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The Corpse Flower

Filed Under galleries, local travel, photography

Amorphophallus titanum, or The Corpse Flower, is the largest flower in the world. It is also very rare and blooms from this flower is even more of a rarity. I was considerably lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I was given full access to the flower before the media, members, or guests of the Huntington Botanical Gardens were allowed in. The bloom lasted from 2pm on June 17 and wilted in the late afternoon on June 18th. I was there at the peak of its bloom!

Here are a few photos of the event:

By the way, you might have noticed a lack of posts here. I’m still busy taking photos, nonetheless! Come over and check out my other blogs, 100hikes.com and bugshutterbug.com!


Mojave National Preserve Photo Galleries

Filed Under bugshutterbug.com, entomology, galleries, local travel, photography

Non bugs:



Mojave National Preserve Trip Report (Part 2)

Filed Under bugshutterbug.com, entomology, local travel, photography

April 5th, 2009

Part 2 – Where are the insects??

If you missed part one of this two-part report, click here.

Those of you with fine-tuned observational skills might have noticed that the first part of this Mojave National Preserve trip report failed to mention any bugs. The fact is that I went most of Saturday without looking for insects to photograph. My goal was to explore on Saturday and concentrate on finding and photogging bugs on Sunday. I wouldn’t be disappointed!

I should admit now that the first photographed insect occurred around dusk on Saturday. While hiking around Shadow Valley in search for a campsite, I discovered the unmistakable silk tent of the Western tent caterpillar (Malacosoma californicum) on a creosote bush. A few caterpillars were out of the nest for me to photograph. This wouldn’t be the last time I’d see these colorful, social moth larvae today.

After a cold night of camping where temperatures dropped below 30°F (-1°C), I packed up and headed south on Cima Road. It was another beautiful day in the desert. It was a little breezy – gusts up to 20mph – but wouldn’t last beyond 8-9am. My goal for the day was to check out the Hole-in-the-Wall campsite and info center, but I was in no hurry. My first stop of the day was at the ghost town of Cima. It consisted of a half-dozen or so buildings and a dozen rusted vehicles. It also had a simple building still in use as a market and post office (closed on Sunday). I stopped and explored the remains of a small home. The ground around the building was covered in pieces of wood and metal from the home. Of the scraps of metal strewn across the desert, I could identify a metal mattress frame, screen door, and a heating duct- all possibly over 50 years old. I spent an hour turning over the remnants of the dilapidated material looking for insects. In that time I would find two centipedes, a nest of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex), a beautiful desert spider and a small beetle with a blue sheen. I don’t know how, but I also spotted a tiny spider the size of a mite, no more than 1 mm in body length.

The large gray/black spider (Plectreuridae Plectreurys) measured about 13-15mm. It crawled in jerky movements based on vibrations or movement around it, which reminded me of how lizards move. The dark side of this wooden plank was obviously its lair for I found three dead beetles sucked dry in her trash.

The centipedes were not happy to have been disturbed. It has been years since I’ve captured a centipede, so I was a little intimidated by their speed and reflexes. I recently read up on the centipede and learned that they have unique “legs” called gnathosomes or gnathopods which are pincer-like appendages used to inject venom into their prey. They spend most of their time during the day under logs, stones, or in this case, a sheet of metal in order to keep from dehydrating. At night they hunt for anything they can catch and, based on how fast they move, that’s probably quite a bit. They eat mostly insects, but have been known to capture and eat lizards and small rodents as well. I’m having trouble identifying these centipedes, so if you can help, please leave a comment.

The small beetle I found measured about 7mm. It has a nice bluish-green tint to it in the light. It was very difficult to photograph, even in the small container I used to temporarily house it while I snapped away.

I could have spent all day in Cima looking for insects, but I was drawn by a desire to see more of the park. I headed west on Kelso Cima Road for five miles until I came to Mojave Road. This unpaved road has more history behind it than the nearby Route 66. In fact, Mojave Road was the Route 66 of its time before the Chicago-Santa Monica highway was built. This 138-mile trail is not much different today as it was when American pioneers traveled across it in their wagons in search of a new life and prosperity the decades following the Civil War. But even this layer of history can be peeled back. At one time, this was once used by Jedidiah Smith, John Fremont and other American pioneers. Before that, the Mojave Indians in the early 1800’s used this trail. And even before that, it is said that Spanish Franciscan Francisco Garces might have used this very trail around the time our forefathers were signing the Declaration of Independence.

The road is well groomed, thanks to local support, but with all dirt roads in the desert, it has become corrugated, making it a slow drive for my non-4WD vehicle. Going at speeds of about 15mph (24kph) allowed me to check out the scenery and keep an eye on the road for any crossing creatures. This is how I found my next insect.

It wasn’t hard to spot this large darkling beetle crossing the road. The black Eleodes measures about 4 cm from maxilla to pygidium. I found it just as it discovered its next meal, allowing me plenty of time to get out my gear to photograph it. I’ve seen Eleodes many times in the Mojave Desert, but this was the first that had striae along the elytra rather than a smooth abdomen. I believe this is an Eleodes obscura.

I drove 11 miles of dirt roads before arriving at Mid Hills Campground, one of the two “official” campgrounds in the Mohave National Preserve (“Moja”). The place was empty and it was immediately clear why. A 2005 wildfire had destroyed much of the woods in this area. Even today it still looks like the aftermath of a nuclear war, with blackened dead trees and dark brown earth. Life is slowly returning to the area, but I wouldn’t want to camp here given all of the other options. Besides, I don’t know who would pay $12 for a campsite when you can camp off the side of the road for free.

I continued south on Black Canyon Road which is still unpaved at this point. I assume most visitors on this road come up from the south, where the pavement ends immediately north of the Hole-in-the-Wall Campgrounds and Info Center. I wasn’t ready to check out the center quite yet. Just north of Hole-in-the-Wall, I took a mile detour down a dirt road. It was there I would spend the rest of my time in the park photographing a single creosote bush. For some reason, this bush had more life than anything I could see in the surrounding area.

If you’ve kept up with my blog, you’ll know that my favorite insect to photograph at the moment is the syrphid fly, more commonly called the hover fly. So you could only imagine how excited I was to find this single creosote bush covered in them! Along with 4-5 different syrphids attracted to the flowering bush were drone flies (Eristalis tenax), cactus flies (Copestylum Mexicana), flesh flies (Sarcophagidea), green bottle flies (Phaenicia sericata), and even spotted what looked like a fruit fly (Tephritidae) with their distinctly marked wings. Along with the flies were a few kinds of bees, most I’ve never seen before outside the covers of a field guide. Along with honey bees – by far the most represented at the bush of any insect – were 2-3 types of other bees. I spotted a few small mining bees (Andrenidae) and something that looked a lot like a leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.).

Here’s my favorite syrphid photo of the day. I’m not having any luck identifying it, so if you can help, please feel free to post a comment.

Winged insects weren’t the only visitors to this creosote bush. One or two families of Western tent caterpillars (Malacosoma californicum) could be found climbing on the bush, looking for food.

It was getting close to 3pm and I wanted to stay in front of the weekend Vegas visitors, so I reluctantly left the creosote and headed home. Before I left the park, I stopped in briefly at the Hole-in-the-Wall Info Center, where I gathered pamphlets to read in order to plan my next trip out to the Mojave National Preserve. I have a feeling the trip will be sooner than later!

Also coming soon will be more photos – lots of photos! – taken on this trip. Stay tuned!


Mojave National Preserve Trip Report (Part 1)

Filed Under bugshutterbug.com, entomology, local travel, photography

April 4th, 2009
Part 1

There’s a good chance that if you’re a Southern California driver and old enough to gamble (or maybe not), you’ve driven to Las Vegas. Every Saturday, thousands of drivers jump in their cars and eventually drive on Interstate 15 towards Sin City. As they say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but eventually they all drive home with more or less money. I too have been to Vegas on this notoriously congested freeway. On the way out there, I’m usually thinking about how much fun I’m going to have and where I’m going to have it. On the return trip, I’m usually thinking about how I spent too much or drank too much or did too much of too much. Rarely am I concentrating on the scenery.

This is probably why I’ve never heard of the Mojave National Preserve until recently. The Mojave National Preserve (which I’ll refer to as “Moja” for the remainder of this post) is a large piece of land outlined by the Nevada border to the east, Highway 40 to the south, and Interstate 15 to the north. When the land was protected in 1992 by the Desert Protection Act, it became the third largest national parkland outside of Alaska. It is so big in fact, it has a state park within it (Providence Mountains State Recreation Area)

Keeping my New Year’s resolution to visit the Mojave every weekend in the month of April, I decided to spend the first weekend of the month in Moja. I started my weekend at 4:00 am in the morning, hoping to stay in front of the inevitable Vegas traffic. With a couple of stops for fuel and food, it took me about three hours of traffic-free driving to get to the southern entrance of the preserve at Kelbaker Road.

Researching and planning your trip to Moja is highly recommended. The park is so large, it’s important to have a good idea on what you want to see. With 2,500 sq. miles (6,475 sq. km) of land, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see it all in one trip. I would eventually cover over 200 miles of roads in and around the park during the weekend.

View Larger Map

Above: General route of my weekend trip.

  • A – Kelbaker Road
  • B – Kelso Depot
  • C – Baker, CA
  • D – Cima Road
  • E – Cima, CA
  • F – Hole-in-the-Wall Info Center
  • G – Essex Road

The first stop on my trip was the Kelso Dunes. Kelso Dunes is one of the largest dune fields in the western US, but that fact was lost to me when standing in the desert. The Mojave Desert is so vast, it is difficult to get a sense of the size of natural features – like mountains, valleys, or sand dunes – since there isn’t any man made objects to compare them to. If it wasn’t for the placard near the dunes’ trail head, I wouldn’t have even fathomed that the sand laid out in front of me covered more than 45 square miles. Nor would have I known that the tallest dune stood 600 feet – 60 stories – above the desert floor!

On my hike, I kept hearing what sounded like a low flying propeller plane. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the deep hum was the sound of the sand moving on the dunes, a completely natural occurrence found at only a few dunes in the world.

After a hike on the dunes, I continued north to Kelso Depot, the center of Moja. Kelso used to be a bustling desert oasis during World War II, when iron from Kaiser Steel’s nearby Vulcan Mine was shipped out of the desert by train here to be used in steel manufacturing for the war. When the war ended and rail traffic was reduced, the town dried up. Now, the highlight of the town is a single building: the Kelso Depot.

Built in 1924, the Kelso Depot is a beautifully kept train station surrounded by dark green grass and healthy palms: quite a shock to the earthy palette of the surrounding desert. Over the years, the building has served as a train station, restaurant, reading room, ticket and telegraph office, and housing for railroad employees. Visitors today will find it beautifully renovated, inside and out. The NPS Visitors Center includes a museum exhibit, a bookstore, and a few rooms furnished just as they were in the early years of the depot. They also have a 40-seat theater where you can watch a 12-minute movie on the park. I know I scoffed at those who watched a similar video playing at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, but with a park this big, I needed some visual assistance on what to see. Unlike the ancient video playing at the poppy reserve, this movie was fairly new and had a high production value. Plus, if it wasn’t for the movie, I would have never of known about the lava tubes of Moja!

A few million years ago, the Mojave Desert looked a lot different. Angry volcanoes spewed rock and lava. Large lakes were full of life and surrounded by vegetation. If you squint your eyes, you can still see this ancient landscape, especially in the area known as the Cinder Cone Lava Beds. About 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Kelso Depot, you’ll find over a dozen ancient cinder cones jutting out of the landscape. The blackened lava can be over 45 feet thick in some areas. A short hike into this area and you might think you’re in Tolkien’s Mordor. My quest was less noble than Sam and Frodo’s: find the lava tubes I learned about in the visitor’s center.

Even though I had three different maps and a GPS unit, I still spent over 20 minutes trying to find the unnamed, unpaved road that would lead to the lava tubes. Eventually I would find it and slowly navigate the rocky, uneven road with my Dodge Neon. I highly suggest to take a 4-wheel drive vehicle to Moja, not necessarily because roads are impossible otherwise (they could be after storms), but because it will allow you to see more of the park in a shorter amount of time. It took me more than 30 minutes to make it up the 6-mile road in my car. Once at a small parking area, it’s an easy 300-yard hike up to the entrance of the lava tubes.

Entering the tubes have been made easier in recent years thanks to the installation of a sturdy metal ladder with hand rails. After climbing down the 15-foot ladder, I carefully navigated the lose rocks until I reached the floor of the cave. From here, I had to shuffle 30 feet through the narrowest point of the cave, measuring about three feet tall and 10 feet wide. Although I brought my camera, camera bag, and tripod, I had forgotten the most important item: a flashlight. Nonetheless, I was able to make it through after a brief rest as my eyes adjusted to the dark.

After crawling through the opening, I would emerge into a place I consider the most magical place in the Mojave Desert. The main portion of the lava tube opened up into a room about 60 feet long by 40 feet wide. At certain times of the day, a glorious, brilliant beam of sunlight will shine into the cavern. I was lucky enough to have over a half hour of solitude in the room before other visitors would arrive.

I left the lava tubes and drove back onto Kelbaker Road, continuing north. It was now around 2pm and I was hungry, so I drove 19 miles (30 km) to Baker, California for lunch. After lunch, I headed 26 miles (42 km) east on the I-15 to re-enter the Mojave National Preserve on Cima Road.

The last major stop of the day would be a three-mile hike on the Teutonia Peak Trail, one of only seven maintained trails in the park. The first half mile of the trail appears to be an old road with two well-pronounced tracks. After a mile through open flatlands of Joshua trees, the path narrows and heads up towards the summit ridge. I was hoping to find an expansive view looking westward for the sunset, but the ridge only reveals a field of boulders among granite and monzonite outcroppings. I sat on the ridge and watched the setting sun change the colors of the desert from greens and browns to shades of orange.

Since this park is a preserve managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and not a “National Park” per say, camping is allowed just about everywhere. The National Parks Service suggests finding a spot that has been previously camped in. I didn’t look too far before finding the perfect campsite, complete with a boulder granite outcropping and a fire pit.

To be continued…here!


Joshua Tree Photos

Filed Under bugshutterbug.com, entomology, galleries, local travel, photography

To go along with my Joshua Tree trip report posted yesterday, I’ve got a couple of photo galleries to share:

Travel photos:

Insect photos:


Joshua Tree Trip Report – March 21-22, 2009

Filed Under local travel, photography

Note: This trip report is so huge, I’ve posted two versions on both of my blogs. The stories will be the same, but the photos will be different. On this blog you’ll find mostly the travel photos I snapped on the trip while on my other blog, bugshutterbug.com, you’ll find the bug photos.

I arrived into Joshua Tree National park at 1:30am early Saturday morning. This would be my second trip of 2009 and my fifth in a year. Unlike my other visits, I decided to enter the park from the southern entrance, which is a longer drive for those coming from Los Angeles than the western entrance. Even in the moonless night, I could see signs that this trip would be worth the two hour drive. In my headlights, color flashed by on the sides of the road. Purples, yellows, reds, and whites – wildflowers have come to the Sonoran Desert. Every mile or so, a kangaroo rat would bounce across the road through my headlights as if playing a game. (Losers of this sport end up on the road permanently.) I spot the tail of a kit fox before it disappears into the desert darkness. Moths and other insects parade over my hood and windshield.

I pull up into the Cottonwood Campgrounds, about nine miles into the park and the first campsite from the southern entrance. It’s Saturday on a warm weekend, so I’m not surprised that all of the 62 sites are filled. In fact, they have flipped open their road signs at all of the entrances informing visitors, “CAMPGROUNDS ARE FULL.” No matter. I was prepared to sleep in my car for the night. I park near the campground’s public restroom – one of the few in the park with running water and flushing toilets – and stretch my legs. In my walk from my car to the restroom, just 30 paces, I spot two types of beetles, a few large unidentified scavenging ants, and a golden huntsman spider (Olios Fasciculatus). I’m not 20 minutes into my weekend trip and I’m more successful at finding wildlife than my entire last weekend trip to the park, just five weeks ago. Spring has sprung in Joshua Tree!

After an uncomfortable night’s sleep in my car, I began the day before the sun rose. It was clear to me after reading the Desert USA Wildflower Report that it shouldn’t be difficult to find fields of blooms (even though their “Wildflower status” scale is at 5 of 10). My search area would lie to the southeast, outside of the park and a half hour from the California-Arizona border. With the sun up, it was obvious that my quest to photograph flowers would be successful: the entire stretch of the Twentynine Palms Highway leading from the park entrance south to the 10 freeway was lined in wildflowers. I parked and stepped out of my car, immediately taken by the strong aroma of flowers. Desert chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana), chia (Salvia columbariae), Arizona lupine (Lupinis arizonicus), and brittlebush (Encelia farinose) stood at attention 6-10 feet deep, as if lined up for some Gary Larson-esque Rose Parade in which the floats are artistically covered in people.

I headed east on the 10 and exited Eagle Mountain Road. This area of the Sonoran was swathed in blooming brittlebrush. I spent time up near the beautifully oxidized Eagle Mountain Railroad, which offered many photographic opportunities.

I continued my journey east along an old road paralleling the 10 freeway until I reached Kasier Road, just 50 miles from the California-Arizona border. Here I found a town that has been reclaimed by the desert and forgotten by Time. Gas stations, cafes, and small homes shut their doors many years ago are now washed in desert dust. I stopped at a dilapidated community center just a stone’s throw from the 10 freeway. Inside, chairs were stacked neatly, a typewriter was left on a counter, and two pianos sat facing each other, their keys as crooked as a British farmer’s teeth. A chalk board in the corner of one room has the word “POOR” permanently etched upon it. As I walked over the fallen roof tiles and made my way through broken doorways, I could almost hear the voices of the locals who once used this building. The stage, with its thin wooden planks slowly losing their permanence, creaked with the memory of its last speech. I imagine a town leader standing here, where he had the unfortunate job of solemnly informing the gathered residents that their doors would be permanently shut. I have a feeling that the closure of the Eagle Mountain railroad in 1986 lead to the demise of this town.

Outside, among broken glass and pieces of roof tiles, stand old farming equipment which must have been standing here long before the building closed. In a land as harsh as the desert, these oxidized monuments must have proudly shown those passing by that the people here once tried to control this land. Now they seem to represent what eventually happens to all desert dwellings: nature wins in the end.

As I turned back to the freeway through the ghost town, hundreds of painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) danced through the air. I counted 2-3 every second bouncing off of my windshield. I had happened upon the annual mass migration of painted ladies as they head from Mexico to as far north as British Columbia, Canada. It was a magical moment and I feel lucky to have witnessed it.

I head back into Joshua Tree National Park, pass the Cottonwood Visitors Center, and continue north. I’m curious to see if the northern half of the park is as colorful as the southern portion. Joshua Tree National Park straddles two of the four desert biomes found in the United States. The Mojave Desert covers 22,000 square miles of land in southern California and Nevada. The much larger Sonoran Desert, with an area of 311,000 square miles, covers land in California, Arizona, and Mexico. These two deserts meet in the middle of Joshua Tree NP.

Along the Twentynine Palms Highway where these two deserts converge lies one of my favorite locations in Joshua Tree NP: the Cholla Cactus Garden. In this unique transition area, the teddy bear cholla cacti (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) flourish in great numbers. It’s a strange site to see while driving along the highway through the park. For just a mile or two, where the altitude and climate work together to allow these spiky plants to congregate. Although they are named for their furry appearance, don’t be fooled! One has to be constantly aware of these prickly cacti when in their presence. Their barbed spines can attach to clothing, soles of shoes, and if you’re unlucky, bare skin. I’ve been attacked by these cacti on more than one occasion, most recently in October of last year, where I documented my struggle on film. (please excuse the mumbled obscenities).

I spent an hour at the gardens, walking the well-groomed walking path looking for insects. They tend to stick out among the yellow cacti, but who knows how many camouflaged arthropods I’ve missed. The hover flies are out, but are difficult to photograph. They tend to startle easily and land infrequently. I did find two beetles: a blister beetle (possibly a Nemognatha lurida) and a purple leaf beetle. Only got one shot of the leaf beetle before it flew off, but the blister beetle didn’t mind the paparazzi. I also found an approachable side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana), which allowed me to take a few shots of it’s back with my 65mm macro lens.

I headed further north into Joshua Tree, spotting a desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) as it sped across the road like a Jesus lizard crossing water. My bumper almost greeted two Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii). No wonder the speed limit in the park is 35-45 mph. Despite the wildlife I encountered, the Mojave portion of the park is not in full bloom yet, but there are some beautiful flowers to be seen. The beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) is in bloom throughout the park. Near White Tank Campgrounds, I photographed desert sunflowers (Geraea canescens), desert poppies (Eschscholzia glyptosperma), and Arizona lupine (Lupinis arizonicus).

I had lunch at Denny’s in Twentynine Palms (where I was able to snipe someone’s wireless connection for a bit to check my e-mail) and headed back to Cottonwood Campgrounds, stopping again at the Cholla Cactus Gardens around 5pm. I kept my SLR camera packed away and simply enjoyed the sunset-lit teddy bear cholla. I knew I wouldn’t find any insects at this time of day. By this time, the wind had picked up and any smart winged insect wouldn’t find itself anywhere near cacti. Last year I found a hover fly that had been skewered on a cactus in this garden, becoming a part of the garden’s naturally pinned insect collection.

I was spared from sleeping in my car for a second night thanks to two rock climbers from San Diego. In exchange for a couple rounds of beers, I got a piece of their rented real estate to set up my tent and nice conversation around a campfire. At 11pm or so, I grabbed my headlamp and some vials and searched for nocturnal invertebrates. I find they are easy to spot on the white cement pathways that snake through the campground, connecting the amphitheater and public restrooms. In just fifteen minutes, I found three darkling beetles: A stout Coniontis with its beautiful and subtle purple coloring; A large (30-35mm) gigantic eleodes (Eleodes gigantica), which is also known as the desert skunk beetle or stink beetle. The third is yet to be identified, but is of similar size and look of the gigantic eleodes.

I also found a few spiders, all yet to be properly identified. A crab spider was found exploring the stucco wall of a building. An orbweaver spider was found loitering on a plant. A possible ant-mimic spider (3-4mm) and a black mouse spider (possibly Scotophaeus blackwalli) were found roaming the relatively vast landscape of white cement which made up the 5-foot wide path. I captured them, took photos of them at a makeshift studio set up on the cement bench at the campsite, released them, and went to sleep.

Sunday morning I was motivated to get out of my tent by something I overheard a nearby camper say to his 5-year old daughter: “Honey, want to see a scorpion? Come here and check it out.” In five minutes, I was over at their site with a jar. I photographed the adolescent stripe-tailed scorpion (Paruroctonus silvestrii) and released it away from any campsites. Although their sting doesn’t have any lasting effects, it’s probably wise to remove it from the area in order to protect both the campers and the scorpion. It reminded me to check my boots twice before putting them on that morning. Where there’s one scorpion, there’s most likely a dozen more.

When the wind gusts started to pick up, I packed my gear and headed out of the park, stopping briefly in the canyons between the Cottonwood Visitors Center and the south entrance. The ocotillos (Fouquieria splendens) were just starting to bloom and I wanted to search a new area for insects. Again, I found many hover flies (Syrphidae family) but with the wind, they didn’t stay too long in one area. I spotted a large harvestman (order Opiliones) backing into a burrow on my approach, but wasn’t able to entice it to come out for a photo shoot.

As I headed home on the 10 freeway, ominous clouds began to form over the Coachella Valley. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph blew cars around on the freeway, making everyone drive as if they’re under the influence of alcohol. At one point it was sunny and seemingly clear out the side windows of my car, yet rain was pelting my windshield like I was in a car wash.

With such incredible weather came an idea, which lead to a two-mile hike into the wind farms of Cabazon, California. Throughout the valley, hundreds of large wind turbines (windmills) line the valley floor. They are responsible for providing much of Riverside County with its electricity and able to generate enough clean energy in one hour of 35 mph winds to run an average household for a month.

After some wrong turns, I eventually found the correct gravel road that cut across the valley to a wind farm operated by Edison. There stood 49 white behemoth turbines making a sound I can only describe as mechanical wind. Each turbine stands 15 stories tall, their three blades measuring 75 feet in length. It takes no more than three seconds (by my guess) for the turbine to make a complete rotation. They zip around so quickly, the tips of some of the blades whistle.

I walked the perimeter of the farm along the barbed-wire fence, hoping to find a good angle to photograph the wind turbines and the dark clouds. Despite the wind gusts and sudden bursts of rain, I found it to be an enjoyable hike. The area was in bloom. I was walking in a huge wash consisting mostly of sandy soil, but much of it was covered with dark green grass and a sprinkling of small yellow, orange, and blue flowers.

Who knew that my favorite photos of the weekend would be taken during this small unexpected detour on the way home? I discovered a gathering of seven-spotted ladybug pupae (Coccinella septempunctata) on the underside of a twisted branch. I was really excited to stumble upon this. I’ve never seen ladybug pupae before and I had just been reading and blogging about the ladybug life-cycle!

I went home happy to have seen so many wonderful things this weekend. But the craving to explore more of it is still strong. I made a new year’s resolution to visit Joshua Tree NP every weekend in April and I tend to do it. I know that no matter how many times I go to the desert, it will always hold something new to see.


Prepping for a weekend trip

Filed Under bugshutterbug.com, entomology, local travel

Here’s a checklist I go through when getting ready for a weekend getaway.


  • Clear CompactFlash and SD memory cards
  • Charge batteries for cameras and ring flash (rechargeable NiMH)
  • Clean lenses of dust
  • Clear GPS and change batteries
  • Change batteries for Spot Satellite Messenger
  • Charge laptop
  • Pack extra batteries


  • Pack sleeping bag, tent, and air mattress
  • Pack backpack with a change of clothes
  • Pack medical kit & emergency kit
  • Pack hiking pole
  • Pack firewood, newspaper, and matches
  • Pack cooler and beer (very important!)


  • Pack a few field guides in a box
  • Pack millimeter stick, forceps, and tweezers
  • Pack vials for temporary specimen collecting (catch, photograph, release)
  • Pack container for insects (catch, photograph, release)
  • Pack journal (to write down notes when observing and photographing insects)
  • Pack insect & butterfly net (which I’ve not used yet, but there’s always a first)

Events: Free Photography Workshops

Filed Under local travel, photography, urban-explorers.com

I run small workshops every once in a while called Shootin’ Up LA. In the past, they’ve been for friends only, but I’d like to make the activity a public event for anyone living in the Los Angeles area (free of charge). Here are the details:

Shootin’ Up LA IV – Good Timez in 09

Thursday, February 19, 5:30PM

It’s about time again! Join me for the fourth installment of Shootin’ Up LA!

Let’s get together Thursday (Feb 19) for a bit of photogging. Who can stay indoors in the evening on days like these? Anyone with a camera is welcome to come, no matter if you own a top-of-the-line SLR or just a disposable. As the saying goes, “It’s not the camera that makes a good shot, it’s the photographer.”

I find that photographing with other people inspires more creativity and sharing of photographic ideas. After work on Thursday (5:30-ish), meet us at the Mission Goldline Station in South Pasadena. After spending an hour or two (or three) shooting stuff in the area, you’re free to grab a bite to eat at one of the superb dining establishments in the area. You can meet us in the area if you can’t meet us at 5:30pm.  Contact me via e-mail on how to do that.

Most of the evening will be played by ear, following our eyes to the next interesting thing, but before the sun sets, I’d like to run a small workshop on macro photography and provide tips & tricks on how you can take quality shots of really small stuff with your camera.

Shootin’ Up LA V – Wildlife Weekend

Saturday, February 21, 10:00AM

Join me for the fifth installment of Shootin’ Up LA – Wildlife Weekend!

Let’s try something new and get together on Saturday for a bit of nature photogging. Anyone with a camera is welcome to come, no matter if you own a top-of-the-line SLR or just a disposable. As the saying goes, “It’s not the camera that makes a good shot, it’s the photographer.”

We’ll meet at the front gates of the The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden at 10:00 AM. If you can’t meet us at that time, you’re welcome to meet with us in the gardens anytime between 10-2pm. Contact me via e-mail on how to do that.

In the gardens, I’d like to run a small workshop on macro photography and provide tips & tricks on how you can take quality shots of really small stuff with your camera. This will be similar to the Thursday evening outing, but location and lighting will make this workshop as different as, well, night and day!

I can be reached at : kahunna@no_spamming_gmail.com


Echo Mountain Hike

Filed Under local travel, photography

It was supposed to rain over an inch today in Southern California.  That’s a lot for us.  Enough for most here to reconsider their weekend activities.  For instance, I was hoping to have made a weekend trip out to Joshua Tree National Park myself, but when the rain came down yesterday, I pictured myself soaked to the bone carrying my camera gear around in 40 degree weather.  Not my idea of a fun weekend.

So I hung out around the house, got some chores done, and worked a bit on my book. Rainy day activities.  Funny enough, though – the rain didn’t come.

So late in the afternoon, I grabbed my rain jacket and hiking pole and headed out to do a little hike in the local hills.  I went to my favorite spot: Echo Mountain.  It stands about 2,500 feet above the San Gabriel Valley and has some cool ruins of a 100-year old funicular train station and hotel.  Along the 3-mile trail, I passed many hikers coming down. When I reached the top at about 5pm, I was alone. Just me, the clouds, and the spectacular view of the Los Angeles area.

I listened to my iPod on the hike and at the top, a Sigur Rós song began to play. Untitled #6. It really added to the mood and thought it would be appropriate background music while you view the photos and videos I took (with my Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS)

February Leaves


Tiny Mushroom

Tiny Mushroom - (Thumb Comparison)

Tiny Growth on Rock  - (Thumb Comparison)

Rays of LIght 2

Los Angeles Between Storms

Rays of Light 1

City of Angels

Echo Mountain View

Storm Rolling In


Joshua Tree NP From Space

Filed Under local travel

NASA’s Earth Observatory has posted an image of one of my favorite camping spots in California, Joshua Tree National Park.

NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using park boundary geographic data (GIS) provided the U.S. National Park Service and Innovative Technology Administration’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and Landsat data from the United States Geological Survey. Caption by Rebecca Lindsey.

When Joshua Tree National Park was first proposed for preservation in the 1930s, the suggested name was “Desert Plants National Park,” because of the 700 plant species, including cacti and succulents, wildflowers, desert palms, and hardy shrubs that manage to survive in the desert climate. The plants support the park’s wildlife, among them 25 species of snakes; mammals such as bighorn sheep, ground squirrels, and coyotes; hundreds of migratory and resident birds; and thousands of species of insects and arthropods, including tarantulas, fairy shrimp, scorpions, and more than 150 species of butterflies and moths.

From space, all this biodiversity is far less visible than it is on the ground, but the reason for the diversity is apparent in this Landsat satellite image captured on May 28, 2003. The high levels of biodiversity are the result of the adaptation of plants and animals to three major topographic and climatic zones that meet in the park. The north-northeast part of the park intersects the southern edge of the Mojave Desert, which is higher in elevation and slightly cooler and wetter than the Colorado Desert areas in the eastern and southern parts of the park. A third topographic zone is provided by high altitudes (above 4,000 feet) of the Little San Bernardino Mountains at the far western edge of the park. Natural springs, forced to the surface near geologic faults, also create five rare desert palm oases in the western part of the park.

Ultimately, the park was given the name of its largest, most iconic, plant resident: Yucca brevifolia, nicknamed the “Joshua tree” by European settlers. Rangers have described the plant as the “canteen of the desert” because its tissues hold water during dry spells. Although its spiny leaves and thick bark discourage all but the thirstiest animals, the living tissue of a Joshua tree is often the last source of moisture for animals during times of extreme drought. Ecosystem and climate models suggest that climate-suitable habitat for Joshua trees could dramatically shrink in coming decades as a result of global warming.