Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

When pink is white

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Last June, after arriving home from a sight-filled trip to the Chicago area, I wondered if it was too late for the season’s mountain pinks (Centaurium beyrichii) back in Austin. It wasn’t, as I showed in a post entitled “I would have missed them if I’d missed them.” This year, after we returned from our latest American road odyssey, I wondered the same thing. On June 21st I went out to check the likely places along Capital of Texas Highway, which swings a big arc through the hilly country on the west side of Austin. Although I found the expected mountain pinks, they looked a bit past their prime, or possibly 2017 was a meager year for them. Still, I did take some pictures, and while I was doing so a young Chinese guy walked by and asked if I’d seen the naturally white variant of mountain pinks nearby. When I asked where, he pointed and said they were about a hundred feet down the road. He walked on, and I went in the opposite direction, to the place he’d indicated. Sure enough, I found several mountain pink plants with white flowers.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 28, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Flowing water adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes

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I don’t know about you, but when I think of water and sand dunes together I think about dunes on the seacoast. When I visited Te Paki in New Zealand in February, I was surprised to find a stream separating the parking lot from the dunes. The same thing is true in Great Sand Dunes National Park, where people who want to walk to the dunes from the parking lots have to cross Medano Creek (médano is a Spanish word for ‘dune’). What’s strange about Medano Creek is that it pulses. The phenomenon is known as surge flow, and here’s what the website of Great Sand Dunes National Park says about it:

This is one of the few places in the world where one can experience surge flow, a stream flowing in rhythmic waves on sand. Three elements are needed to produce the phenomenon: a relatively steep gradient to give the stream a high velocity; a smooth, mobile creekbed with little resistance; and sufficient water to create surges. In spring and early summer, these elements combine to make waves at Great Sand Dunes. As water flows across sand, sand dams or antidunes form on the creekbed, gathering water. When the water pressure is too great, the dams break, sending down a wave about every 20 seconds. In wet years, waves can surge up to a foot high!

I noticed the phenomenon when I went to take pictures of sand patterns in Medano Creek. No sooner would I compose and take a few photographs, than a “wave” of water would flow downstream and obscure my subject. The picture above shows the shallow regular flow of Medano Creek; the picture below shows a moment of surge flow.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 27, 2017 at 4:48 AM

Great Sand Dunes

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Great Sand Dunes was the third of the four national parks we visited on our recent trip. At 720 feet, these are the tallest sand dunes in North America. In addition to that, they sit at an altitude of about a mile and a half, so when we were there on June 8th we took pity on our poor lungs and decided not to trudge up these mountains of sand (unlike the Te Paki Dunes that are just above sea level and that we’d climbed in February).

The dunes are so high that when you’re close you can’t see the mountains beyond them. The picture below gives you a broader view, made more dramatic through the use of a polarizer to add extra definition to the clouds and greater contrast in the sky.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 26, 2017 at 5:00 AM

Two landmarks in quick succession

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After spending a couple of afternoon hours at Chimney Rock, Nebraska, on May 28th, we drove the short distance west to Scottsbluff and even before checking in at our hotel went to check out Scott’s Bluff National Monument* to make good use of the afternoon light. We worked our way up the winding road to the top of the bluff, parked, and walked around. After a while the wind got so strong that at one point it almost blew me over (but not over the cliff).

Facing in the opposite direction from the picture above, I photographed a geological formation that reminds me of the ruins of a Mayan temple:

Here’s Scott’s Bluff visitor information.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

* The United States Board on Geographic Names seems bent on throwing away apostrophes in geographic names. We’ll show our displeasure and, like Scott’s Bluff itself, rise above that.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 25, 2017 at 4:50 AM

Chimney Rock

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On May 28th we drove through intermittent rain as we wended our way west toward Chimney Rock National Historic Site in Nebraska. The showers had stopped by the time we reached that pioneer landmark on the old Oregon (and Mormon and California) Trail but you can see that rain was still coming down in the distance farther to the west. If you’d like to visit this place, whether by wagon train or car, here’s more information.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 24, 2017 at 5:00 AM

Yucca flowering in the Texas Panhandle

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Probably the most numerous and certainly the most prominent flowers we saw in the Texas Panhandle on May 27th were those of Yucca glauca, known as soapweed yucca, plains yucca, and narrowleaf yucca. This species grows natively from Texas through Alberta, so it followed us on our trip through the Oklahoma Panhandle, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado again, New Mexico, and back into west Texas.

Today’s photograph is yet another one from the Alibates Flint Quarries. The orange earth in the background was within sight of the place shown in yesterday’s second picture.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 23, 2017 at 4:56 AM

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Alibates flint

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I’d be remiss if I mentioned the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, as I did last time, without showing you a piece of that flint.

And below is a different take on orange and brown at that same site in the northern reaches of the Texas Panhandle.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 22, 2017 at 4:43 AM

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