I still haven’t had much chance to get out for some new photo adventures, so here’s one from five years ago this month (or close enough, the actual trip started in September but ended in October). I took these images on a raft trip through Stillwater and Cataract Canyons on the Green and Colorado Rivers in Canyonlands National Park . Tanya and I joined the trip about 1/3 of the way in, at Mineral Bottom; the trip actually started at Green River State Park and traveled through Labyrinth Canyon prior to reaching Mineral Bottom. My brother Rob joined us on the trip (though he came down earlier and made the entire trip). My good friend Rob Tubbs organized trip and served as trip leader.
As is typical with river trips, the trip starts (or ends) with a shuttle. In this case, we started with a shuttle. We drove most our gear and extra beer down to Mineral Bottom, then drove Hite (the take out site) on Lake Powell. From there, we few back in a small plane, dropping into the canyon to land on a weedy dirt runway at Mineral Bottom. Then it was time to load up, and off we went.
The Green River through Labyrinth and Stillwater Canyons (120 miles) is all flat water, making it one of the classic canoe/sea kayak trips in the United States. We were in rafts, not canoes or kayaks. The advantage of floating it on a raft is that, unless you are rowing, you can kick back and enjoy the view without the effort. Plus you can carry a lot of gear, food, and beer. Much scenery was appreciated; much beer was drank.
Unlike the first portion of the float, the final leg of the journey, 45 miles on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, has loads of whitewater, most of it coming in a single day. One of our rafts flipped in Cataract (luckily, not the one Tanya and I were on – my brother wasn’t so lucky), providing even more excitement for the BRD (big rapids day).
I highly recommend this trip for anyone thinking of an American Southwest float trip. The trip can easily be customized to your own personal level of expertise, time and cost. You can do the whole thing with an outfitter, or on a private trip. The float through Labyrinth can be done completely on your own, taking out at Mineral Bottom. The float through Stillwater (without continuing through Cataract) requires a pickup by jet boat at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers (for a ride back up the Colorado to Moab). Several outfitters can provide this service at reasonable prices.
I’m considering going again someday by kayak, taking a little more time to photograph. Concerning this trip five years ago, I was happy with the photos I came away with, though none were out of this world. I think the black and white conversions I made from the trip worked the best. As always, your opinions are welcome.
While Tanya was at her conference, I decided to drive up to St. Augustine for a day at the recommendation of my friend Mike Krautkramer. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States, founded in 1565. Both Tanya and I love visiting historical places, so it sounded like a great place to visit, and it was.
When selecting on a route up from Orlando, I decided to stop at Washington Oaks Garden State Park and Fort Matanzas National Monument on the way up. I drove through a huge thunderstorm on the way up, and my visit to Washington Oaks was under the constant threat of rain from the storm passing just to the south. But I stayed largely dry and the storm made for a dark, dramatic sky. The garden was nice, but I imagine it has more blooming earlier in the year. I was most impressed by the large oaks draped with Spanish moss – so foreign and tropical looking compared to our trees up here in the Pacific Northwest. The state park also has a nice Atlantic beach with one of the largest outcrops of coquina rock on the east coast. While the outcroppings are very small compared to most bedrock outcrops on the west coast, the rocks themselves were quite interesting to my geologist half. My photographic half also enjoyed making some images of them. I also took the opportunity to stick my west coast feet in the Atlantic Ocean – though with the threat of lighting, I though swimming was not a good idea.
From Washington Oaks, it was northward several miles to Fort Matanzas. I knew little about it, other than it was a national monument. As it turned out, the fort is on an island, accessible only from a small passenger ferry from the visitor center. I arrived at the park right at 1:30 p.m. and immediately noted that the next ferry to the fort was leaving at 1:30 and the one after that at 2:30. If I missed the boat, I wasn’t sure I had time to wait around for the next one. I parked, and rushed to the visitor center to get a pass for the ferry. I asked if I was too late, and the ranger gave me a 1:30 pass and said to hurry. I rushed out and as I approached the dock, there was a crowd waiting to board. The ranger there was asking if anyone else had a 1:30 pass, and still some distance away, I raised my pass and waved. He separated the crowd to let me through and onto the ferry. I’m not sure why none of the people waiting didn’t have the 1:30 passes, but I was grateful. They did let a few people with later passes on after I boarded, then off we sailed across the Matanzas River to the fort.
The first thing you notice about the “fort” is that it is small. In fact, on the ride over, the ranger said that many people ask where the rest of the fort is. He said it isn’t truly a fort, but just a fortified outpost. The entire fort is only 50 feet on each side and only 30 feet tall. It was built by the Spanish to protect the back way into St. Augustine. Apparently it was an effective defense. The guns were fired once against the English in 1742, and no one challenged the guns again. Eventually the British took over the fort via a treaty, then later it went back to Spain, and eventually to the United States in 1819. By that time, not having been kept up, the fort was in bad shape, and the United States never used it militarily. Today, the fort has been preserved and has become a haven for wildlife as well as historic site. While there, I was lucky to see dolphins, a manatee, and even a large alligator (apparently very rare in the salt water).
After about 45 minutes at the fort, the boat sailed back, and I drove north on Highway A1A to St. Augustine, arriving over the bridge of the lions. After a leisurely late lunch at an Irish pub on the waterfront, I visited Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Unlike Fort Mantanzas, the Castillo de San Marcos is a true stone fortress. It is the oldest masonry fort in the United States; construction on the fort started in 1672. Its mission was to protect the City of St Augustine, which it did for many years. It was used by the military for 251 continuous years, until it became a national monument in 1924. Like Fort Mantanzas, it was built by the Spanish and also used by the British and the United States. However, not all its history is noble; when used by the US military, it largely served as prison for Native Americans. The site is full of old cannons, views of the water, and staff dressed in colonial-era clothing – all stuff any travel photographer love.
After touring the Castillo, I wandered around the old section of the city, stopping to photograph the lions at the bridge, a tall ship at the docks, the local cathedral, and several other old buildings. I easily could have spent several days in St. Augustine, there was much to see and photograph, but time was short and I had to get back to Orlando to have a late dinner with Tanya. Whenever I get back to Florida, a repeat visit to St. Augustine will certainly be on my list.
I’ve been back several days now from my backpacking trip down the Paria River canyon (Paria is pronounced like Maria). We hiked out of the canyon on Thursday. I had hoped to post about the trip earlier, but after driving 900 miles on Friday, going to by sister’s surprise 50th birthday party on Saturday, Easter on Sunday, and with Monday being opening day for the Seattle Mariners (I’m a baseball nut and went to watch the game at Safeco Field on the big screen even though the game was in Oakland), I haven’t had a chance until now.
When people ask about where I went, I say the Paria River – which usually brings a confused look as they have never heard of it. They ask where it is, and I say mostly in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument – which continues the confused look because they have never heard of it. So then I say, the 38-mile hike ends at where rafting trips through the Grand Canyon start (at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona) and most people then have a general idea.
The Paria River hike is one of the classic hikes in the American Southwest, and I have wanted to do it for over 30 years. Let me tell you, the hike did not disappoint. Much of the hike is through narrows, where the canyon walls are only 5 to 30 meters wide. The hike is considered as a rival to the much more famous Virgin River Narrows hike in Zion National Park.
The first day we got a late start (after having to drive the shuttle, placing a car at Lee’s Ferry to drive back at the end of the hike) only hiked about 3.5 miles, camping before the narrows begins. The narrows begin at about mile 4 and were spectacular. At mile 7, still in the narrows, we turned and went up Buckskin Gulch (a tributary to the Paria). We dropped our packs at one of the only campsites in Buckskin, about 1/4 mile from the confluence with the Paria, and day hiked several miles up Buckskin. That night, we camped where we had left the packs. The following day, we hiked 10 miles down the Paria, leaving the narrows. Though not in the narrows, this section of the canyon was still not wide and still very beautiful. Much of the hiking these three days was in the river itself. The following three days, more and more of the hiking was out of the river, as the canyon widened up. Besides the day hike up Buckskin, we also made the day hike to Wrather Arch – reportedly the largest natural arch in the world outside the state of Utah.
Here’s a few images from the trip. I’ll try to do a more complete blog post on the hike, with more photos, as time allows.
Tomorrow morning, I’m hitting the road with my brother Rob to drive down to Kanab, Utah. From there, we’ll drive east to the Paria Ranger Station to meet up with my old grad school buddy, Rob Tubbs, and his family to hike Paria Canyon. Over six days, we’ll hike from the White House trailhead down to Lee’s Ferry in Arizona, a total distance of 38 miles. I’ve been wanting to do this hike since I first heard about it, probably about 30 years ago. It is one of the classic backpacking trips of the American Southwest. You can read more about the hike here. I’m hoping to return with some great photos to share on the blog.
I just weighed my pack and “ouch!” The pack weighs 69 pounds (including 4 liters of water). Now I’m considering not taking the 70-200mm lens (with case, tripod collar, and quick-release plate, it weighs about 4 pounds). Would you take it? The tripod stays though, as do the two other lenses.
I tell you, it’s times like this I wish I had one of those 24-300 mm lenses instead my my three-lens kit. Well, I have two days to decide as we drive to southern Utah. Maybe I can take a few less clothes – I’ll be stinky after six days anyway, do I really need more than one pair of pants?
In anticipation of the trip, I’m posting this old shot of the Watchman in Zion National Park. Most of Paria Canyon is in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, but I only have a handful of old slides from that area and they aren’t scanned (and I don’t have time to do it now), so you’ll have to put up with this shot from Zion. Zion is about 85 miles (by road) west of the Paria Canyon trailhead.
I haven’t had much chance to edit or go over the images from my recent trip to New York and Spain last month. My final night in New York, I spent an hour or so working on night shots along the East River photographing Manhattan and the Queensboro Bridge (59th Street Bridge). The location was only a couple of minutes walk from the apartment I stayed at on Roosevelt Island.
After taking several shots of the bridge and various compositions with the buildings in Manhattan, I decided to try a panorama. My efforts were frustrated by the passing of barges along the East River, which ruined the reflections in the water. But eventually I got several series of images completed. The one above is a HDR panorama created from 6 vertical shots (with each vertical shot created by 3 different exposures). Thus the complete image represents 18 different shots. Exposure times were 4, 15, and 30 seconds. The HDR work was done with Photomatix and the panorama was stitched in Photoshop. I’m not totally happy with the result, and it needs a bit more work, but I thought I’d post it to see what you thought.
Tanya and I are leaving Spain today. We spent the last four days in Madrid, the first couple days with Brooks (who flew back separately). I didn’t have time for any serious photography, but wanted to post a few quick shots before I left. Enjoy!
1492 was a big year in Spain. Americans, me included, mainly associate the year 1492 with when Columbus sailed to the Americas. However, here, 1492 is the year the Catholics finally conquered all of Spain from the Moors. The Moors last stand was here in Granada. The Alhambra was the last Moorish palace and seat of power in Spain. Over the prior several hundred years, the Moorish holdings in Spain had gradually been pushed south and east, until finally Granada was the last stronghold. Then in 1492, King Fredinand and Queen Isabella ruled over the conquest of Granada. As was the tradition, they moved their capital to Granada to establish the new seat of power on top of the old (similarly, many churches and cathedrals were built on top of mosques). When the country was finally all Catholic, Fredinand and Isabella also required all non-Catholics to convert (the year being 1492). So you can see, 1942 was a big year for Spain (I apologize to any of my Spanish readers for butchering your history).
One of the big themes in Sevilla was Columbus, who sailed to the Americas from that port. His tomb is in a grand crypt in the Sevilla Cathedral (he is supposedly also buried at two other sites, but Sevillans claim the one in their cathedral is the real one). Here the big theme is the Alhambra, the last stand of the Moors, and the reign of Fredinand and Isabella. Fredinand and Isabella are entombed here, in the Royal Chapel, which we visited yesterday.The Alhambra stands high above the old Moorish section of the town, and the Moorish influence is still heavy today (there are many shops selling goods from north Africa and restaurants with Moroccan food).
The Alhambra is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the most popular attraction in Spain. However, November is the off-season, and when we went yesterday afternoon, it was not too crowded. It is truly an amazing place, and I can highly recommend it. It’s main attraction is the Palacios Nazaries – the Moorish palace; but there are other wonderful sites as well, including the Alcazaba (the fort), Charles V’s palace, the Generalife Gardens with the Moorish summer palace, and the Partal Gardens.
We are leaving Seville (or Sevilla as it is spelled here) this morning and heading off to Granada with a quick stop in Gibraltar along the way. I don’t have time to write much, so I’m just posting a few photos of Sevilla. The featured photo above is of a domed ceiling in the Alcazar. The Alcazar is the royal palace in Sevilla. Enjoy the photos!
From New York, Tanya and I flew to Spain, rented a car, and drove to Toledo to start our Spanish vacation. The next morning, our son Brooks flew in to meet us.
Toledo is the former capital of Spain. The city teems with Christian, Jewish, Moorish, Visigothic, and Roman history. The cathedral was amazing. Construction of the cathedral started in the year 1226 and was completed a mere 250 years later. My photos don’t due it justice. The place is huge. I could have spent all day in there taking photos. We also visited the Santa Cruz Museum, home to more than a dozen El Greco paintings (El Greco lived in Toledo in the late 1500s and early 1600s); the Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca, a synagogue built by Moorish workmen in 1200 (later converted to a church in 1492 after the Jews were forced to convert to Christianity); the San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio, a Franciscan monastery built in the Gothic style circa 1500; and Santa Tome, a wonderful little church that is home to one of El Greco’s most famous paintings, the The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (unfortunately, no photography allowed).
We stayed in an apartment a few meters from the Toledo cathedral. Driving to the apartment was an adventure in itself. Most the roads are only wide enough for a single car. At some corners, the edges of buildings are carved out to allow room for side mirrors. The apartment was inside a building constructed in the 15th century. Unfortunately, our internet connection was not working, so I’m posting this from Sevilla.
Enjoy these photos from Toledo and I’ll post some from Sevilla in the next few days.
Have you ever had a free day? You know, a day where you had something planned, and the plans fall through, and so you have a day without obligations and you’re free to do anything you want? I had hoped to be posting from New York today. You see, the dog/house sitter was set, the bags were packed, and Tanya and I were almost ready to go (kind of sounds like a song), when the airline called last night around 9 p.m. Due to a winter storm hitting the New York area, our flight was cancelled.
Though I was a bit miffed, it wasn’t too bad. Our main destination is Spain; New York is just a stop along the way. Since our flight to Madrid doesn’t leave until next Sunday, the flight delay doesn’t affect the flight to Spain. So although we are missing a day in New York, it doesn’t totally screw up the trip. (Though I still may have to pay for last night’s room – ouch!)
So here I am, still in Tacoma, with a free day. I accomplished all my pre-trip chores yesterday; so today I can do whatever I want. And it isn’t so bad being here today. The sun is shining and it’s about 55 degrees – rather pleasant. At this very moment, according to NOAA, there is a blizzard in New York, specifically 32 degrees, foggy, heavy snow, with winds over 20 miles per hour.
As a teaser for my upcoming posts for Europe, I’m posting one of my favorite images from my last trip to Europe. I shot the following image in Edinburgh, Scotland on the Royal Mile. The black & white conversion was completed in Photoshop.
One more thing – today is Tanya’s birthday! As you now know, we had planned to celebrate it in New York. But with those plans ruined by the weather, we’ll have a little dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine. Then tomorrow morning, dark and early, it will be off to the airport and hopefully to New York. For now, in celebration of her birthday, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite portraits of Tanya.
Seattle, widely known for its rain, has had 0.03 inches of rain so far this September. Combined with no measurable rain in August, we’ve had one of the driest periods on record. Nor is rain falling much elsewhere in Washington State. All month-long there have been forest fires burning in the mountains and eastern Washington, and the smoke is really messing up the air quality. So when I took a day off to go do some photography earlier this month, I decided against going to the mountains which are full of smoke and instead Tanya, Carson and I headed for the beach. We decided to head for Kalaloch and Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, a 3-hour drive from Tacoma. It’s 156 miles from my house to Kalaloch, and only the last 5 miles is along the ocean. And when making the drive over, it was sunny and the closer to the coast we got, the less smokey the air was. Then, at approximately mile 151 from my house, we entered a fog bank. That’s right, all this sun all over the whole state, and the beaches along the Olympic coast were fogged in. The good news for photography – no boring totally blue skies. The bad news for photography – no great sunset shots either.
We spent the first part of our trip at Ruby Beach, which has some nice sea stacks and a creek on the beach. The fog made for some interesting compositions, and several other photographers also had their tripods out. We walked north on the beach. The fog closed in around us, and it was if we were alone in the world, just the ocean on one side and a wilderness forest on the other. No sounds but the crashing waves. Hunger eventually drove us back to the car and we headed back down the highway to find a viewpoint where we could eat a picnic dinner with a view, or as much of one as the fog would allow.
It was nearing sunset, and the fog bank started to roll off shore such that it wasn’t actually fogging on the beach, but the fog still blocked the sun. Ever optimistic and still hoping for a good sunset, we stopped in at Beach 4 (which is between Kalaloch and Ruby Beach). No luck on the sunset, but as it was shortly after low time, there were tide pools to explore and starfish to photograph.
All in all, it was a good day, and I didn’t have to worry about forest fire smoke ruining my photographs. Given the choice of smoke or fog, I was happy to have the fog.
The second half of our long weekend on the Oregon coast started with Mother’s Day. Since it was also the first great weather weekend of the spring, the beaches were crowded. We stopped at Hug Point State Park and barely found a parking spot. People were everywhere, and I didn’t take any photos there. We then went to Ecola State Park at the northern end of Cannon Beach. It was also crowded (we had to wait for a parking spot at Indian Beach, and the Ecola parking lot was only had a few spots available), and I mainly scouted for views I’d come back for later. After scouting, we drove back to our camp for an early dinner.
I drove back to Ecola about 2 hours before sunset, going first to Indian Beach, than up to Ecola Point; it was much less crowded. While shooting at Ecola Point (taking the classic shot south to Cannon Beach), a couple named Sean and Lisa shared the viewpoint with me. After a short while, Sean got down on his knee and proposed to Lisa. Very romantic (except for the photographer trying his best to to interfere). They asked if I took “people pictures” (which I do) and asked if I’d take a few photos of them during this special moment. I shot off a few dozen shots and we traded contact information. A bit later, we both enjoyed the sunset, Sean and Lisa holding each other, me shooting away at the sun sinking into the Pacific.
The featured image above is a 3-shot panorama of the classic shot of Cannon Beach from Ecola Point. All the images below were taken in Ecola State Park, except the one of Carson, which I took on the beach near our campground in Nehalem Bay State Park.
Earlier this month, Tanya and I packed up Carson and the camping gear and headed south to the Oregon coast for a 4-day weekend. Being a Washington native, I suppose it is sacrilegious to admit I like the Oregon coast better than the Washington coast. Most of the easily accessible ocean beach in Washington consists of broad sandy beaches like those at Ocean Shores, which I posted about recently. I prefer a few rocky headlands to provide variety, tide pools, and wave action, like is found along much of the Oregon coast. Additionally, because of longshore drift bringing sediment north from the Columbia River, the water in Washington is silty and usually has a brown tint. Without any large rivers flowing into Oregon’s coast (south of the Columbia), the water is much cleaner.
Not wanting to drive too long, we chose to camp at Nehalem Bay State Park, about a 3 to 4 hour drive from Tacoma. This site gave me fairly quick access to the Cannon Beach and Three Capes areas. The weather couldn’t have been better (well, that’s not true, a photographer is never satisfied with the weather, there could have been a few more clouds to help create interest in the sky). The main problem was that the trip was over Mother’s Day weekend, which when combined with the nice weather, really brought out the crowds to the beach. As a result, most of the images I took were in the golden hours of early morning and late evenings, which not only had less people about, but better light than mid-day.
The photos featured here are from the Friday and Saturday portions of the trip. I’ll show images from the 2nd half of the trip in my next post.
I’m fascinated by airplanes. It may be because I love to travel, to fly away to someplace special, or it may be because it’s amazing how something so big and heavy can get off the ground. I don’t get to fly away very often, but I can visit the Boeing Museum of Flight by just driving to south Seattle, like Tanya and I went did week.
I hadn’t been in years, and it is bigger than I remember. The museum has five main exhibition areas:
- the Great Gallery, a 6-story exhibition hall which contains 39 full-size aircraft
- the Red Barn, the original Boeing building which features the Boeing story from 1916 to 1958
- the Personal Courage Wing, which present the story of fighter aviation in World War I and II
- the Space Gallery, which will soon house one of NASA’s space shuttle trainers, and
- the Airpark, an outside area with 6 large planes, including the Kennedy/Johnson Air Force One, the very first 747, and a Concorde
It’s a bit of challenge to photograph there. The contrast can be extreme, especially in the Great Gallery with it glass walls. But tripods are allowed, so I made use of HDR to handle the contrast on many shots (such as the featured image above, which shows the world’s sole remaining Boeing 80A-1 in the foreground and a DC3 above it – back in my college days, I rode several times in DC3s in Alaska). It’s a fun spot, well worth visiting. The museum does charge an admission fee, but is free on the first Thursday evening of each month.
Capital Reef National Park was our last stop on our Southwest trip which ended in October. I love this place. The campground at Fruita is, in my opinion, among the best camping spots in the Southwest. The tent sites are mostly on grass, not dirt like most spots. The campground is very well shaded by trees. And it is situated next to several fruit orchards (apples, pears, cherries, apricots, and peaches), where campers are free to pick fresh fruit (free for “in orchard” eating, a small, reasonable, self-service fee is charged for taking some home). Need an apple for your day hike, stop by the orchards on your way to the trailhead! The Fremont River runs next to the campground, and scenic sandstone cliffs tower above it. And if you like wildlife, Fruita is mule deer central (not surprisingly with lots of green stuff to eat, a reliable water supply, and fruit dropping from the trees). And typically, it is fairly easy to get a camping spot. I’ve camped there four times, and have only been aced out once. You guessed it, that time was this trip.
We went to Capital Reef on the spur of the moment. Our original itinerary called for us to drive to Moab, but as it was a Friday in the prime autumn season, I worried about finding a camping spot. So we opted to go to Capital Reef instead (like I said, I’ve never had a problem there). Well, the park must be becoming more popular, because we arrived before 3 p.m. and it had been full since noon. We had the option of camping anywhere on BLM land outside the park, but we had just done that for the previous three nights (one night at Bisti and two nights outside of Natural Bridges National Monument) and the western sky just outside the park was very dark with rain clouds. So we opted to find a motel in Torrey, about 10 mile west of the park. This worked well. It was nice to get a shower, and we had dinner at the fabulous restaurant Cafe Diablo. (It’s worth a trip to Torrey just to go to this restaurant. We ate there about five years ago and loved it then. At that time, the chef made a special meal for Tanya, who is gluten intolerant. This time, they had a gluten-free menu, and the food was as good as we remembered.)
Capital Reef is an unusual national park. It is only a few miles wide, but many miles long. This is because the park follows the Waterpocket Fold – a nearly 100 mile long monocline (that is a steeply inclined stack of layered rocks). Waterpocket Fold, which generally runs north-south, sticks up dramatically out of the ground, forming a formidable barrier to east-west travel. Thus, early settlers in the area thought of it like a barrier reef (which restricts travel by boat). It is called “capital” because it has some rock domes that resemble the Capital in Washington, DC and other such architectural domes. There are only three east-west roads through Capital Reef, and only one is easily traveled – Highway 24, which follows the Fremont River and goes through Fruita. Fruita was originally a Morman settlement (that’s where the fruit orchards originally came from).
Unfortunately, this trip we only had time to explore the region of the park near Fruita and along the Scenic Drive, a ten-mile paved road extending south of Fruita on the west side of the park. But there more than enough scenery for our two days in the area.
I highly recommend visiting Capital Reef. But be warned, Torrey seems to be growing, there are many more motels there than just five years ago. In a way, it reminds me of Moab before it became “Moab” (if you know what I mean). This park is getting more popular every year; try to get there before Torrey gets too big and Capital Reef gets too overrun.
I’m a geologist by training. So it comes as no surprise that I like taking photos of rocks. And no surprise I like taking trips to the American Southwest, which has some of the best rock formations in the world. Of all the rock exposures in the Southwest, the Bisti Badlands, perhaps, contains the best of the best. The Bisti Badlands are part of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM describes the wilderness as:
… a remote desolate area of steeply eroded badlands which offers some of the most unusual scenery found in the Four Corners region. Time and natural elements have etched a fantasy world of strange rock formations and fossils. It is an ever-changing environment that offers the visitor a remote wilderness experience.
And let me tell you, the BLM isn’t kidding with that description. The place is full of hoodoos, spires, and other badland features. You could spend a year to explore the place fully, but even then you wouldn’t be done. The landscape changes with each rain storm, as erosion creates new hoodoos and destroys others.
Bisti is fairly easy to get to. It is perhaps an hour south of Farmington, New Mexico, about 2 miles off (along a good gravel road) of highway NM 371. At least that gets you to the wilderness’ only amenity – a parking lot (two actually). That’s it - no campground, no picnic tables, no restrooms, no shade, no water; just a parking lot and a trail registry.
If you want to be there for the golden hours, you either have to drive in the dark or set up a primitive camp, which is what Tanya and I decided to do (more my decision than hers; I’m sure she would have rather slept in a motel than camping on a dried mud bed). We camped just off the gravel road, about 1/4 mile from the parking lot (see below). Not the best site, but it did allow me to get into the wilderness for some good light.
With a trail registry, you might think there would be trails. You’d be wrong. No trails either. This makes it somewhat difficult to navigate in the badlands. A GPS is recommended, especially if you want to find some of the most photogenic spots (GPS coordinates for some of the formations are available in Laurent Martes‘ book Photographing the Southwest Volume 3 – a Guide to the Natural Landmarks of Colorado & New Mexico and at several websites, such as this map provided by Isabel and Steffen Synnatschke); and of course, I don’t own one. In my research about Bisti, several sources describe how easy it is to get lost there. Being a geologist, I usually don’t worry about getting lost (most geologists I’ve known, myself included, have a built-in sense of direction); but I thought it can’t hurt to have the topographic maps for the region, so I downloaded them before the trip and promptly forgot to bring them.
Undaunted, Tanya and I tried to follow the directions from the parking lot to some of the interesting formations listed in Martes’ guidebook. Since we weren’t planning on coming back until after sunset, Tanya was a bit concerned about getting lost, but I assured her we’d have no problem. And we didn’t get lost, but we did have trouble finding the formations described in the book. Luckily there are lots of photo opportunities besides the book’s listed attractions. However, next time I go there, I’ll bring a GPS.
We did stay out until sunset, then with darkness settling in, headed back to the car. It was fairly easy to find. Since we were there relatively close to the autumn equinox, the sun set almost due west. So I knew if we headed straight toward the sunset, we should find the road, if not the car, without problem. As we got close, the only other person there (another photographer) reached his car and turned on its lights – perfect, a guiding beacon for us! We thanked him for the light when we got back and talked about how hard it was to find noted landmarks. He was using the same book as us, and had a GPS, and still had problems (which made me feel a little better). However, he was spending several days in the area (driving out each day from Farmington), so I assume he eventually found the spots he wanted.
We were only there for one night. The next morning, I decided to photograph west of the road, which is described in the book as an area with interesting hoodoos that is impossible to miss. Sure enough, about a ten-minute walk west of the parking lot, it was hoodoo city! I communed with the rocks through sunrise and eventually headed back to help Tanya pack up.
Bisti is a fantastic place for landscape photography. If you go, take a hat (there’s no shade), take lots of water, and take a GPS (or at least remember that the sun sets in the west).
I’m not sure I’d ever heard about Chaco Culture National Historical Parkprior to researching where I wanted to go on my Southwest trip last September. But as I did my research, I became excited about this place. What self-respecting travel photographer, or at least those who like to get off the beaten path, would not want to go there! And off the beaten path it is. Is there any other national park in the lower 48 with vehicular access that requires driving at least 21 miles off the highway, with 13 or more miles of, to quote the Park Service, “rough dirt road?” That may not seem very far, but when you are traveling the road in the late afternoon in hopes of getting a camping spot (in a campground with only 49 spots and nothing else even remotely nearby), that 21 miles seems longer.
Because it is so remote, the night sky is incredible there (the nearest town of any size if Farmington, New Mexico, about an hour and half drive from the park). The park has an observatory and hosts a night sky program help visitors appreciate the astronomy visible there. In fact the night sky at Chaco was declared a critical natural resource in 1993. I’d like to show you the images I took of the night sky at Chaco, but I made a rookie mistake. When shooting a star trail shot from our campsite, the battery run out on my camera! Lesson learned – always have a fully charged battery when doing star trail images (leaving the aperture open for hours tends to suck up a lot of battery life).
The park wasn’t created for the sky though, it was created to preserve one of the largest collections of ruins in the Southwest. It is on par with Mesa Verde National Park, but built in a shallow canyon instead of on cliff walls (making access to the ruins much easier). Here’s how the Park Service’s website describes Chaco:
From AD 850 to 1250, Chaco was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area–unlike anything before or since. Chaco is remarkable for its multi-storied public buildings, ceremonial buildings, and distinctive architecture. These structures required considerable planning, designing, organizing of labor, and engineering to construct. The Chacoan people combined many elements: pre-planned architectural designs, astronomical alignments, geometry, landscaping, and engineering to create an ancient urban center of spectacular public architecture–one that still awes and inspires us a thousand years later.
The place is so full of ruins there are even some within the campground. We only spent one night there, but could have easily spent several days. The park contains many major excavated (or partially excavated) sites along the loop road, and more if you want to hike. If you only have a little time when visiting there, such as we did, be sure to go to Pueblo Bonito, the most excavated of the large ruins. Many of the images featured here are from that site. Pueblo Bonito was a major center of ancestral Puebloan culture between AD 850 and 1150. It covers over 3 acres, was four and five stories tall, and contained more than 600 rooms. It is shaped like a large “D” and contains two plazas and dozens of kivas. The place is amazing and quite photogenic.
In addition to ruins, there is canyon and desert scenery to be shot. And wildlife as well. Amazingly, the park is home to an elk herd (who visited us in the middle of the night at the campground). Coming from Washington State, where elk frequent the forests, it was hard for me to believe they also like this place with high summer temperatures and no trees.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is worth the drive. Check it out the next time you’re in New Mexico.
During our Southwestern trip, we spent three days in Santa Fé. Both Tanya and I decided this place is magical, at least it seemed so when we were there. Maybe we were fooled by were we stayed, in a bed and breakfast in the old section of town. And of course the weather was great, but we thought this would be a great place to live. Of course, the city is a haven for artists, and perhaps that had something to do with my liking it. Reportedly, Santa Fé has more art galleries per capita than any other city in the United States. It is seemingly chock full of museums as well.
And if you like southwestern cuisine, this is the place to go. The official state of New Mexico question is “Red or green?” For those not in the know, this refers to the kind and color of chile sauce (usually just called “chile”) served with your meal. I usually preferred the green, but you can always ask for it as “Christmas” and get both!
Though we spent three days there, I actually didn’t take that many photographs there. I wish we more time in Santa Fé, it is really a great place for travel photography. Here are few highlights of images I did capture in Santa Fé. As always, any comments are welcome.
I’m continuing my series of posts about my trip to the Southwest with a look at New Mexican churches – adobe churches in particular. I’ve always enjoyed photographing churches, at least those with classic architectural styles. And in New Mexico, there is nothing more classical than adobe.
If you are interested in seeing churches such as these, I highly recommend traveling the high road between Santa Fé and Taos. There are a number of highly photogenic churches along this route, many described in Laurent Martes‘ excellent book on photographing the natural landmarks of Colorado and New Mexico (okay, I know churches aren’t natural landmarks, but the book is titled Photographing the Southwest Volume 3 – a Guide to the Natural Landmarks of Colorado & New Mexico and does mostly cover natural subjects). By traveling this road, you’re bound to come up with at least one or two decent images – there is always at least one church with good light upon it.
My biggest question concerning the adobe churches I photographed was how best to portray them – in color or in black and white? I leave it to you to decide, providing most images in this post with both versions.
I think they look good both ways, but if forced to make a choice, I’d generally chose the black and white versions. There are exceptions, of course; ever photograph is different. In the examples given here, I do like the black and white images better; they generally do a better job of conveying what I want the to convey. I love the look of a cross on a church really standing out – and that works well with these images except for the image of the San Juan de Los Lagos steeple and black cross, there the color version portrays my vision better. I also love the high contrast of the black and white images. However, I’d like to hear your comments – color or black and white?
For those who care – these black and white conversions were all done rather quickly in Lightroom. If I get serious about any of these, I’ll probably redo the conversions in Photoshop. I like both programs for how easy they make black and white conversions and the ability to adjust the brightness of each color in the images separately. This makes it very easy to turn an all blue sky dark (and make those crosses really stand out).
On our recent trip, Tanya and I spent a couple of days camping outside Ouray, Colorado in the San Juan Mountains. I had hoped that being there in late September would result in nice fall colors in the aspens. That was not the case; it seems fall colors are late this year (I’ll need to remember this for future La Nina years, and next year appears to be another).
While I didn’t get the good fall colors I had hoped for, I did have fun shooting the area. With only two days, my photography was limited to a couple of areas: along the “Million Dollar Highway” between Ouray and Silverton and along State Highway 62 (and south of it along various county roads) between Ridgway and Dallas Divide. The photos here were all taken in these areas. Enjoy, and feel free to tell my what you think.
During my recent southwest road trip, I took lots of good photos. Unfortunately, I took lots of bad photos too. And lots of mediocre photos. And lots of duplicates. In other words, I have a lot of editing to do. If I calculate it correctly, I tripped the shutter button 3,852 times over the 18 days on the road. Considering I didn’t take any photos on the first or last days, that averages out to almost 240 photos per day.
This is what I love about digital photography – you can take a lot of pictures. This is what I hate about digital photography – you can take a lot of pictures. Digital cameras give you the freedom to experiment. They give you the freedom to bracket. You can bracket exposures, apertures, compositions, etc. Of course, you could do this with film, but it got to be real expensive.
I confess, I am a bracketer (is that even a word?), and truth be told, probably an over-bracketer. This is especially true when traveling on a trip like this one. I went some places where I will likely never visit again. And I wanted to make sure I got the shot right. So, I bracket. I basically bracket exposures, using the auto-bracket feature on my camera. But often I also bracket apertures. And I usually bracket compositions. And, of course, with each change in composition, I bracket exposures again – and on it goes. I end up burning a lot of pixels. I love this ability to take lots of images, so that I get the perfect one.
Formerly, when I shot film, I was much more selective; and though I did sometimes bracket, never to the extent I do now. For example, the images accompanying this blog are of the House on Fire ruin in Mule Canyon, Utah. If I was still shooting slide film, I might have taken 10 or 20 shots at this site, knowing I was unlikely to come back for many years if ever. This trip, I took 126 images at this location. I love being able to do that.
Now comes the hate part – I must edit those 126 images from the House on Fire ruin. And I must edit those 3,852 images from the entire trip. This will take a lot of time. And I usually fall behind in my editing; for example, I still have images from last May that should be edited.
Besides time-consuming, editing is aggravating in deciding which image is better. Is this one better than that one? Is the focus slightly better in this one? Did this slight change in composition make a difference; is it noticeable; is it better, worse, or the same? It reminds me of an episode of the The Bob Newhart Show, which ran in the 1970s. (I suppose I dated myself with this comment, but I really loved that show.) In this particular episode, Emily Hartley (Newhart’s wife on the show) describes to Bob how she hates going to the eye doctor – not because it hurts, but because there’s too much pressure deciding if the letters on the vision chart are clearer with lens one or lens two. The doctor presses for an answer over and over, lens one or lens two. In my case, I’m pressing myself over and over, image one or image two (or three or four…)
The ability to take thousands of photos with a digital camera has made some of us photographers sloppy. There are those who say digital cameras have made photographers sloppy in that they take shortcuts because an image can always be fixed in Photoshop. I don’t mean that kind of sloppiness; I always try to take the highest quality image I can to limit post-processing. By sloppy, I mean not being selective of the images we take. I am guilty of this with my over-bracketing. But my over-bracketing is a response to a desire to take the highest quality image to start with; it’s an attempt not to be sloppy and leave it to Photoshop to fix! In fact, I often will not take an image, even though it may have a worthy subject, if the light is not very good – you cannot fix bad light in Photoshop! Even so, I end up with way too many images.
I guess, in the end, there are no shortcuts to doing the work of photography. Either you have to take the time to think about the best exposure and composition in the field or take the time editing in the office. The work must be done one way or the other. However, thinking in the field is a quicker and less painless process (as long as you trust yourself to do it right) than editing endless numbers of very similar images. High time for me to think more, trust myself more, and shoot less. Perhaps editing these 3,852 images will help me to finally learn that lesson.
My Great American Road Trip is over. After traveling just over 4,100 miles (6,600 km) and driving through seven states, Tanya and I arrived home to Tacoma Monday night. I had hoped to post sooner after coming home, but have experienced computer difficulties (remember the days when photographers didn’t care about computers?) My storage device, which holds most of the photos of the trip, has only allowed me to download the first several days worth of images. (I’m hoping and praying it I don’t lose the rest!) Consequently, this blog isn’t exactly the one I had planned for my return, but it will have to do for now.
So while I’ve been frustrated (with my computer equipment) since coming back home, the trip itself was wonderful. The weather couldn’t have been better (well, that’s not totally true, but then when has a photographer ever been satisfied with the weather; it can always be better). We generally had highs in the 80s F (high 20s C) and lows in the 50s (10-15 C). No rain at all, at least until we got back to Washington. Though there were some totally blue skies, most skies provided at least a few clouds to break up the blues (like I complained about in August). Only one day did clouds obscure good, late afternoon light. And we got to experience a lot of the American West.
I thought it fitting that since we drove westward to come home and end our trip, I post a sunset shot to illustrate this brief blog. This particular sunset is from Dinosaur National Monument in Utah.
Now, after a week on the road and away from computers, Tanya and I are at a B&B in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We’ve had a great trip so far, both in terms of places visited and having good weather. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good weather on a road trip – a few rain drops on the windshield, but otherwise great weather, a mix of totally blue skies (boring photography wise) with scattered clouds (nice photographically).
I’ve included a few shots from the first half of the trip here. Please forgive any issues with these images, they have not been through my normal workflow. Instead of going through Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, they have been somewhat randomly selected and minimally processed with Picassa. I’m working on a very slow laptop, without much memory. This makes it very hard to do editing of the RAW files produced by my camera, and optimizing with Picassa is slow (not to mention not having the capabilities of Lightroom and Photoshop). Regardless, these few images can give you an idea of what we’ve seen so far.
The trip started with a long drive from Tacoma to Twin Falls, Idaho – about 650 miles. The next day we drove to Dinosaur National Monument, roughly 400 miles. This may be the best, closest exposure of sandstone slickrock to Washington State. Two nights there, including a side trip to Fantasy Canyon – a small, but must-visit place for nature photographers.
We then drove south through western Colorado to spend a night with my now retired geology professor from Texas A&M University (where I received a Masters in geology). He is retired and maintaining an orchard and vineyard in Palisade, Colorado. Much wine was drunk when staying with him and his wife!
Leaving Palisade, we drove over the Grand Mesa, made a short stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and drove on to Ouray, Colorado. We spent two nights there in the San Juan Mountains. I was hoping for good fall color with the aspen trees, and was partially rewarded. Some had turned already and others were still green. Regardless, the views were fantastic.
Then it was on to Taos, New Mexico, where we spent a night camping on the Rio Grande and visited Taos Pueblo. We took the high road into Santa Fe from there and have been enjoying the city for two nights now.
I hope you enjoy these few photos from the first half of the trip. I’ll post more once I get back home. The top one is of the Sneffels Range in Colorado. It is part of the San Juan Mountains. This is the view from the north, along West Dallas Creek Road. I was hoping for shots from this area with yellow aspens, but they had not turned yet on the north side of the range like they had further south.
The next shot is of a pictograph (pictographs are painted, petroglyphs are carved) call Sun Dagger. It is located in northwestern Colorado. Reportedly it was used by the Fremont People as a sundial.
The third shot is of Split Mountain and the Green River at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. This scene, taken shortly after sunrise, is about 1/4 mile up the river from our campground.
The final shot is of the San Francisco de Asis church in Ranchos de Taos, a short distance south of Taos, New Mexico.
It’s amazing what being Freshly Pressed does. My blog had 23 views on September 5th, a rather typical day. Then on September 6th, WordPress featured my blog Mountain Blues in their Freshly Pressed blogs, resulting in 2,784 views that day and over 3,000 the next day. Wow! Prior to Tuesday, I had 5 subscribers to my blog and now, at last count, I have 73! All I can say is thank you to all who visited the blog over the past few days, all who left comments, and special thanks to all my new subscribers. But now, with all you guys watching, I feel pressure to come up with new, exciting blogs. There certainly is some freedom in living in obscurity. Maybe after a few more blogs, all you new subscribers will get tired of me and take yourselves off the list. I hope not, but one never knows.
So in light of that pressure, what to blog about. I haven’t had much chance to do any photography since my trip to Blue Mountain and Deer Park. Between the day job, preparing for the Mountaineers Photo exhibition and reception (see my last blog), and researching sites to go on my upcoming vacation, there hasn’t been much time for new photography. So, this blog is more about my pending vacation. I briefly wrote about it several weeks ago, but serious planning is now going on. Several weeks ago, it was still an idea, more of an ephemeral vision than a hard date on the calendar. Now we have an itinerary, have some hotel reservations set, and have a house sitter arranged. Now it is starting to seem real.
Normally I’m a kind of go-with-the-flow guy; and if time was not of the essence, I’d consider just taking off without a set itinerary. But, there’s a lot to see and photograph, and only a limited time to do it. Besides, I like the planning; I like pre-visualizing potential shots. The only hard dates are the start, the finish, and the three days in Sante Fe where we’ve already paid half our hotel bill. Most everywhere else we will be camping.
Tanya and I love the American Southwest. I’ve made quite a few trips down there, mostly to Utah. We haven’t been in several years, so felt it was time to go again. Tanya expressed a desire to go to Sante Fe, and that’s were the seed of this trip was planted. The tentative itinerary has us driving first to Dinosaur National Monument, then on the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, down to the San Juan Mountains area of Colorado, over to Taos, then on to Sante Fe, and on the way back stopping at Chaco Culture National Historic Park, the Bisti Wilderness, Natural Bridges National Monument, and Moab.
The idea was to go see some new places in the Southwest, or at least spend more time in places I’ve only touched lightly long ago. Of all these places, I have only spent significant time in the Moab area. I have actually been to Dinosaur National Monument, twice – once a quick stop in 1983 while driving down to grad school in Texas (Texas A&M), and once a rafting trip in the early 90s. Though the raft trip was several days long, I didn’t get to see much beyond the river; so this new trip will explore new territory there. In 1984, on my way back from grad school, I stopped for about an hour at the Black Canyon, so that really doesn’t count either. And I spent several hours in Sante Fe while a teaching assistant on a geology field camp, again in 1984. And I recall a distant memory of when I was young, perhaps in junior high school or maybe grad school, on a family vacation, we drove through the San Juan Mountains. I’ve never been to Natural Bridges, Bisti, Taos, or Chaco Canyon.
So, this blog is supposed to be about photography, not about where I traveled ages ago. Thus I needed something to illustrate it with, so I dug out the old slide albums. It was hard finding anything decent to show, but finally found the two images here, taken long ago in Dinosaur National Monument. Most of those old slides are pretty bad; my composition and exposure skills have come a long way in the past 30 years. Hopefully with this upcoming Great American Road Trip, I’ll bring some better shots home.