Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

North Fork of the San Gabriel River

with 41 comments

On November 30th we spent some time on the North Fork of the San Gabriel River near Tejas Camp in Williamson County. For lack of rain the river had gone down a lot, revealing bedrock that’s more often hidden. The dropping water level left some algae draped over a rock, which the sun did a good job of spotlighting:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2020 at 4:35 AM

41 Responses

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  1. The dried tops of the rocks have a lovely “snow” appearance to them and the blue of the water is really striking to me. It’s a good thing you didn’t go rock hopping as that type of algae is slick and treacherous!


    December 20, 2020 at 6:40 AM

    • The contrast between the blue and the white appealed to me and made me want to take pictures like the first one. I could almost imagine a landscape seen from an airplane. You’re right about the slickness of the rocks. We came to that spot by walking along the river bank at the right, then carefully “island” hopping to get out onto the bedrock archipelago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2020 at 8:43 AM

  2. The way you photographed the algae it looks like a mountain peak in a forested land far far away.
    I’m intrigued by the shape of the bedrock under the river. Far different from the rocky bottoms of the rivers in the PNW.


    December 20, 2020 at 8:29 AM

    • The change in scale you proposed does wonders in converting a lowly rock into a mountain peak seen from the air. As for the shape of the exposed bedrock, I’d never seen it before because the river is normally higher. If you look at the top of the first picture, just to the right of center you can make out a concrete low-water-crossing. After heavy rains I’ve seen the water rise about 4 ft. above the bridge. As for the rocky bottoms of the Pacific Northwest, I’d be happy to check them out one of these days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2020 at 9:03 AM

      • Me too. And the river that flows through Asheville, NC, the Broad, has different rocks again. Big flat ones that invite picnicking on. Here, unfortunately, all you’ll find at the bottom of the rivers is mud. And grocery carts.


        December 20, 2020 at 9:15 AM

        • Too bad you have only mud—and grocery carts—as river bottoms. Due to all the homeless people in Austin, I sometimes find grocery carts abandoned in out-of-the-way places.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 20, 2020 at 9:44 AM

          • I didn’t realize you had a homeless problem there as well but I shouldn’t be surprised as your climate is agreeable. The cold limits that, here.


            December 20, 2020 at 3:02 PM

            • The city government in Austin keeps making it easier for homeless people to occupy public places, especially expressway underpasses.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 20, 2020 at 5:25 PM

              • I suppose it is compassion, but it really backfires. I understand that San Francisco and Seattle are both hot messes as a result. It is tough to consider, but I think towns have to consider the limitations of carrying capacity, and simply not allow more people to move into an area than it can support. And within those limitations, maybe a lid can be put on housing prices at least in some parts of town. But then of course you get seedy neighborhoods that nobody wants to live in. Social structure and community planning are such thorny, tangled issues, no wonder politicians won’t touch them with a 10′ pole but ignoring them doesn’t help.


                December 22, 2020 at 10:56 AM

                • Austin seems well on its way to becoming another San Francisco and Seattle. In all of Texas, Austin is the city most like those, politically speaking. The city council leans way to the left, which reflects the views of the majority of voters here. In our recent city council runoff elections for two seats, a candidate who wants to reinstate a ban on camping in public spaces miraculously won, but in a different district a candidate with the same position lost. Even if both had won, they’d still have been heavily outnumbered.

                  Because we have freedom of movement in this country, there’s no way a city can stop people from moving to it. Housing prices, like any commodity, are determined by supply and demand; there’s no way a government can forbid you to sell your house—or one of your paintings, for that matter—above a certain price.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 22, 2020 at 12:49 PM

                • My Democrat leanings are showing, I know, although I strongly disagree with those who would drag us to the far left.
                  What I am saying is that as a biologist, I know that there are limitations to the population size in any given area. We may not have a provision for that in our constitution but if humans won’t control their numbers on their own, then we are going to have to grapple with it at the housing end of things. That is a fact, as sure as hurricanes and famine are facts.


                  December 23, 2020 at 9:13 AM

                • In August the Austin city council voted to reduce police funding by one-third. Austin happens to be the capital of the state, so the state government is now proposing to take over the Austin police force to ensure safety here:


                  The murder rate in Austin for 2020 is up 55% from last year, and other crimes have also increased, just as they have in many other cities.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 23, 2020 at 10:46 AM

                • Oh dear. I’m sorry to hear of these changes. While I abhor all the police shootings of people, as you know, I’ve never been onboard with this defunding the police business.


                  December 24, 2020 at 9:33 AM

  3. Hopping from one rock to another you could easily cross the river. Of course, you need to be careful and avoid slipping on the algae-covered rocks, Steve. Only yesterday, I did just that and worked myself to the middle of our local creek to take a shot of a micro waterfall, which I may post in the new year.

    Peter Klopp

    December 20, 2020 at 8:33 AM

    • Then we share a rock-hopping experience—and no one slipped and fell. On our next visit to that general area Eve used walking poles for greater stability while walking on irregular terrain. Looking forward to your micro waterfall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2020 at 9:39 AM

  4. It’s a real pity how low many of our rivers are.


    December 20, 2020 at 9:31 AM

    • It sure is. In Austin we finally got a little rain from Friday night into Saturday, but nowhere near enough to offset the drought we’ve been in for months.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2020 at 9:40 AM

  5. I wonder if yesterday’s rain will have added much to the river. I may have to go down there this afternoon and check it out.

    Jason Frels

    December 20, 2020 at 10:30 AM

    • In our neighborhood in Austin we got probably not even an inch of rain. I hope you and the San Gabriel River got more. We’ll see what you found.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2020 at 4:21 PM

  6. The rock tops do look like snow! Photo 2 with the algae draped over the rock does look like an island one might see in the Pacific from the air. Nice shot!

    Lavinia Ross

    December 20, 2020 at 12:01 PM

    • Thanks, Lavinia. When I saw the way the sun was spotlighting the algae draped over the rock I knew it had the makings of a good photograph. It’s interesting that two of you saw snow in the first photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2020 at 4:23 PM

  7. I like how the rock “bubbles up” from the water. I wish I could use those bubbles as stepping stones over the water. That second shot is interesting. The rock takes on a “mushy”, soft appearance, either because of the highlight of the sun or the water, I’m not sure, but it’s a great effect.


    December 20, 2020 at 7:06 PM

    • Actually we did use the “bubbled up” rocks as stepping stones, but ones we trod on carefully to keep from slipping into the water. The soft appearance you mentioned seeing in the second picture is due to the algae that got draped over the rock as the water level fell. As the algae dried, it created little “canyons” and furrows that added to the overall texture of the subject.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2020 at 7:43 PM

  8. The furrows and the directional light in the second image are eye-catching.


    December 20, 2020 at 7:46 PM

    • Those things certainly caught my eye, and I tried out various angles, distances, and compositions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2020 at 8:31 PM

  9. At first glance I thought I was seeing ice chunks in the river instead of rocks. You can tell I’m living under winter’s spell up here in the north!

    Eliza Waters

    December 20, 2020 at 8:08 PM

  10. These are really cool, Steve. I was looking at ripples in the mud after the tide went out – not in the sand but in a shallow, muddy place – and the shapes were somewhat similar.


    December 21, 2020 at 2:10 PM

    • Are you planning to post pictures of your ripples?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2020 at 6:28 AM

      • The ones I was thinking about I have not photographed. They’re in a difficult spot and I usually see them while whizzing by in the car. 😦


        January 2, 2021 at 8:14 PM

  11. I admit to have thought snow as well, at first look, especially since it’s the winter solstice there–an event very close to my heart. I also admit that I was a little disappointed to find my initial perception erroneous, but no complaints about the photos. Especially the little island with its off-center frosty cap.


    December 22, 2020 at 2:37 AM

    • Ah, Frosty the Algae or Frosty the Rock rather than Frosty the Snowman. If only I could’ve photographed real snow on top of those white “islands” of bedrock.

      Does the solstice get less attention paid to it in NZ because the official beginning of the seasons has gotten moved up three weeks there?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2020 at 6:33 AM

      • Folks are still aware of it, and are reminded of it–at least on the classical music station that I listen to–but I think you’re right that it’s more in peoples’ minds when it heralds the new season rather than just the longest or shortest day (or night). It still seems strange to me, and rather frivolously arbitrary, when the season officially changes on the first day of the month.


        December 27, 2020 at 2:02 PM

        • Sarcastic me is inclined to say the reason it seems rather frivolously arbitrary is that it is rather frivolously arbitrary.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 27, 2020 at 7:09 PM

  12. Perhaps because it’s the Christmas season, a time for a little remembering and nostalgia, the first things I saw when I looked at the rocks were my grandmother’s iced oatmeal cookies.

    This is a much more visually interesting sight that the riverbed I found at a Guadalupe river crossing recently. There was a large expanse of bleached white rock that seemed perfect for a photo, but the light wasn’t right for shadows, and there wasn’t enough natural contrast across the rock. No matter. Figuring out why something doesn’t work has value, too. In this case, river and rock worked out better than river rock.


    December 22, 2020 at 7:35 AM

    • I see the resemblance between the rocks and your grandmother’s iced oatmeal cookies. The word iced accords with the ice (and snow) that a few other commenters imagined seeing in this photograph of the river. As soon as I saw the scene I knew the contrast in color and texture between the rocks and the water would make for good pictures, and I took several at different angles and with varying compositions. Of course the kind of thing that happened to you at the Guadalupe River has happened to me many times, too: a potentially good scene lacks something, either intrinsically or because the time of day or the weather or something else isn’t right.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2020 at 12:16 PM

  13. […] month I posted a photograph showing the bed of the San Gabriel River that low water had given a better look at than usual. Some viewers thought the light-colored […]

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