Saturday, June 2, 2007

Black Widow Spiderlings

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I found Susannah in my garage several weeks ago, and I have been keeping her in a small cage while I figure out how to take pictures of her safely (for both her sake and mine).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Apparently I did a very good job of making her feel at home because she made an egg sac within about 1 week of her coming into our care. Spiders have the ability to save semen in their abdomen and wait until there are favorable environmental conditions before laying eggs. Susannah made two egg sacs in about three weeks (between 200 & 800 eggs).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The spiderlings seen here are the result of opening the first egg sac. I put Suzannah and her eggs into the refrigerator for about an hour so that she would go to sleep and I could remove the eggs from the cage. The first egg sac had what I would estimate to be about 150 spiderlings inside it. I saved about 1/4 of them to take pictures of.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I still have the mother, as well as 3 spiderlings that I am hoping will survive to adulthood. If I can manage to get some more photos of these spectacular creatures I will be sure to post them.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I in no way suggest that you try to take pictures of venomous creatures.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Montezuma Well

Montezuma Well

Montezuma Well is a natural limestone sinkhole that is fed by underground springs. Through the springs flow 1,400,000 gallons of water each day. Montezuma Castle National Monument was one of the first four sites to be designated a National Monument in 1906, along with Devils Tower, Petrified Forest (which is now a National Park), and El Morro. Montezuma Well was added to Montezuma Castle and designated a National Monument in 1947.

Lower Cliff Dwelling

The site showcases and preserves cliff dewllings and pithouses dating back 1,400 years, as well as an ancient irrigation canal used to water crops. This region was inhabited by the Hohokam, and the Sinagua Indans between around 600 A.D. and the 1400s.

Upper Cliff Dwelling

A 1/3 mile trail showcases several of the ruins and takes you to the waters edge inside the sinkhole. Wildlife is abundant, with many species of waterfowl making their winter home here. Trailside photography fairly easy, and overlooks provide fantastic views of the well.

Bee on Desert Globemallow

The ruins can be difficult to photograph because of the wide dynamic range of the locations. The ruins are usually in shadow while the sky is very bright, making it very tricky to have detail throughout the photo (avoiding having part of the photo being totally washed out or in darkeness). With todays "digital alternatives" you can achieve a photograph that more accurately resembles reality by setting your camera up on a tripod, taking bracketed exposures (over, under, and normal exposure), and then combining the photos in an image editing program. This can allow you to capture the beautiful Arizona sky as well as the ruins without losing detail in either. This technique is especially useful at these sites since access is limited at the prime photo times (sunrise and sunset).

Trailside Foliage

Montezuma Well is located in Rimrock, AZ, just a few miles North of Camp Verde. To get there take the McGuireville exit (exit 293) off of I-17. Follow Beaver Creek Rd for about 3 miles, and the monument entrance will be on the right soon after the road turns to dirt. Entrance to the park is free, and the gates are open from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Castle Hot Springs Road

Castle Hot Springs Rd is a gem of a drive just north of the Phoenix Metro area off of the Carefree Highway, SR 74. The road butts up against the Hells Canyon Wilderness, 9,900 acres of pristine desert wilderness.

The road was originally created to service the Castle Hot Springs resort, which opened in 1896 and stayed in operation until a fire closed it down in 1976. Several presidents and famous individuals spent time at the resort, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover. John F. Kennedy spent three months at the resort in 1945, recovering from wounds received in World War II as a Naval officer. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard also spent their honeymoon at the resort.

Castle Hot Springs got its name and reputation from the year-round hot springs that flow from the castle-like stone walls in the area. The water temperature hovers between 115 and 122 degrees. The resort still stands and is undergoing renovation, however it is private property that should be respected.

Today the road is about 28 miles of well maintained graded dirt road that makes for a very easy and leisurely drive in dry conditions (I was able to enjoy this trip in a minivan). The road is currently maintained to accommodate the needs of ranching and mining in the area, and it passes through several stretches of private land, so be aware when exploring. There are several abandoned corrals, hiking trails, and washes throughout the drive that afford many opportunities to stretch your legs and get out the camera. Wildlife is plentiful for birding and wildlife photography, the plant diversity is fantastic, especially in the spring when the wildflowers and cacti are in bloom, and there are gorgeous mountains in all directions for fantastic landscape photography opportunities. Any photographer could occupy themselves for hours here.

Castle Hot Springs Road starts heading north off of highway 74 around mile marker 121, just a couple miles east of US 60. The road turns to dirt after just a few miles, and the road should not be taken during or after heavy rain since much of the road runs through washes that could easily flood.
Following the road through to its end will bring you past Lake Pleasant and back to highway 74. If you leave early you can spend much of the day relaxing near Lake Pleasant, which has great fishing and boating, as well as numerous hiking and off road trails. From 74 it is only about 11 miles east to I-17.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Golden Paper Wasp Nest

This paper wasp made its nest right inside the alcove by my front door. It was fascinating to watch as the wasp would go around to each cell, in turn, and check on the egg inside. The wasp would form a drop of water on its mouth and apply it to the egg to keep it moist, and would then stand over the whole nest and beat its wings rapidly to cool the eggs down in the unseasonably warm weather. After retreating to the top of the nest for a couple of minutes it would go through the cycle again, making sure that each egg was safe and healthy.

Using a step stool I was able to watch the wasp dote on its eggs for quite a while, and I got quite a few good pictures with my 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. I keep the aperture wide open most of the time at ISO 400, but bumped it up to f/8 whenever I wanted to have more than about 1/4 inch depth of field.

Unfortunately the nest met its demise recently. I am not sure whether it was the strong winds of the last couple of days, or a UPS delivery driver that thought he was doing me a favor that did the deed, but I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for another nest this season to see how everything progresses.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Macro Photography in an Abandoned Corral

Nail on Blue

I have been driving by this abandoned corral for a few years and have been telling myself to stop and take pictures of it for nearly as long. I try to bring my GPS with me wherever I go so that I can mark interesting photo sites to come back to at a later date. This gives me a ready cache of photo sites to choose from whenever I go out.

In the Chute

Unfortunately on the day that I decided to stop the light was very harsh and it was very dusty, making any wide angle or landscape shots very difficult. I only managed to take one decent photo of the corral, and that was standing inside the chute shooting away from the sun.

Barbed Wire Cross

Rather than wasting my time on photos that would not turn out due to poor conditions, I stuck mostly to my macro lens, a Canon 100mm f/2.8. The rotting wood, rusted barbed wire, and old nails provided great texture that really popped against the soft background.

Barbed Wire Knot

This site was very fun to work around, but caution was needed to keep from stepping through rotting boards or getting caught on the barbed wire and cactus. I always wear tall hiking boots and jeans when out in the desert, regardless of how hot it is. They offer much needed protection from cactus spines, barbed wire, and critters.

Old Joint

This site is located on New River Road about 4 miles South of I-17, or 6.5 miles North of the Carefree Highway between New River and Lake Pleasant. Other great sites in the area are Lake Pleasant, the Carefree Highway, which is a designated scenic drive that is covered with saguaros, and the Hells Canyon Wilderness. With the ever expanding Phoenix Metro area, housing developments are already planned all the way up to and beyond the Carefree Highway, so enjoy the relative peace and quiet while you can.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Degrazia's Mission in the Sun

Mission in the Sun - Tucson, Arizona

Ettore DeGrazia, 1909-1982, built the Mission in the Sun in honor of Father Kino,1644-1711, a Catholic priest thatestablished over 20 missions in the Southwestern US andMexico. The chapel is dedicate to our Lady of Guadalupe,patron saint of Mexico.

Father Kino on Horseback

Both inside and outside the chapel you will find no shortage of photographic subjects, since DeGrazia has decorated it from head to toe with his own unique embilishments, from wallpaintings to flowers fashioned from old soda cans. Visitors have also left much to be photographed in the form of candles, pictures, crosses, and statues.

Detail of chapel interior

A short stroll from the chapel will lead you to the Galleryin the Sun, where the DeGrazia Foundation displays their15,000 DeGrazia works of art in rotating exhibits and six permanent displays. This building itself is a work of art,having been built by the artist with the help of Native Americans from local materials.

Small interior room

The Mission in the Sun and the Gallery in the Sun are both fantastic places to visit in the Tucson area if you arelooking for great photographic opportunities or simply wantto be inspired by one of the finest artists in the history ofthe Southwest. There is no entry fee to the chapel or the gallery. Driving directions and a map to the locations may be found on the following page.