‘Connecting With Nature’ Photo Contest: Top Five Photos

After more than a year without our staff and volunteer photo contest, we are excited to showcase our “Connecting With Nature” top-five photos. We received stunning photos from employees and volunteers this spring displaying a variety of ways we at California State Parks connect with nature, including going on a hike, watching wildlife or taking a stroll along the spring wildflowers while riding a horse. Each photo illustrates what makes our state parks so special, not only for the staff and volunteers who work in them, but also to Californians and visitors from around the world. The top-five photos present the amazing talent from staff and volunteers who can take a simple moment and tell their story behind the image. We want to thank everyone who participated in this contest! Check out the top-five photos selected below.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Photo title: Leaning arch, The Slot

What inspired you to take this photo: “This scene portrays one of the most unique features of this iconic desert slot canyon. One that I have returned to for decades with my family including back in the late 1980s/early 1990s when our two children were very young. Some of these walks were by moonlight when the silence was stunning and every shadow a mystery. The austere abstract shapes and patterns change with every bend and time of day and season. For a few weeks following a wet winter, the lower (north) portal may open to a delightful palette of desert wildflowers accenting the badland terrain. This spring after the park reopened following lifting of some COVID-19 access restrictions, the Slot became a go to location for countless families, some getting their first taste of the wonders of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.”

Photo taken: March 30, 2021, with a Samsung Galaxy S10E cellphone.

Photo by: Don Endicott, volunteer at the Colorado Desert District. Don has been a volunteer naturalist (National Association of Interpretation Certified Interpretive Guide) since 2014 and gives campground amphitheater presentations. He also conducting ongoing bat research in Borrego Palm Canyon since April 2020. Additionally, he has been a volunteer archaeology site steward/certified archaeology technician since 2011. He first visited Anza-Borrego Desert SP in the mid-1960s while in high school

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Photo title: “Black Bear Cub With a View”

What inspired you to take this photo: “This photo captured a moment I shared with park visitors after a crowd gathered to watch two black bear cubs in a cedar tree. When the mama bear came back to retrieve her two cubs, we watched the cubs carefully descend down the large tree. One of the cubs paused and stared back at the crowd before continuing to make its way to the ground. I could hear the crowd get excited as they watched the little one watch us. For some people in the crowd, this experience was their first connection with bears and allowed us to talk about the importance of keeping bears wild.”  

Photo taken: April 30, 2021, with a Olympus Mark III with 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 lens. 

Photo by: Amber Sprock, Central Valley District. Amber is a state park interpreter and has been with the department for 14 years. 

Chino Hills State Park

Photo title: “Follow the Leader”

What inspired you to take this photo: “Chino Hills State Park is a multiuse park that attracts hikers, bicyclists, nature enthusiasts and horseback riders. On this day, I was volunteering to help control the crowds at the park who were in search of poppies. I was assigned the horse camp to patrol the crowds and direct them to stay on the trails. After parking their trailers in the horse camp, this group of horse riders joined another club of riders and were headed to a 4-mile ride through the park. I answered their questions about the unusual crowds, and I explained that the community gets pretty excited about poppy season and were here in droves during this Easter weekend seeking them. However, the crowds were disappointed since poppies and other wildflowers have been sparse in the park this year due to lack of rain. The riders thanked me and off they went.” 

Photo taken: April 3, 2021, with a mirror-less full frame Sony a7rM3. 

Photo by: Rebecca Waters, volunteer at Chino Hills State Park. Rebecca has been a volunteer since 2017. 

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Photo title: “Springtime Blue”

What inspired you to take this photo: “Western bluebirds are one of the things I look forward to in the spring. The males bring a pop of color to the park when everything is just starting to wake up for spring. They are an early gift of beauty that nature provides for me as I wait the wildflowers of spring.”

Photo taken: March 20, 2021, with a Canon SX60 HS.

Photo by: Michele Hernandez, Colorado Desert District. Michele has been with the department for six years and is an interpreter at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. 

Providence Mountains State Recreation Area

Photo title: “Surprise! The Desert’s Alive”

What inspired you to take this photo: “Staff from Northern Service Center were out at the park for work, and when they finished, we headed out to show them the caves. On the recently refurbished trail to Mitchell Caverns, as often happens, one of our resident chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater) was sunning herself on some rocks overlooking the valley. These large lizards are quite abundant on the slopes of the Providence Mountains and are typically not shy around people in the spring. The availability of wildlife here is extraordinary. As visitors from outside the desert get to experience how alive the desert is, it highlights that Mojave and other arid places in California are not empty, lifeless wastes, but rather diverse and living landscapes worthy of our care, attention and respect—which is a particular mission of mine.”

Photo taken: May 12, 2021, with a Canon PowerShot SX510 HS.

Photo by: Andrew Fitzpatrick, Inland Empire District. Andrew is a state park interpreter I and has been with the department for almost 12.5 years. He currently works at Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, the Home of Mitchell Caverns.

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