Sunday, July 24, 2011

Big Deal

Big Sur River Gorge 
Life along the Big Sur River Gorge
Big Sur, Calfornia. Few sensory pleasures compare to dipping into a cool mountain river on a scorching hot summer day. During my past four years in California, this has been my ultimate indulgence. To get away from the hustle and bustle of life for a day, bake in California's warm interior on a scenic hike or bike ride, and then spend the rest of the day drifting in pure bliss within crystal clear mountain waters - is a pleasure hard to put words to. A favorite spot in the past has been the Russian River of Sonoma Valley, but the Big Sur River in July does the job just fine. Recently, my buddy "Rabbit" Schaffer and I made our way to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and did a few hours of hiking on the dramatic - but terribly exposed - Mount Manuel trail. After a few hours baking in the Big Sur July heat along windless canyons of the Ventana Wilderness, we made our way back to the Park, scrambled down into the Big Sur River gorge and rock-hopped upstream until we found a swimming hole to our liking. Crystal clear, these waters are important for steelhead and were all too recently a favorite haunt for California's now extinct grizzly bear population. For us, it was summertime at its best. A swim beneath waterfalls, followed by sipping a few rounds of Argentine mate upon massive boulders, and then more swimming. Before long, all of the biting flies, snakes, poison oak and scorching sun of the Ventana backcountry had been washed from our souls. Heaven must be a little like this.

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Big Sur River swimming hole
Big Sur River

Arlo sipping mate - Big Sur River Gorge
Arlo sipping mate in the Big Sur River Gorge
Rabbit on Mount Manuel
Rabbit runs down the Mount Manuel Trail
Rabbit & his mate
Rabbit sipping mate in the Big Sur River Gorge
Arlo & Rabbit, Big Sur River
Arlo & Rabbit relax in the Big Sur River - post excursion

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Exploration as Art

A blind river fish from the Rio Bameno, Amazonian Ecuador.  Known as "wiami" to the local Huaorani.
Mountain View, California.  Beyond all else, exploration is my greatest passion. It is the process of discovery with risk. It provides the opportunity to experience what few others have and the potential to witness that which no one else has. It is both the hazy cloud of the unknown and the shining beacon of enlightenment. And to me it is worth any cost.

Unidentified mantis at the Bilsa Biological
Station.  Mache-Chindul Range,
Western Ecuador.
Exploration is an art. Like all forms of art, it is a means of self-expression, discovery and a reflection of reality. It is also the tool by which I paint the picture of my life. The means through which I tell stories in written word and film. It is an ever-changing landscape on a kaleidoscope of color, culture, geology, climate and biodiversity. It is a deep crevasse of self-awareness, the mechanism for finding one’s own place in this world and understanding the texture of our souls. Nothing shows you who you are quite like that which you are most not. Exploration places you in intimate proximity with your counterbalance. It entwines who you are with who you are not, with who you may be and most of all, who you appear not to be, but in fact share almost everything. In doing so, exploration catalyzes the creation of something new. This creation is artistic expression of life in its purest form.

The author, Arlo Hemphill, straddled with a killed peccary during a hunt with the Huaorani.  Amazonian Ecuador, 2003.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I am Wilderness

Pico Blanco, Ventana Wilderness, California.  July 2009.
Words describe my connection to wild places, my symbiosis with the wilderness.  I am wilderness.  My soul is those wild, lonely places - windswept mountain passes, the rocky crags, and wandering herds upon endless grasslands.  There is no difference between those things and what is found within me.  This is true too of the sea.  The vibrant blue of tropical waters.  I am but a damselfish in an ocean of coralline hues. The schools of great fish swim through my heart and onto the deserts of my mind - those Forgotten Lands, bone dry - but bright and welcoming.  Bring your own water, for I have none to give.  I am wilderness.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Postive News" on Bottom Trawling

TASMAN SEA: The NZ dep sea trawler West Bay does a fast turn after hauling its catch from international waters in the Tasman Sea. Greenpeace along with more than a thousand scientists are supporting the call for a moratorium on high seas bottom trawling, because of the vast amount of marine life that is destroyed by this fishing method.  © 2004-Greenpeace/Roger Grace
Mountain View, California.  As one of the most destructive forms of fishing, any proactive efforts to limit or eliminate bottom trawling are good news.  This fishing practice systematically scrapes along the seafloor with heavy gear, causing widespread ecological damage.  The long term impact on fishing itself is the reduction of fishery populations and loss of fisheries habitat.  This, however, pales in comparison to the damage it does to greater environment, including to millennia old cold water corals - the fiscal value of which are incalculable.

In this quarter’s Positive News,  a U.K.-based international newspaper with affiliates in New York, Hong Kong, Madrid and Argentina, the author of this blog was interviewed on the international effort to ban deep sea bottom trawling on the high seas.  This auxillary article compliments the month’s feature story, which covers an announcement from the nation of Belize to ban bottom trawling in their national waters. Joining the ranks of Venezuela and Palau, both countries of which have taken similar measures, Belize put this legislation into effect on December 31, 2010.

Arlo's contribution covers some of numerous achievements made through an international campaign to promote a U.N. moratorium on high seas bottom trawling that was spearheaded by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.  He also touches on the momentum to build a network of marine protected areas on the high seas, which in concept would offer permanent protection to the seamounts and coldwater coral reefs currently threatened by trawling and other destructive fishing practices.

Read the full Positive News article: Towards and International Ban on Trawling by Sarah Wilkinson.

For more information on bottom trawling and high seas marine protected areas, check out the following sites:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Science on Ice

"The test of man's willingness to pull back from the destruction of the Antarctic wilderness is the test also of his willingness to avert destruction globally. If he cannot succeed in Antarctica he has little chance of success elsewhere." - Edwin Mickleburgh

Many of us dream of going to Antarctica. A few of us have had the good fortune of visiting. For Dr. Rodolfo Werner, travel to White Continent is a regular part of life. As a marine scientist, Dr. Werner has spent much of his life studying marine mammals of the Southern Ocean and the Southwest Atlantic, off of Argentina's wild Patagonian coast. These days, he's the scientific advisor for the Pew Environment Group's Antarctic Krill Conservation Project. Much of his time is spent in the political sphere, where he provides scientific support for the case of protecting key areas used by Antarctic wildlife to forage on krill - a shrimp-like crustacean that forms the basis of the Antarctic food chain.  But when not hammering out new protections for Antarctic wildlife, his life is on ice - literally.

During the Antarctic summer, when much of the northern hemisphere is blanketed in snow, Rodolfo guides groups to Antarctica as an expedition leader with National Geographic's Lindblad Expeditions.
Currently at sea on the National Geographic Explorer, Rodolfo's Antarctic voyage can be followed online.  Drop in for your own taste of this icy realm.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sunsets of Big Sur

Sunset over the Pacific. Big Sur, California.
Big Sur, California.  For those who know me, you may be aware that the past few months have been a difficult time for me, amongst the hardest points on my life.  But before the recent drama began to unfold in force, the wilds of Big Sur were my frequent refuge of the soul.  This magnificent stretch of coastline, and its adjacent Ventana Wilderness, represents some of the most beautiful and untainted landscape in the continental United States.

Rabbit crosses a fallen redwood
in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Due to its close proximity to Monterey - with some hiking trails as short as a 15 minute car ride from downtown - this natural treasure has been my regular go to spot over the past two years for hiking, river swimming, natural history film and photography, writing, relaxation and reflection.  Luckily, fortune has also provided me with a good number of friends who find equal appreciation and fascination with this special place.  Most recently, I had visits from Rabbit Schaffer and Boca this past October and we took the opportunity to hit some trails, scramble up some river gorges and enjoy fantastic sunsets.

Here's a few photos from October.  I wish I was in Big Sur now.
McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Rabbit crosses the fallen redwood, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Big Sur Sunset
Rabbit, Big Sur. October 2010
Arlo Hemphill, Big Sur. October 2010.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Of Frogs and Photos

Glass frog - Centrolene antioquensis
Photography is one of the most powerful tools for communicating the irreplaceable value of wilderness.   Conservation photographers bring the beauty, majesty and spiritual essence of remote wilderness areas  - as well as their diverse biological inhabitants - back to the everyday world.  Without images such as the few featured here, many in the "modern" world would have no understanding or sense of relationship to the remaining wilderness areas of our planet.  

Endangered Rothschild Giraffe, the only subspecies
with five  horns (two behind the ears!)  - less than 690
individuals survive in the wild, many of them around Giraffe Manor
An emerging talent in this discipline is Robin D. Moore.  Dr. Moore works as a herpetologist - or frog expert - for Conservation International.   His job entails traveling to some of the most far flung corners of the globe to check in on the status of declining amphibian populations.  He takes advantage of these opportunities in the field to record the places, faces and animals he encounters through photography.  And thanks to his great talent in this area, he brings back images so compelling, they tell the story of his important work - with little need for words.

To see more of Robin's work, visit his photography website at and follow him on Facebook at Robin Moore Conservation Photographer.

Blog author Arlo Hemphill and Robin Moore
enjoy a lighter  moment at an iLCP "12 Shots" event
during Wild9 in Merida, Mexico - Nov 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Shark Sucker

Beqa Lagoon, Fiji.  This past July I had the wonderful opportunity of traveling to Fiji and diving with the shark feeders of Beqa Lagoon.  To the people of Beqa, sharks are sacred spirits with whom they share a special relationship.  Divers visiting Fiji may accompany the islanders on a shark feeding for an up close and personal look at bull, silvertip, tawny nurse, blacktip reef, whitetip reef and tiger sharks.

The above picture is one of my favorite from the experience.  This is one of the Fijian divers ascending to the surface following the shark feeding.  The fish swarming around him are primarily remoras and rainbow runners, attracted to the remaining food in his feed bucket.   Ocean conditions were extremely excellent this day, offering top to bottom visibility at 100ft of water.  This is the kind of scene I can lurk in forever.  I never want to leave the blue on warm, clear days like this.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Big Sur Rattlesnake

Western Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus
Andrew Molera State Park, California. This past weekend I was out hiking near Big Sur with a group of friends from Monterey, and came across this western rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus.  The poor guy was really upset to see us and not very cooperative in moving aside so we could pass. We were ascending the East Molera Trail in Andrew Molera State Park.  I encountered a second rattlesnake that afternoon on the Molera Ridge Trail.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Great Marlin Race: “ Billfishers, billfishers, billfishers, start fi...

The Great Marlin Race: “ Billfishers, billfishers, billfishers, start fi...: "The tournament began promptly at 7:30 a.m. this morning, under hazy skies with west winds around 7 mph. Randy and I met the anglers on the ..."