppy zones east of the state reserve that also looked dry, then passed the California State Poppy Reserve on Lancaster Boulevard noting fair numbers of poppies and goldfields east of the reserve along the roadsides. However other areas as Munz Road looked well below normal in color. Past the reserve 170th Ave W was simply bare while a modest blanket of yellow goldfields covered the Fremont Buttes. And continuing west on SR-138 towards I5, the western Antelope Valley areas showed me little reason to bother making a trip south in the coming weeks. I passed along Gorman Post Road and the hills above were rather brown with a sprinkling of coreopsis across the lower slopes. However at 4,000 foot elevation, March 20 is rather early and by mid April if some good rains occur, at least that area could still provide a show. Over Tejon Pass, I left I5 at Frazier Park taking 9N05 into the snowy areas and down to SR-166 near sunset and onto Soda Lake Road in Carrizo Plain National Monument. As dusk faded, 20 minutes later, I was parking in that plain's vastness making and setting my car up to sleep in for the last night. As I passed through those southern areas of the dirt road, I noted vast areas of fiddleneck at a stunted ankle height.

Friday March 21 the final road home

With the sun coming up, I didn't waste time getting back on my dirt road. A few miles further, areas of just out of bud goldfields presented a vast yellow landscape, promising a better show for April. I passed the monument roads to campgrounds and the visitor center then took Simmler Road east to check out the alkali flats about Soda Lake. There I saw all the usual species as herbs with some flowers as tidy tips already showing some flowers. I figured the area needed another two or three weeks and to be sure, a good jolt of rain. Back on Soda Lake Road north, some of the hills to the west were growing swaths of new color. At SR-58 I turned west and as soon as I reached the hills, the landscape became much more lush with fiddleneck now knee high along with monolopia, a species of coreopsis, densely covering areas beside the road. Here and there I could see slopes with dense areas of poppies. However all those cattle ranching lands are behind barbed wire and signed as NO TRESPASSING.

I continued west and noticed nice areas of baby blue-eyes, popcorn flowers, and goldfields. The Redhill Road BLM recreation area was covered in short shooting stars, looked like they have received some good rains, and may be worth visiting in a couple weeks. I stopped at Shell Creek that had some large growths of new baby blue-eyes. However in general most of that area looked too early without even the large areas of goldfields that usually start their show. I continued northwest on La Panza Road then Cresta Road through the winery areas into Paso Robles. Instead of continuing north on US101 through the Salinas Valley, I enjoyed the scenic route on G14 into the San Antonio River Valley about Fort Hunter Liggett, where I always love looking at the huge valley oaks and hanging Spanish moss adorning those trees. Early wildflowers were indeed along those roadsides, and ought to be rather nice by mid April. After a brief stretch on US101, at Soledad, I moved onto G17 to enjoy the rural sights all the way along the west side of the valley, later taking farm roads around Salinas until I reached Castroville. From there, it was a familiar freeway drive north to Santa Cruz and then northeast over the Santa Cruz Mountains to my residence in the Santa Clara Valley a bit before noon completing an 1,800 mile 10-day road trip. It was the end of the important Easter week and I had much to be thankful I never really was alone.

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles...Page 9

   David Senesac

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