Coastal Serenity: A Tranquil Afternoon at Spooner’s Cove Picture of the Week - Morro Bay, California

A serene view of Spooner's Cove beach and the hazy Santa Lucia Range in the distance.
Coastal Serenity: A Tranquil Afternoon at Spooner’s Cove – Experience the tranquil beauty of Spooner’s Cove, where gentle waves kiss the sandy beach under the hazy skies. The distant Santa Lucia Range adds a touch of mystique to this serene coastal scene. #Spooner’sCove #MorroBay #CoastalBeauty

I want to provide some relief from the daytime temperatures clawing past the century mark this week. Let me transport you to a secluded beach, where cool sea breezes caress your skin and the rhythmic sound of waves lapping against golden sand will lull your senses. In this week’s photo, we find ourselves just a stone’s throw away from our previous location, Montaña de Oro State Park, south of Morro Bay, where a picturesque cove straight out of the movies awaits your exploration.

This lovely piece of real estate is Spooner’s Cove, and I know how your mind works. You’re thinking, “It got that name because horny lovers come here to be alone and watch the offshore submarine races.” Well, you’re wrong. This gem, nestled along the coastline, derives its name from Captain Spooner, an early settler in the region. While historical records and accounts don’t offer many details, the Cove’s designation pays homage to Captain Spooner’s presence or influence in this coastal region.

Spooner’s Cove is an ideal spot for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The surrounding area offers various hiking trails, allowing visitors to explore the coastal bluffs and enjoy panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean. It is a paradise for photographers, with its breathtaking coastal scenery and opportunities to capture the interplay of light, water, and land. Whether you’re seeking solitude, a romantic outing, or a peaceful day by the beach, Spooner’s Cove offers a serene and captivating experience that showcases the beauty of California’s coastline.

In this photo titled Coastal Serenity, we are presented with a secluded beach gently kissed by the receding tide. As your gaze extends beyond the sandy shore, the town of Morro Bay discreetly hides behind the bluff, concealing its iconic rock that typically graces the horizon. Across the hazy backdrop, the majestic Santa Lucia Range emerges—the coastal mountains that stretch from Morro Bay to Carmel. Serenely tracing the base of these mountains lies the Pacific Coast Highway, a dream route for sports car enthusiasts seeking the thrill of a scenic afternoon drive.

I regret that Queen Anne and I didn’t have more time at the Cove. It would have been nice to bring a food basket and a bottle of wine for a romantic picnic on the beach. Who knows, that secluded moment may have resurrected our libidos, and we’d be carried away—perhaps channeling the legendary scene enacted by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the 1953 film From Here to Eternity (YouTube clip: ). But then, for the rest of the trip, I’d have had to hear her griping about all that sand in her bloomers—so, maybe not.

You have a couple of options to view a larger version of Coastal Serenity. Visit its dedicated webpage by clicking this link: (Webpage link: For a more detailed image examination, head to my posting on Fine Art America: (FAA link: ). On the Fine Art America page, hover over the image to reveal a green square; clicking inside the square will grant you a one-to-one preview, allowing you to explore the intricate details of the photograph—an indulgence we photographers often call “pixel-peeping.”

We are delighted you joined us on this journey to Spooner’s Cove and hope you find solace in its beauty and tranquility. Stay tuned for next week’s installment as we draw our June project on San Luis Obispo County to a close. Keep your camera ready; the next breathtaking moment awaits your lens.

Till next time

Techniques: Creating Depth with Atmospherics: Suggesting Distance in Your Photographs

Have you ever come across a photograph of mountains where the details appear to fade into the distance? Despite the lack of intricate features, the image still conveys a remarkable depth. This optical illusion is achieved through a technique known as atmospherics. The front mountains are rendered darker by utilizing varying tones and colors, while each subsequent layer of mountains behind gradually becomes lighter. This interplay of light and shadow creates a visual depth that immerses viewers in the expansive landscape.

Atmospherics, such as haze, fog, or mist, can be powerful tools in photography, enhancing the depth and suggesting distance within your images. This technique finds its roots in the works of impressionist painters, who often employed it to create a sense of three-dimensionality.

To maximize atmospherics, focus on weather conditions that offer the desired effects, such as misty mornings or hazy afternoons. These conditions can add a subtle veil to your photographs, softening distant elements and creating a gradual transition from foreground to background. The haze layers can suggest depth, guiding the viewer’s eye through the scene and immersing them in its captivating atmosphere.

When composing your image, consider how the atmosphere interacts with the elements in your frame. The distant mountains or shoreline can appear more subdued due to the atmospheric effects, creating a sense of distance and vastness. Leading lines or prominent foreground elements can further enhance the depth perception, drawing the viewer into the image and inviting exploration.

Experiment with different compositions and perspectives to emphasize the effects of atmospherics. Capture scenes where elements gradually fade into the distance, highlighting the layers of mist or haze. By balancing the interplay of light, shadow, and atmospheric conditions, you can create evocative photographs that transport viewers into a world of serene beauty.

My Tracks  Picture of the Week

It’s the end of January already, and we have a final image from the Algodones Dune Field to talk about before moving on to a new project. I’m not sure that I’m ready. At the beginning of the month, when I started writing about the Algodones Dune Field, I wasn’t sure there was enough information for five articles. But, there was enough for that and more—like the relationship between the dune field, Lake Cahuilla, and the San Andreas Fault. If I aroused your curiosity, you’re going to have to hit the books yourself.

After working on this week’s picture, I realized that shifting sand was also a metaphor for time passing (Wasn’t there a daytime soap called, The Sands of Time? If not, there should have been.) As I examined my photos of endless piles of sand, I wondered why someone hadn’t come up with a way to put it to use. That was until my brain’s hammer came crashing down with an obvious answer. They have, or had—it’s already been done. You see the device every New Year with a picture of father time holding an hourglass about to run out of sand; of course, an hourglass. Why didn’t I think of that?

I even bought one a long time ago when I was wet behind the ears. I was still in the Army and stationed in Pasadena, California. My brandy new and very young bride—neither of us could legally drink in bars at the time—leased a furnished apartment three blocks north of Colorado Boulevard for a year. We didn’t need furniture as we set about nest building, so we bought shiny things from our local head-shop. There were posters taped to the wall (we couldn’t put nails in the drywall), kitchen trinkets, an alpaca throw rug, and a three-foot-high hourglass.

It was harvest gold that matched our appliances. It was big enough that we used it as a side table. We regularly turned it over when friends visited, but that soon got boring. I still don’t know how long it ran because I couldn’t afford a stopwatch, and when I tried timing it with the stove clock, my ADD kicked in, and I forgot what I was doing. I believe it was somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour.

After four years, the hourglass was one of the things I got from that divorce. I don’t know what happened to it, but I suspect that it turned bright flaming red in the eyes of one of my subsequent wives and wound up at Goodwill (assuming they were that kind to it). It wasn’t like I immediately noticed the day it was gone; I simply realized that the clock was no longer part of the decorations.

With how precise we can measure things these days, you’d think building an ultra-accurate hourglass would be possible. We could sift sand to within one micron, machine a precise orifice, and calculate the right weight to make the sand run out within a nanosecond. The results would make a super-accurate timepiece—once. It would quickly become out of tolerance because it grinds the hole imperceptibly larger while the sand flows. I guess I’ll just stick with my trusty ol’ Timex.

My Tracks - I photographed the set of tracks that I made on the Algodones Dunes to have a semi-permanent record that I was there.
My Tracks – I photographed the set of tracks that I made on the Algodones Dunes to have a semi-permanent record that I was there.

For this week’s picture, I wanted to show a semi-permanent record of my footprints in the sand. In real life, my tracks probably disappeared in hours—or days if the wind was calm. After taking last week’s photo, I headed back to the road. I turned before leaving the dune and shot this photo that I call My Tracks. The giant mess at the dune’s top is mine, and if you look closely, you’ll find other fainter tracks. Near the bottom are bug tracks, and there’s a set of coyote (or fox) tracks in the middle. There will always be some tracks in the dunes if you take time to look.

You can see a larger version of My Tracks on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we move on to another location in search of natural beauty. Come back then and see where we landed.

Until next time — jw

Wilderness Dune  Picture of the Week

Although I’m sure that chasing each other around dunes in Mad Max-style is fantastic fun, being an artist and naturalist, I prefer my sand without tire tracks. If only there were an area of the Algodones Dunes like that. Fortunately for me—and you, if you feel the same—there is. It’s across the street in the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area. This set-aside area starts at the highway and continues north for another 15 miles to the Salton Sea. The only tracks you’ll find are those of the critters calling this home.

Wilderness Dune - You can explore dunes without tire tracks in the North Algodones Wilderness Area, which is across the street from the Imperial Dunes Recreation Area.
Wilderness Dune – You can explore dunes without tire tracks in the North Algodones Wilderness Area, across the street from the Imperial Dunes Recreation Area.

For four weeks, we’ve been walking with sand-filled shoes, and you’re asking, “Why is all of this here? Aren’t sandy beaches associated with large bodies of water?” Well, you’re right—here’s your gold star.

Here’s an interesting fact about Imperial Valley, much of Coachella Valley, and the Salton Sea—they’re below sea level. When you drive to San Diego on Interstate 8 and pass the Calexico exit—on the south side, there’s a large water tank rising from the lettuce fields with a painted mark indicating sea level. The grade runs downhill from there north to the Salton Sea. This entire basin was once underwater.

“So, was the Salton Sea much larger then?” No, grasshopper. California’s largest lake is not a ‘natural wonder.’ It’s an engineering blunder. The lake is the result of underestimating the Colorado River’s floods, which resulted in irrigation canals breaching their dykes, diverting the river for two years (1905-1907), and sinking the small community of Salton under 52 feet of water. The Sea suffers from decades of farm runoff laced with high fertilizer and salts that killed everything living in it. It’s now a toxic cesspool best viewed from miles away.

What actually happened was that the entire Salton Basin was part of the Sea of Cortez. Over time, the Colorado River Delta dumped enough sediment to bridge the gap between the mainland and a mountain chain off the western shore (today called Baja California). Like how the Mississippi formed Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. The historic landlocked body of water is named Lake Cahuilla (don’t confuse it with the Cholula hot sauce, as I did).

After the last Ice Age, Lake Cahuilla (ka-we-a) began to dry because there was not enough runoff to keep it filled. It finally went dry sometime after 1580. We know the lake existed then because the Spanish sailed ships past the delta into the lake. Today researchers have evidence of old shorelines and native archeological sites around them, providing evidence that people lived in the area for centuries. On the lake’s eastern shore was the Algodones Dunes. Geologists believe that the prevailing northeasterly winds carry Salton Basin sand aloft then dumps it at the foot of California’s Chocolate Mountain Range. Aw geez, now that Queen Anne has read this, she wants to go there because she thinks it’s where Willy Wonka lives.

This week’s photo shows a pristine dune I took from the roadside. The bad news is that you can’t stop here for at least two miles on either side of the fee area described in previous posts. So, to get this shot, I could’ve parked far away and hiked back (uphill in both directions) or paid the $35.00 fee. I’m lucky and glad that the Rangers took a day off.

You can see a larger version of Wilderness Dune on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll have the final Algodones Dunes story, so come back then.

Until next time — jw

Dune Avalanche Picture of the Week

Dune Avalanche - When the angle of wind-blown sand meets or exceeds 35 degrees, the sand collapses under its own weight and slides down the dune's leeward face.
Dune Avalanche – When the angle of wind-blown sand meets or exceeds 35 degrees, the sand collapses under its weight and slides down the dune’s leeward face.

My sisters and I never got to play in sandboxes when we were toddlers. My dad said it was because the cats kept covering us (cue drum). That joke was the extent of my dune knowledge until this month’s project. It turns out that they’re pretty complex.

For example, I thought they were a large pile of uniform sand grains. Not so. Only the grains on the surface layer are the same. Below—about a yard (or a meter, if you’re Canadian)—is another layer where the sand grains are large enough that wind can’t lift them. The surface has even more refined grains that get picked up and suspended in the air—like dust—and carried to faraway places. Recently, scientists found that dust from the Sahara Desert is held aloft high in the trade winds and falls back to earth in the Amazon Rain Forest. The settling dust is the source of nutrients supporting jungle plants. The soil in that area of Brazil is otherwise nutrient-poor because the river constantly flushes everything out to sea.

The weirdest fact that I learned was that dunes could sing—not like in tunes from Rocky Horror Picture Show—but a deep booming bass note (70-100 Hz). Conditions have to be perfect. The sand must be dried (in the hot summer), it must be windy, and the dunes must be tall—120 ft or more. The Algodones Dune field is not that high, but the Dumas Dunes between Barstow and Las Vegas are, so now I have to hear this for myself.

Here’s how it works. As wind moves over the field, the windward face of the dune forces air up and move faster—like an airplane wing. The fast-moving air picks up sand from the middle of the face and drops the sand at the top. When the angle of the top sand exceeds 35 to 38 degrees, it’s not able to support its weight, and it begins to slide down the dune’s leeward face—as we see in this week’s image called Dune Avalanche, but on a larger scale. As the sand slides, it creates vibrations reflected off the denser layer beneath—like the strings and body of a cello work together to make music. If you’d want a more thorough explanation from a more credible source, you can watch What Makes These Dunes Sing? (ft. @It’s Okay To Be Smart) on YouTube, but be warned, you need a good bass response from your speakers, or you won’t hear the song. And you thought last week’s story about the sandworms was fantastical.

I took this week’s picture at the Imperial Dunes Recreation Area, as you can guess by the tire tracks in the background. When I saw the sloughing sand, I knew that it was essential to the ecology of the dunes, but I didn’t appreciate why. After this week’s research, I’m glad that I snapped the photo, and—as I said above—I want to check out the Dumas Dunes and maybe go back to Death Valley. I want to hear their song—but do I want it bad enough to go when it’s 120 degrees?

You can see a larger version of Dune Avalanche on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we’ll poke more into the beauty of the Algodones Dune Field, so come back then.

Until next time — jw

Dune Moon Picture of the Week

When Queen Anne and I make our quarterly medical run-to-the-border, the drive is usually three-hours each way. Most of the time, we leave at dawn, see our dentist, buy prescriptions, and then come home. For me, those are long days behind the wheel; for Anne, not so much. She’s usually asleep in the passenger seat until her snoring wakes her up.

Occasionally when we have lab work done, or the customs line is three-hours long because the snow-birds have arrived, we’ll get a room in the elegant east-side Motel 6 and dine at the swanky four-star Denney’s. Our December visit was one of those occasions. Since I needed a topic for January’s posts anyway, we spent an extra night and took a circuitous route home—we’d go up to Blyth to work the Algodones Sand Dunes for this month’s project.

The great swath of sand starts about three miles south of the border outside of Los Algodones, Baja. It continues 45 miles northwest into the Coachella Valley (California’s Imperial Valley). They’re the most extensive contiguous dune system in the U.S. The dunes are also called the Imperial Dunes, Glamis Dunes, and Gordon’s Well. The name varies with location and the leisure activity you’re doing. Still, the entire system is officially named Algodones Dunes (in Spanish, it means cotton plant—the predominant crop grown on both sides of the border along the Colorado River). This week, we’ll start west of Yuma at the Mexican border—at Gordon’s Well.

Imagine it’s 1850, and you’ve traveled by wagon hundreds of miles across the scorching Sonoran Desert, forded a raging Colorado River, and finally crossed into California. You’d think your hardships are behind, but then, you’re greeted with 6 miles of Sahara-like sand to cross. With each step, you sink up to your knees. Even in 1926, when the nation’s first Ocean to Ocean highway was built (U.S. Route 80), the shifting sand was an engineering nightmare. They couldn’t simply scrape the sand away because the prevailing wind constantly covered it up again. Even today, if you’re caught in a windstorm along this section of road, you’ll risk a chance that the sand will blast the paint off your car.

Plank Road - You can see what's left of the old plank road on display at Gordon's Well.
Plank Road – You can see what’s left of the old plank road on display at Gordon’s Well.

The road builder’s solution for getting across was to build a plank road—movable wood sections on railroad-lie ties that floated on the sand’s top. It turned out to be challenging to maintain, but it drastically cut the crossing time when it was clear. Eventually, the planks were replaced with new and expensive asphalt, and eventually, it became Interstate 8. There is a section of the original plank road at Gordon’s Well on display. When you grow tired of looking at the old wood road, you can walk over to the border wall and lean on it.

Dune Moon - A waning gibbons moon setting over the Algodones Dunes west of Winterhaven, California.
Dune Moon – A waning gibbons moon sets over the Algodones Dunes west of Winterhaven, California.

As Anne and I drove west on the freeway, we spotted a waning moon setting on the dunes, so we looked for a place to stop. We’ve got stuck in these sands once before, so we were careful not to drive off the blacktop. I didn’t want to pay for another hook to come to yank us out. As you can see, we found a good spot and took this week’s picture called Dune Moon. The name could have been funnier if I had shot it during a particular summer month. Se la vie.

You can see a larger version of Dune Moon on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we drive north up the Imperial Valley to visit the northern dune crossing. Be sure to come back and see what we found.

Until next time — jw

Cup Holders Picture of the Week

I’m going to pause our Snow Canyon State Park tour for a couple of paragraphs so that we can run over to the coast. Don’t worry; we won’t have to put up with any of those weird Californians. Where we’re going, they don’t exist yet. We’re not traveling far—maybe a foot or two. However, we are breaking every law in physics to travel back in time one-hundred eighty million years ago—to the Jurassic era. You can turn around now and take in the Sundance Sea, right here in southern Utah (how old is Robert Redford anyway). Don’t go in the water. There are big things in there that will eat you like you’re a gummy bear.

Turn back this way and look down the shoreline. Massive dunes—hundreds of feet high—go on for hundreds of miles. Until now, it’s been hot and dry here along the Equator, but the climate is changing. It’s becoming muggier and swamp-like. The oceans are rising, and soon (in geological time), the water will cover the sand and pile more sediment on top. The pressure on the dunes will bind them into stone—never to be seen again.

Things would have stayed that way except our stupid captain rammed the North American plate into the Pacific Plate, and there goes the neighborhood. The crash spun us around, raised the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and all the other little wrinkles in between. The resulting damage cracked the mantle so bad that volcanoes could form and eventually raise the Colorado Plateau. Then the Californians move in—can it get any worse?

The crash shoved our peaceful little seaside village up a hillside. We no longer live in a basin where sediments collect. Now our water flows to a place far away. It peels back layers of rock—like an onion when it does. After erosion uncovers parts of the great dunes, we’ll see them again here in St. George, Zion, and north of Escalante. Now they’re as hard as a rock.

Dune Walkers - About the only way you can stay on the Petrified Dune Trail is to go on a guided hike, like these people.
Dune Walkers – About the only way you can stay on the Petrified Dune Trail is to go on a guided hike, like these eight people.

Ok, you can snap out of it now and come back to reality, where we’re standing on the Petrified Dunes Trail. Because it’s all rock, the only clue you have to follow is the path worn smooth from countless boots. It’s easy to leave it, but that’s fine because you’re not going to damage anything. The rock grips like—well—sandpaper, which makes it easy to scramble up and down the slopes. As you wander across the uniformly fractured rock, you begin to examine the exceptions.

Cup Holders - Freezing water bores into the sand stone and will over time reduce the rock to sand grains.
Cup Holders – Freezing water bores into the sandstone and reducing the rock to sand grains over time.

That’s how I found this week’s picture. The round wells in the picture are places where water collected and had a chance to freeze. As the ice expanded, it fractured the sandstone and chipped it. These spots get deeper; they’ll hold more water and bore into the stone faster. Eventually, they’ll be so deep that they’ll split the block until it reverts to sand grains again. I think the shapes of the cups are cool, but I really like the rich and varied colors in the stone. When you get a close look like this, sandstone has a lot of depth and texture.

You can see a larger version of Cup Holders on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week when I’ll tell you about the times the stupid captain left the kettle on too long and spilled hot lava all over the park.

Until next time — jw