A Thousand Words – Reminiscing and Mineral King

My photography heart resides in the American West, from border to border, Canada to Mexico – from the Rockies west to the California Coast.  My first photography trip to Glacier was in 1986, my last was two years ago. My next should be in July 2021 and I’m looking forward to it.  My last trip near the Mexican border was to Laredo two years ago to shoot with my friend Butch Ramirez, and hopefully, the next trip will be next April.  From Colorado and New Mexico, through Utah and Wyoming, my photography passion wanders through the West.  While most display their love of the West through dramatic vistas, my artistic preference is to photograph the wildlife.  I can pass by a hundred gorgeous sunsets without a twinge of remorse, but you will never find me passing by a wildlife encounter of any note.  There is just something inside me that yearns for a wild encounter – to share, via photography, a few seconds or maybe even a few minutes – or more, of the life of a wild animal.  With every encounter, I absorb a little more knowledge about that animal or bird, how it fits into its world, its environment, and how privileged I feel to record what I see as best I can.  The results are a few images that may have no value beyond what I see in them, but they might have a great deal of value to others I will never know.
That value is something so intrinsic to each person, so personal, that no two people will respond to the exact same thing with the same feelings or emotions.  I can literally keep an encounter going for hours if I think there is even a remote chance of activity or behavior that might be unique.  While that may sound like patience, that’s not what I mean.  I am not a real patient photographer who can stand around for hours to see if the afterglow from a sunset strikes the clouds a particular way.  That is not me.  But wildlife photography generates an excitement that isn’t easily ignored or pacified with a few images – even a few hundred images.  That excitement reverberates through me and suddenly I can be a waiting man, a patient photographer – waiting for a remarkable moment to occur.  Most of the time the patience pays off with images of something I have never seen before or photographed poorly before, that now I have a chance to record with greater accuracy and beauty.
And sometimes those moments don’t pay off.  I’ve always liked the saying that God doesn’t reduce a fisherman’s life by the hours he spends on the water.  I would like to think the same is true about wildlife photography and the hours we spend in the field.  Tomorrow morning, like thousands of mornings previously, I will get up at 4am and prep my stuff and head out into the cool darkness.  My truck is a smooth ride, quiet, with everything I think I might need in the field.  I like to crack the window and let the chill of the air blow through the cab, sometimes music, sometimes quiet – but it gets me in the right frame of mind.  Whether I’m driving east from Tulare and the first rays of light are just starting to glow along the crest of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains or heading south out of Socorro on a frigid morning into light snow, or west from Tulare into my favorite bobcat country – the mornings are all the same, dark – but full of anticipation.  No matter how few hours of sleep I just had I’m wide awake, and anxious to get started.
On my last safari, last Wednesday, July 29th, there was no one along.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter, sometimes it does – this was one time when wandering alone in the mountains appealed to me.  I understand that no one gets too excited over butterflies or wildflowers – but it doesn’t dissuade me.  Four miles up the Mineral King Road out of Three Rivers, the light at about 8000 iso, a gray fox was trotting along the road.  He stepped off the road and down the hillside.  I slowed and stopped at that spot, looking down the steep hillside.  Just 20 feet down the hill the fox was standing on an oak branch about 4 feet off the ground, his thick tail hanging over and down more than a foot below the branch.  Magnificent.  I didn’t even flex for my camera, just watched the fox as he watched me.  The dim light made this a photoless encounter – but I didn’t mind.  A beautiful gray fox standing up in a tree … it was enough.
     It is a slow, tedious drive into Mineral King – the poor quality of the road hindering a quick trip for me but also having served as a protection in the past.  At one point Disney wanted to build a destination resort in the Mineral King Valley, but the huge cost of building an all-weather road sunk the project back in the mid-1960s.  On my hike to Black Rock Falls, I stumbled on a Sooty Grouse (fka Blue Grouse) and her chicks and was able to shoot a couple of minutes of video footage that I turned into a short movie.  (LINK)  The falls were gorgeous, still showing off colorful summer flowers and cascading water.  Meadows near the road provided other wildflower hotspots that proved very active for butterflies.  For several hours I worked the meadows for butterflies using both my 70-200 and my 60 mac lenses.
     The East Fork of the Kaweah River was flowing through boulders as it passed by me, headed for some serious waterfalls below Silver City.  It was early afternoon when I headed back down from nearly 8000 feet into the heat of the San Joaquin Valley.  It was a satisfying day of photography for me, because, after all, who knows how many more days like this I get.  I can only hope God doesn’t subtract days like this from my life.

About brentrpaull

Professional Photographer
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