Western Landscape I & II

Working through processing my back-catalog of sabbatical photos, I’ve finally come to the end of those I took in California. My semester of science and good food had come to an end, and now we drove back across the continent. The drive in December meant lots of snow-covered deserts and hillsides; summer was a bit different.

Western Landscape I

The human-made structures are as insignificant as you’d expect in the face of the great, empty American West.

Western Landscape II

Water in the Desert

From the Interstate across Nevada, the desert landscape astonishes me with its variety. Far from being a boring wasteland, the expanses of waving grasses, shrubs, shallow water, and rock hills provide a spectacular mixture. Even when I know the biology and ecology behind it, my east-coast-calibrated brain still can’t quite grasp that all of this water doesn’t equal trees.

Water in the Desert

Trucks in Their Respective Expanses

Hundreds of miles apart from each other, I happened upon these two images of vehicles, paired with their owners, otherwise alone in an expanse of western America. On a clear day, the yellow pickup in the image below is almost lost in the brush.

Truck in the Expanse

By comparison, this Nevadan Jeep stands out amid the dusting of snow and descending clouds. Even its driver is farther away. The setting is so perfect that it might as well be a Wrangler advertisement.

Jeep + Snow

American Balmoral

The American West appears in the hills beyond Malibu, California: Small communities connected by winding roads in the shadow of Castro Crest. Visiting Balmoral Farm nearby, I compared (in my mind) with Scotland’s Balmoral Castle and was struck by the degree to which America (mostly) has titanic landscapes in place of castles. What is the attraction to tall formations of stone, and does that change when they’re human-made?

American Balmoral

(Side note: I like that this looks like a picture from the past, but I love even more than the effect is ruined by a house with solar panels on its roof. Can you find it? Click through to the Flickr page for the 57 MP original panorama.)

Bonneville Salt Flats Flooded

Driving through the Bonneville Salt Flats, home of land speed records and long empty stretches, was a mirage-filled experience in the summer. Traversing the same alien landscape in the winter, following a series of major storms, is a brain-twisting exploration of optics: perfectly smooth surfaces (too shallow to support waves) make perfect clones of every hill and mountainside. This five-shot panorama captures the full scale of the space; I encourage you to click through to the full-size (32.1 MP) image on Flickr and see the detail for yourself.

Bonneville Salt Flats Flooded

Sunday Special Guest Post: Ponies and Balloons!

Today’s photograph comes courtesy of Dr. Piper Klemm.

Decaseconds has seen photographs of the surreal desert landscape of Thermal before, but Piper took this picture that represents the real spirit of the place. Fancy riding clothes, beautiful ponies, and random hot air balloons drifting over the landscape. Just lovely.

Ponies and Balloons!

Alone in the Desert

Not far from the notoriously dystopian Salton Sea, the deserts of California are astonishingly alienating places. A few barren mountains etch the horizon, and other than lonely power lines and the path of a motorcycle across the dust, there are few signs of other human beings around. The intensity of the sun made me question the wisdom of being out there at all.

Alone in the Desert

Secret Lagoon

When I last visited Palm Desert, I found a variety of very strange things. (Some of which I’ve posted about before.) This particular lagoon stores water to keep the dust in the show rings down. I was just astonished to find it; wandering around in the desert, I saw no indication of its existence. When I saw the gorgeous turquoise of the reservoir, and the way the netting reflected off the water, I felt like I’d found an oasis.

Secret Lagoon

Scrub Brush Trailers

A few days ago, I posted a photograph of an enigmatic pillar in the desert; perhaps today’s image can provide a bit more context to it. Off in the distance, you can see dozens of horse trailers associated with the HITS Thermal show, but other than that the environment is completely desolate. Out in the blistering sun, it was pretty intimidating.

Scrub Brush Trailers