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Å I Lofoten – Lofoten Islands winter

A I Lofoten in winter, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Winter view from Å (I Lofoten) towards the southern end of the islands.  The peaks of Værøy can be seen in the far distance.  This was the 6th of January, the first day the sun rose above the horizon since the middle of December.

Reine – Lofoten Islands

Landscape photo Reine in Autumn, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Autumn, Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway.

What a difference two months make can make to a scence.   The Lofoten Islands have become somewhat of a long term project of mine.  I was there 3 times in the last year alone and have a rough plan to be back again in July, as I haven’t been there during summer since 2006, so I need some better coverage of the islands during that time of year.  So far I’ve been there in: January, March, April, May, July, August, September, and October.  So I’ve still got a few months to fill in.  And one might think what difference does a month or two really make, but with a place in the far north, there are quite dramatic changes in scenery as the year passes on and I think all of it is interesting to see.

Reine in Winter, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Reine in Winter, Lofoten Islands, Norway.

Ring of Brodgar – Orkney

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, Scotland, stock image

Winter dawn at Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, Scotland.

In December, the sun has little strength to rise very far above the horizon this far in the north.  The winter days are short and the nights long, only to be reversed in a few months during the endless days of summer.  Such a contrast of light at dark that I never knew growing up at a more mild latitude.  No wonder that the sun played such an important role in the lives of the ancient peoples of this barren land.

It is always a strange feeling for me to walk amongst something so old.  To think that these stones have seen some 5,000 winters, and will probably see another 5,000 more;  it helps to put things in perspective about the importance of our ‘achievements.’

Badwater Dawn – Death Valley

Badwater basin, Death Valley national park, Californai

Winter sunrise over Badwater basin and Panamint mountains, Death Valley national park, California.

This light lasted 3 minutes before the color faded into a washed out and overcast day.  At 6am I counted 19 other photographers within sight.  Quite the popular place to be on that morning.  The next morning however, I only saw 3 other photographers.  Though it was raining so maybe that scared all the others away…

Alabama Hills – California

Mobius arch at Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, California

Mobius arch, Alabama Hills, Owen’s Valley, California

I think one of the coolest things about the Alabama Hills is that no matter how many times one has been there, there is always something new to photograph.  Be it exploring some new area, different weather, or different time of year. The hills and mountains are always changing.  One of the reasons it is one of my favorite places to go.

Granite rock formations of Alabama Hills with Lone Pine peak and Sierra Nevada mountains in background, California

Granite rock formations of Alabama Hills Sierra Nevada mountains in background, California

Lone Pine Peak

Lone Pine peak and Sierra Nevada mountains panoramic image

Lone Pine peak in dawn light, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California.

Mount Whitney Sunrise

Mt. Whitney and Sierra Nevada mountains, California panoramic landscape photo

Winter sunrise over mount Whitney and the Sierra Nevada mountains as seen from the Alabama Hills, California.

This is a location that is better photographed in winter/early spring.  Besides it not being 110˚ F as it can be in summer.  The main reason is that the winter sun rises further towards the south, which creates better patterns of shadow and light on the mountain ridges than occur in summer.  And then there’s always something nice about the day’s first light on freshly fallen snow.  I find in summer this scene can also appear slightly ‘tired’ and dry, for lack of a better description.

Racetrack Playa – Death Valley

rare winter water fill dry lakebed of devils racetrack playa - death valley, california

Winter rains flood the playa at the southern end of the Devil’s Racetrack, Death Valley, California.  February 25-25, 2010

Prior to this recent trip I’d only twice been to Death Valley national park.  And on those two previous trips I was only in the ‘valley’ itself and not any of the more wild areas only accessible by dirt roads.  Based upon my prior trips, I had a total lack of understanding of the true size of the park, which in fact the largest US national park outside of Alaska.  Somehow looking at distance numbers on a map, 17 miles here, 27 miles there, doesn’t always properly translate to the true length of the journey.  Especially when it is on some of the most bone jarring, bolt loosening, tire shredding, knocking-cooler-over-and-spilling-water-all-over-my-bed, wash-boarded dirt roads I have ever driven.  You know the roads, the ones that are so full of stutter bumps that you have two choices:  Drive 5mph and arrive sometime in the next millennium or drive 50mph to ‘skim’ over the bumps while totally destroying your tires.   I really don’t know what is worse those though.  Being subjected to endless bumps for hours on end, but knowing that it’s not as bad as it feels and you should eventually arrive.  As opposed to just going for it to get it over with in a shorter amount of time with the constant clatter of rocks flying loose inside the wheel wells and then just holding your breath as you see some large washout appear that there is no way to slowdown for.   So driving nearly 70 miles of this in one day from the Eureka dunes in the far north of the park down to the Racetrack playa was a long day that I don’t look forward to repeating anytime soon, or at least not with my truck.  If someone else wants to drive, I’d be happy go along.

rare winter water fill dry lakebed of devils racetrack playa - death valley, california. February 2010

Normally the lake bed playa is totally bone dry, but some years in winter, a small lake will appear towards the southern end.  This is also the location of the moving rocks for which the Racetrack is most famous for.  Unfortunately the water and mud meant I couldn’t get near them, so I guess I do have to go back again.  Though I think it was interesting to see this somewhat rare event.

Dry mud patterns in devils racetrack playa dry lakebed, death valley, California

landscape photography, devils racetrack playa, death valley, california

Dry mud patterns in devils racetrack playa dry lakebed, death valley, California

travel and landscape photographer Cody Duncan stands on dry lake bed at Racetrack playa, Death Valley, California

Lofoten Islands Winter Photo Gallery

Lofoten islands winter photo gallery: click here.

In early January I traveled north into the Norwegian arctic in search of the polar night.  At 68 degrees north, I was unfortunately too low and too late for a true polar night, finding only the ‘polar twilight.’  Twilight would begin around 9:30 AM and last until around 3:00, all other hours of the day I would consider to be night and stars were visible.  It was actually far brighter than I was expecting when the sky was clear, the day being essentially a 4 hour long sunrise/sunset all merged into one before the night’s darkness arrived again.  Needless to say, I got a lot of reading done.

Since there are no tourists to the islands at this time of year and no hostels are open I was left to sleep in my (tiny) rental car as best as I could.  Which wasn’t very good.  Only having a 0˚ C sleeping bag and temps down to -7-8˚ C ensured for some cold nights.  I felt like some contortionist trying to fit inside the car to sleep.  I could fold the back seats down, but there was no possible way for me to get even somewhat comfortable.  Better than an airplane seat, yes, but the cold and my lack of a proper sleeping bag would mean that if I didn’t maintain good blood flow to my feet, they would become super cold.  On one of the nights it snowed so much that I could hardly get out of my parking area in the morning.  Only twice did I get the car stuck in the snow.  Once having to track down some dude in a tractor and ask him for a tow.  His comment, “You’re not the first one today.”  Second time a car full of the young guys came along after about an hour and helped push the car out.  I tried to be more cautious after that but still managed a few close calls.

I was fortunate enough for one day of good weather.  The remaining days I would classify a somewhere between bad and ‘I wish I had a warm house to sit in and some decent food to eat and not be stuck in this freezing car being rocked about by the wind and buried under snow.’

Å I lofoten, Lofoten islands, Norway. Winter travel photography

Footprints Everywhere! Wanderings Among the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – Death Valley

Panoramic landscape photo - Mesquite flat sand dunes, Death Valley, California

Mesquite Flat sand dunes, Death Valley national park, California.

It was a frustrating exercise in futility wandering among the dunes, in search of the Dune that I had in my mind.  The Dune with that perfectly sculpted ridge, gently rounded and allowing the late afternoon shadows to gently fall across.  The untouched patterns of a thousand years of wind blown into the sand, like a sea of snakes racing into the distance.  The Dune, rising alone into the sky above all others, casting ever growing shadows as the sun determines the day has been long enough.

Judging by the amount of footprints, half the world must also be searching for that perfect dune.  I wandered for miles and hours.  In straight lines, circles, and zigzags.  To the tops of the highest dunes and into the lowest valleys.  North, south, east, west, and at one point, clear across the whole of the dunes.  My water bottle empty, mouth dry, I still wandered.  And everywhere, footprints!

It’s mostly my fault though.  The Mesquite dunes are right on the side of the road in a fairly popular national park, so what should I expect other than that lots of people walk among them. If  I was in some middle of nowhere place in north Africa and experienced the same, then I would be a bit more frustrated.  And winter is the best time in Death Valley as the temperatures are tolerable.  This year especially, with higher than average rain has probably drawn more people to the park to see the normally dry lakes not dry.

California landscape photography - Mesquite flat sand dunes, Death Valley national park

Panoramic landscape photo - Mesquite flat sand dunes, Death Valley, California

California travel photographer Cody Duncan - Self portrait on sand dunes in Death Valley