Old 04-12-2007, 12:34 AM   #1
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Default How risky are the deserts?

Desert photographs certainly have an advantage that most of the country doesn't have in that the plant life stays dwarf or stunted due to the nature of the climate and it makes for great winding shots of trains! Except for the open plains or some odd spot getting long winding trains without vegetation in the way is almost impossible.

Now for my question, what type of risks are involved when going off the beaten path or even on it in those types of climates such as snakes, scorpions and the like? With a decent number of members submitting shots from Cajon, Tehachapi or any other dry hot area, do you have some interesting stories to tell on some instances? I realize the rail traffic is probably too constant for some animals to like but with all the rock around I would think that snakes would like to sun a bit .

Thanks for any insight on this matter.

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Old 04-12-2007, 02:00 AM   #2
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Check this site out and this Desert Railfan Guide.
He also has some great maps and photos on the site. I have always wanted to go railfan out west and hope to go out there someday and I may get my chance in August. It looks like August my not be the best time to go.
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Old 04-12-2007, 02:07 AM   #3
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Ive shot in the desert a number of times, including many of the big spots for trains (Cajon, Mojave, Arizona) and for non trains (Grand Canyon NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP).

The general rule is bring lots and lots of water, find shade and watch where you step. For the big railfanning spots, you never have to go far from your car (tops maybe an hour hike for some spots in Cajon). Also, most of the big spots are close to civilization (for instance there is a gas station and Micky D's at the top of Cajon). The risk involved is minimal.

National Parks on the other hand are a whole other ball game. You can easily find yourself miles from anyone or thing.

As for animals, admittedly my experience is limited (maybe a combined total of 150-200 hours), but I've only seen a rattle snake once, and as soon as I got close it took off (Mormon Rocks at Cajon) . Seen lots of little lizards and what not, but nothing serious. The big rule is just watch where you step or put your hands, special around rocks as rattlesnakes like to sunbathe on them.
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Old 04-12-2007, 03:02 AM   #4
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I have lived many years in the desert, going on 18+ right now. It is all i have really known, and i know its abilities as well as anyone out there, so i belive i can answer the call.

Many photog's embark on these famous areas like tehachapi, needles and mojave. The main thing is to time it right. Unlike east coast, when summer time tends to be the best. The months from May-Early Sept just dont do it. In fact you could end up being very dangerous. The heat in the sonoran desert out in Tucson, AZ in the summer months tops 120 with an average of 110. The mojave between Needles and Tehachapi, is much worse, i wouldnt even consider it a possibility to get out there. Its almost 100% fact that your car will have some sort of problem.

The other reason is that light conditions are horrible in these months, the sun gets so high that your windows of oppurtunity are probably a good 2 hours in the moring (about 5 am) and a another 2 mabey 3 at sunset about 7pm. I just got back from Tehachapi and the needles sub, i found myself waiting from 10:30am to 4pm just waiting for the light (that was mid march).

Desert photography is not easy at all, most of the time there so much flat track that finding interesting shots is very hard. But i am extreamly picky.

The problem i see most is that bring water doesnt do you any good once you get heat stroke of start feeling the heat pounding at you. Yes, there is such thing as heat waves and i have felt then for 18 years. You must drink water constantly, lots of peeing is a good thing, just keep pounding water, and some gatorade. And stay well feed.

Bring lots of repair tools for a car, jacks, tire stars, extra of everything. Espaecally battery jumpers or cables.

The way i see it, is that you should attempt these areas when the season tell you. Summer months are good for monsoons but its still hot. I wouldnt even think about railfanning in the summer, i usually start late in the day and stay close, never go to far because i'll spend more time driving then photographing. I recommend desert railfanning from mid october to early march (mid march at the latest). After those times the suns dead period becomes to big and the days really suck. If you go in the times i said, then you can shoot all day.

But make sure you keep you gas tank full, running of 1/2 tanks are not options, espeaclly on air conditioners and the heat sucks for the air supply, your on the gas alot more.

I am not trying to scare you, but it is a serious matter in the summer months people from the east think that our desert winter is hot, but they just dont know 110+.

Since there is no water to hold the temperature, the land temp quickly rises in a hour or less, it can be 95 at 9am. And then it quickly drops after the sun goes down. Its quite nice after the sun goes down.

Critters are very abundant, and you must know what and where you going, snakes season is right now till october. I heard that a group on tehachapi last week soptted 3 snakes in 6 hours near there set ups. Not something to look forward to.

Bottom Line: railfan deserts in the Winter, mid october to mid march and you'll be pleased with the results. If you go during the summer early morning and later afternoons are good times (hot but good), go do something else during the dead peiords, like swimming at the hotel!
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Old 04-12-2007, 03:36 AM   #5
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Desert dangers far less than East St. Louis dangers
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Old 04-12-2007, 12:04 PM   #6
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Pat, thanks for the informative response as well as the others. As a youngster I did have the chance to spend some time at some of the National Parks such as Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands so I do have a sense of how you can get isolated quickly. When setting up tents at a campground once, one of our neighboring campsites failed to zip their tent tight and later found a scorpion seeking comfort! My days of hiking also will help me as far as having adequate supplies "just in case" the plan doesn't go well . Even today so many people think a day hike means go in with barely any water and if needed their cell phone will save them, problem is those areas might not have cell towers close enough!

I hope to get the chance to visit the train hot spots out west sometime during the winter months to use the snow to create the mix with the scenery. Always wondered what type of critters have crossed paths with railfans and such though.

Thanks again, Rich
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