"TEN FOR '13" - MY FAVORITE IMAGES OF 2013
Just a few notes about these images and about being a landscape photographer in the Southwestern United States: I feel so lucky to live where I do and to be able to witness some of the world's most spectacular scenery on a regular basis. Every photo on this list was taken at a location that is less than five hours from my home and I slept in my own bed after seven of them! The beauty and the variety of scenery in this part of the world makes living here a privilege that should not be overlooked by anyone fortunate enough to call the Southwest home. Hope you enjoy the photos!
#10 - "MEADOW MIRACLE" - A record monsoon led to a spectacular display of wildflowers in Northern Arizona. This meadow of sunflowers seems to go on for miles as the San Francisco Peaks loom in the background.
#9 - "FORGING A PATH" - From an amazing hike in the incomparable Virgin Narrows in Zion National Park. Most of this hike is actually done IN the Virgin River...with color-streaked canyon walls towering hundreds of feet overhead.
#8 - "GRAND FINALE" - The last light of a beautiful summer day on the North Rim's Cape Royal...put it on your bucket list!
#7 - "FLOWERS & LIGHTNING" - Catchy title right? I'd like to say this was a result of skill, perseverance and the mastery of modern technology but that would be a lie. The truth is, I was just taking some mid-day scouting shots and this bolt of lightning happened to strike during a 1/30th of a second exposure - I probably should have bought a lottery ticket on my way home!
#6 - "DESERT DREAMLAND" - This one actually is the result of careful planning and modern technology. Grand Falls is about a 45 minute drive from my home in Flagstaff and only flows during spring snowmelt and after large monsoons. By monitoring the USGS website to make sure there was good water flow and a U.S. Naval Observatory site to ensure that the moon phase was optimal, I was able to get this rare shot of the falls under a starry sky.
#5 - "ROYAL BEAUTY" - This is a panoramic shot...two images that are stitched together in order to take in a wider view of this incredible scene. This is also from sunset at Cape Royal...did I already mention that you should check this place out if you get a chance?
#4 - "BESO DE LUZ" - One of my best titles ("Kiss of Light", for you non-Spanish speakers). The soft light of sunset reaches the top of the San Francisco Peaks through the remnants of a summer monsoon. The golden grasses and rolling hills of Government Prairie provide some incredible views of the Peaks. It is such a privilege to be able to see views like this and then come home and sleep in my own bed!
#3 - "A FOGGY NOTION" - Hey, another creative title! This actually wasn't taken in 2013 but it was discovered this year. This file sat on my hard drive for about a year, then one day I was going through some old pictures and decided to take a new approach in my processing with this image. The end result is not the norm for me but I really like the mood this portrays.
#2 - "NARROWS AURA" - Another image from my fall hike through the Virgin Narrows in Zion. Hiking the Narrows is another one for the bucket list...a truly unique experience!
#1 - "THE GIFT" - Another image from the Grand Canyon...this time from the South Rim. The title refers to the fact that it was taken on my birthday, the light was a pretty nice present. And a bonus that is a true rarity for the hustle-bustle world of the South Rim; I didn't see another human being the entire time I was out there...and I was home for dinner and slept in my own bed!
Exciting news! The image you see below has made it to the final round of judging in the Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Awards - that means top 10 landscape images out of over 20,000 entries from all over the world!!! Nature's Best, is one of the most prestigious photo contests in the world and the coolest part of it is that if I make it past this next round the image will be displayed at the Smithsonian for the next year! The announcement will be in February and if I am lucky enough to be chosen, the picture will go up in April. This just goes to show you how important it is to get out when that "transitional weather" is in the forecast. I mean it's a decent composition and the formations are amazing but it's the rainbow and the pink clouds that make this image truly special. Too bad I couldn't get a unicorn to fly by too - I think I'd be a shoo-in for the Smithsonian ;-)
Yeah, I know this invite is really outdated but I like it so it's staying! I made the invite (did a pretty good job, I'd say) and it was a lot of fun going back to my hometown and doing a show with my lifelong friend Marty Maehr , who lives in Ann Arbor, MI. Marty works mainly with oil based paint and his work depicts an intensely colorful psychedelic world which seems to be viewed through stained glass - use the link to visit his website and have a look at his work!
PHOTO TRIP JOURNALS AND ASSORTED RANDOMNESS
November 19, 2011
I just got back from eight days exploring the canyons of Southern Utah - kind of my home away from home. It's been a while since I've spent any signifigant amount of time up there, it kind of felt like I was visiting an old friend! This trip included the remote tributary canyons of the Escalante River, a hike along Calf Creek, and the incomparable landscapes of Bryce and Zion National Parks. Daytime highs tended to be in the 50's or 60's while the nights typically were in the 20's or 30's - with one night near Bryce dropping down to a chilly 19 degrees! Overall this was a great trip...beautiful scenery, excellent photography, nice weather and plenty of time to decompress after a long season of teaching tennis.
My first destination was Hole In The Rock Road, but to get there from Flagstaff I have to drive right by Bryce Canyon; so I spent the night near the park and dropped in for a quick sunrise shoot. It just doesn't matter how many times I see this place (probably more than 10) - it just never ceases to amaze me! The unlikely shapes and colors of the formations within the canyon, combined with all the beautiful vegetation make this one of the world's most beautiful landscapes (just a reminder...if you really want ot see these images, please view them large in my "Recent Work" gallery - thanks!).
After a quick stop at Bryce it was on to HITR Rd. and the amazing canyons of the Escalante River. My first hike took me from the trailhead down about 1400 feet of elevation loss and about 6 miles (one way distance) - across the Escalante River (teeth chattering cold!) and into Neon Canyon. This was just a great way to start my trip; it was a beautiful day, the scenery was great and I saw a grand total of ZERO people on the hike! While I didn't get any worhtwhile pictures down in Neon Canyon, I did come away with a pretty nice one on the return hike from up on the rim, overlooking the Escalante River with the fall colors lining its banks.
After my trip to Neon Canyon I spent a few more days exploring the area nearHole in The Rock Rd. - first, to visit two amazing slot canyons...Zebra (left) and Spooky (right).
There are a couple of somewhat amusing stories that go with my trip to Spooky (which, appropriately, was on Halloween). On the hike down to the canyon, I ran into a fairly overweight dude who was walking back towards the trailhead. Having just been to Zebra the day before, where I had to wade through thigh-deep water (which kept everyone else out of the canyon so I had it to myself!) - I wanted to find out if there was any water in Spooky. I asked the guy and he said "I don't know, I didn't go in the canyon because I didn't fit"! Talk about foot-in-mouth...I felt horrible! I have been to Spooky before and if I had thought about it I would have known that there was no way this guy could have fit into that narrow passage. Anyway, I proceeded on to the canyon, which I had to myself for about 20 minutes...until a couple came along with their 4 and 6 year old(?) kids...crying...screaming-crying...in a two foot wide, stone walled canyon! There are no words to describe what this sounded like but I will say that it kinda ruined the whole get-away-from-it-all vibe :-( We struck up a brief conversation and they informed me that the wailing had nothing to do with the fact that these kids had been dragged into a two foot wide, hundred foot deep, cold, dark crack in the desert - but rather it was because the kids wanted to do more climbing and they weren't allowed. I suppose anything's possible but this just didn't seem like a great place for little kids, especially on Halloween - they should be out trick-or-treating and then gorging themselves with candy! These people definitely aren't getting my vote for Parent of The Year.
After playing in the slots for a couple of days, I made my way to Sunset Arch, located out in the middle of some very remote sage flats. There is no real trailhead or trail for Sunset Arch, you just kind of park your car and wander around until you find it. I was planning to shoot both sunset and moonset here, so I brought along my dinner (grilled burgers, goldfish crackers and kale) and something to read (Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool Aid Acid Test). It's a very short hike out to the arch and I got there just a little before sunset - which was absolutely spectacular!
I then settled in for the 2 (or so) hour wait until I could do some moonlight photography. I ate dinner...read a little...messed around with some self-portraits (made it up to the top of the arch in less than 20 seconds!):
And just kind of lazed around, enjoying the solitude and the all-too-rare sound of complete silence...and fell asleep! I woke just in time to catch a few moonlit shots of the arch (which all sucked, so I'm not posting any) and then gathered my things together for the hike back to the car. Finding the car in a featureless desert and in complete darkness (the moon had set already) with just a compass for navigation was a bit of a challenge, but as you can tell from the fact that I'm writing this, I did get back!
So now it was off to Zion to catch the fall colors there...but of course I had to drive by Bryce again so I couldn't resist another sunrise shoot there - did I mention how friggin' drop-dead-gorgeous this place is?:
In addition to my brief stopover at Bryce, I slept at Grovesnor Arch (about 20 minutes from Bryce) the night before and managed to get in some moonlight shooting there:
So now the last stop on this Magical Mystery tour - Zion in the fall. If you've never been to Zion in the fall...what the heck are you thinking?!? GET THERE!!! It really is incredibly beautiful - unfortunately, its beauty isn't exactly a secret so there were like a gazillion people there. My favorite hike there is the left fork of North Creek, which leads to the amazing area known as The Subway:
The thing is, that picture is actually from a couple of years ago...I didn't get any pictures of the actual Subway because there were too many people there - instead I got a picture of about ten grown men's butts with just a little bit of the Subway showing on the other side. I'm not going to post those pics because no one wants to see butts (at least not on this kind of website) and I didn't get the proper release form signatures to post those images. I really didn't care that I didn't get to shoot The Subway - I like the shot I have and I went on the hike to shoot other parts of the canyon and also to show a friend this amazing place. The funny part of this was the dudes with the butts didn't know I didn't want to shoot The Subway, yet they all stood there, lined up so no one else could possibly see the place for about 20 minutes and when we left they showed no signs of moving any time in the near future. What made it even funnier (or actually sadder) is that when I stopped for about three minutes to shoot a lower section of the place they all yelled at me because I was in their composition. I mentioned to them they are a bunch of inconsiderate a****les and then took a couple more shots before continuing on my merry way. I feel bad for these people...you see when I go on a hike, I go so I can get away from people like that, but when they go for a hike they can't get away from themselves.
Like I said, the hike is just amazing - so much to photograph besides The Subway and I got a few shots that I really like:
So it was a great day, and a GREAT WEEK...just what the doctor ordered. One thing that I have worried about as I have become more involved in the business side of photography (I'm in five galleries now) is that I would become so concerned with getting some good pictures that I would no longer appreciate going to these incredible places. I think I can safely say that that hasn't happened at all - there is nothing like a little solitude in the beauty of nature to get your mind right - simply amazing!
October 2, 2011
It's been about nine months since my last entry in this whatchamacallit thing that I'm doing here - it's a combination of laziness and bizziness (with tennis, not photography). Not a whole lot new to report on the photography front; summer means long days of teaching out in the sun, while fall and spring bring shorter teaching days but six day work weeks. There has only been one road trip in the last few months - my annual pilgrimmage to the majestic San Juan Mountains for wildflower season. The San Juans had near-record snowfall last winter which means lots of moisture for the summer bloom...which didn't disappoint! What was of particular interst to me was these conditions brought a banner year for the high altitude Colorado Columbine - my favorite flower.
This shot was taken in Upper Ice Lake Basin - quite possibly my favorite place on the planet! This place sits at about 12,500 feet and it is an absolute eden of lakes, streams, waterfalls and more wildflowers than you can possibly imagine. Lugging a 50 pound backpack up this steep trail is not exactly my idea of a good time but the hike is not too long and camping up there is about as relaxing as it gets (especially when the weather is good - as it was this year). I'm already planning an extended stay up there next year!
December 30, 2010
It's finally over...I have finished the second of my two round trip, solo drives from Flagstaff to Urbana, Illinois. As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a show at the Heartland Gallery in Urbana, Illinois and I decided to drive my stuff out for the show and spend Thanksgiving with my family, drive back to Flagstaff, stay for a couple of weeks, then drive back out to spend Christmas with my family and take down the show and bring it back. With all the side trips for photography and other things, I logged between 7500 and 8000 miles by the time it was all said and done. I actually love road trips, but this was a little bit extreme even by my standards. I'm still glad that I did it this way; I was able to make a lot of side trips for photography, visited a few galleries which may be interested in displaying my work and had some great visits with various family and friends back in my hometown. I was especially happy to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas with my mom (90 years old!) and dad (91!) - that's 181 Christmases between the two of them!!! The show was quite successful - I now have a permanent display at the gallery - and opening night was well attended and turned out to be a lot of fun. The show was a joint venture with Marty Maehr, a lifelong friend who is a successful painter, and the show served as a great excuse to spend some time with Marty, his brother Mike and the rest of the Maehrs, who are kind of my second family.
Marty Maehr, Jane Maehr, Marty Sr., Me, my pop, my mom. It's not easy to find five adults to take a picture with that I am the tallest person in the picture!
Of all the sidetrips that I took as I wandered around the country, one in particular stood out above the rest. White Sands National Monument is an area of brilliant white gypsum sand dunes that lie in a basin between the Sacramento and San Andres Mountains in Southern New Mexico. In addition to the incredibly unique and beautiful white dunes, what made my stay there so special was the weather (sunny, with highs in the 60's the week before Christmas) and the fact that I had the place to myself! Due to the fact that there is no drive-in camping at White Sands, and that the park closes from sunset until 7 o'clock the following morning, the park pretty much empties out around sunset. The only way to stay in the park overnight is to stay in one of the remote campsites that you hike through the dunes to get to. On the night I was there, nobody else was at the campsite so I had the place to myself! I was treated to a spectacular desert sunset and sunrise
and, because I was there the night before the full moon, I went for an incredible hike under the light of the moon until about 10:30 P.M. The pristine white sands of these dunes lit up the entire landscape as they reflected the light of the moon.
Warm December temps, gogeous white sand dunes, a moonlight hike and and not another human being anyhwere - this was one of those times when nature reminded me why I started taking pictures in the first place - it just doesn't get any better!
December 5, 2010
The road has kind of been my home away from home lately, and will be for much of the month. Due partly to my love for wandering aimlessly throughout this country, and partly to the fact that my brain doesn't hit on all cylinders sometimes, I decided to drive out to Illinois and back twice in the span of about 40 days. I am doing a show back in my hometown of Urbana, Illinois, and I decided to drive my work out there and then stay there for a few days to set up the show, attend the opening and have turkey with my family. I then drove back to Flagstaff, stayed there for a couple of weeks and I"m heading back to Illinois to take the show down and to have Christmas (or as they say in the 2000's "the holidays") with my family. With all the side trips for hiking and photography I figure that I will drive somewhere between 7500 and 8000 miles by the time I'm done! Not too surprisingly, the first 500 miles are a lot of fun:
Western New Mexico,
and Western Colorado
offer an endless supply of beautiful detours, filled with spectacular hikes and a myriad of opportunities to capture nice images. All of the above images were captured during the first round trip to Illinois and back. Stops were made at numerous locations on the Hopi and Navajo Reservations, then it was on to the wonderfully strange Bisti Wilderness in Northwest New Mexico before heading up to the San Juan Mountians north of Durango, Colorado. The return trip was a straight shot on route 70 to Moab, Utah, where I spent a couple of days shooting the incomparable scenery of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
The last 1000 miles (or first 1000 on the way back) are...how do I put this delicately...UNBELIEVABLY BORING!!! No offense to anyone who lives in eastern Colorado, eastern New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas or Oklahoma, but the scenery in that part of the country, especially in November and December, is not real photogenic. Brown grass, bare trees, gray skies - it's pretty much a breeding ground for Seasonally Affective Disorder. So it takes me about five days to cover the western 500 miles and then 1 1/2 days to plow through the last 1000.
November 4, 2010
I spent a few days exploring the peaks just outside of Flagstaff, enjoying the fall colors. When I first moved to the Southwest, I used to laugh at people when they gushed about the fall colors in the peaks area. Being from the midwest, and having seen the autumn display in the hardwood forests there, the sparse patches of color here just didn't excite me a whole lot. Now that I've been here for a few years, I have come to appreciate the intense golds of the aspen groves and the way they contrast with those beautiful white trunks (as in the image below). I still miss the reds of the maples, but I have grown to love autumn here as well.
Most of my fall color photography was done in the Hart Prairie area, which is west of the highest of the San Francisco Peaks. There are aspen groves scattered throughout this area and it was a lot of fun wandering through the forests on a beautiful fall day, enjoying the scenery. I was doing exactly that on a Saturday afternoon when a kind of strange thing happened. I was actually in a large open area on a hillside overlooking the colors when a large bull elk came trotting by, no more than 30 yards from where I was standing. I watched him as he headed down the hill towards a meadow when BANG...a rifle shot broke the silence and the elk crumpled to the ground. I am not a hunter, but I'm not anti-hunting - as long as the hunters are going to eat what they kill. I think it's kind of hypocritical to buy pork, beef, chicken, etc. at the grocery store but then have a problem with killing and eating wild animals. People that hunt just for the trophy disgust me - killing an animal so you can chop of its head and stick it on your wall is pretty sick if you ask me. As it turned out, these hunters were hunting so they could have meat for the winter, so that part didn't bother me. I do have to admit that seeing it happen just a few yards from where I was standing was a little too real for me, but I really didn't have a problem with that either. What did freak me out was the fact that these yahoos were shooting rifles less than fifty yards from one of the most popular areas along the most traveled road in the forest. This was on a Saturday afternoon and there had been people walking and driving all over that area throughout the day. Legally, the hunters had done nothing wrong - it was elk rifle season and they were hunting in the forest with no inhabited structure within 400 yards. But legal and right are two different things; there are thousands of acres of forest land in the area and it would have been just as easy to hunt in an area that didn't have people wandering about all day. I expressed this opinion to the hunters, but they didn't seem to agree. I didn't put up much of an argument on account of my policy against arguing with people who are carrying firearms. This was one photo shoot that I was happy to not get the shot (really bad pun)!
September 10, 2010
"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard"...oh my God we're quoting Dorothy from the Wizrd of Oz now!?!? That line popped into my head because I have been wandering the west looking for spectacular scenery but I found some of the most gorgeous mountain/wildflower vistas about 20 minutes from my front door in the San Francisco Peaks a little northeast of Flagstaff. This year's wildflower bloom was aided by near-record snowfall last winter (over 25 feet in the high peaks), followed by a near-record monsoon that dumped over 8 inches of rain in July and August. There are flowers blooming pretty much everywhere but the best bloom can be seen near Sunset Crater, where entire hillsides and meadows are carpeted with a profusion of color - now this is definitely not how most people picture summer in Arizona!
I had a three day weekend for Labor Day and had planned a trip to Southern Utah - actually a little more than planned, I had the car packed and was driving out of town but stopped on the way for a sunrise shoot in the peaks. My good friend Shane McDermott had joined me for this shoot and when we were done shooting I got in the car and headed off for Utah. About five minutes later Shane called and asked "why are you going to Utah, it couldn't possibly be any nicer than it is here?". I immediately realized he was right - just because you have a three day weekend, there's no law that says you have to go out of town. Not when you live in a place that is surrounded by 10-12,000 ft. mountains that are covered with a sea of colorful flowers. Not when the daily highs at home are in the high 70's/low 80's compared to the mid 90's once you leave the comfort of Flagstaff's high altitude temperatures. So I stayed home and hung out in the peaks, relaxing and enjoying the beauty of my hometown - "there's no place like home"!
August 28, 2010
Just got back from a week on Lake Powell, living on a houseboat, courtesy of my good friends Ken and Kathy - a million thanks to them for their unending hospitality! This is not my normal vacation - rather than living out of the back of my RAV-4 eating camping food and seeking out some remote location where I won't see more than one or two people per day, I lived on a beautiful three level houseboat with eight other people and ate three luxuriously large meals every day! This is the second year that Ken and Kathy have taken me out to the Lake - a place that I refused to even look at when I drove past it upon moving to the Southwest a few years back. I have such mixed feelings about the existence of this place; on the one hand it makes me sad to think that they built a dam on the Colorado River and drowned Glen Canyon - this is pretty much the same as filling the Grand Canyon with water! If you read any of the accounts from people like John Wesley Powell or Edward Abbey when they wrote about Glen Canyon, it contained some of the most jaw-droppingly spectacular scenery on the planet and it's sad to think that no one will ever get to see what lies under all that water. On the other hand, Glen Canyon was one of the most remote and inaccesible places in the lower 48 states and most people would never have seen it in its natural state - it's a lot easier to discover the area skimming across the water at 50 MPH on a jet ski! Another great thing about the lake is it's filled with water! If you don't live in the Southwest you probably take that for granted but, in desert country, just because something is called a lake or a river that doesn't mean there is actually any water in it, I can think of many lakes and rivers around here that are dry for much of the year. Water is a big deal in the Southwest, there really aren't any lakes here and it's quite hot out in the middle of the desert, so it's really nice to have this huge lake that you can jump in to cool off whenever you start getting a little hot.
Some fun facts about Lake Powell: 1)From the time the dam was completed it took 17 YEARS for the water to fill up the canyon - that's a lot of water!!! 2)With all the twisting tributary canyons that feed into the Colorado, there is more shoreline on Lake Powell than on the entire Pacific Coast of the United States! In addition to the fact that I would have liked to see Glen Canyon, the other thing that worries me about the lake is I wonder if there will be any long term ecological damage on account of the fact that there is now an enormous lake sitting in the middle of the desert. There is already some evidence mounting that some of the areas downstream from the dam (most notably the vegetation inside the Grand Canyon) are suffering because the dam is blocking most of the vital nutrients from getting down the river and also because the water temps downstream have been lowered due to the fact that the water which gets through is far below the surface and is not heated by the sun. I guess only time will tell what the impact of the lake will be - in the meantime I'll just enjoy it the way it is - which is quite beautiful.
As any photographer will tell you, it's nearly impossible to take high quality photographs when you are with non-photographers - it's hard to explain all the scouting, patience and waiting that goes into getting a good image but it's just hard to do on a trip like this one. Not that I'm complaining, I had a great time on the trip just hanging out and eating and drinking with a bunch of great people for a week; I just didn't take a lot of quality pictures. Instead of photography, the focus of this trip was on eating bacon, drinking alcohol and just hanging out and enjoying the lake in a relaxing manner with a bunch of really nice people.
I did steal away from the group for about 24 hours for a little canyoneering adventure in Willow Canyon, which is a small tributary canyon to the Escalnte River, which is a tributary to the Colorado River. This was my first attempt at canyoneering in its true sense, in that I had to do a combination of hiking and swimming to get up the canyon. Ken took me in the ski boat up to Willow Canyon and went up the canyon as far as he could until there was too much vegetation in the water to take the boat through. At that point he just dropped me off in the water - I had my camping and photography gear in a backpack and dry bags and laid them all in a kind of toy sized kayak that we had brought along. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room for me in the kayak so I donned a life jacket, tied a rope around my waist to the kayak and started to swim up the canyon until the water level was low enough to start hiking. I estimate that I swam for about 30-45 minutes - it's just an amazing feeling to be swimming in a canyon with sheer walls rising about 100 feet overhead and no one around for miles! After pulling the kayak out of the water, I threw on my backpack and started to hike up the canyon, which looked like this:
The hike was quite strenuous on account of the fact that the canyon was absolutely filled with quicksand. If you haven't ever found yourself in quicksand, here are a couple of things that you should know about it: 1)You can't see it, it just looks like wet sand (which is what nearly the entire canyon is made up of), 2)It doesn't swallow you up like it does in the movies (where people routinely are completely swallowed by the stuff, leaving only their hat...apparently quicksand doesn't like hats!), you just sink down to about your knee or maybe thigh and then it takes a great deal of effort to extricate yourself from its suction-like hold - IT'S EXHAUSTING...AND QUITE SLOW!!! Other than the quicksand, the hike was fairly uneventful except for one 50 yard section of the canyon where it slotted up to just a few feet wide and the water was quite deep...
But I manged to negotiate that minor obsacle without getting any of my gear wet and continued on to my destination, which was an enormous arch (about 100 feet tall) called Broken Bow Arch. I set up camp about 100 yards from the arch, ate dinner and did a little starlight photography before turning in for the night. I headed back the next morning and Ken met me back where he had left me off the previous day (THANKS KEN!!!). It was a great adventure, and I got this really cool starlight shot of Broken Bow Arch! (to see it better, view the gallery version, located in the "Recent Stuff" gallery).
The drive to Lake Powell happened to fall on one of the nights of the Perseid meteor shower; this annual event occurs every August and this year the moon phase cooperated in that there was enough moonlight (about 20%) to light up some landscape features, but not so much that it would drown out the stars. So I decided that I would go to some spectacular location to shoot in case I was lucky enough to catch a meteor streaking across the starry skies. I went to this remote canyon on the Hopi Reservation with my friend Kat (who was also going to Lake Powell) and waited for the skies to darken so we could see some meteors. Getting a picture of a meteor is kind of like playing the lottery - it's pure luck. I just found a composition with this really cool formation in it and aligned it so I would also have the Milky Way in the frame - then I just pushed the shutter release and hoped that a meteor would fly into the frame during the 30 second exposure. I saw a few meteors go by during the shots but none were bright enough to show up in a picture (they have to be fairly bright because they are only there for about one second of a 30 second exposure). After about 30 minutes of shooting, I saw an incredibly bright meteor streak by over the top of the formation and was lucky enough to get this shot (again, view the gallery version to see it better):
So the Lake Powell trip was a lot of fun and I came back feeling relaxed and ready to get back to work. The photography was fairly limited, but I managed to get a couple of pretty nice shots.
August 12, 2010
For the second year in a row I was able to spend a few days in the incomparable San Juan Mountains, near the Silverton/Ouray area in Southwest Colorado. Late July and early August is wildflower season in the high altitude basins of the San Juans and life just doesn't get much better than hanging out in this gorgeous place during this color explosion. I live in the Southwest and I absolutely love the desert - red rock formations, sand dunes and canyons are all in my blood - I love spending time in the stark beauty of the desert. But the San Juans are just another level of beauty - the combination of spectacular mountain scenery (most in the 11,000-14,000 ft. range)...
lush mountain basins teeming with a plethora of colorful wildflowers...
and the mild summer temperatures (highs usually in the 60's or 70's) make this one of my favorite spots on the planet. Shane McDermott, my partner in our photo tour business, accompanied me on this trip, which proved to be productive photographically as well as a very relaxing break from my daily routine in Flagstaff. In addition to seeing some incredible scenery, I enjoyed a great deal of solitude and was able to relax in the Ouray hot springs to clean up and soak sore muscles following some tough hiking.
The first location we visited was Porphyry Basin, located about half way between Ouray and Silverton. There is a road that goes all the way up to Porphyry but I only felt comfortable going half way in my vehicle due to the steepness, rockyness and sheer cliffness on the side of the road so we hiked up the rest of the way. There is no way to describe how beautiful these high altitude basins are - scenery just doesn't get any better than this. There are times that I find that I lose my desire to take pictures and want to just relax and take in the mind-boggling beauty of my surroundings. The flowers in Porphyry Basin were quite nice, not quite spectacular, but nice- and there was a beautiful waterfall...
and some glowing light and cloud formations and a creek which flowed through the basin which made for some great photographic opportunities.
In addition to the great scenery here, Porphyry Basin made for a nice warm-up hike to acclimate to the thin air at high altitude before tackling the hike to Upper Ice Lake Basin (12,400 ft.). This was my second visit to Ice Lake Basin and it definitely won't be my last, this basin covers a few square miles and contains probably around ten lakes. There is a gorgeous stream, numerous waterfalls and more wildflowers than you can possibly imagine - it's kind of what you picture when you think of a Shangri La - minus the High Lama and all his disciples. It's only about a five mile hike to the upper basin but it's quite steep, there's not much oxygen and because we were staying there for a few days we were carrying about 50 lbs. of gear - good times! We spent parts of three days and two nights exploring this amazing place - not nearly enough to see and photograph all the beauty that is there. As can be expected with the summer weather in high mountain country, we had to endure a few rain storms, a nasty hail storm (my first such encounter since I shaved my head - it felt like I was being pelted with hundreds of BB's) and lots of thunder and lightning - but that was a small price to pay for the opportunity to spend a few days in what is truly one of the most gorgeous places I've had the chance to visit.
July 16, 2010
Photography definitely takes a back seat to tennis in the summer months; kids are out of school and the temperature in Flagstaff rarely gets above 85, so it's an ideal time to teach long hours on the court. I leave most of the weekend open for hiking and photographing in the peaks just outside of Flagstaff - there are many beautiful locations that are just a few minutes drive and the temperatures in the high elevations (8000-11,000 ft.) are usually in the 70's...not what most people picture when they think of summer in Arizona! The monsoon season seems to be off to a pretty good start this year, big storm clouds build above the high peaks almost every afternoon and I'm hoping to capture them with some nice light sometime soon - but so far my weekends have been more about hiking than photography.
I did do a photo tour in mid-June around the reservation and near Page. The tour went well, we got to see some of the best scenery the Southwest has to offer and the weather cooperated for the most part. The highlight of the trip was visiting some of the remote canyons out on the Hopi Reservation on the last day. There are at least three fairly unknown canyons out on reservation land that match (if not exceed) the scenery in any of the National Parks. There are no signs to mark the location of these places and they don't even appear on most maps of the area so you don't exactly have to battle large crowds when you visit these places. I feel truly fortunate to be among the few people who have experienced the beauty of these spectacular locations and felt even more fortunate when some spectacular light broke through the storm clouds at sunset and painted the entire canyon with an incredible glowing light.
I also got out to the Grand Canyon for an afternoon to do a quick sunset shoot. One of the coolest things about living in Flagstaff is that you are only 1 1/2 hours from standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. So I was just sitting in my living room on a Saturday afternoon when I decided that I would make a quick drive out to the canyon - I threw some dinner in my backpack and was on my way! Summer is the peak of tourist season at the Grand Canyon, so I headed to a little-known overlook that you get to by hiking about a mile through the forest. I went with a friend and we spent about four hours out on the point - during which time we saw only four people! We got to talking to two of the people (a couple from Turkey) and they said they had been planning this trip for months and that they most likely would never see the canyon again. It made me realize how lucky I am to be so close to one of the great natural wonders of the world that I can just decide to go there on a whim in the afternoon and be sleeping in my bed that same night! All-in-all it was a great afternoon - a very nice hike, beautiful scenery, dinner on the rim of the canyon and very nice light for some beautiful photos.
May 7, 2010
No time lately to do any real traveling, but the great thing about living in Flagstaff is there are an endless supply of short day trip locations where there is incredible scenery. Perhaps the best of these is Grand Falls, which is about 40 miles northeast of town, out on the Navajo Reservation. Grand Falls is one the most improbable natural phenomena I have ever seen - it is a 180 foot high, 1/8 mile wide(?) waterfall which is right in the middle of a featureless, arid desert. The fall only runs for a few weeks each year, mainly during snowmelt - but with the near-record snows this winter in Northern Arizona (over 25 feet in the high peaks!), the falls were a site to behold this spring. Because the water which feeds the falls runs through dusty desert washes it picks up a tremendous amount of sediment en route, which results in a chocolate brown torrent of water (the place is nicknamed "Chocolate Falls"). Most of the pictures you see from here are taken from the rim of the canyon, but I chose to hike down into the canyon and across the base of the falls - through ankle deep mud and chocolate brown mist - and climb up the other side of the falls to get this sunset shot:
Both me and my camera emerged from this adventure covered with mud - I haven't been that muddy since I was a little kid - it was a lot of fun! You might ask "why bother getting so muddy and doing all that hiking just so you can get a slightly different composition?" While I do like this comp better than the normal rim shot, I didn't do it just for the picture. I don't want to see nature as an outsider looking in - I want to immerse myself in the scene so I can become a part of it. Trudging through the mud and standing within arm's length of the falls gave me a feeling that I never could have gotten had I just stood on the rim - to me this is what landscape photography is all about. Feeling the slimy mud and mist and hearing the roar of the falls made this a more visceral experience - one that I'll probably never forget!
March 27, 2010
I just got back from an eight day, two state tour of the desert southwest, in search of the elusive desert bloom. I say elusive because even people who are experts in the field seem to have a hard time predicting the bloom. Some years the bloom is spectacular, other times there are just a few flowers here and there. The bloom could be really nice in one location and non-existent in another. Even a place that has a good bloom one year can lie dormant the following year. People are sure that rainfall is a huge factor, but the timing seems to be as important as the amount and there are still other factors that seem to affect the amount and location of the flowers each year. What it all comes down to (in this amateur's opinion) is that it is just such an unlikely miracle that there could ever be lush blankets of wildflowers in a place where the average temperature exceeds 100 degrees for about half the year - so conditions have to be just right for anything to thrive in such an extreme environment. What I can tell you is that seeing the desert in full bloom is something that every nature lover should try to experience at least once in their life.
My trip started in the Ajo Mountians of Western Arizona, a place that I had never been before. Unfortunately, there wasn't a flower to be found there, so I heeded the advice of the internet's desert wildflower report and headed to the Anza Borrego desert in Southern California. I found plenty of beautiful wildflowers there, with an especially spectacular bloom in Coyote Canyon, which is pictured below. Coyote Canyon was definitely the highlight of my time at Anza Borrego, the flowers were quite nice there and it is in a somewhat remote section of the park which is accessed on a dirt road which crosses a few washes. In addition to some nice photography, I spent a great night in the canyon under a starry sky and with only two other campsites within about a mile. The best part of the night was that the wash was running with snow melt from the mountains, which brought hundreds of frogs to life and the desert came alive with croaking frogs, making it sound like I was sleeping in the heart of bayou country instead of the desert.
After spending two days in Anza Borrego, I headed for the border - to the Barry Goldwater missile range on the Arizona/Mexico border to try to find a place called the Mohawk Dunes. This was one of the strangest (and probably stupidest) escapades in my long list of outdoor adventures. In order to go I had to get a permit from a Marine Base in Yuma, Arizona. This meant I had to enter the base (passing by several machine gun-toting Marines) and that I had to sign waivers releasing the Marines from liability if I:
1)Was injured by any unexploded missiles or land mines that happened to be laying around.
2)Was injured if I accidentally wandered onto their laser testing range.
3)Got into trouble with any of the ever present smugglers, border hoppers or border patrols that are so much a part of that part of the country.
4)Got arrested if I accidentally wandered into a classified area on the range.
And a bunch of other stuff that I can't recall, I think there were a total of 14 things for which I had to release the Marines from responsibility. Looking back, I think I probably should have just skipped that part of the trip, but I guess it was just a matter of principle - I was going to get to the MOHAWK DUNES! So this really rude women gives me a permit and a map and I was on my way to one of the most remote desert regions in the United States, where my only company would be the smugglers, border hoppers, border patrol, machine gun-toting marines, missiles and laser beams - GOOD TIMES! In order to reach the dunes, before you get to the missile range, you have to navigate a series of dirt roads that wind through private property. I had been driving for about twenty minutes when the road jogged to the left...and got really wide...really, really wide...wide enough to land a plane on I decided after driving on it for about 1/2 mile. So I made a quick u-turn (there was plenty of room) and started back to the road - when a plane started to come in for a landing (what are the odds?!?!?). I managed to get off the dirt runway just in time and backtracked to the road, when a man came zooming down the road on an ATV - I thought he'd be really pissed, but I explained that I was just trying to find the dunes and I had taken a wrong turn and he seemed OK with that - he even told me how to get there! Maybe he was just trying to get rid of me so they could unload their drug shipment from the plane - you never know when you're that close to the border. After all that, the dunes turned out to be fairly boring so I decided to leave after hiking around for a few hours - it was quite an adventure.
From there, I headed off to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which is located right on the border and is basically a desert forest - it is absolutely teeming with every type of desert vegetation you could possibly imagine. It is also teeming with all kinds of illegal border activity; so much so that the southern half of the park has been closed to the public for the last few years and you can't go more than about five minutes without seeing the border patrol - not your typical wilderness experience. The bloom was fairly average there but everything was really green because of all the rain they had received this winter. There were a couple of nice patches of poppies, one of which is pictured below:
After a couple of days in Organ Pipe, I headed off through the Tohono O'odham Reservation towards Picacho Peak State Park, northwest of Tucson. I went on a couple of nice hikes there, but the flowers were just starting, so I left after less than 24 hours there. From Picacho, it was off to Bartlett Lake - a man-made lake which is a result of a dam in the Verde River which is a pretty reliable wildflower location a little northeast of Phoenix. I met up with a few friends there and we were treated to a beautiful desert bloom, with hillsides filled with lupine, chuparosa and poppies with a few saguaros, cholla and ocatillos scattered around as well. Here is a shot from Bartlett Lake:
All-in-all it was a great trip - warm weather, beautiful flowers, a few peaceful hikes and life on the road! Trips like these are as much about the experiences and memories as they are about the photography. Nights like the one in Coyote Canyon with the frogs croaking away are on example, but there were quite a few on this trip. When I'm on the road I try to be a traveler instead of a tourist. Most of my meals come from my cooler or my camping chest, but if I do go to a restaurant it's not McDonald's or Chili's, instead I try to find the local dives that serve regional fare. In this case, that meant a quick stop in El Centro, California for some of the best Mexican food I've ever eaten - so good, in fact, that I finished my lunch before I even got out of the parking lot and I went back in for seconds. I also had a breakfast burrito (juevos y chorizo) from a stand in a gas station in Why, Arizona (so named, I assume, because anyone in their right mind would wonder WHY anyone would build a town there). Even the whole Missile Base experience (as stupid as it probably was) was an interesting look into a part of the world that I had heard about on the news but I had never had any experience with; it's things like this that make life on the road so special for me. I know that wandering around the desert for a week, basically living out of your car, isn't most people's idea of a good time but the scenery, the people I meet and the things I experience on these trips help keep life interesting for me. It's kind of like that romantic vision of the biker - minus the really loud deathtrap vehicle.
"Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel, let the wind take your troubles away" - Jay Farrar (Windfall)
February 28, 2010
For the second month in a row, bad weather caused me to cancel a trip to Moab, Utah. It's always a tough call when you're deciding whether or not to stick it out when bad weather is forecast. On the one hand, the most spectacular photos are when you have the transition between storm clouds and sunlight, so usually I consider it a good thing (much more exciting than clear blue skies all day). The downside is that if you have a big storm front moving through (especially in the winter) you can have no sun light at all for a couple of days. The other factor is I almost never stay in a hotel and being wet, cold and stuck in a tent or in the back of my car for a couple of days in the middle of winter isn't my idea of a great time. On these trips I made the call that it just wasn't going to be worth it - although on this last trip I substituted a quick tour of the reservation lands of Arizona and New Mexico (where the weather was supposed to be a little better). I brought along a photographer friend of mine, Mike Jones, and showed him the other-worldly landscapes of Blue Canyon and the Bisti Wilderness. The weather held out for about 40 hours and, while I didn't get any sensational photos, I got a couple of nice shots and it's always nice to get out and shoot a little. Here are a couple of shots from that trip:
__ _________ __
These are all from The Bisti Wilderness, which is one of the strangest and most starkly beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. There are no trails, signs or people to be found there - just miles of multi-colored badlands and thousands of bizarre mushroom rocks. I really need to spend a few more days there to explore, I think I've barely scratched the surface of what is out there.