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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) Island

August 24th, 2012 · 1 Comment

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Santa Cruz is the second largest of the Galapagos Islands and the largest one that I visited in July and August on my tour there. More than half of the residents of all the Galapagos Islands live in the town of Puerto Ayora, where we stopped for shopping, lunch, and an Internet connection.

But first we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, which for more than half a century has been the leading organization for research on the islands. They do more than anyone else to save the Galapagos giant tortoises found only in the Galapagos that are the islands’ most famous residents.

They are the largest living species of tortoise and one of the heaviest living reptiles. They can weigh up to about 900 pounds and can grow to be up to about 6 feet long. In the wild they can live for more than 100 years, and in captivity one individual lived at least 170 years.

The giant tortoises, like the first one below, strongly reminded me of E.T. in Stephen Spielberg’s wonderful movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. That’s probably because Spielberg did such a good job, modeling E.T. on one of these strange-looking yet friendly giants.

Galapagos (Giant) Tortoises (Geochelone elephantopus) Like This One Inspired E.T. (Panasonic DMC-TS3 at 6mm, f/3.5, 1/400, ISO 400)

Galapagos (Giant) Tortoises (Geochelone elephantopus) Like This One Inspired E.T. (Panasonic DMC-TS3 at 6mm, f/3.5, 1/400, ISO 400)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The saddleback giant tortoise below is one that the Charles Darwin Research Station brought in 1971 from the island of Espanola (Hood) to the station on Santa Cruz for its captive breeding program. At that time these giants faced near certain extinction, because their numbers were down to three males and 12 females that were so widely dispersed that they hadn’t mated in the wild for years. In the station’s program, these survivors produced more than 1,200 giant tortoises that are now living on their home island of Espanola.

One of the Last 14 Surviving Espanola Giant Tortoises (Geochelone elephantopus subspecies hoodensis) Brought Here (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/6.7, 1/250, ISO 1600)

One of the Last 14 Surviving Espanola Giant Tortoises (Geochelone elephantopus subspecies hoodensis) Brought Here (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/6.7, 1/250, ISO 1600)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The giant tortoises below can’t be engaged in mating behavior, which is admitted tough when you have such a big carapace. I never could figure out what they were doing except eating together.

Time for Breakfast! (Panasonic DMC-TS3 at 8mm, f/4.3, 1/400, ISO 400)

Time for Breakfast! (Panasonic DMC-TS3 at 8mm, f/4.3, 1/400, ISO 400)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
Close-up (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/6.7, 1/2000, ISO 1600)

Close-up (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/6.7, 1/2000, ISO 1600)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

That afternoon we drove to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island to frolic with free-ranging tortoises in the wild. We tramped through the private Primacias Rancho where we found many of them.

A Smooth-billed Ani (Critiogaga ani) Finds that this Galapagos (Giant) Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus) Is a Convenient Perch (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO 1600)

A Smooth-billed Ani (Critiogaga ani) Finds that this Galapagos (Giant) Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus) Is a Convenient Perch (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO 1600)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
Bath Time! (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO 1600)

Bath Time! (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO 1600)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

On our way back from tromping through the bush with the wild tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, we went someplace entirely different. We went underground. Like most of us, I have been below the surface of the earth many times in caves and tunnels. But this was something else, a lava tube.

When volcanos erupt, lava drains below the surface of a lava flow, and when the flow stops and the rock cools, a long channel can remain. The lava tube that we explored looks so well-made that in my human hubris I almost thought people had constructed it.

I wanted to tell you about this lava tube, but it’s not fair to write a photo essay without showing you a photo to illustrate it. My problem was that this lava tube is so dark, illuminated by a series of what are probably no more than 40 watt light bulbs, that I knew I couldn’t get a good shot.

Trying anyway, I pulled out all the stops on my camera, shooting at the widest possible aperture and using an incredibly high ISO setting, 12,800. Then, after processing it with my usual photo software, Aperture, I used Noise Ninja to reduce the graininess that high ISO produces.

Kevin Shows the Width of a Lava Tube (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/4.5, 1/125, ISO 12,800)

Kevin Shows the Width of a Lava Tube (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/4.5, 1/125, ISO 12,800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Not all of the wonders of nature in the Galapagos are on the land or under the sea. Some of them are under the ground.

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Posted in: Galapagos

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Mary Coral // Aug 31, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Many thanks for the wonderful photographs. I have really enjoyed seeing them.

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