Snow filled the valleys of the western Great Basin at the end of January, when lake-effect squalls, energized as they traversed Lake Tahoe, cycled through the valleys southeast of the lake. We approached two feet of coverage at St0neHeart, with deep drifts along fence lines and out-buildings. So early on a Sunday morning, I decided to chase the light while the snow was still fresh and deep in the fields and foothills of Antelope Valley, across the state line but not far from home.
There had been rumors of fog in the forecast, but the the pre-dawn sky was clear. As I traversed the ranch roads that crisscrossed the ranchlands of the valley bottom, little motivated me to leave the warmth of the truck, it was 18F (-8C) along the Walker River. Cattle barely noticed me, refusing to lift their heads from their early-morning feed.
I ventured into the pinyon hills of public land on the valley’s east side, but the deep snow and bunchy trees turned me back. As I regained the truck, I noticed a heron gliding along an irrigation ditch banked in snow and willows. It disappeared on wide wings, seeming to drop into the snow. I eventually found the bird patiently watching riffles in the flowing water, a slight bit of turbulence at a confluence of ditches. It made sense that any morning meal would have to pass this now-dangerous intersection with a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) in waiting.
I too waited. The heron never moved. I finally crept slowly away. Full disclosure: I never left my truck — resting my long lens in the window and sharing time with one of my favorite birds.
I had basically given up for the morning and turned for home. I had the one image of the heron (or, at least, I would get one from the several I’d captured) and was happy with that. But from the highway I saw strange patterns, starting with perfect circles on the ice of Topaz Lake — still frozen at its southern shore. I’m still not sure how they form, but the simple pattern turned me around and I found a pullout above the steep drop to the lake.
I was happy to have stopped to check the patterns. For a popular lake typically overrun with boats of all kinds, I have had some very good, quiet images from its shores. And it can be very nice that it usually presents these things as one passes on Highway 395.
Further north I caught sight of a string of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) moving slowly in their beaten trail. Bounding occasionally to clear obstacles I could not see. It was the spacing that caught my eye. It’s a wide image, so give it a click and get the full view (note: you can do this with all images at Trail Option, usually).
Some times short trips, with few expectations, give the best results — all within 30 miles of home.