Glamis Dunes

San Diego:  I haven’t been to the Glamis/Imperial Dunes for several years but Saturday was the day to return.  The DVD project is moving along nicely and on Friday I was able to shoot some material for the labels with which I am quite pleased at the result.

So,  I figured as how I sort of owed myself a treat.  In the ensuing years since I was there last, a few important changes have happened.  For one, the whole area north of Highway 78 is now a declared wilderness area and the access into the dunes that used to be there and was once long ago a camp site for some friends and me, is now blocked to all motorized traffic.  Not just the dunes themselves were off limits to vehicles, but all trails that run in close to them.

Not being aware of that little fact, however, and expecting a real treat to be able to drive right to the base of the dunes in a quiet region, we headed along that track north thinking we could get to the dunes where few of the omnipresent ATVs would likely be.  And indeed it turned out there were none of them… but we couldn’t get in either.  Every wash and trail in from the road to the dunes had “Thou shalt not corrupt this place with motors of any sort” signs blocking the entrances.

I finally gave up and turned around in a wash.  But in the process saw this dead tree turned into a corkscrew by the winds and had to take a shot even if, technically, I probably should not have parked there.

On the lee of the dunes, winds have whipped this old tree into a corkscrew.  Canon 5D MkII w/ Canon 8mm-15mm Fisheye.

On the lee of the dunes, winds have whipped this old tree into a corkscrew. Canon 5D MkII w/ Canon 8mm-15mm Fisheye.

It seemed appropriate to shoot it with the 8mm fisheye!  But as I looked around, expecting to see a scene from Thelma and Louise where all the cops in this quadrant of the galaxy were lined up, guns drawn, ready to lay low this interloper that dared lay a wheel track off the road regardless of the fact that the erosion marks in the wash indicated that at the first rain all signs of my transgression would be wiped clean, I noticed that many of the trees in this wash were weird and looked like some great but capricious hand had formed them.  Here was a tree that looked like it needed a hair cut.

This poor sad old tree could no longer hold its branches high to worship the sun or wave to the moon.  Now it looked like it was sorely in need of a haircut.  Canon 5D Mk II w/ 8-15mm Fisheye

This poor sad old tree could no longer hold its branches high to worship the sun or wave to the moon. Now it looked like it was down on its luck and sorely in need of a haircut. Canon 5D Mk II w/ 8-15mm Fisheye

But, we had come here to photograph sand and dunes.  So back to the main highway we headed, drove to the overlook west of Glamis (which is on the ATV inundated side), parked, and walked across the road into the wilderness area to go exploring. But my misguided trip on the north road cost us precious time.   This is January so even though it was not all that late, the sun was already low in the sky and casting long richly hued shadows.  The ripples in the sand stood out clearly against the smoother slopes.

The dunes never stop moving.  Here the wind has blown it smooth on the windward side and create a series of ripples on the lee.  Canon 5d Mk II w/ 70-200m f4L

The dunes never stop moving. Here the wind has blown it smooth on the windward side and create a series of ripples on the lee. Canon 5d Mk II w/ 70-200m f4L

There were abstract compositions everywhere you looked.

From a slightly different angle the ripples look like they were made with a fluting iron.  Surely some of you old timers know what that is...  Canon 5D Mk II w/ 70-200mm f4L

From a slightly different angle the ripples look like they were made with a fluting iron. Surely some of you old timers know what that is… Canon 5D Mk II w/ 70-200mm f4L

It is hard to imagine what sort of wind pattern could create this design in the sand.

The wind may feel like a smooth flow of air, but within that flow are all of the small variations that can create this intricate pattern in the sand.  Canon 5D MkII w/ 70-200mm f4L

The wind may feel like a smooth flow of air, but within that flow are all of the small variations that can create this intricate pattern in the sand and make an ardent believer in chaos theory weep for joy. Canon 5D MkII w/ 70-200mm f4L

Since most of the details in this granular world were virtually monochromatic anyway, it did seem that some of them asked to be rendered as a black and white…

Sinuous curves, subtle textures and a wide tonal range create this image.  Canon 5D Mk II w/ 70-200 f4L.

Sinuous curves, subtle textures and a wide tonal range create this image. Canon 5D Mk II w/ 70-200 f4L.

And one dune edge view seemed to work as a simulated pseudo-solarization or Sabattier effect.  By the way, just to make sure terms are used correctly, a true “solarization” of a light sensitive emulsion results in a complete tone reversal, i.e. a “negative” of the original tones.  Sabattier (who stole the idea and took credit for it) had devised a way to expose, partially develop then re-expose and redevelop the image to achieve his effect and it is properly called a pseudo-solarization because it looks a little like a true solarization done incompletely.

The tones were perfect for a digital application of the Sabattier Effect.

The tones were perfect for a digital application of the Sabattier Effect.

Interestingly although I had wanted to come here to photograph a mosaic, where we were did not lend itself to that. The shot would have been too busy and frenetic.  I had made a navigational blunder in trying to rely on a multi-year-old memory of a place that was now closed off and in doing so lost us a lot of good shooting time.  And with my poor blown up legs I do not travel as smoothly or as rapidly up and down the big sand piles as others can so was a bit more constrained.

Giving up on the mosaic idea of a grand landscape type of shot I had gone in the opposite direction and focused instead on smaller isolating details.  But as the sun sank lower and lower a polarizer provided a stunning contrast between deep blue sky and golden-hued dunes and wind-blown wave patterns shared by both.

The golden light of late afternoon starts to rake across the dunes helping the sand stand out from the deep blue of the sky and clouds that echo the wind-blown shapes.  Canon 5D Mk II w/ 70-200mm f4L

The golden light of late afternoon starts to rake across the dunes helping the sand stand out from the deep blue of the sky and clouds that echo the wind-blown shapes. Canon 5D Mk II w/ 70-200mm f4L

The light and shadow play, along with the color was subtly but irrevocably changing by the minute and after a few more yards backtracking toward the car, I turned around for a final view.

Final view of the dunes as we hiked back to the car.  Canon 70-200mm f4L

Final view of the dunes as we hiked back to the car. Canon 70-200mm f4L

And then it was time to head back.  I need to do this trip again but ideally during the week when the ATVs are not crawling over everything like ants on the way to a spilled picnic basket.  Or… maybe it is time to take next semester’s Landscape class back to Death Valley where motorized rigs are not allowed on the dunes there at all…

I didn’t get what I had wanted but hey, any day in fascinating country with good company and conversations is a day well worth living.  I’m looking forward to the next one.  Now it is back to the DVD project.  I’ve got over 200 pages of tips and techniques updated and edited so far and am a little more than half way.  I am definitely on a mission to complete it but first I have a portrait to do that I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  Stay tuned…

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About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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