Late Fall on Palomar Mountain

Click on an image to see a full screen version. 

Palomar Mountain, east of Escondido, is where the famous Palomar Observatory is located.  But this trip wasn’t to see the telescope, it was to see if any of the fall color still existed this late in the year.  I’ve not had a chance to get to the mountains this fall and do not yet know this part of the country well enough to know what to expect.  In the Rockies it would all be done by now, the golden aspens would have shed their leaves and huddled down for the winter and the pines, spruces, and cedars never care much anyway.

Here there are oaks and manzanitas and other trees that have their own colors to announce the end of summer.  “But were there any still showing color?” I wondered.  And since I had been fortunate enough to go to the desert to shoot twice in a few weeks, this time I wanted to go to the hills and a different environment to try to get one more shoot day in before we started again at school on Monday.

The answer regarding fall color was a resounding “YES!!!”  There was still some color though the peak had passed and the yellow leaves that remained on the trees and bushes were beginning to turn brown where Jack Frost’s finger has touched them.  So such color as there was waiting for me will not last much longer.  Next weekend might be too late.

Coming up the Palomar Mountain road on weekends is a harrowing experience.  Not because of the road, it is a great mountain road I’ve done some rallies on in the Jag and is always fun to drive.   But on the weekends, suicide jockeys on their rice powered crotch rockets blaze up and down the road, sometimes in their own lanes, sometimes not, and never at any speed that would allow for avoidance maneuvering on one of the many sharp curves if they met the unexpected.

Along the way a number of enterprising photographers had positioned themselves to take pictures of these riders, usually on a steep corner where the riders would be heavily leaned over pretending to be café racers on the circuit.   I remembered similar entrepreneurs positioning themselves around the hairiest rapids to take pictures of our rafts as we went screaming through and then making them available for sale.  Goodness knows I bought more than a few!  So I wanted to stop and ask if they made any money or how they marketed themselves but decided there were images waiting to be tracked down so went on by.

On one wide spot an overview of the valley leading to Lake Henshaw was spread out with a clear line of trees from the infamous Cedar Fire still blackened and serving as a memorial to all of the millions of their kindred that died in that horrid fire.

View from Palomar mountain Road showing fire scarred trees. Canon 5D Mk II with Canon 85mm f1.8

At other spots, scrub oak, blackened by the fire, formed a tangle almost as if to form a wall to keep out anyone who might start another fire like the moron that started that one.

Tangle of burned scrub oak forms a barrier along the Palomar Mtn Road. Wista SP 45 with Linhof-Selected Schneider 135mm lens and 5D MkII on adapter back.

Across the road from the tangle of fire blackened scrub stood a fighter.  A tall oak tree ravaged by the flames with twisted burned and now bleached white bones where limbs once stretch out to the sun.  But the tree did not die from its injuries and came back fighting with new growth, new limbs, new life stronger than ever.  Here in the shot below the white bones of old limbs lace in and out from the Fall colors of new growth to create a dynamic composition of opposing elements and a dynamic story of how stubbornly some things will cling to life.

Scarred but still standing, and old Oak struggles to recover from the fire. 5D MkII with Canon 85mm f1.8

Along the road to the observatory there are a number of good turnouts and a couple of campgrounds where some wily image might be hiding.  And sure enough, a few of them stumbled out into my line of sight.

A quiet grove amongst the oak trees offered a view down a gully lit by the late afternoon sun.

A quiet oak grove in one of the campgrounds on Palomar Mountain Rd. Canon 5D Mk II with Canon 24mm TS-E lens.

A magnificent oak was backlit by the late afternoon sun; golden light on golden leaves.

Beautiful oak backlit in the late afternoon sun. Canon 5D Mk II with Canon 17-40 f4L lens.

A bush along the road provided a complex pattern of leaves and stalks, backlit by the sun.

Fall leaves for a lacy pattern of woven gold. Wista SP45 w/ Linhoff-Selected Schneider 210mm and 5D Mk II on adapter back to create a mosaic of 10 shots. You can click on this image to see it enlarged and see the incredible detail hidden in it.

A closer inspection showed both sides of oncoming winter.  On the leaves themselves were the burns of a few icy evenings.

A closer view shows where coming winter’s icy touch has started to turn these hangers on brown. Canon 1Ds Mk II with Tamron f3.5 180mm Macro lens

And yet, on the same stalk where leaves were succumbing to the icy touch, the plant had already created the seeds to form new life next spring.

Evan as winter is killing off the last leaves, this bush is getting a head start on spring. Canon 5D Mk II with Tamron 180mm f3.5 Macro lens.

Here was nature’s endless cycle laid out for all to see who would stop and look.  But while shooting, cars and motorcycles raced on by.  Hopefully they at least saw and appreciated the beauty.  But whether or not they realized that was only part of the story is another question.

So now it is back to school for another three weeks and then I’ll be off for the long Christmas break and, i would hope, LOTS of shooting!!!


About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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