Death Valley Sand Dunes Photography: A How-to Guide

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Consider enriching your personal and photographic experience by trying something like this: Take a long walking tour, following magical light as it evolves and caresses the sands. If direct/frontal light seems too “harsh”, examine other possibilities for sidelight and backlight; these are more dramatic and are my favorite. Deep wells, holes, bowls, and hollows in dune fields can take on sensuous and dramatic shadows during what many photographers might term “bad light”. Keep walking, keep searching, keep changing your direction of view, and don’t forget to think and see in monochrome (when saturated colors have little relevance) for stunning black and white desert photography. Golden Hour? Make it three.

My article “Death Valley Sand Dunes Photography: A How-to Guide” has been published by The Image Flow Photography Center. It’s filled with professional advice on how to make your photographic adventure on the dunes more rewarding. Thank you for reading – enjoy!

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Go With the Flow

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Sodium Altocumulus. Death Valley. ©Michael E. Gordon

Ansel Adams stated (The Negative) that

“visualization is a conscious process of projecting the final photographic image in the mind before taking the first steps in actually photographing the subject. Not only do we relate to the subject itself, but we become aware of its potential as an expressive image.”

The photograph presented here (Sodium Altocumulus) looks nothing like what I actually saw on these salt-encrusted desert mud flats. The light was flat, the mud and salt were nearly color-less, yet I instantly saw the altocumulus clouds and recognized the expressive possibilities for this “bland” setting.

This is neither high art nor a masterpiece but it was enjoyable to visualize and make. I enjoy studying it the same way I enjoy studying big sky. This is a location which I return to frequently to indulge my creative needs and practice my form of abstract landscape photography. The location can change dramatically from day to day, even hour to hour. It’s arid year round and the evaporation rate exceeds the rainfall. Regular shallow flooding through winter and spring alters the surface of the flats and begins anew the salt crystallization process. I never know what I will find and I love this.

By foregoing the preconceived singular image (forget the dang shot), I can spend an entire morning out here in a flow state, engaged in nature’s fascinating details, and make numerous stimulating images.

Just go with the flow, man.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Featured: Black + White Photography magazine

issue-231_GordonI offer my sincere thanks to Susan Burnstine for writing about my work in her monthly column and featuring four of my images in the August 2019 issue (#231) of Black + White Photography magazine (U.K.). The full print magazine is available at Barnes & Noble and at international newsstands. A digital version can be downloaded here. You can also click here to read this article only (content provided COURTESY OF BLACK & WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE (UK), August issue #231).

After reading the article, please check out Susan’s own critically-acclaimed work. She is one of the few photographers today avidly pursuing alternative processes to create an idiosyncratic and deeply personal visual landscape. I’ve long admired her unique style and process and dream-like images. Thank you, Susan!

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Geography of Hope: The Incompatible Ideals of Wilderness and Industrialized Tourism

This essay is about wilderness character, geotagging/location sharing; and overcrowding/vandalizing of public lands. Many articles have been published denouncing location-sharing due to their overcrowding and vandalizing. This essay is a rebuttal to those opinion pieces which advise readers to “keep on geotagging” while suggesting that those who enjoy wilderness character are elitist. I welcome your comments and feedback.

Ivanpah-Panorama
It’s late May on the Mojave Desert. The air temperatures and weather this spring have been remarkably unseasonable. Palm Springs, California is normally sizzling this month but in a few days it will record its coolest May on record. It’s been an extraordinary spring: the wildflower explosions; the millions of butterflies and bees (oh, the Painted Ladies!); and the gazillion pounds of biota respond in kind to a bountiful winter. Strangely, there is no longer a drought. This place is alive. I’m alive – a very happy and content desert explorer.

I arrived at the foot of the range mid-afternoon to long shadows. This place has a National in its designation, but being far from services, gasoline, lodging, and notable icons in the world of social media, the cooing Gambel’s Quail, Say’s Phoebes, and Phainopeplas and I have it all to ourselves. I plan to climb up high on the craggy ridge and traverse its length, returning to my truck from the opposite side of the ridge. I’m not sure what I’ll find along the way but I expect magic; it’s always there. The 360-degree views from the top are stunning; I can see an uncountable number of mountain ranges and into three different United states from my high vantage (there are five mountain ranges visible in the above image; the site for this journal). It’s breathtaking; I could cry. I should cry. The cackling White-throated Swifts and desert wind are the only people I see and sounds I hear (birds are my people). Except for my own, no human or vehicle is within miles of me. This is exactly why I am here. This might be terrifying for many, but this is my sanity and world peace. This urge is merely evolutionary and biological; I never suppressed it. I feel whole and alive.

A remarkable thing happened to the United States in late 1964. The passage of The Wilderness Act sought to assure that an “increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition”. The Act further defined “wilderness” as “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean….retaining its primeval character and influence, without….human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions….. [and] has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”.

In summary, the 1964 Wilderness Act set aside protected lands to retain their primeval character and natural conditions (a rather abstract and lofty concept for a nation hellbent on “progress” and sacking money). Secondly, it recognized the need for human-untrammeled lands and solitude (for the mutual benefits of both wildlife and humans). Sadly, The Wilderness Act arrived too late for the central and eastern United States but it allowed for the protection of much of western U.S. wildlands (U.S. Wilderness MAP) which draws millions of visitors from around the world (unfortunately, not all with the best of intentions).

In 1960, the great novelist Wallace Stegner wrote the now-famous “Wilderness Letter” to urge for the passage of the forthcoming Wilderness Act. Stegner deemed wilderness “an intangible and spiritual resource” which can offer “spiritual renewal, the recognition of identity, the birth of awe”. It’s impossible to define what these are and how they feel unless you’ve allowed yourself to have this experience. Stegner continued to assert that wilderness is “something that has helped form our character and that has certainly shaped our history as a people.

Readers are surely aware of the recent spate of nuisance and destructive human behavior on public lands. It’s not just here in the Unites States – it’s happening everywhere (public lands and private). Everything from graffiti/tagging to illegal fires to rock stacking/cairn building to toppling prominent rock formations to trashing fields of wildflowers to outright habitat destruction. We don’t yet have any conclusive studies but many of us attribute it to the explosion of social media, geotagging, location sharing, and a very particular photo sharing platform for which people have proved willing to risk and take their lives for self-portraits (“selfies” in their vernacular). Many of us have repeatedly argued against sharing locations to help protect them from the destructive ways of humans; the F.O.M.O. Generation rails back with “elitist” and “racist”.

Let’s set the record straight: wilderness character is impossible to preserve if everyone is present. It’s not about keeping away any particular age, gender, or color –  I want to preserve that intangible and spiritual resource. It’s long gone when one is surrounded by crowds, antics, and chatter. If you enjoy crowds and socializing, great! Please go where those qualities exist (recommendations provided upon request) but please don’t be upset with those who wish to retain the natural character of wild places.

It’s true: we cannot save these places from industrial destruction if no one knows them or loves them. But we also can’t save them from industrialized recreation if they’re equally shared by all 330 million Americans and a few million tourists from abroad. This isn’t elitism or racism – it’s reality. I welcome you to find and share my sacred spaces with me but please don’t be upset because I don’t provide a name, waypoints, or an e-guide. Gumption, legs, and burning desire will get you high on this desert ridge; geotags are for the elite.

“Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment. We need wilderness preserved – as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds – because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there – important, that is, simply as an idea.” Wallace Stegner

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Art of Saying

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The art of seeing has long been co-opted by the photographic community but its first use was likely Aldous Huxley’s unrelated 1942 book. We use this phrase to describe our own photography; that we possess some sort of gift, that our art is the ability to see and capture. I propose an end to this nonsense.

Art arises from artists who have good stories to tell about their subjects. Good composition is mere training and repetition, as evidenced by the many wonderful smartphone images I’ve seen by non-photographers and non-artists. A traditional operating mode for nature and landscape photographers is to find something beautiful; to use a wide angle lens; to stick something large, unrelated, and often obtrusive in the foreground and to keep the fingers crossed for an “epic” sky (apps can help you determine this but they can’t help you make art).  But when photographs lack a backstory and/or deeper interest (which admittedly may vary greatly depending upon the viewing audience) the most likely reply from viewers will be a terse “that’s pretty” (a death knell for the artist, a potentially positive outcome for the camera operator).

As an artist, I’m still trying to find my voice after more than twenty years of working at it. I’m still in an “entry level” position. “Overnight success” has proved apocryphal; artist is for the long-haul. If you love what you do and have a story to tell, what’s the rush? It takes years to understand what you need to and want to say and to learn how to say it. There is no competition despite the apparent F.O.M.O epidemic. Good cameras and software and a large social media following will not ensure artistry or success. Having good ideas that are worth expressing is probably a better path to a long, artistic career.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Visionary Image: Conceptual Development

Place two photographers side by side on the the very same scene or subject and they are likely to produce distinctly different images. Excluding the most obvious images easily gathered from accessible vistas, photographers have largely known this to be true. With any given scene of any scale, how we approach it and what we choose to most focus on is largely based on our mood and temperament of the day; our previous experience with such a subject; even the subliminal influence of other photographs and photographers may come into play.

Guy Tal and I wandered a Death Valley canyon following the close of our most recent Visionary Death Valley workshop. We stopped intermittently where we found interesting rock outcrops and healthy fruiting specimens of Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) – these wild desert pumpkins can be intriguing subjects for photographers of our ilk. I have casually photographed Coyote Melon for many years; an artful black and white image of Coyote Melon was still elusive and resided only in my head. Required to make this image was a perfect confluence of my mental state, a good visual arrangement, and unfailing vision. I still had yet to find that while in the company of these gourds.

We were now just a few miles from road’s end where we would begin a walk into desert wilderness – this is our method of rest and recovery. But Guy spotted one more beautiful Coyote Melon specimen – we stopped to investigate. It was a large enough vine to provide working space for both of us. We each identified our objects of interest and and got to work.

_DSC0713I was immediately drawn to the delicate but elaborate etchings on one particular fruit – I honed in. Space and space exploration has been on my mind a lot lately. I spend many nights each year staring deeply into it and sleeping under it and NASA’s InSight Lander touched down on Mars just thirteen days after this photograph. I like to use space and time metaphors in my images and titles. The etchings reminded me of planetary surfaces similar to Jupiter or the Moon. This became the metaphor that I forced into my approach.

My very first frame is seen at left. It’s a solid documentary image but it’s not terribly creative or exciting. I’d be happy to have it published in a plant ID guide but I can’t call it “art”.  Over the next 17+ minutes (happily mired in a flow state), using two different lenses – including a soft-focus brass portrait lens – I exposed 46 frames in total, each with slight shifts in perspective and field of view, each working towards the image that I had now developed in my mind. I already knew how the print needed to look. The camera position moved exceedingly closer to the ground in order to force the perspective I sought. I wanted the gourd to be tucked behind some of the leaves – similar to the way a full moon rises into a bank of clouds. In fact, I had photographed this very thing a couple of weeks prior. The dramatic image I had made of a full moon rising was finding its way into this image of a simple gourd. But I was no longer photographing a gourd – I was photographing a Rising Coyote Moon.

Coyote Moon Rising

Creative photographers who find such ideas and discussions stimulating and inspiring should consider joining Guy and I for Visionary Death Valley.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Ten Commandments (for Outdoor Photographers)

I am part of two communities who exhibit behaviors on public lands that I am often angered by and find myself at odds with: climbers and outdoor photographers. I suspect that many have never experienced trailhead or public lands closures caused by improper/unethical/illegal use – I have.

Many climbers trample vegetation at the base of crags and boulders; they leave athletic tape, food wrappers, and the tape from rope ends wherever they fall. The rock and the climb take first priority; concern for vegetation, trampling, wildlife (including ants and all sorts of small vertebrates and invertebrates that we can’t even see), and wildlife habitat is secondary (or doesn’t matter). Sadly, this sort of behavior has now become commonplace in the outdoor photography community. In this Instagram-era, a staggering number of landscapes have now been subject to the onslaught of careless humans and an uncountable number of popular photography locations have been drastically altered by the photographers that use them. It’s wrong, disappointing, and has to end before photographers find themselves locked out of locations that they’ve commonly been able to enjoy. If you think this can’t happen, just have a chat with a member of the MTB (mountain biking) or OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) communities for their angle.

A little more than a week ago I guided my sister, nephew, and brother-in-law through an Eastern Sierra camping/roadtrip. One of our first stops/camps was Alabama Hills below Mt. Whitney and the High Sierra crest. You Western film buffs and photographers know this place well. What you probably don’t know is that the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group has vastly improved the condition and quality of experience for visitors and photographers over the last dozen years by removing graffiti and rubbish; breaking down numerous fire rings; obliterating excess and illegal roads; and planting native vegetation to rehabilitate the abused. I’ve watched the Hills become cleaner and even more beautiful over the last twelve years. During this period digital photography has exploded – especially night sky and astrophotography – and ironically, I’ve watched its photographic ‘hot spots’ deteriorate at the very same time.

AHI took my sister and family to a lesser known arch in the Hills (but still popular with night photographers) and was dismayed by what we walked into: it looked obliterated by grazing cattle (there are no grazing cattle here). Although from different angles, perspectives, and focal lengths, a comparison of the two images will reveal missing, damaged, or dead plants. And I am dumbfounded by this. The other side of this arch does not look like this; it’s not the preferred angle for photographers. This is not from drought, fire, or cattle, and this is not a dense landscape – the shrubs could have been very easily avoided or worked around. Instead, the land before this arch has now become a micro-wasteland.

My sub-teenage nephew learned a few of the following commandments while we were in the field and I’m urging every photographer and non-photographer who uses public lands to please adopt and share these with other photographers, climbers, fishermen/fisherladies, etc. Humans are trashing virtually everything; lest we lose our access, please be the high-road user group that sets the examples others will desire to follow.

The Outdoor Photographers Ten Commandments

1. I don’t own this planet or this particular landscape. I’m a visitor here and my needs and wants are secondary to its primary inhabitants. I’m thankful that I get to share this space with them.

2. I will step around or over EVERY plant I encounter, no matter whether dead or alive.

3. If a plant, boulder, or other natural object is in my composition – no matter what – I will recompose instead of altering or damaging the landscape.

4. I will avoid herd mentality and behavior. I will do my very best to not travel in photographic packs, but when I do, I will be very mindful of my steps and actions as well as those of my fellow photographers.

5. I will not covet the photographs or locations of other photographers. I understand that popularity has led to the ecological decline of many ‘hot spots’ and that great photographs can be found just about anywhere.

6. If I specialize in night photography, I will make sure that I have adequate daylight preparation or proper nighttime illumination so as not trample or destroy ANY vegetation anywhere around me.

7. I will never take anything, leave anything, or alter anything in the pursuit of my photographs.

8. If I can’t make the image I desire without breaching these commandments, I will walk away empty handed.

9. I will educate my fellow photographers and students (if you teach/lead workshops) about the critical importance of field ethics.

10. In the existential scheme of things, me and my photographs don’t really matter. It’s never worth abusing plants or a landscape to make an insignificant photograph.

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Artist’s Corner: Desert Light Magazine

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I have an essay and two images in the January-February 2018 issue (Artist’s Corner) of Desert Light Magazine, a publication of the Mojave National Preserve Artist Foundation. You can find it on pages 12-13. Thank you for looking and reading.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook.

Mojave Desert Boondoggles: The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project

Cadiz

“…the voice of the desert is the one which has been least often heard.
We came to it last, and when we did come,
we came principally to exploit rather than to listen.
Joseph Wood Krutch

It’s long been acknowledged that the Mojave Desert provides the most ideal location for our prisons, landfills, renewable energy plants, military installations, military bombing ranges, and royalty-free access to minerals and water. In what other ways could man possibly benefit from the realm of desert bighorn sheep, seasonal wildflower blooms, desert tortoises, and wild desert springs? Unfortunately, this is the traditionally held [ignorant] view of and behavior toward the the California desert and its “resources”.

Bonanza

THREATENED: Bonanza Spring and the Clipper Mountains

The publicly-traded company Cadiz, Inc.  grows citrus and avocados on its 45,000 acres of privately held desert land in Cadiz Valley (water intensive farming in the desert?). Cadiz proposes to mine 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater (shared) every year from beneath Cadiz Valley while claiming that pumping from the basin would not affect Bonanza Spring (seen in the attached photos), or any other springs in the adjacent Mojave Trails National Monument or the Mojave National Preserve to the north. U.S. Geological Survey geologists assert that only 5,000 to 6,000 acre-feet per year of recharge is possible (this is, after all, the driest desert in North America). It’s simple math: drawdown will exceed recharge (Never Forget: Owens Valley and the LADWP). For nearly two decades, Cadiz, Inc. has tried to advance their project and for nearly two decades it has failed. Why?

“Access to new water supplies is extremely critical to the continued vitality of our cities,” says California Senator Tony Cárdenas in a promotional document defending Cadiz. But will a private water sale to one county benefiting a mere 400,000 people offer relief to a metropolitan area of 13 million? Cárdenas falls right in line with those who believe that coastal cities can sustain infinite growth (“vitality”) without an adequate local water supply. It is both illogical and irrational for a coastal city to suggest that it requires desert water for its “vitality”.

The California desert conservation community has been successful repeatedly at beating the bullsh*t served up by Cadiz; forward movement has been blocked again and again. That is, until the nightmare 45th President of the United States moved into the White House. Why would POTUS have an interest in the remote California desert and in a water project that serves less than half a million? Why would this unremarkable water project on the remote Mojave Desert make Donald’s Top 50 Priority List of Emergency and National Security Projects? Why, follow that money trail!

In late July, the 45th Administration confirmed David Bernhardt, a highly controversial pick, for the Number 2 post at the Department of the Interior:

“Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on David Bernhardt, President Trump’s nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Interior, to recuse himself from all matters concerning the Cadiz water extraction project. Bernhardt is currently the head of the natural resources division at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the lobbying firm that is representing Cadiz.” “Given the fact that your current firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, is contracted to lobby on behalf of Cadiz, Inc., I remain deeply concerned about any potential conflict of interest should you serve as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior—the agency responsible for oversight of the federal lands related to the Cadiz proposal,” Senator Feinstein wrote.”

You read this correctly: David Bernhardt represents one of the most egregious conflicts of interest arising from this Administration.

If , as the proponents suggest, the project is good and necessary, then why has it been hotly contested and written about for so many years? Several hours worth of reading and viewing can be found in the numerous links provided below.

Protect and preserve Your Mojave Desert – thank you for reading and opposing this damaging and dirty project. #RememberOwensValley #CadizSUCKS

MORE INFORMATION:

How Interior’s top lawyer is paving the way to drain California’s desert and deliver millions to Secretary Bernhardt’s former law firm

Protect CA from Trump-Supported Desert Water Mining Project

Senate should OK SB 307 to give California more review of Cadiz aquifer harvesting project

The Cadiz project to drain the desert is a bad idea

STUDY: CADIZ WATER PROJECT SCIENCE UNRELIABLE, WOULD JEOPARDIZE DESERT SPRINGS

Feinstein Slams Decision to Kill Cadiz Bill in State Senate

Cadiz Inc.’s pipe dream to drain a California desert spring

The Cadiz Pipeline (audio: jump to 8:05)

Loan to Jared Kushner raises questions about California water project

Study shows Cadiz water project would threaten spring in national monument

Cadiz project’s harm wouldn’t be limited to the desert

The Trouble with Cadiz

Environmental groups sue Trump administration over California desert groundwater project

A Controversial Plan to Drain Water From the Desert? Go for It, Trump Administration Says

Federal policy change criticized for giving ‘free pass’ to controversial desert water project

Forget it, Jake: It’s Cadiz

Will Cadiz Project Drain Desert Aquifers?

The Cadiz water scheme: How political juice kept a bad idea alive for years

The ludicrous plan to pump Mojave water to L.A.

Opinion: AB 1000 Would Protect California’s Deserts From Trump

The scheme to pump desert water to L.A. could destroy the Mojave. California’s Legislature needs to block it

WATER IS PRECIOUS IN THE DESERT. SPEAK UP TO PROTECT IT.

Cadiz Water Project should be nixed

TAKE ACTION: Protect California’s Precious Desert Water Resources!

State Legislation Introduced to Protect Water Resources, National Parks and Public Lands in California Desert

Cadiz: The Desert Water Pimps

Interior head says public lands can make U.S. a ‘dominant’ oil power

Secretary Zinke’s Magic-8-Ball approach to policy making

Trump eases the way for a controversial water pumping project in a California desert

Mojave Desert Feinstein asks Trump administration to protect desert water

Cadiz Inc. would harm the Mohave. Here’s how

Cook: Orange County Water District Should Distance Itself from the Cadiz Water Project

Feinstein to Zinke: Don’t Let Cadiz Destroy Pristine Desert

The Absurdity of the Cadiz Water Export Scheme

Feinstein: Trump Nominee Should Recuse Himself from Cadiz Water Project

Water extraction project would be destructive to California’s Mojave Desert

Desert Water Project Would Threaten Tribes’ Sacred Lands

How you can tell Trump cares nothing about water: He’s supporting the ridiculous Cadiz project

The Unique Mojave Desert Oasis at the Center of the Cadiz Controversy

National monument boundaries protect our heritage: Guest commentary

Protect the Groundwater Beneath Our National Treasures

Trump’s pick for a top Interior post has sued the agency on behalf of powerful California water interests

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook.

America: Your National Monuments are Under Attack

Proposed Mojave Trails National Monument

Mojave Trails National Monument – under “Review”

This is a very long post of vital national interest so I hope that you’ll bear with me…

America, your National Monuments are under attack even though the 45th Administration mildly terms it “review”. From the New York Times, April 26, 2017:

President Trump on Wednesday ordered the Interior Department to review the size and scope of national monuments larger than 100,000 acres created since 1996. He wants recommendations on whether any of those large tracts should be scaled back by presidential authority or by Congress.

Mr. Trump, signing the order at the Interior Department, described the designations as a “massive federal land grab” and ordered the agency to review and reverse some of them.

“It’s time to end these abuses and return control to the people, the people of Utah, the people of all of the states, the people of the United States,” the president said.

Yesterday’s egregious Executive Order (“Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act“) hits too close to home for me and impacts every American. This is not an issue of politics; it is an issue of national heritage and American pride. Far too many Americans are incognizant of what is at stake with this Order. Recognize that people from around the world visit America to experience and enjoy what is absent from much of the world: our incredible National Parks, National Monuments, and wide-open protected spaces of the American west (sorry, Eastern U.S.). This cannot be taken for granted as you are now bearing witness to the potential vulnerability of these designations under tyrannical rule. Numerous polls have demonstrated that voters agree on public lands: we want our lands protected, we desire access for recreation, and we oppose increased fossil fuel development. If you agree, now is your time to be a patriot and act for America.

Nine National Monuments in California will see “review” under this Order. I have been personally involved with the designation of four (San Gabriel Mtns NM; Sand to Snow NM; Mojave Trails NM; Castle Mountains NM) through my photography, letter writing, attendance at public meetings, and speaking at public meetings.

My first involvement was with the San Gabriel Mountains NM. The movement towards it’s formation began in 2003. I photographed the region under contract beginning in 2010 (my photography was used to aid in the passage of designation). Passage of the Monument did not occur until late 2014, and only after much public meeting, discourse, and compromise.

Patently false statements are made when the President calls our National Monuments “massive federal land grab[s]” and the Interior Secretary says that he’ll “give that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs.” We, the American people, own this land (not the “feds”); you already have the power (it’s your land); and much public process was part of their ultimate designation. This Administration continues to lie to Americans on behalf of the harmful extractive industries it is beholden to (what’s that about “draining the swamp”, you say?)

A particular segment of the Executive Order  is of great concern; I am emboldening the parts one should take careful note of:

Monument designations that result from a lack of public outreach and proper coordination with State, tribal, and local officials and other relevant stakeholders may also create barriers to achieving energy independence, restrict public access to and use of Federal lands, burden State, tribal, and local governments, and otherwise curtail economic growth.”

In reading this statement, let us not forget that we now have a Con Man real estate and golf course developer as President and an oil man as Secretary of State. The phrases “energy independence” and “economic growth” are ideas incompatible with land protection. If this Administration successfully achieves its goals of reducing the size or revoking the status of any National Monument, the door opens wide to yet more oil production and/or cattle grazing on America’s most beautiful and treasured lands. Will you allow this?

“[L]ack of public outreach and proper coordination…” can be summarily dismissed as a false statement (please see earlier links). Bears Ears NM in Utah is high on this Administration’s hit list (OIL!); note many public meetings with stakeholders took place prior to its designation as well.

[R]estrict public access to and use of Federal lands…” is another summarily false statement: NO citizen is denied access to any part of any National Monument at any time. You may not be able to ride your four-wheeler to your destination any longer, but complaining about a loss of such former use as off-roading demonstrates a misunderstanding of the reason for and need to protect public lands. If you’d like to see what is permitted versus prohibited at any particular National Monument: https://headwaterseconomics.org/wp-content/uploads/NatlMon_Permitted_Uses.pdf

The terms “Federal lands” and “public lands” are often used interchangeably. Federal lands are lands in the United States for which ownership is claimed by the U.S. federal government, pursuant to Article Four, section 3, clause 2 of the United States Constitution. Ownership of these lands is claimed by the U.S. on behalf of national and public interest (managing and distributing 327 million property deeds would prove very difficult). These are public lands to which all Americans (but not just Americans!) have 24/7/365 access. The exception to this rule are lands claimed by the Department of Defense for their training exercises (nearly 2 million acres here in California).
LINK: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42346.pdf

Attempts to block National Monument designation and supporters of the 45th Administration’s Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act incorrectly cite loss of “traditional” use under new National Monument designations as their source of opposition: Off-roading; hunting; grazing; loss of valid existing rights, etc. Blanket statements regarding blanket prohibitions cannot be made; some Monuments allow hunting, some allow grazing, some allow off-roading. Complaints about loss of mining activities demonstrates a misunderstanding of the reason for and need to protect public lands. Please see: https://headwaterseconomics.org/wp-content/uploads/NatlMon_Permitted_Uses.pdf

These are the basic and most important facts regarding this Order; links to additional articles and details can be found at the end of this article.

Now, will you PLEASE do this for America?
1. Please share, reshare, overshare this post or any other like it regarding this Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act. Here is where sharing is truly caring.

2. Call Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at 202-601-3839 and tell him that any attempts to revoke or shrink our national monuments is an assault on our historical, cultural, and natural heritage. You can also send him an easy form-fill email:
https://secure.npca.org/…/Advocacy;jsessionid=00000000.app3…

3. Contact your Congressperson and tell him/her that any attempts to revoke or shrink our national monuments is an assault on our historical, cultural, and natural heritage. His/her job depends upon their fight for your public lands; fire them (with your next vote) if they fail to act. http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

4. If you operate a business or reside in San Bernardino County, California (home to Sand to Snow NM; Mojave Trails NM; Castle Mountains NM), please contact Representative Paul Cook at (760) 247-1815 and tell him that any attempts to revoke or shrink our National Monuments is an assault on our historical, cultural, and natural heritage. You can also email him: http://cookforms.house.gov/contact/
Specifically request that Rep. Cook send a written letter to the Department of Interior defending the designations and existing size of Sand to Snow NM, Mojave Trails NM, and Castle Mountains NM (all are in his District). His job depends upon his ability to fight for your public lands; fire him (with your next vote) if he fails to act. NOTE: office staff may seem uninterested in your call and may dispense false information by stating that Representative Cook cannot do anything. You may be told to call the President with your concerns. Persist, RESIST.

THANK YOU for what you do for America!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael