A Dry Piece of Paradise

A hellish shriek assaulted the cold 3 am darkness.

A hellish shriek assaulted the cold 3 am darkness.

The scream was instantly recognizable. Anything but terrified, after a confused scramble I reinserted the pin into a personal security device hung from my backpack. Wrapped in a silly waffle weave blanket, tossing restless in the cold, the pin lanyard hung up then pulled free. Several minutes had passed with that sound flowing out over the canyon, calling all carnivores to breakfast.

I had drifted off with the wind shaking my tent like a drunken prankster and now all was totally and absolutely quiet. In spite of the cold, the inadequate blanket and the imaginary creatures looking for the source of that scream, the next two hours sped by in a fitful doze.

Agave Heart

At 5 am I crawled out to find the thinnest crescent moon imaginable gracing the eastern sky, kept company by a century plant silhouetted against the early dawn light.

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Century Plant Dawn
Century Plant Dawn

Click this link to see my photograph “Superstition Spring”

These stalks raise the golden flowers of this agave 10 to 15 feet above the green prickly rosette. Century plant stalks can be seen throughout the Superstitions, even at the high elevations among towering Ponderosa Pine.

Here is an agave in predawn light I caught on the next day, in Pine Creek canyon.

Agave
Agave in PreDawn Light

The leaves are used as needle and thread with the very sharp tip as the needle and the long leaf fibers, when properly dried and shredded, as thread. These leaves guard the agave heart from the harvest. A poke from an agave spike can be deep and painful.

The young shoots of the stalks are a succulent delicious treat raw. Roasted, the agave heart is a fresh, somewhat sweet delight. The earliest residents of this desert left numerous roasting pits on the mountain slopes, located where the agave still grows.

Dawn and the Pretty Hedgehogs

Although cold, the still dry air felt marvelous and even distant objects appeared absolutely clear. In this environment the spread of sun with its rising is a ritual. Here’s a photograph of the canyon walls a few minutes before the sun reached them.

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Slopes of Two Bar Mountain in PreDawn Light

And, a few minutes later, as the sun passed the ridges of Two Bar Mountain.…

SlopesOfTwoBarMtnAtDawn
Dawn on the Slopes of Two Bar Mountain

By the way, that’s a desiccated agave stalk to the lower right, on the rocks.

At my feet, spread at intervals on the brown red broken rock, small Hedgehog cacti bloomed lavender.

Lavender Hedgehog, overview
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms
Lavender Hedgehog Blossoms with Buds

Cacti, such as the blossoming lavender Hedgehog seen above, require a space which enjoys full sunlight for most of the day. The thick grown of juniper trees limited sunlight and compete with the cacti for water. This image will give you an idea of the extent of the juniper growth.

Nameless Canyon in the Dawn
Nameless Canyon in the Dawn

Looking into Nameless Canyon

In the above photograph you are looking west over a canyon that is unnamed on maps. The dramatic flat ridge bathed in light is a landmark marking the canyon of Reavis Falls, on the far side in this view. Make your way down the canyon where is joins Reavis Creek, turn left and the falls are a few miles upstream. This is NOT the easiest path to the falls.

As the sun rose I needed to prepare for the day’s trekking, but took one more portrait of this lovely nameless canyon traversed by an almost non-existent path.

Nameless Canyon Morning
Nameless Canyon Morning

This season, a cold stream ran at canyon bottom. Flowing among the rocks the water produced peals of a crystal bell, but this was not my last memory of this place.

In the “Nameless Canyon Morning” image, on the left there is the almost vertical (no exaggeration) canyon wall I climbed in 4.5 hours that morning. It traversed 800 feet altitude in less than a mile. The path was substantially longer because it followed the contour lines of the land in long loops called switchbacks. As I proceeded up the canyon wall, to the southeast, above the opposite canyon wall, the memorable Four Peaks gradually appeared. Here’s the view from my lunchtime perch…..

Four Peaks from Nameless Canyon
Four Peaks from Nameless Canyon

This view looks over the basin of Reavis Creek and includes the, out of sight, 140 foot high Reavis Fall, the highest free fall in Arizona.

Click me for the next episode, “Two Meetings.”

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Racing the Sun

Through that afternoon the wind gusts hit me as a physical force like a cat playing with her next meal.

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Mexican Poppies bloomed in profusion throughout the Superstitions after the plentiful winter rains of 2008.
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The four mile climb up the 2,000 foot eastern Superstition Wilderness bajada and escarpment consumed the morning and much of the afternoon.  It was the 80 pound backpack that did it.  Ten days of supplies, tent, equipment and 3.5 gallons (28 pounds) of water; enough food for a trek across the Superstition Wilderness, water enough for two days.  One day in, one day out if the water could not be replenished.  Mine was a water commitment, enough water storage to allow two days to trekking to another source.

Two Bar Mountain
Two Bar Mountain from Tule Canyon trail with corral made from mesquite trunks and barbed wire. Yucca and prickly pear in foreground.

Here the canyon rim view from atop the escarpment…..

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Here I found the huge mountain lion track in the dry mud from the spring rain, where water pooled and the cat drank.

…over trail 122, the Tule Canyon Trail, looking out from the wilderness.  Tule Canyon trail is very lightly used and only present in the form of occasional cairns.  There is a red rock cairn in the midground.  Theodore Roosevelt Lake of the Salt river is in the distance, as is the dirt road to the trail head.  A settlement is visible, on the right.

A rancher formed a cattle watering hole by damming an ephemeral stream and that day the pool held some water. Shortly after a rain a large mountain lion had approach the pool for a drink, leaving a footprint in the now dry mud.

I knew a mountain lion attack was improbable: I ran more risk of being run down on a New York City sidewalk by a madman or, even more so, of having a heart attack.  Still, during my brief lunch I faced east, looking over Apache Lake for the possibility of a cat leaping up from the canyon.  On all other sides was an open area until, a quarter-mile uphill, there was a thick growth of Manzanita reaching to the ridge.

After that climb to the escarpment rim I was in a race to reach a safe campsite at an unknown location, the other side of Two Bar ridge, before sunset at 6:46 pm mountain time.  Yes, the time was exact to the minute.  If sunset found me on the mountain side or ridge, rapid fall of darkness would force me to set camp.

The following photograph was taken the winter of February 2006 from a campsite below Castle Dome on Reavis Ranch Trail.  A red line, starting to the left, is Trail 119, my path along Two Bar mountain ridge, beneath the mountain peaks, with switchbacks into a nameless canyon.

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Overview of my path to the nameless canyon behind Two Bar Mountain.

Ahead of me was a 400 foot ascent in a half mile to Two Bar Ridge, two miles along the glorious ridge providing endless views to the west and northwest.  An 800 foot descent to a nameless canyon below Two Bar Mountain.  This left no time for photography!!

This photograph, taken 4 miles to the west and 10 months later, is similar to what I enjoyed, and dreaded, that day.  A flowering century plant stalk grows at the end of the plant’s long life, usually 10 – 30 years.  After death, the plant is reborn through suckers from its roots.

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A Superstition Wilderness Sunset from a February 2006 backpack.

My hope was to find some flat terrain in that canyon, for a camp site. If only there was time enough to reach it. My progress was bedeviled by sudden gusts of wind, grabbing like a large cat, throwing off-balance.  

The west wind was whipping the bushes as I entered the Manzanita.  Here is a photo of the plant from a later backpack to the Rincon Mountain Wilderness.  Yes, the trunk is a dark, rich red.  “Manzana” is apple is spanish, the plan is named “Little Apple” for the small green fruits much loved by bears.

Manzanita.
A mature Manzanita growing along the Miller Trail of the Rincon Mountain Wilderness. There is an enlargement of the flowers, to the right.

Manzanita leaves were thick around me snapping in the wind, making it seem at all moments a large creature was moving. The trail was difficult and several times I needed to turn back to find it, all the while climbing continuously.

On ridge was the highest point for a hundred or more miles to the west, so the wind was free to run which it did in huge gusts.  You can get an idea of the openness from the Superstition sunset photo.  For awhile the Manzanita acted as protection, then I descended along the west face of the Two Bar Mountain ridge.

Evening from Lime Mountain to East with Risen Moon
Two Bar Mountain and Ridge from Lime Mountain with rising moon.

My hat tie-down were tested on that two miles of ridge, the brim was molded around the right side of my head. The backpack acted as a sail so that it was taken in the wind gusts, affecting my balance.

On mountain trails the path is full of stones of all sizes and,  aside from the occasional rattlesnakes, critter scat or, at lower elevations, Gila monsters, it is the rock that forces hikers to look four steps ahead, planning moves carefully to avoid falls.  The 80 pound backpack, wind, rocks, high perch and, not forgetting the prickly pear cactus and jumping cholla, all slowed me to less than a mile an hour.  I was jumpy walking through that Manzanita and this slowed me down more.

Trail 122 joins Trail 119 on Two Bar Ridge.  On the ridge a substantial barbed wire fence separates federal land from the working ranch.  Where the trails crosses, the fence has a break.  The hiker needs to wend through a simple maze impassable to cattle.

Of all the trail, this is the most clearly marked.  Fences have deep historical significance for the western United States.  Range wars were fought between men who had different beliefs about land use and ownership.  Many historians associate the building of barbed wire fences with the passing of the Old West.

Up until the fence, cattle grazing visibly damaged the land and plants.  After the fence, the land was free to become as it was since the beginning of time.  Up here, there’s wonderful grass that was, in this season after heavier than normal winter rains, was lush and green.

The trail followed the fence for a ways, then descends steeply into a fold of the land, leaving me in shade as the sun, low in a cloudless sky, raked over the mountainside with a brilliant golden light.  The Two Bar Mountain and Ridge with Moon photograph, above, gives an idea of the effect.

Below, the canyon floor seemed a mass of prickly pear cactus groves.  I decided the lower canyon wall was the best choice for camp…as unlikely as that sounds.

Here, the trail was anything but straight and almost invisible, descending in looping curves called switchbacks.

Here’s a photo from the following morning.  I found a small shelf on a ridge overlooking the canyon floor, amongst wonderful shrubby Juniper trees.  Tiny hedgehog cactuses were covered in lavender blooms.  There is a decrepit stalk of a Century (yucca) plant lying over the rock.

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Morning view from my camp in a nameless canyon below Two Bar Mountain.

On approaching the shelf, the air turned suddenly cold as the sun fully set and the wind gained even more in strength flowing up the canyon and over Two Bar Mountain.  Stony ground made it impossible to stake the tent, instead I used small boulders to fix the corners and sides of the tent.  Once inside, I was grateful for an excellent mat to protect me from the small jagged stones at one with the ground.  The tent walls held back the wind.  I forgot to back an excellent sleeping bag for the trip.  Instead of buying one in Phoenix, my sister lent me a light waffle weave blanket.  “What was I thinking???”  It was a restless, cold night.  The sun was very welcome the following day.

Lavender Hedgehog Cactus Blooms
Lavender Hedgehog Cactus Blooms in pre-dawn light
Click me for the next episode, “Dry Piece of Paradise.”
Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Peter’s Mesa Sunset

Can You Find the Eye of the Needle?

Peter’s mesa is at the center of Superstition Wilderness treasure legends. I was a member of an expedition to the top of the Mesa March 2008. This is a sunset view, looking south, southwest. Light raking across the desolation and an approaching storm behind Miner’s Needle create a fascinating spectacle. Ancient volcanism, apparent throughout the Superstition Wilderness, is here seen in the texture, form and type of rock as well as the mineral deposits. Miner’s Needle, like Weaver’s Needle (no seen in this view), are eroded volcanic summits. Look closely for the “eye” of Miner’s Needle, backlit by the storm cloud itself lit by the setting sun. To this day, hopeful prospectors search for gold nuggets around the Needle. There is one form of volcanism present today as an eerie rumble or hiss, similar to an enormous distant jet engine. We heard now and then during our two days on the mesa, louder and closer than a overhead plane could produce. The view includes many notable Sonoran desert plants. Many young Saguaro cactus are in the form of green poles and, on the rim of the ravine running left to right below the closer ridge, an excellent specimen with multiple arms. Catching the dramatic light, on the ridge is a tall single flower of an Agave, known as the “Century Plant” it flowers once in a long life and dies.

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Peters Mesa is named after “Old Pete” Gottfried Petrasch, father of Hermann and Rhiney Petrasch. Old Pete worked for Jim Bark for awhile in the 1890s doing odd jobs. Irregular employment gave Pete and Sons time to s searched for the Lost Dutchman Mine in the years following the death of the source of the legend, the “Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The Petrasches were one of the first groups to search for the mine, and gold in general. They covered almost the entire Superstition range in their combined searches.

On our first day on the Mesa we came across the remains of one of these camp, on the top of Squaw Canyon. This was only deplorable junk a presumably disappointed bunch of searchers were too lazy to cart out. That March, we were lucky to find the remants of winter rains in the form of a meager trickle at the bottom of a shallow draw off Peter’s Mesa trail up from La Barge canyon. We had a good time of it until the trip was cut short by a storm front and torrential rains. We were back in Apache Junction before they hit.
This panorama is from our last evening on the Mesa. As the sun set I put the Kodak DSLR with a 50 MM lens on a Manfrotto tripod and hiked a mile higher onto the mesa for a view of Miner’s Needle. I quit only after the last light was extinguished by the approaching front. My reward for persistence was this dramatic light ennobling a craggy desolation. This is a composite of several images, combined using Photoshop. I have since invested in a Canon 24 mm wide angle lens.

Here is another Superstition Wilderness Episode

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Rincon Peak Summit

Experience the Sky Island view from Rincon Peak

The Rincons are one of 42 Sky Mountain islands isolated from each other by the gradual warming and drying climate changes since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. While this marvelous environment of oak and pine forests only accessible with much effort on foot, it is literally visible from every point of the Tucson valley and million human inhabitants.

Rincon is Spanish for corner, the mountains are called that from their shape enclosing a space on the west, northwest until recently used for ranching and is now falling into use for tract housing. The mountains themselves are reserved as wilderness, parts in the Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest.

In the past 44 years I was lucky enough to visit the Rincon Wilderness interior three times, shouldering different style backpacks onto the mountain, walking different boots. The first, during college the 1970’s, a party of six left from the end of Speedway, up the Douglas Springs trail. The climb was an exercise in desert survival that several friendships did not survive, replace by new friends met on Mica Mountain. I have no photographs from that experience, only memories and the backpack.

Reconnecting with Arizona in 2004, thirty one years after that first experience, I took no chances. My first attempt on Rincon Peak was a success. Risk and effort were reduced, not eliminated by hiring a guide for the four day trip. We made it to Rincon Peak via the Turkey Creek Trail out of Happy Valley, climbing a mountain buttress, views ever widening and lengthening.

These are some photographs from that experience and a landscape photograph of the peak at sunset, taken the following year.

Sego Lilies bloom among a stricken oak and drying grasses on the Turkey Creek trail. This is an overview of the environment, it is the winter rains that trigger the bloom.

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We paused while I unpacked my gear to capture Sego Lilies growing along the Turkey Creek Trail.

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Sego Lilies -- CLICK ME!!!!

Deer Head Spring, at the top of Turkey Creek Trail was a moist spot with no accessible water when we reached it April 27, 2004. With the remains of a gallon of water each we needed to press ahead to Heartbreak Ridge and climb into Happy Valley Saddle were, thankfully, the creek was low and full of algae but usable. Here are my first views of Rincon Peak, looking across the aptly named Heartbreak Ridge and Happy Valley Saddle.

Distant View of Rincon Peak-- CLICK ME!!!!
Telephoto view of Rincon Peak -- CLICK ME!!!!

The view to south from Rincon Peak. The white rocks at lower right forms a Valley of the Moon wall. San Pedro River valley at the root, Mae West Peaks at left margin, Dragoon Mountains with Cochise Stronghold center. Taken around 12:30 on April 28, 2004 as a thunderstorm approached.

View from Rincon Peak -- CLICK ME!!!!

The Rincon Peak view looking south, southwest over the Valley of the Moon to the eastern Tucson Valley and the Sky Islands the Whetstone Mountains (Apache Peak), behind are the Santa Ritas. The works of man are overpowered by sky, rock, distance.

We made a hasty departure in front of the thunderstorm. It was a touch and go decision to attempt the peak that day, we made it with moments to spare.

View from Rincon Peak -- CLICK ME!!!!

April 29, 2004 the morning after reaching Rincon Peak I set up the tripod near our Happy Valley Saddle camp to capture Rincon Peak in early morning sunlight.

Rincon Peak from Happy Valley Saddle, dawn -- CLICK ME!!!!

The day we descended to the X9 Ranch via the Rincon Creek trail. My guide’s grandfather had a homestead at the X9 and his access to the trailhead through private lands opened this route for us. This is a photograph of sunset on Rincon Peak from the X9 ranch. I am looking east from the Rincon (Spanish for corner) made by the massifs Rincon Peak, Mica Mountain and Tanque Verde ridge.

Rincon Peak from the X9 Ranch-- CLICK ME!!!!

The evening of November 2, 2006 I climbed the Saguaro National Park, East, Tanque Verde trail for about 30 minutes to reach this view of Rincon Peak and waited until just before the sun set behind the Tucson Mountains for this shot. Then hiked back to the car in twilight. In my hurry, I tripped on a stepped turn and dove headfirst into a large prickly pear. It was a very painful experience and I regretted damaging the cactus and the loss of and good hiking shirt. There were large spines in my face and tiny, pesky spines covered my chest and back. The large spines are not barbed and come right out. I needed to visit a physician to remove them.

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Rincon Peak from the X9 Ranch-- CLICK ME!!!!

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Saguaro Sky

dramatic skies from Saguaro National Park

November is a special time for the ranges and basins of southern Arizona deserts.  Climb a bajada of foothills, face west and wait for the sunset.  That is what I did this day, November 3, 2005.  East of Tucson the Saguaro National Monument at the foot of the Rincon Mountain Wilderness is where I parked, unpacked the photo gear and climbed the side of the Tanque Verde Ridge for a favorable view.  Weather was pushing high level moisture from the west, clouds were developing.

You see here a shot from that session.  In the distance, looking across Tanque Verde, are the Santa Catalina mountains.  Months since the last rainfall, the giant Saguaros are using internal moisture reserves drawn up from a shallow root system, the flesh is less plump, the supporting structure of the ribs, always evident, are more pronounced.  The last light catches these ribs in relief against a dramatic sky.

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Saguaro Sunset -- CLICK ME!!!!

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Saguaro Sky

dramatic skies from Saguaro National Park

November is a special time for the ranges and basins of southern Arizona deserts.  Climb a bajada of foothills, face west and wait for the sunset.  That is what I did this day, November 3, 2005.  East of Tucson the Saguaro National Monument at the foot of the Rincon Mountain Wilderness is where I parked, unpacked the photo gear and climbed the side of the Tanque Verde Ridge for a favorable view.  Weather was pushing high level moisture from the west, clouds were developing.

You see here a shot from that session.  In the distance, looking across Tanque Verde, are the Santa Catalina mountains.  Months since the last rainfall, the giant Saguaros are using internal moisture reserves drawn up from a shallow root system, the flesh is less plump, the supporting structure of the ribs, always evident, are more pronounced.  The last light catches these ribs in relief against a dramatic sky.

Click this link or the photograph for my Online gallery of this offering
Saguaro Sunset -- CLICK ME!!!!

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Rincon Peak Summit, repost

The Sky Island Experience

The Rincons are one of 42 Sky Mountain islands isolated from each other by the gradual warming and drying climate changes since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. While this marvelous environment of oak and pine forests only accessible with much effort on foot, it is literally visible from every point of the Tucson valley and million human inhabitants.

….Click me for more story and photographs.

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Bullet Dodge Series 3

Not quite murmuration

Today, enjoy two videos of shorebirds taking flight at once. Starlings can flock and swarm in clouds of birds, called murmuration. My videos of a shorebird colony taking fright, at something unknown as the beach was empty, are from my IPhone 7.

This is a still image, high resolution, similar to the view of the second video. A repeat from yesterday.

Click photograph for larger image. To do this from WordPress Reader, you need to first click the title of this post to open a new page.

With a tripod it is simpler to achieve a level horizon….

December 3, 2014 President Obama warned of the coming pandemic and passed along plans and a team to the incoming Trump administration. By December 2019, the pandemic unleashed in China, Trump gutted this capability and, while Pam and I were planning out January 10th Walt Disney World trip, hid the truth from United States Citizens.

We were keeping an eye on China, by January 10th the Chinese communist government was lying, “there is no human-to-human” transmission they told the WHO (World Health Organization). Knowing the truth, our plans for that day would be different.

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Sunrise, January 109, 2020 Cocoa Beach, Florida

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Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

References:

CNN YouTube, “Hear what Barack Obama said in 2014 about pandemics.”

Daily KOS, “How the Obama administration tried to save us from what Trump is doing right now.”

FOX News, “WHO haunted by January tweet saying China found no human transmission of coronavirus.”

Bullet Dodge Series 2

Shroomed (Happy May Day)

One week before January 10, the dawning of the day photographed here, “the CDC Director Robert Redfield was notified by a counterpart in China that a “mysterious respiratory illness was spreading in Wuhan [China]”. Redfield notified HHS Secretary Alex Azar shortly thereafter, who shared his report with the National Security Council (NSC). According to The Washington Post, warnings about the virus were included in the President’s Daily Brief in early January, an indicator of the emphasis placed on the virus by the intelligence community.” December( and maybe October/November), 2019 through January, 2020: COVID-19 was spreading across the USA as visitors from Wuhan disembarked from planes.

The following images compare IPhone 7 to a dslr mounted on a tripod.

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With a tripod it is simpler to achieve a level horizon….

I heard the word “shroomed” (as a verb) used in Episode 1, Season 6, of Bosch. As in “the Federal Government treats us like mushooms”: grown in excrement and kept in the dark.

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Sunrise, January 10, 2020 Cocoa Beach, Florida

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Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Reference: the quote is from the Wikipedia article “Timeline of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in the United States.”

Bullet Dodge Series 1

First of a looooonnnngggg series

One day after my “Sunrise Texture” series as the sun rose on Cocoa Beach I was waiting with the same photographic kit. It was perfect weather for a visit to Walt Disney World, planned for that day: unsettled.

This image couple demonstrates the effect of long / short exposure without using filters. I changed the ISO and F-stop to achieve these effects.

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With a tripod it is simpler to achieve a level horizon….

I turned around to observe the colonies of shore birds…..

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Want to see more? Visit this my “Sunrise Textures” series on Getty IStock.

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills