Morannon
Morannon
Sammath Naur
Sammath Naur
Smaug’s Shadow
Smaug’s Shadow
Amon Sûl
Amon Sûl
Calacirya
Calacirya
Tol Sirion
Tol Sirion
Halls of Mandos
Halls of Mandos
Orthanc
Orthanc
Carchost & Narchost
Carchost & Narchost
Cerin Amroth
Cerin Amroth
Hasufel and Arod
Hasufel and Arod
Cirith Ungol
Cirith Ungol
Belegost
Belegost
Dol Guldur
Dol Guldur
Enedwaith
Enedwaith
Derndingle
Derndingle
Fanuidhol
Fanuidhol
Forlond
Forlond
Forodwaith
Forodwaith
Gondolin
Gondolin
Henneth Annûn
Henneth Annûn
Hithaeglir, The Towers of Mist
Hithaeglir, The Towers of Mist
Isenmouthe
Isenmouthe
Minas Morgul
Minas Morgul
Morgul Vale
Morgul Vale
Nazgûl
Nazgûl
Nindalf
Nindalf
Osgiliath
Osgiliath
The Flame of Anor
The Flame of Anor
Meneldor Soaring
Meneldor Soaring
Rammas Echor
Rammas Echor
Stone of Erech
Stone of Erech
Temple of Morgoth
Temple of Morgoth
The Gates of Argonath
The Gates of Argonath
Thrihyrne
Thrihyrne
Utumno
Utumno
Duilin’s Messenger
Duilin’s Messenger
Zirak-Zigil
Zirak-Zigil
Morannon
MorannonA sand tufa portal opens towards the gray dunes of Mono Lake, California. This is one of the most exquisite sand tufa formations, menacing and unsound. It rests on smooth, unperturbed sand dunes. Despite how peaceful and still this scene looks, I had a really hard time taking this photo due to strong winds, and sand shooting through my eyeballs, I could barely open my eyes to focus. The closer you get to the ground to get these low angles, the worse the sandblasting gets.
Sammath Naur
Sammath NaurTowers of sand tufa (porous rock formations composed of calcium carbonate) lean in a fragile balance at Mono Lake, California. On this particular trip to Mono Lake, we spent a long Thanksgiving weekend with my parents and got to wake up early for sunrise and then be back at the lake for sunset. The goal was to see snow, the forecast said it'd be snowing and raining the whole weekend, but nothing happened. There was a bit of snow left when we arrived, but by the morning most of it had melted, and then it entirely vanished a day later. I still need to get some good tufa photos in the snow, maybe some frozen rain, and hopefully the pogonip fog that sometimes coats the shore.
Smaug’s Shadow
Smaug’s ShadowA Violet-green swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) perches on a tufa in front of organic silhouettes at the west shore of Mono Lake, California. Normally I try to frame a subject so that there's enough contrast to read the silhouette, but in this case I'm glad I went the opposite way. The swallow and the foreground tufa here are entirely hiding in the shadow of the dominant and more interesting tufa shapes in the distance. It keeps the focus on the abstract shapes, yet still has the swallow in a key position with a sharp rim light.
Amon Sûl
Amon Sûl
Calacirya
CalaciryaThousands of Wilson's phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor) flock over the Mono Lake tufa, as they stop to feed in California before they make their 3,000 mile trip to Argentina. We went to Mono Lake to see the phalaropes that had come by on their migration, as I really wanted photos of the tufa with flocks of birds around them. These amazing birds stop at the lake to feed for 6 weeks before they embark on a 3,000 mile journey to Argentina, flying non-stop for 3 days, covering 1,000 miles a day. The brine shrimp and alkali flies at the lake are nutritious and bountiful, allowing the birds to double their weight and molt into new feathers before they take the long journey.
Tol Sirion
Tol SirionA small flock of Wilson's phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor) rush past a tufa in a tight formation. Mono Lake, California. Before sunrise, as I was hiking towards the South Tufa area, I saw dozens of small flocks of phalaropes moving in small formations, one after another, all headed to the same area, so I headed that way as well. They start in small groups of about a dozen or two, and eventually gather into a massive flock of thousands that swarms around the shore, forming organic shapes in the air similar to a murmuration of starlings. We went to Mono Lake to see the phalaropes that had come by on their migration, as I really wanted photos of the tufa with flocks of birds around them. These amazing birds stop at the lake to feed for 6 weeks before they embark on a 3,000 mile journey to Argentina, flying non-stop for 3 days, covering 1,000 miles a day. The brine shrimp and alkali flies at the lake are nutritious and bountiful, allowing the birds to double their weight and molt into new feathers before they take the long journey.
Halls of Mandos
Halls of MandosSand tufa towers reveal their intricate silhouettes against the core of the Milky Way, with Jupiter glowing in the center. Mono Lake, California. Saturday ended with a very clear sunset, no clouds at all, which was disappointing for photography, but also meant a clear night was coming. I went to bed early and woke up at 2am (the Moon set at 1:30, and I needed a bit of time for the glow to dissipate). I hiked in the dark to find the sand tufa, and took photos from 2:30 to 4:30am, at which point the glow of sunrise started showing. The night was extremely clear. This was the first time I recall seeing the core of the Milky Way and being able to visually identify the warmth of the core, it had a distant orange tone. Jupiter was my anchor, it's the brightest spot right in the center of this photo. It was easy to line up the shots by using it as a reference.
Orthanc
OrthancAn intricate sand tufa (porous rock formation composed of calcium carbonate) stands in a delicate balance against the elements at Mono Lake, California. This is so far my favorite sand tufa we discovered, the complexity of the shapes and the way it sits on the tilted mound of sand makes it look like the fossilized remnants of an ancient city's vascular system. We discovered two new areas of sand tufas by taking a 4WD sandy road on the south-east side of Mono Lake. The sand tufa are different from the regular tufa, they are much more delicate, smaller is scale, and more linear instead of blobby. They are not easy to spot, and once spotted there's a good hike in the sand to get to the different clusters. I think this cluster we found is much more intricate and iconic than the other tufas found near the touristy areas of the lake, despite being less numerous and smaller. They are nicely isolated against the sky, with clean sand beneath, and the Gigeresque patterns they spawn are entirely alien.
Carchost & Narchost
Carchost & Narchost
Cerin Amroth
Cerin AmrothFalling snow sparkles in the morning light over a small tufa mound, which sits in a golden field by the shore of Mono Lake, California. The morning I took this photo was surreal. The sun was breaking through the horizon, and the falling crystals of snow were tiny and perfect, falling quietly and floating with no wind. The fresh sunlight paired with the dried grass made for a perfectly golden scene. I let the sun shine into my lens, creating some flares that further enhanced the golden colors. The glow on top of the tufa in this photo is one of these lens flares, just perfectly lined up to it.
Hasufel and Arod
Hasufel and ArodTwo stallions watch the sun set as they roam freely among the tufa (porous rock formations composed of calcium carbonate) at Mono Lake, California. Rather than going to the main south or north tufa formations during our Memorial Day Weekend trip (areas which were even more packed with tourist than usual) we took a dirt road around Mono Lake towards the more inaccessible and less-known tufa in the south-east. To our surprise, a team of horses was roaming around the area. I ditched the idea of setting up for landscape shots and instead stalked the horses to capture something unique. Tufa with horses is something I had never seen before, it was a much more interesting take than tufa against a pretty sunset. Luckily I had my rubber boots, so I could hike around the deeper marsh areas and thick reeds to find the best angles.
Cirith Ungol
Cirith UngolTiny sand tufa towers, only about one foot tall, display their intricate, organic shapes under the starscape of Mono Lake, California. This is another experiment with the very soft FD lens, creating a milky blur that feels almost underwater. The light pollution was hitting the low haze, and just minutes after this that turned to a dim fog that obscured the stars entirely, and I had to stop shooting. I like the very soft feel of this lens, but it's extremely hard to find something to shoot, since every element needs to be on the same plane or they get blurry too fast. Something 5 inches behind would lose all detail.
Belegost
BelegostA complex structure of columns and plates of sand tufa stand plastered by fresh snow, on the south shore of Mono Lake, California. This sand tufa is well hidden, behind dunes and away from a clear line of sight, surrounded by about 30 other amazing formations. I was very happy when I stumbled upon this area. This big roof holds an inverted tufa "stalactite", where the bottom broke away but a large chunk of it remains attached to the top. I could not get a good angle that showcases that formation on a still image (it's right in the center of this photo), but I did record a video of it to make it clearer.
Dol Guldur
Dol GuldurA perfect gradient of desert sunset colors reveals the complex shapes of the sand tufa at Mono Lake, California. The southwest desert sunsets tend to have a vibrant band of pink, called the Belt of Venus, or antitwilight arch, which is formed from backscatter of red sunlight that hits particles high up in the atmosphere (the same as an alpenglow you can see on mountaintops). I don't know for sure, but my guess is that the thin dust from the deserts is what makes this happen more often here around California, Nevada, and Arizona. With a slightly long focal length, I was able to isolate the main band of pink. The colors showed up fast and unannounced, so I had to quickly find a series of tufa to photograph that happened to be on the same plane (or they'd get too blurry, due to the focal length, and the limited f-stops I had to use with such low light), and also that broke over the horizon (most sand tufa are down in ditches in the sand, not poking out very far).
Enedwaith
Enedwaith
Derndingle
DerndingleTowers of sand tufa hide in the snow, close to the south shore of Mono Lake, California. The snow covered only one side of these tufa towers, and from this angle they almost disappeared. I composed this with the dry bush in the background to balance it out, and tried versions where it was sharp and this one where I let it go out of focus, which I think works better.
Fanuidhol
Fanuidhol
Forlond
ForlondThe lesser-known tufa of Mono Lake, California, called the "sand tufa," stretch up towards a stormy sky. These formation are much smaller than the prominent ones on the shore, growing only up to 3 feet tall, but also much more dynamic in shapes and textures. I took these photos from way down on the grown, the camera resting on the sand. Tufa are spires of limestone that are formed when underwater springs loaded with calcium mix with an alkaline water base, such as Mono Lake, and it precipitates as limestone shapes. Once the lake level drops, the formations are revealed and the towers cease to grow.
Forodwaith
ForodwaithCovered under a fresh coat of snow, the sand tufa tower over the white landscape of Mono Lake, California. Seeing the sand tufa under a fresh coat of snow transported me to a land far away. The snow strips all the details, shatters all scale cues, and leaves you with a simplified landscape of shapes and values. I spent a lot of time down on the snow, with the camera sitting right on it to get the lowest possible angles. I crawled around until I found a good composition. In this case, I liked the dynamic diagonal and how the central tower is framed. The light changed fast, I waited for a short bit until it was soft enough, with a bit of cloud to filter it, so that there were shadows but not harsh ones.
Gondolin
GondolinA white column of tufa leans over a windswept wall of blossoming rabbit brush, at Mono Lake, California. On the west shore of Mono Lake, we had to hike through dense thickets of rabbit brush to get to the tufa, this was taken right as you enter the tufa area, breaching the thick brushes. There's a sense of flow and motion in this photo that I really love, the lines created by the branches make it seem like a strong wind is blowing. It was a bit windy out there, but I actually had to wait until the winds stopped to take the photo.
Henneth Annûn
Henneth Annûn
Hithaeglir, The Towers of Mist
Hithaeglir, The Towers of MistTufa towers hide in the cold morning mist, as the sun warms up the waters. Mono Lake, California. This is my favorite photo of these distant tufa. I shot a lot of variations during that morning, as they came in and out of the fog. At this point the sun had already risen and was shining red on the mountains behind, while the sky was golden and reflecting on the water. The middle tower has a flat top, which is an osprey nest. Since there are no fish at Mono Lake, these osprey have to commute to June Lake, Grant Lake Reservoir, or Lundy Lake to get their food, but it's worth it since at Mono Lake they have the safety of not dealing with any potential predators.
Isenmouthe
IsenmoutheLight erupts in the sky over the intricate sand tufa of Mono Lake, California. Whenever I try and set up for a good sunset or sunrise composition at Mono Lake, things just never work as I plan them. The sky is unpredictable, and in order to line up elements in the ground and sky I have to keep mobile and react quickly to the shifting clouds. I had set up for the "perfect" horizontal sunset shot, aiming west, but had to forget that whole setup when this cloud lit up towards the north east, almost straight above.
Minas Morgul
Minas MorgulThe Milky Way silhouettes multiple columns of sand tufa in a frigid night at Mono Lake, California. I would love to get a photo of this sand tufa with the Milky Way hanging horizontally in the sky, with the core of the Milky Way in the center, but that cold evening while planning this shot I used an app to try and calculate this, and unfortunately it will just never line up that way (well, maybe not in the next few million years). Shooting the night sky at Mono Lake is tricky, even on clear nights there's a lot of moisture, and random clouds and fog form with no warning.
Morgul Vale
Morgul Vale
Nazgûl
NazgûlAn unusual sand tufa formation casts a snowless shadow near the south shore of Mono Lake, California. How this odd sand tufa formation holds itself up is a mystery. It feels like a creature to be mounted by Witch-king of Angmar himself. The shape is complex and totally changes silhouettes as you move around it, I had a hard time finding a good angle, ended up tilting the horizon a lot to balance the composition somehow.
Nindalf
NindalfFresh snow cover the south shore of Mono Lake, as new tufa (calcium carbonate spires) are forming in the shallow waters. Mono Lake, California. We thought we weren't going to see the tufa on our last Mono Lake trip, the roads were not plowed and no one had gone through to make a path in the snow yet, except from the long-way around on the west side. We tried that road, and quickly got stuck in the snow. After we dug ourselves out, we went back to the main road and saw that someone had at least flattened the hard snow bank from the snowplows, though they didn't try going farther, yet the rest of the road didn't seem to have snow that was too deep. We tried it and we made it in. Only a few other cars managed to get there that day, so the area was quiet, the snow mostly untrampled, and though the sunset didn't light up with wild colors, the low clouds put on a nice show, moving quickly above, you could feel their speed. For this pano I kept my tripod in the water, with the camera just a foot over the water. You could see fresh tufa forming there, they looked like pale anemones and corals. The difference in the refraction index from the salty water and the seeping fresh water created a shimmer as if the water was superheated, but it was all below freezing temperatures, and the extreme concentrations of salt were the only thing preventing the lake from freezing over.
Osgiliath
Osgiliath
The Flame of Anor
The Flame of AnorA sun pillar (a light phenomenon caused by sunlight refracting on the falling snow) lights up the clouds in a fiery iridescence, and engulfs a crooked and delicate tower of tufa. Mono Lake, California. It was magical to be at Mono Lake with falling snow, while the sun shone brightly under the clouds. Sparks of snow flew everywhere, and the odd light angle created a gorgeous sun pillar, while the clouds turned to rainbows. One thing none of my photos captured was the motion: the flow of snow falling and the twinkling and vanishing of detail is impossible to catch in still images.
Meneldor Soaring
Meneldor Soaring
Rammas Echor
Rammas Echor
Stone of Erech
Stone of Erech
Temple of Morgoth
Temple of MorgothSand tufa (porous rock formations composed of calcium carbonate) form two towers that lean in opposite angles at Mono Lake, California. We discovered two new areas of sand tufas by taking a 4WD sandy road on the south-east side of Mono Lake. The sand tufa are different from the regular tufa, they are much more delicate, smaller is scale, and more linear instead of blobby. They are not easy to spot, and once spotted there's a good hike in the sand to get to the different clusters. I think this cluster we found is much more intricate and iconic than the other tufas found near the touristy areas of the lake, despite being less numerous and smaller. They are nicely isolated against the sky, with clean sand beneath, and the Gigeresque patterns they spawn are entirely alien.
The Gates of Argonath
The Gates of ArgonathThe lesser-known tufa of Mono Lake, California, called the "sand tufa," stretch up towards a stormy sky. These formation are much smaller than the prominent ones on the shore, growing only up to 3 feet tall, but also much more dynamic in shapes and textures. I took these photos from way down on the grown, the camera resting on the sand. Tufa are spires of limestone that are formed when underwater springs loaded with calcium mix with an alkaline water base, such as Mono Lake, and it precipitates as limestone shapes. Once the lake level drops, the formations are revealed and the towers cease to grow.
Thrihyrne
ThrihyrneIncisive spears of sand tufa point towards darkened skies, soon before snow started falling at Mono Lake, California. These are by far the most precarious tufa structures I've encountered so far. It feels like they could collapse any day, by wind or rain or by a bird landing on top. I love this area, it is remote, the sand dunes leave little room for sage brush to grow and take over the tufa spires, and the mound of sand is slightly elevated, so it allows for long shots with the mountains in the distance (though the lake can not be seen due to a dune just north of where I took this photo). This is definitely a location I need to visit on a clear night.
Utumno
UtumnoThe lesser-known tufa of Mono Lake, California, called the "sand tufa," stretch up towards a stormy sky. These formation are much smaller than the prominent ones on the shore, growing only up to 3 feet tall, but also much more dynamic in shapes and textures. I took these photos from way down on the grown, the camera resting on the sand. Tufa are spires of limestone that are formed when underwater springs loaded with calcium mix with an alkaline water base, such as Mono Lake, and it precipitates as limestone shapes. Once the lake level drops, the formations are revealed and the towers cease to grow.
Duilin’s Messenger
Duilin’s MessengerA Violet-green swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) flies off from a tufa on the west shore of Mono Lake, California. Photographing swallows is extremely hard, they are so fast that even shooting at 1/8000th of a second (the limit for my camera), most photos are still blurry. I framed this with reeds in the foreground, which I think added some interest to the photo. I held my camera carefully to line up the sun and waited to shoot as soon as I saw some movement from the perched swallow. I love the iridescent translucence of the wings.
Zirak-Zigil
Zirak-Zigil
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