It is a new year, 2020. I thought of doing a retrospective of last year’s favorite journeys and images. “My 12 Best Photos”, calendar-like (to follow a theme), or something similar. A look back, however, reveals several gaps in my photography journey. Those gaps opened as my vocational world (not too mention much of our national and global community experience) encountered turbulence. I turned to field studies and photography as escapes – I had many good field sessions, but they were escapes, nonetheless. Not escapes from the management attention that my business requires, but escapes as relief and rejuvenation. So, leaving the turbulence behind and motivated by it, I am looking forward to a new year and another trip around the sun.
What were the gaps? I had one new blog post in 2019 and I basically avoided sharing either images or field observations on social media. The latter does not bother me all that much, the pitfalls of social media are best avoided. The former is a strange conundrum. I very much enjoy the blog medium. I spent considerable time with new formats and published several blogs based on journeys that took place in previous years; I still have a few drafts in the works. I kept thinking I would catch up eventually. Still, that is ‘looking back’; this is about looking forward.
Friends, family, and colleagues know me as a scheduler. I keep a detailed calendar charting my day and keeping time for the various things I consider significant. Do I stick to it? Some days or weeks are better than others; I have never, however, considered any calendar as legally or emotionally binding. Other than engagements or appointments I should not miss, it is generally aspirational. But it is very structured. When I do stick to it, there is pleasure and satisfaction there, and, as a result, when I realize a successful calendar, I find I get things done.
A given workday, for example, has ‘Prime’ tasks and ‘Focus’ tasks. During ‘prime-time’ I allow disturbances and it is about collaboration and teamwork; it usually takes up the mornings. I turn off phones and email during ‘focus-time’, picking a specific project for the day or week that needs or can benefit from undivided attention, typically several hours in the afternoon. Field work negates the schedule for a while. Hey, it is fieldwork, that is why I do this!
My wife and I have a pretty simple home life, and I am not one to separate ‘work’ from ‘play’. I can and do unplug, but I am fortunate (I think) that my interests intertwine, mostly to mutual benefit. Like the workday, evenings revolve around a few key, calendared activities. Mondays and Tuesdays are about geoarchaeological research, notes, or projects that don’t get time at the office. Thursdays are for photography – processing, printing, and study. Other days I let randomness have its way, and I do not berate myself if the occasional distraction rips the day from the calendar.
So, what is this about? This is something of a forward-looking resolution and promise to me – discipline and practice around growth in my photography and my geoarchaeological science. It is all about the weekends!
I will call them ‘Second Friday’ and ‘Fourth Friday’, calendared and planned weekends of each month. Second Friday marks a monthly field trip, getting out on the ground with emphasis on areas where I have research interest and where I can bring my photography to that setting and topic. I head out on a Friday with a geography in mind and camp through the weekend. I might make a basecamp, or I could ramble on a reconnaissance of roads and trails untraveled. Fourth Friday begins a local weekend focused on practicing my photographic skills. I might chase golden light in the mornings and evenings, forage for images on a quick daytrip, or simply hunker into intensive processing or printing sessions. I may break from the focus to see to chores, of course, but the weekend revolves around a photography theme or themes.
Will this work? We will see. With this blog post, it is January’s Second Friday and I am in Clayton Valley, east of Tonopah, NV.
The Crater rises from the Pleistocene-age, coalesced alluvial fans that stream from the northeast margin of the Silver Peak Range. The fans engulf the volcano, but it rises in the classic composite cone, weakened only along its east side, where lavas poured into the valley, leaving black scoriated lobes paralleled the later flashy flows of the ever-reaching alluvial fans. Hwy 268 is one of the few remaining paved roads in Nevada that I have not explored, and while planning the field excursion The Crater is a highlight of my Google Earth flyby. This is where the weekend begins.
The weather is perfect. There are rumors of a coming weak storm system, but the sky remains placid, the sun unduly warm for early January. I climb The Crater and explore its blown-out center; I continue southward to circum-navigate its perimeter. The walk is crispy on the young volcanic pumice and scree. Dust profiles on the cone’s south slopes, downwind of the Clayton Valley basin-bottom playa (today a focus of Lithium production), are fascinating. Fine-grained sediments always attract my attention.
I drive about a mile north with the approaching evening. Some basalt-capped badlands, called The Monocline, provide a stage for sunset and moonlight photography of the dark volcanic crater against the light-colored desert fans. It is the composition I visualized for the evening practice. The light is subdued, but I enjoy the quiet evening and the invitation of the full moon.
Camp is a non-descript wide spot at the intersection of cardinal two-track roads in the middle of the Black Canyon fan extending from the Silver Peaks. I am in the Big Smoky Valley drainage system now, but only a short distance north of the low pass to Clayton Valley. With the sunrise I detach the trailer and scurry in the ZR2 toward some badland outcrops far up the fan. The roads cut into the desert pavements and it is a short hike to Miocene badlands where ashflows and lakebeds encapsulate occasional pockets of petrified wood. Clear sky sunrise with few clouds. I am enthralled by the expanse of fans with inselberg islands of partially buried outcrops revealing remnant landscapes, but how to express the expanse and document the temporal incongruities through photography? I will return again and again.
Circling toward Ione via the Gabbs Pole Line road, the forecasted squalls finally intersect the weekend. There is a bit of drama in the sky as I drop into quarry pits and arroyos to walk fine-grained profiles. There is temporal information in the sequence of ancient soils separating deep packages of gravelly Pleistocene alluvium and Holocene dust reworked into the basin as loessic alluvium. The Ione Wash arroyo is fantastic, a deep slice along the axis of this vast inland valley. I walk the profiles searching for fire histories, volcanic ash, and soil formation, hoping for an archaeological trace from the basin’s past.
I camp by the roadside where I can photograph the squalls sailing through the Paradise and Shoshone ranges. Few flurries hit camp, but the evening is a pleasure, the trailer is warm, and I sleep well. The morning is clear but for some scudding clouds on the mountain tops. I tour homeward, joining traffic on Hwy 95 until skipping south at Yerington. I’m home in the early afternoon.
This is the pleasure of the weekend of Second Friday in all regards. I had some targets highlighted as little more than excuses to get into new landscapes where I could consider the natural setting and its process. I augmented my taste of dirt with the slow build of landscape photography, choosing a few scenes to maybe tell the story of the traveled stage. This is how planning, and a calendar, brings discipline that ultimately evolves into the pleasure of an outback journey and experience.