The Friendlies: Baja’s Gray Whales

The Friendlies: Baja’s Gray Whales

February 2017

So many people have no clue about an amazing phenomenon that takes place every winter in Baja Mexico.

Gray whales migrate south every year in the fall, swimming some 12,500 miles down the Pacific Coast from their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to their calving and breeding grounds in the warm protected waters of shallow lagoons in Mexico. Beginning in the 1970s or so, the whales of their own volition began to interact with humans.

Imagine the reaction of that first Mexican fisherman, Pachico Mayoral, who was fishing in his small open boat on the lagoon waters when he was approached by a huge gray whale that explored the small craft, going from side to side, until Mayoral was brave enough to reach down and touch it. And nothing happened. The whale stayed calm.

An entire ecotourism industry has sprung up devoted to introducing humans to whales – touching, petting, even kissing these wild whales! Let me know if you’d like an referral for the awesome tour group that hosted us in San Ignacio Lagoon. Peak season for whale watching is February and March. Our group camped in tents beside the lagoon, watched the whales cruise by our vantage point overlooking the water while the setting sun lit up the sky, voyaged out in pangas (traditional Mexican small open fishing boats) to interact with the whales, and on the last day when a massive storm flooded the entire camp and washed out the local airport, we enjoyed a well-orchestrated impromptu adventure through remote Baja countryside in search of transportation home.

When we visited in February the juveniles were the ones that interacted most with the boats: five, six and seven year old young whales that delighted in gliding along the hull while excited whale watchers leaned over to touch them as they passed by. They opened their mouths, inviting us to touch their tongues and baleen. They rolled on their sides to peer up at us with a large intelligent eye. They would sink below the hull and pop up on the other side, teasing us. Then with the flick of a tail the young whales would race over to another nearby boat to flirt with those whale watchers in turn. Later in the season the protective mothers of the current crop of newborns would relax their guard and bring the babies to the boats, introducing their offspring to the interesting phenomenon of humans floating on the surface in tiny buoyant shells.

What intrigues me the most is how the behavior of the gray whales has evolved through history. In the 19th century, the whaling industry discovered these nursery lagoons. The whalers cut off the entrances, trapping and slaughtering their quarry literally to the point of extinction. In self defense the whales became fiercely aggressive, earning the designation of ‘devil fish’ as they attacked their tormentors, smashing the boats with their tails or breaching out of the water on top of them. How, as the decades passed, did they revert from aggression to the charming playfulness they now display?

Since whaling days, gray whales have rebounded from the precarious edge of extinction. From a population decimated down to only 100 animals, in today’s world they number some 26,000.


Posted by Carol in Landscapes, Mexico, Seascapes, Sunrise/Sunset, Whales, 0 comments
Fire and Water

Fire and Water

January 2017

My sister Patty and I had booked this Hawaiian photography workshop well in advance, but right after the holidays I came down with a nasty bronchitis and a simultaneous knee injury. I was limping and coughing, generally feeling so under the weather that on the day before departure I was making plans to cancel. Luckily I realized at the last minute my symptoms had bottomed out and I was (barely) on the mend. Although certainly not at my best during the trip, I’m so glad I didn’t pass it up!

On Kauai the focus was on seascapes and beach scenes, where I concentrated on slow shutter technique that gives the waves and water a pleasing sense of motion while freezing the background into place. We started on the placid shores of Hanalei Bay near Princeville, before traveling to more distant beaches, each uniquely characterized by sand and lava rock. At Queen’s Bath a secluded tide pool fills and drains with the incoming wave action. Rogue waves have killed more than a few adventurers there, especially during the winter months when the sea is rough. We kept a safe distance but some more adventurous types were diving into the pool, giving our scenic shots a touch of human interest. On another day, a doors-off helicopter ride over the dramatic highland scenery of Waimea Canyon and the Napali coastline and cliffs provided a jolt of adrenalin along with dramatic aerial views.

The weeklong workshop ended with a side trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, where Kilauea Volcano dominates the landscape. Without a doubt, the highlight of the entire trip was a before-dawn boat trip to the Kamokuna coast, where a spectacular “waterfall” of lava from Kilauea was pouring into the ocean, creating a storm of fire and steam. Our captain maneuvered the boat close enough to the chaos that we could feel the heat and see floating chunks of hot lava sizzle in the water as they bumped against the boat’s aluminum hull. Hawaiian legend says that where lava meets sea, Pele the volcano goddess battles with her sister Namakaokahai, goddess of the ocean. This spectacular firehose of flowing lava had only appeared a few weeks earlier, on December 31, 2016, when several acres of built up volcanic delta collapsed unexpectedly into the sea, opening the lava tube. No one knew when it might suddenly close up again – making this opportunity exceedingly special.



Posted by Carol in Hawaii, Landscapes, Seascapes, Sunrise/Sunset, 0 comments
Lighting the Path

Lighting the Path


Here’s another favorite from last week’s exploration of Sabino Creek with the water flowing, mist rising in the chill morning air, and rays of light beaming through the naked branches of the sycamores. I have so many winter portraits of bare-branched trees that I call them my ‘Dead Tree Collection’. There is a rhythm and poetry to the silhouette of bare branches against the sky, uplifted and graceful almost like dancers.

I did pay the price however. I have succumbed to some version of winter crud so, as I cough, blow my nose, and guzzle medicine, I’m keeping this post mercifully brief.


Sony a7RII, 1/800 sec at f/8.0, ISO 100, 70mm (24.0-70.0mm lens)

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Enjoy but please respect.


Posted by Carol in Arizona, Landscapes, Sunrise/Sunset, USA, 0 comments
Sabino Creek Sunrise

Sabino Creek Sunrise


A new year, and back to my photography after a hiatus during the holidays. We’ve been having some lovely rainstorms with snow falling in the mountains. The result is that Sabino Creek, usually dry, is running again. We’ve lost our shortcut across the river, but the enhanced scenery is worth it.

This morning I woke before dawn and saw that a low fog was blanketing the creek. I knew the combination of the coming sunrise and the lifting mist would offer a rare photographic opportunity. I spent a couple of hours at the water’s edge, and even midstream (soaking my shoes) in pursuit of some landscape photographs to add to my portfolio. There were several keepers in the lot, but this one might be the favorite.


Sony a7RII, 1/500 sec at f/8.0, ISO 100, 25mm (24.0-70.0mm lens)

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Enjoy but please respect.


Posted by Carol in Arizona, Landscapes, Sunrise/Sunset, USA, 2 comments
Winter Cottonwood

Winter Cottonwood



‘Tis the season for fall color photography! Of course here in Tucson fall color can be hard to come by. Plus the temperature hit 97 degrees just the other day – so it’s a challenge to get into the mood! But today is Halloween, tomorrow is the first day of November, and Christmas is right around the corner. So autumn it is and here’s an image to celebrate the season.

Cottonwoods are my favorite trees. We live along the banks of Sabino Creek, one of Tucson’s last living waterways, and so we are privileged to enjoy the ambiance of a riparian environment and we really do see a bit of fall color from the cottonwoods and the ash trees as they turn bright yellow before losing their leaves at first frost. But cottonwoods cling to their leaves for as long as absolutely possible, even if every other tree in the vicinity is stark naked. Usually the last cottonwood leaf falls in mid-December. The downside is that the raking season is extended by several weeks – and cottonwoods are massive trees with a LOT of leaves.

But by mid-February new leaves are already budding out in anticipation of spring, at least a month ahead of any other tree around. Personally I hate the chill of winter, even here in the desert southwest where snowbirds flock to avoid the real winter in the North and East. Those early budding cottonwoods lift up my depressed winter spirits with their optimistic forecast of spring.


Nikon D700, 1/250 sec at f/6.7, ISO 400, 340mm

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Enjoy but please respect.


Posted by Carol in Arizona, Landscapes, Scenic, USA, 0 comments
See You Later

See You Later



The summer of 2014 we spent cruising the chilly waters near Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Especially at the north end of the Johnstone Straits, near Blackfish Sound and Echo Bay, marine wildlife was abundant. We enjoyed multiple sightings of humpback whales, orcas, dolphins and more. I spent hours on AVATAR’s foredeck, wearing cold wet socks on my feet, trying to capture photos of these impressive creatures. Sometimes I scarcely knew which way to point my camera as the whales surfaced on all sides of us, announcing their presence with the whoosh of their exhaled blows. This humpback whale swam past our small open boat in Echo Bay, then showed his tail as he dove down deep. I was also captivated by the beautiful scenery, especially the way the mountains were silhouetted in the moisture laden atmosphere into multiple shaded layers. I count 15 layers in this photo – how many do you see?

Composite of two images:
Whale: Nikon D4S, 1/2000 sec at f/11.0, ISO 800, 180mm (80.0-400.0 mm f/4.5-5.6) hand held
Mountains: Nikon D4S, 1/1000 sec at f/11.0, ISO 200, 160mm (80.0-400.0 mm f/4.5-5.6) hand held


Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Please respect.

Posted by Carol in British Columbia, Canada, Landscapes, Marine Life, Scenic, Seascapes, Underwater, Whales, 0 comments
Early Start

Early Start


Only a week ago we were cruising in Maine! On our last morning before heading south again, I woke to the most spectacular sunrise I have seen in years. The intense colors only lasted for a few short moments before fading to softer shades of rose, then gold. I could hear the engines of nearby anchored boats as they warmed up for an early departure, and a small fishing boat was already on its way. We were anchored in a quiet cove near Penobscot Island, and the tide was out – exposing shoulders of boulders draped in weed. Every detail was reflected in the quiet glassy water for double impact. I captured what I could from AVATAR’s deck while the colors were at their peak, then went kayaking to further enjoy the moment.

Sony a7Rii, 1/320 sec at f/4.0, ISO 400, 119mm (FE 70-200 F4 G OSS), hand held


Photo is copyrighted and registered with the US Copyright Office. Please respect.

Posted by Carol in Landscapes, Maine, Scenic, Seascapes, Sunrise/Sunset, USA, 0 comments
Navajo Pony After A Dust Storm

Navajo Pony After A Dust Storm


True to the adage that one seldom explores one’s own backyard, I have lived in Arizona since 1958 and never once visited spectacular Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border. In 2012 that changed when I joined a photo workshop with like-minded photographers, and spent a week touring the highlights of this unique and beautiful area. On arrival we were hit with the frustrating realization that we were hard on the heels of massive dust storm that obliterated light and turned the sky yellow with blowing sand.

Not only did this compromise the scenery we hoped to photograph, it created a challenge for the camera gear which is easily damaged by the invasive grit. Changing lenses in the field was a recipe for disaster; the best solution was to carry two cameras each configured for different shooting scenarios.

A few days later the dust settled, the sky turned blue, and we discovered that the dunes had been swept clean into freshly rippled contours, a silver lining after all. Meanwhile I captured this image of a Navajo pony on the rez, haircoat embedded with red desert sand and eyes squinted against the blowing grit. I like his rough presence, bold shadow and the iconic landscape on the horizon.

Navajo Pony After A Dust Storm prints are available for purchase HERE

Nikon D3S, 1/750 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, 44 mm (28.0-300.00 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens).

Photo is copyrighted and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Please respect.



Posted by Carol in Animals, Arizona, Horses, Landscapes, Scenic, USA, 0 comments
Side Trip to the Frozen North

Side Trip to the Frozen North

CLICK HERE for Slideshow

I have always wanted to see the northern lights but living in Southern Arizona and cruising in the equatorial Pacific do not lend themselves to frequent aurora borealis sightings. And I always worried that making a special trip to the frozen North, fingers crossed to see the phenomena, could be a recipe for disappointment.

But earlier this year a post showed up in my RSS feed promoting an aurora borealis photography workshop operating under the following conditions: 2013-14 was to be the peak of an 11 year cycle of solar sunspot activity which generates solar flares which in turn generates auroral activity; the selected workshop location, on the edge of the Arctic in Churchill, Winnipeg, Canada, is one of the world’s best locales for observing the aurora – averaging approximately 300 nights per year with some degree of activity; March is the preferred month for viewing as it offers the best chance of combined clear skies and dark nights, as opposed to summer when the nights are warmer but dramatically shorter, or polar bear migration season in October/November when overcast skies are more prevalent and hungry predators are added to the mix of hazards.

The Northern Lights Photography Workshop was to be led by +David Marx, a landscape photographer and Adobe Lightroom educator (also, as it turns out, a Google+ aficionado), and +Jim Halfpenny PhD, a naturalist with decades of mileage guiding groups to extreme locales around the world including the Antarctic, Arctic, the Galapagos, and his own backyard in Yellowstone National Park. Our group was small, only five participants and two leaders. We all, organizers included, were brimming with anticipation for the adventure to come.

So I asked Mike if he was game and we both signed up for a week in the Arctic chasing the northern lights. Our first order of business was to acquire a new wardrobe suitable for subzero temps; online research soon pointed the way to Canada Goose Arctic expedition parkas and Sorel boots rated to withstand a cold factor of -40º Fahrenheit. Assorted layers of silk underwear, socks, scarves, hats, gloves, face masks and mittens completed our outfits. Fully clothed, we had to turn our bodies sideways to squeeze in and out of our tour bus doors.

So as soon as we arrived home from our Indonesia trip we stowed the swimsuits and snorkels, shorts and sandals, and proceeded to stuff our suitcases to overflowing with our new extreme-cold gear and flew north to the Arctic.


Wind chill factor minus 40º F

It was seriously chilly with night temps dropping to -25º Fahrenheit with ‘feels like’ temps of -40º F,  although sunny afternoons warmed up to a balmy -13º F!  Night photography offers its own set of challenges regardless, but to throw in extended sessions in life-threatening temperatures gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘challenge’. Among other things we learned that the tape we needed to lock down the focus barrel on the camera lens lost all stickiness at such cold temps. Also that it is not possible to operate crucial camera controls (like the shutter button) wearing bulky mittens stuffed with handwarmers. The result was several frostbitten fingers that are just now sloughing off the dead skin, and a frostbitten nose tip acquired by squashing it against the camera viewfinder in an effort to compose an attractive image while operating in almost pitch black conditions. The flexible cable on my Nikon intervalometer froze stiff and snapped in two at a crucial moment…fortunately I had a wireless backup in my bag of accessories. Of course the nights were moonless, a deliberate scheduling choice on the part of our leaders, although starlight and red headlamps provided some degree of night vision.

Churchill is also the self-proclaimed polar bear capital of the world where the white bears congregate by the dozens during the fall months in anticipation of Hudson Bay waters freezing over, enabling the bears to strike off across the pack ice in pursuit of their preferred food, ringed seals. Theoretically this time of year the bears were all out hunting and not lurking nearby stalking tourists packaged in goosedown for their next meal. But our guides kept a close eye on us anyway. Another risk factor for a lone photographer would be injury sustained in a fall on icy footing in the dark and freezing to death before being missed.


CNSC under a starry sky

Home base was a modern (only 2 years old) facility known as the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, a base for assorted working scientists studying the aurora, tagging bears, evaluating climate change and otherwise researching the Arctic environment. But the CNSC also takes in groups for educational ecotourism and is impressively designed and operated to offer a uniquely engaging experience. Lodging is provided in dorm rooms, each containing four bunk beds, two hanging closets, a desk countertop stretching wall to wall, a couple of chairs – and nothing else. Bathrooms are communal with composting toilets and showers that dispense precious water on timers. Community lounges, classrooms, media rooms, a library and a gift shop expand the amenities. There is even decent wifi! Meals are shared in the cafeteria and everyone, from paid staff to paying guest, pitches in to help wash the dishes. The cooking is appetizing and filling, plentiful homestyle fare that includes a plethora of treats (like warm-from-the-oven cookies) available not only after meals but at all hours of the night for aurora watchers to snack on during late night vigils. It’s tempting to assume exposure to cold burned off those extra calories, but I suspect that is only wishful thinking!


Night igloo photography!

At night the facility enforces a lights-out protocol to prevent light pollution from interfering with the view of the night sky. Scientists, volunteer staff members and tourists roam the hallways at all hours, alert for the next light show, banging on dorm room doors to rouse sleepers to the call for action. Residents pass the wee hours chatting, strumming the guitar, playing board games by candlelight in the cafeteria, or watching the sky from the windows and glass dome in the cozily warm observation room. But we photographers toughed it out outdoors, negotiating slippery footing in the dark with tripods and expensive fragile cameras, frosty with ice crystals, balanced precariously on our shoulders. Batteries failed prematurely due to the extreme cold, condensation fogged up the lenses each time we returned indoors, and of course the sticky tape was non-sticky!


Tracks on the ice lead to aurora

Luckily for us, each night the auroral light show was better than the night before. Our first night – nothing except cloudy overcast skies that fostered a faint sense of panic that the weather might not cooperate with our limited time table. But on the second night around 1 a.m. a faint misty veil glowed in the distance and our camera lenses captured it as a rainbow of light. One night we concentrated on lighting up the centre’s demonstration igloos with glow sticks and ventured out onto the ice of a frozen pond in hopes of capturing reflections. Another evening, after a day trip to town and dinner at the local favorite hangout, we set up our gear on the snow-covered beach fronting the shores of frozen solid Hudson Bay for a night shot of an aboriginal stone cairn called an Inuksuk. No sooner had we completed our preparations than the aurora kicked in with an impressive storm reminiscent of the genie escaping from Aladdin’s lamp.

Aurora over Inuksuk on the shores of Hudson Bay

And on our final night we were treated to the best show of all. Curtains of color danced over our heads filling the sky with light. By this time we had suffered through the worst of our setup woes and were prepped and ready to photograph the awesome display.


Curtains of light dance in the Arctic


The Churchill River frozen over

Of course those were just the nights and, no, we didn’t get much sleep! By daylight we benefited from classroom lectures, worked on our photos, and explored the Churchill environs as a group. We went out on the pack ice of the frozen Churchill River, 8-10 feet thick with ice and contorted into a fantastical landscape of ice sculpture eruptions created by the pressure of the ice expanding and contracting.


Sled dogs waiting their turn


Polar bear prevention

We enjoyed an introduction to dog sledding with Wapusk Adventures and received our very own certificate for completing the ‘Ididamile’ only a few days after the real Iditarod race was won by its ‘most senior’ victor ever. We saw local residences barricaded with window grates and nail-studded plywood planks designed to discourage marauding polar bears, and we dropped by the polar bear jail where errant bears are locked up and treated to spartan conditions designed to discourage further forays into town.


Nike rocket

We toured the Eskimo Museum, filled with a fascinating collection of Inuit carvings collected over the years by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Churchill, and we were entertained by the reminiscences of Myrtle, the Métis village elder, and purchased her copyrighted caribou hair sculptures as souvenirs.  We missed out on a scheduled trip to visit the Churchill County Museum due to vehicle failure caused by extreme cold. The museum describes itself as ‘The Best Little Museum on Highway 50, America’s Loneliest Road’. Presumably this references the fact that Churchill has some 25 miles of paved road within the town environs, but the next closest paved road is hundreds of miles distant. Access to Churchill is by plane, train or (during the brief summer months) boat. Churchill attractions even include a now defunct rocket launch site that operated periodically in an assortment of capacities from the mid-50s until its final closure in the late 90s, and an historic stone fort (Fort Prince of Wales) that dates back to the early 1700s.

In all it was an amazing experience. Now that we possess suitably tested cold weather clothing, we’ll be looking for more winter extreme adventures in the future!

photo by Farshid Ariz

photo of Carol by Farshid Ariz


Posted by Carol in Animals, Canada, Churchill, Dogs, Landscapes, Night Skies, Scenic, 6 comments
Southwest Excellent Adventure

Southwest Excellent Adventure

Full Screen Slide Show

Welcome to my newly resurrected photography blog.  I’ve decided to expand my journaling efforts to include a photo specific website in addition to The AVATAR Logs. My last photography post was nearly three years ago! A lot of digital film has passed through my camera in that time, so the first posts will play catch up – casually perusing past images before moving on to current events.

I considered posting straight into The AVATAR Logs blog but decided instead to publish both in parallel with each linking to the other.  Hopefully it will be easy to navigate back and forth between the two seamlessly.  When we are cruising, posting to The AVATAR Logs will take priority. When land-based, CBParkerPhoto will take the lead.

If you are on my notification list for The AVATAR Logs, you will also be sent notices when I post to CBParkerPhoto.  Feel free to contact me if you wish to opt out.  Mostly I use these blogs to stay in touch with friends and share adventures in  a visual way, so I hope you will continue to enjoy the expanded content.

For starters I’ll reminisce about a wonderful week in early April in the Four Corners area of the desert southwest. I joined Laurie Excell again for one of her Excellent Adventures – this time a tour of Monument Valley in Utah and the Slot Canyons in Arizona. Laurie asked me to write a post for her own blog, so I’m republishing the content here along with a few favorite photos from the trip.

You can read the original post on Laurie’s website here, but it is reproduced in full below:

I’ve lived in Tucson for decades and true to the cliché that one never explores one’s own backyard, I had never spent time in the spectacular surroundings of the Four Corners area of the southwest. Having already enjoyed previous Excellent Adventures with Laurie (Bosque, Katmai) I was feeling the need for a photo workshop “fix” – a chance to chase pixels with like-minded enthusiasts. During a workshop we are all in pursuit of the same goal. The nit-picky details have already been prearranged, enabling us to focus strictly on our photography. The itinerary has been fine-tuned to take best advantage of the allotted time; the ho-hum details of car, lodging and meals have already been handled; knowledgable local guides have been booked in advance to take us off the beaten track and open the doors to a more unique experience.

In college my art instructor once commented that the creation of a painting becomes a souvenir of time and place for the artist. That thought struck a chord that has stayed with me through the years and applies equally to the images we are making. Why am I doing this, anyway? Does the world really need another photograph of The Mittens in Monument Valley or the rays of light in Upper Antelope Canyon? Surely images of these subjects have been recorded in the tens of thousands over the years and by better photographers than I. Why not just purchase a postcard or a coffee table book at the gift shop to remember my visit to the desert southwest?

But the photograph that I take myself has an entirely different significance to me than those commercial images. In the process of pursuing another worthy photo to add to my collection, the entire experience of its creation is imprinted on my brain. It is not just the snapping of the shutter – it is the process of working the subject that makes it my own. Months later one glance at the finished image and the adventure leaps to life.

– Camaraderie in the back seat of a rented Suburban with new acquaintances sharing the same passion…

– And the same frustration of arriving in Monument Valley during a sandstorm that obliterates sky and light…

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Followed by the revelation a day or two later that this same sandstorm has refreshed the dunes and made them pristine for our lenses!

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Friendly Navajo ponies with their eyes squinted shut against the blowing grit…

Nikon D3S, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Lurching in four-wheel drive through the rough back country to access remote locations…

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Photographing the Milky Way from the hotel balcony while asleep in a comfortable bed…

Nikon D3, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

– Trudging through the desert on a moonlit night lugging 30 pounds of equipment on my back because I’m afraid of leaving behind that one essential bit of equipment needed to shoot the night sky…

Nikon D3, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

– Cold fingertips on a brisk morning waiting to capture a starburst of the sun rising over The Mittens…

Nikon D4, AF-S 28-300mm VR

– Our Navajo guide Lionel (a photographer in his own right) opening locked gates to ‘the Rez’ after hours to shoot Upper Antelope by starlight with not a single tourist in the vicinity…

Nikon D4, AF-S 24-120mm f4 VR

– Gingerly setting up my tripod at the edge of a precipice to capture the curve of Horseshoe Bend in its entirety…

Nikon D4, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

– Climbing up (and down) Home Depot ladders and squeezing our gear (and ourselves) through the narrow passages of Rattlesnake Canyon and the satisfaction of zeroing in on rhythm and pattern encapsulated in the overwhelming maze of the slot canyons…

Nikon D3S, AF-S 14-24mm 2.8

– And the sweeping vistas and play of light and shadow as the sun set on the last day of our most excellent adventure…

Nikon D4, AF-S 24-120mm f4 VR

Posted by Carol in Arizona, Landscapes, Night Skies, Scenic, Sunrise/Sunset, USA, Utah, 0 comments