Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A strangely desaturated landscape

with 25 comments

While out driving in Austin on March 20th with no particular destination, I turned north off McNeil Dr. onto the confusingly named E. McNeil Rd. Soon we couldn’t help noticing that the land and trees on our left seemed oddly faded, almost as if we’d been teleported into a drier climate than Austin’s. The view on our right side offered an explanation: a tall stack and other machinery of the Austin White Lime Company. Ever-present rock dust from the quarry had settled wherever the wind blew it in the vicinity, causing the strangely washed-out look that caught our attention. If you’re familiar with the normal green of Ashe juniper trees (Juniperus ashei), compare that to the dullness of the two in the first picture’s lower left and the one below. Another comparison could be to a photograph last fall in which I purposely reduced the color saturation.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 27, 2021 at 4:41 AM

25 Responses

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  1. These images look as if that area had a heavy frost! The lime saturation makes me wonder how the coating affects plant and animal life in the area.


    March 27, 2021 at 8:21 AM

    • I’m guessing that the coating of dust on leaves reduced photosynthesis enough that some of the plants and trees in this area died. I’ll try to remember to drive back by there in a few months to see how many of them have greened up and how many seem to be dead.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2021 at 8:29 AM

  2. Thank you for the explanation for the desaturation of the landscape, Steve! My first thought was that your area had received another frost.

    Peter Klopp

    March 27, 2021 at 9:08 AM

    • You’re the second person in a row to point out the resemblance to a coating of frost. That hadn’t occurred to me in this warm climate where a good frost rarely coats our vegetation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2021 at 9:18 AM

  3. Rock dust! Stomata strangling, chloroplast obscuring rock dust. This stuff has to be settling out in lungs of birds and animals as well as humans.

    Lavinia Ross

    March 27, 2021 at 9:55 AM

    • Yes, I though about the potential long-term damage to people living in the area. This quarry was once way out in the country. It hasn’t moved, but Austin and Round Rock have greatly expanded in recent decades. McNeil High School is not much more than half a mile away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2021 at 10:14 AM

      • I imagine it must be doing a lot of damage to people’s lungs. It has certainly created a ghost landscape!

        Ann Mackay

        March 28, 2021 at 5:20 AM

        • What I don’t know is how much of the dust settles out before reaching inhabited areas. For people who work at the quarry, the dust must be an occupational hazard. I wonder if they were wearing masks long before the pandemic.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 28, 2021 at 6:56 AM

    • And I could help but notice the alliteration in “Stomata strangling.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2021 at 12:29 PM

  4. Interesting explanation, Steve. Looks strange indeed.


    March 27, 2021 at 11:06 AM

    • As soon as we saw this area we sensed its strangeness and I knew I’d have to pull over and take pictures. It reminded me of scenes we’ve seen in New Mexico and Arizona, where rainfall is less than in Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2021 at 11:39 AM

  5. Unless it rains very often, these plants and trees will surely die.


    March 27, 2021 at 12:26 PM

    • Some may already be dead. Because the land is fenced I couldn’t get close enough to look at the plants and trees in more detail. Austin has gotten below-average precipitation in the last few months.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2021 at 12:32 PM

  6. Yes I initially thought these must be frost photos. Gee. The smothering of lime over everything is horrible.

    Ms. Liz

    March 27, 2021 at 5:53 PM

  7. Wow, it looks like an Arizona cypress!


    March 27, 2021 at 7:39 PM

  8. I cannot breathe just looking at these.


    March 27, 2021 at 7:49 PM

    • I didn’t feel any respiratory distress while I was taking my pictures. Perhaps I would have if I’d stayed for a few hours.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2021 at 8:27 PM

  9. Your coated trees reminded me of the mud-covered world we lived with after Hurricane Harvey, as well as the dust-covered plant life after Hurricane Ike, when we went through a long period of drought after the storm. Of course, mud and dust are natural, if unpleasant. Once the rains came, much of the plant life recovered. It would be interesting to see how these trees would fare if you got some good, drenching rains.


    March 28, 2021 at 5:14 AM

    • Living in a mud-covered world must have been strange. In Austin we could use a drenching rain, and not only to find out what effect it has on this ailing vegetation: we’re heading into warm weather with our main source of water, Lake Travis, just 2/3 full.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2021 at 6:52 AM

  10. Sad plants 😦 When we were having our bathroom remodeled, the contractor cut all of the tile on our upper deck (with my permission). All of the fine tile dust settled on the shrubs below the deck, giving them the same appearance as your photos. I was able to wash it off with a hose but yuk!


    March 28, 2021 at 11:11 AM

    • I take your “yuk” to heart. It would take a giant hose—normally called a heavy rain—to wash away all the lime dust shown in these pictures. The wind could do so too, only to spread it elsewhere.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2021 at 12:20 PM

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