Ocotillo Plants at Fonts Point

ocotillo at anza borrego desert
Ocotillo in Fading Light
Ocotillo are my favorite plant and I found a few perched over Fonts Point when I made my sunset visit.  The star of this location is the badland formations extending out far into the distance.  I used the ocotillo plants as foreground subjects with the obvious background being the badlands.

Some shots are from sunset and others from dusk.  I even found a fallen plant nearly ready to drop into the canyon.  I shot its' photo very close to the canyon edge.

As things became darker, my shutter speed went from 1/60 second to 1/4 second.  To prevent even slower shutter speeds, I increased my ISO to 400 for the above shot and opened aperture to f/8.  I had to do this avoid blurred ocotillos as the wind made them sway back and forth.

My last is the same plant as my first shot, just about 60 minutes earlier.

ocotillo plant at dusk
Ocotillo silhouette in Anza Borrego
fonts point with ocotillo clinging to the edge
Clinging to the Edge at Fonts Point
dead ocotillo at fonts point
Fonts point with Dead Ocotillo
ocotillo at fonts point scenery
Fonts Point Badlands with Ocotillo

Ocotillo Sunrise at Mountain Palm Spring Canyon

Ocotillo Sunrise
Ocotillo have become my favorite plant!  Who knew they could grow 15 feet tall, covered in red flowers and vibrant green buds?  These beauties cover the hills in the Sonoran desert, sometimes very thick.  The more photogenic ones stand alone which allow photographic isolation.  On this morning in the Anza Borrego desert, the morning clouds went pink and red with powerful effect.  I combined the silhouette of the Ocotillo with the amazing sky to catch the moment.

Trail Report: Goat Canyon Trestle

Cactus and goat Canyon trestle
Goat Canyon trestle panoramic picture
I will describe my trip to the Goat Canyon Trestle.  This is part of my trail report series.  I tried to provide enough information to help other adventurers.  First of all a little bit of background on this particular location.  Goat Canyon trestle was created in 1919 as part of the railroad going from El Centro to San Diego.  Goat Canyon is located within the Carrizo Gorge.  Goat Canyon happens to be the largest canyon.  There are several other smaller trestles along this railroad.  I first read about this on the Internet from someone who labeled it "the last adventure".  It sounded crazy.  It sounded very remote.  It sounded very fun.  I have had it in my mind for many years.  Finally on a trip to the Palm Springs area, I decided to make a visit and attempt to see the Goat Canyon Trestle.

There are 3 ways to visit this unique location:
1.  Hiking from Dos Cabezas over the desert mountains and wilderness directly to the trestle.
2.  Following the railroad tracks directly from the community of De Anza Springs Resort, which appeared to be about 6.5 miles one way
3.  Following the railroad track from Dos Cabezas, initially going north and then directly south to the trestle, approximately 5 miles one way.

After studying my options very closely I decided I would take the 3rd route.  This trailhead was closest to some other locations in the Anza Borrego Desert that I wanted to visit.  I had also read about some people riding bicycles along the route.  I decided to bring my bicycle and try that.  Railroad tracks are designed to not change elevation very much.  Hopefully that would translate into easy bike ride.  What might take me a few hours to hike 5 miles would take much less on a mountain bike.

I actually took pictures at sunrise in Mountain Palm Canyon which is about 30 to 60 minute drive from here.  Then I drove to Dos Cabezas.  This should only be attempted in a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle.  There are some sections which are very rocky and difficult.  If you go this way, it is important not to cross the train tracks.  You can drive much farther on the east side of the train tracks.  You should go as far as you can on this road before parking your car in switching to a bicycle.  I cannot stress this enough.  Some of the worst part of the bike trail is in the beginning section.  Try to skip as much of this as you can by driving your car to the end of the road.
Dos Cabezas Water Tank and railroad track
A bicycle trail that is sometimes smooth, sometimes sandy and sometimes rocky runs beside the railroad tracks.  There are some sections where it's so bumpy that I got off my bike and walked it.  More of this is at the beginning of the trail.  The farther you go, typically the better the trail becomes.  Although it seems very level, you will work harder going to Goat Canyon trestle then you will on the return trip.  There is about a 300 foot vertical climb that is very gradual.  You will not notice it as much going to the trestle.  It will simply seem hard.  However on the return trip, I went so much faster and saved so much time.

The fun begins fairly quickly when you go through the 1st tunnel.  The first couple of tunnels are very beautiful, short, rocky and scenic.  I had to stop at the first and then the second to take pictures.  They're so lovely.  These are pictured here.  Some longer tunnels come later in the ride and are so dark that I did not take their photograph.  You can go through without a flashlight, I did, but they are very dark.  In the far distance you will be able to see the trestle.  The closer you get, it will go out of sight.  The last tunnel, right before the trestle, collapsed several years ago.  There is trail that goes around it.  I left my bike at the railroad tracks and walked around to the other side to visit the trestle.  This section of the trail was not conducive to mountain biking anyway.  I would've had to carry my bicycle over several obstacles.
Tunnel To goat Canyon trestle
The first scenic tunnel.  Short but sweet
Goat Canyon trestle railroad tunnel
On the south side of the first tunnel
 goat Canyon Trestle Railroad journey
This tunnel is about half way to the trestle.
This photograph is looking north away from the trestle
The trestle does not disappoint.  It is the largest wooden trestle in the world, 750 feet long, 200 feet high nestled in a beautiful but desolate canyon.  Cacti cover all the hills.  I got close to many of these as I tried to set up good photographs of this amazing structure.  While I was there, I did not see any one else.  It was extremely quiet and beautiful.  Please see my photographs to get a better idea of what I enjoyed.
Goat Canyon trestle and cactus
Goat Canyon trestle, a beautiful site
Goat Canyon trestle in the desert
Goat Canyon trestle as seen from the south
Railroad going over goat Canyon trestle
On top of goat Canyon trestle
The ride back was very fast.  I think it took only about 1/3 the time to return to my car.  That was nice because it was getting warmer.  Fast travel on mountain bike gives a nice windchill factor.  One note that I would advise, when riding over the trestles (small and large), my bicycle seemed to get pushed by the wind very easily.  There's nothing really dangerous about this but it does feel a little unnerving.

Just do it.
Goat Canyon trestle railroad journey
Typical cactus with a distant view of the railroad on the other
side of the canyon.  You are going there on the return trip.
Gordon's hike rating:
Hike Difficulty:                   ★★★★ Strenuous with optional bike ride
Trail Condition:                   ★★ Fair
Trail Hazards:                      ★★★ Moderate:  rail ties, drop offs, extreme weather
Trailhead:                             Dos Cabezas
Time Required:                     All day hike or Half day bike
Distance round trip:              14 miles
Off the Beaten Path:             ★★★★★ Yes, 5 Stars
Scenery:                                ★★★★ Awesome, 4 Stars
Photographic Potential:        ★★★ Great, 3 Stars

Buachaille Etive Mor (3 Views)

Sunrise at Buachaille Etive Mor in Scotland
Buachaille Etive Mor with Tall Grass
Buachaille Etive Mor is a spectacular landscape, an icon for the entire country of Scotland.  This particular mountain is so unique in its triangular shape as it stands over the Glencoe Valley.  There are few things that are more Scottish than this to a photographer.  The best views are from the South and East which means sunrise is the best time.  I woke up very early in order to visit the Black rock cottage first.  Then I had enough time to go into the fields around the mountain itself, getting a lot closer to it.  Beautiful tiny white flowers are visible in my second shot.  If you click on the shot and get a larger view, these are easier to see and I think they landed nice contrast to the massive mountain in the distance.

Empty fields around Buachaille Etive Mor
Buachaille Etive Mor Triangular Shape
Buachaille Etive Mor and Black Rock Cottage
Black Rock Cottage with Buachaille Etive Mor in background

Kilchurn Castle, Scotland (a visit)

scotland castle in the highlands
Kilchurn Castle Ruins
Kilchurn Castle is an impressive ruin in the Highlands of Scotland.  On the day of expeditions from Glencoe, I visited this Gothic site.  The building is free and easy.  A pleasant level pathway leads from the parking lot around a few trees, under a bridge and then across the field to the castle.  The castle itself is located on a lake.  Entry is not allowed and the castle was locked.  Nevertheless each face of the castle gave a different look or view to photograph and experience.  I was fortunate to visit on a beautiful day with lovely blue skies and gorgeous clouds.

Photographically speaking the most technical shot I attempted was the Windows shot with the shadow of the wall allowing only a few squares of light onto the grass.  This was shot almost directly into the sunlight.  I made sure the lens of the camera was not being hit by the sunlight directly but this is clearly a high contrast feature.  I used Lightroom HDR software and try to make this as realistic as it was to my natural eye.

ruined castle with empty windows
Windows of Kilchurn Castle

walls of kilchurn castle scotland
Kilchurn Castle western wall and surroundings