Thursday, March 31, 2016

Revelstoke: Heli-ski Capital of the World?

Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia, in September
When I passed through the picturesque town of Revelstoke, British Columbia in September, I know that it was a quaint little ski town, with world famous helicopter skiing opportunities in the surrounding mountain ranges. I had grown up seeing the Monshees and Selkirks highlighted in the ski movies by Warren Miller (now +Warren Miller Entertainment), so it was great to be seeing the place in person, a bit of a pilgrimage for a powder skier. I was pleased to find that the town hadn't been overrun with condominiums and other development, like so many other North American ski towns. It's a real town, with actual inhabitants. What a concept!

Upon arrival in town, it was nearly sunset, so I found a pond for reflections. There wasn't much beyond the sky and reflection for a subject however, so I moved to a view where I could see one of the surrounding peaks with the last light of the sun on it.

The hotel I was staying in had a lot of skiing images on the wall, so I walked around admiring them. As it turned out, it was the base for CMH, Canadian Mountain Holidays, one of the well known heli-skiing operations in town. I've skied all of my life, and I had avalanche training along with the 12-week Outdoor Emergency Care course given by the +American Red Cross when I was on the National Ski Patrol at +Squaw Valley Resort for a few years.  With ski season on the way, I was tempted to fill out a job application! Somehow I resisted the temptation. Maybe next year....

What I didn't know at the time was that my brother would be skiing in Revelstoke this winter. With the American dollar strong, he and his friends looked into dates and prices, and decided to go with +Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing.  I couldn't join them this time, but at least I know what I missed, via his +GoPro video from the trip:

I have to admit that I'm more than a little jealous... it's definitely a "bucket list" trip that I'd like to take sometime!

 The next day there was a dusting of snow on the surrounding mountains, but the storm was already breaking up, so it was a perfect day to head into adjacent Revelstoke National Park to enjoy the views. I was planning on heading in the general direction of Lake Louise and Banff, so I couldn't go on any long hikes.

 As it turned out, the scenery was spectacular as I headed east, and the weather kept the conditions interesting for photography, so it was a great day to be on the road. I passed a few national parks that I didn't have time to explore; I'll definitely have to allocate more time to enjoy the area on my next pass through.

#roadtrip #travel +Tourism British Columbia +Visit Canada

Weather Timelapse: Lenticular Clouds in the Eastern Sierra

A few nights ago I watched lenticular clouds form over the Three Sisters in the Sweetwater Range, across Topaz Lake on the California/Nevada border in the Eastern Sierra. It looked like a little sunset light might get through, so I took a few photographs, and set up my camera to capture a time-lapse sequence of several hundred more, so I could convert them into a video.

As the direct sunlight left the scene and the light faded towards the blue light of twilight, is looked like the cloud cover was too thick, and sunset simply wasn't going to happen.

Then a hint of orange started to appear, and brighten, at the bottom of the stack of clouds.

I reframed the image to capture detail of the evolving light over the Three Sisters.

The sunset light was brief, but intense, and the roughly 1000 photos that I took to capture the moment payed off!

I processed a few hundred of the images into a time-lapse video so you could see the whole event.  Here's the best edit I've produced so far, posted to my +Instagram account:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Death Valley "Super Bloom" 2016: Best Wildflower Sites

Lower Warm Spring Canyon Road from miles 1 to 3 had declined slightly... to this! Still better than a "normal" year.

Last week I repeated and expanded the complete south to north traverse of Death Valley National Park that I had scouted in February.  How were the wildflowers holding up?  What were the best locations?  The Park has been issuing detailed reports, so let's use the March 2 and February 24 reports as a baseline, and I'll illustrate current conditions with my photos.

Mile Marker 42, Badwater Road
March 2, 2016

The bloom is definitely moving north and higher in altitude. Although there are still expansive fields of Desert Gold (Geraea canescens) along the Badwater Road, as well as carpets of Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa) from Mile Marker 42 to the end of the road, many of the other flowers in this area are past their peak.

My pick of the week is Highway 190. Look for the cheerful Easter egg colors of bright yellow Golden Evening Primrose (Camissonia brevipes) and purple Notchleaf Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata) from Furnace Creek to the East Park Entrance. There are pink carpets of Purple Mat (Nama demissum) in some sections. (I think this flower was misnamed!) The ethereal, floating blossoms of Gravel Ghost (Atrichoseris platyphylla) are growing thicker in this area than I've ever seen them before. Northwest of the Visitor Center, you will find the expansive fields of Desert Gold that Death Valley is famous for. All along the road, get out and look closer for more variety.

Beatty Cutoff
A nice little loop drive is to go up the Beatty Cutoff Road and down Mud Canyon, then back to Furnace Creek along Highway 190. Mud Canyon is looking fantastic, but the flowers are growing so thick there that there is nowhere to pull over. Use the wide shoulders on the Beatty Cutoff and wander a wash to look for variety.

You will find Phacelia, Golden Evening Primrose, Mohavea (Mohavea breviflora), Acton Encelia (Encelia actoni), and Broad-Flowered Gilia (Gilia latiflora) on the Scotty's Castle Road. Although there are a few flowers on the approaches to Towne Pass and in the Panamint Valley, those areas are not yet worth a special trip. If you have a high clearance vehicle, do a little botanizing in the mid-elevations of the Greenwater Valley to increase your species count. There are not a lot of flowers blooming here yet, but there are a lot of different species, flowers you will not find in the lower elevations.

Hole in the Wall (4WD road)
Best backcountry dirt road drives this week would be the Hole in the Wall Road and Echo Canyon Road. Color and diversity in both these places is fantastic. Titus Canyon has some Paintbrush (Castilleja augustifolia) and Lupine (Lupinus sp.) in the mid-elevations, and flowers are blooming in the lower reaches of the canyon, but it will still be a few weeks before the bloom really gets going here.
For hikers, Fall Canyon and Monarch Canyon are good bets.
Happy flower hunting!

Furnace Creek Wash
February 24, 2016

The bloom is moving North! Check out the great color combo of Golden Evening Primrose (Camissonia brevipes) and Notchleaf Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata) decorating Furnace Creek Wash from the East Entrance to the Furnace Creek Inn. Keep your eyes open in that stretch for expanses of Purple Mat (Nama demissum) and the rounded humps of Turtleback (Psathyrotes ramosissima). Get out of your car and take a stroll in the wash, and you may be amazed at the diversity. I was able to identify over a dozen species in a ten minute walk!

Along Highway 190 north from the Visitor Center to the Scotty's Castle Road, fields of Desert Gold (Geraea canescens) are starting to fill in the blanks. One new hotspot is the Beatty Cut-Off Road. The diversity in some places is nothing short of amazing. Try walking a wash between Mile Markers 2 and 4 to taste a bit of that diversity.If you are traveling to Ubehebe Crater or the Racetrack, the Scotty's Castle Road is adorned with the same gold and purple color scheme as the Furnace Creek Wash. Although there is not enough yet to warrant a special trip, look for expanses of Mohavia (Mohavea breviflora) , blooming Acton Encelia (Encelia actoni), and Broad Flowered Gilia (Gilia latiflora) in this stretch. Phacelia and Golden Evening Primrose are also brightening up the approaches on both sides of Towne Pass.

Badwater Road Mile Marker 30, looking back at 25
The Badwater Road is still the go-to destination for those huge expanses of endless flowers. The Brown-Eyed Evening Primroses (Camissonia claviformis) are starting to bolt due to hot temperatures and lack of rain, but the Desert Gold is still going strong, and the Gravel Ghost Atrichoseis platyphylla), Pebble Pincushion (Chaenactis carphoclinia), and Broad-Leaved Gilia (Aliciella latifolia) are just getting started. If you want those lower elevation flowers, though, you may want to come soon. I am amazed at how quickly the Phacelia and Desert Five Spot ( Erimalche rotundifolia) are working their way up their stems.

Harry Wade Road has some really nice things going on near the Amargosa River Crossing. As usual, get out of your car and walk a wash to see more varieties. Echo Canyon and Hole in the Wall should have some nice flowers. Check out the rock walls and see if you can find Death Valley Monkeyflower (Mimulus rupicola).

Greenwater Valley is REALLY green. Some flowers are starting to bloom there –I saw Fremont Phacelia (Phacelia Fremontii), Desert Dandelion (Malicothrix californica glabrata), Desert Gold Poppy (Eschscholtzia glyptosperma), Checker Fiddleneck (Amsinckia tessellate) , Blazing Star (Mentzelia sp.) and Globemallow ((Sphaeralcea ambigua) –but they are VERY few and far between still. In 2 weeks, this road will really pop.

Dante's View Road uphill from Greenwater Valley... in November!
For hikers, canyons are best for diversity. Fall Canyon is looking great, or try Willow and Sidewinder Canyons, or just wander up a likely wash.

Happy Flower Hunting!


Overall the suggestions were great: accurate and with greater/longer relevance than most visitors may suspect.  By last week the intensity of the bloom had clearly declined down near Ashford Mill from my previous trip in February, but it was 1000X better than a normal year before, so if it had declined to "only" 900X as good, who cares? The opportunities were still tremendous, and well above average for Death Valley.

Alongside Badwater Road, nearly to Jubilee Pass
There's been a lot said about wind last Saturday night damaging the flowers, but again, I suspect that's relative to the mid-February conditions. We're just spoiled this year. I expect that there are plenty of wildflowers left compared to normal, and there will be plenty of exceptional pockets less affected by wind. Also, I bet that certain species such as sand verbena are designed to withstand wind (how the dunes they live in are formed). As I recall, the wind was coming from the south in the evening on Saturday, then from the north the next morning, so many canyons oriented east-west would be protected from that.

Spotted alongside CA-190 north of Furnace Creek
Anyone with a little experience with desert wildflowers and Death Valley should be able to successfully decode the puzzle and find the locations and species best under whatever conditions present themselves. Then again, with so many miles of wildflowers blooming, it's hard to go wrong, and you're bound to do well just driving through the areas highlighted on the Park's wildflower map. I found the scene to the right by the side of the road, simply driving from Furnace Creek to Beatty Junction.  So get out to Death Valley and find whatever compositions catch your eye and imagination!

For more photos, I've started a Death Valley 2016 album on my +Death Valley Workshops page, and a Death Valley iPhone 6S+ Photos album there as well.