I haven’t had much time to post lately, so here’s a quick shot from a trip Tanya and I made to Port Townsend late last month with a couple of friends. Tanya kindly informed me that it was not a photo trip, so I didn’t get the camera out much. However, it is hard for me to keep the camera totally packed away. The image is of a wooden boat in the Port Townsend harbor that I sneaked off and took while Tanya and our friends were shopping. I love the look of wooden boats, and Port Townsend has a wooden boat festival every year. Some day, I’ll have to make it up there for that. Meanwhile, sneak shots like this will have to suffice.
Last Friday, I took the day off from the day job to do some photography. It was a day Carson would have loved, rainy and cold. With Carson gone, Tanya and I decided to take our cat, Patch, along instead. He wasn’t so sure about the whole thing, and stayed in the car until our last stop (Rainbow Falls State Park), where he did explore a bit.
But this post isn’t about Patch, it’s about photographing in the rain. If you live on the wet side of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest, you best get use to photographing in the rain if you want to shoot in fall and winter. That said, I try to avoid it as much as I can. Last Friday, I was not excited about going out. The weather forecast called for 100% chance of rain, and it was not wrong. Shooting in adverse weather can have its benefits, but often it is just miserable. However, Tanya convinced me that we should go (easy for her to say, I was the one to be out in the rain; she took papers to grade).
As it turned out, I was happy we went. As you can see by the attached photos, I think I came away with some good shots. Here’s a few hints for photographing in the rain (not listed in any particular order).
1. Take good rain gear for your camera – unless you have a waterproof camera, you’ll want some sort of protection to keep your camera dry. Currently, I use a Rainsleeve by Op/Tech. These are inexpensive plastic sleeves with openings on both ends. One has a drawstring to tighten around the camera lens hood. The other end allows you to hand hold the camera or attach it to a tripod. A small hole is also provided for the viewfinder. I find these sleeves work well when on a tripod, and allow you to control most the camera functions through the plastic. I like them less for hand holding the camera because sticking your wet hand up into the sleeve defeats the purpose, plus it is a bit tight. There are many other options also available.
You might also consider making an umbrella holder for you tripod. I have a friend who has a similar setup and really likes it. I, personally, have not tried something like this out yet, but as long as it is not windy, an umbrella seems like it should work well.
2. Take good rain gear for yourself – be sure to keep yourself dry as well. I like to take rain pants as well as a raincoat. When photographing, I often kneel on one knee (all my jeans wear out on the left knee knew sooner than the right). With rain pants, there is no worry about kneeling in water and mud.
3. Use a tripod – while using a tripod is always a good practice, in the rain it is especially needed. The skies are much darker than on typical non-rainy days, leading to longer exposure times. Also, it is easier to keep the camera dry if it is on a tripod.
4. Use a lens with a long lens hood - when using the Rainsleeve, the lens hood is outside the plastic. It is the hood that protects the lens from falling rain drops. This works best if the lens hood is long and the glass sits back inside it. This is why I tend to avoid using a wide-angle lens in the rain if at all possible. Lens hoods for wide-angle lenses provide almost no protection from rain. All the shots shown here were taken with a 24-70mm lens. When extended to the 24mm setting, the lens is close to the open end of the lens hood, so I had to take more care when using that setting.
5. When not shooting, keep your lens pointed down – don’t invite rain onto your lens, try to keep the camera pointed downward.
6. Use a cable release - anything you can do to keep a wet hand from touching the camera will help keep it dry. I use a cable release which hangs down out of the Rainsleeve. Alternatively, I could trip the shutter button through the Rainsleeve, but with long exposures, it is good practice to use a cable release anyway.
7. Have a lintless cloth handy – just in case you need to wipe stray water off your lens. Take a look at the lens occasionally to look for water drops (which are sometimes hard to see through the viewfinder).
8. Avoid the sky in your compositions - at least if the sky is uniformly gray (as it is often is around here when it rains). For most of the subjects I photograph, the sky (even if not uniformly gray) is very much lighter than the subject, creating huge contrast problems. Expose correctly for your subject, and the sky becomes a overexposed white blanket. Expose for the sky, the subject is a dark mess. HDR is a possible solution, but if there is no contrast within the sky itself, that doesn’t help much. It’s best to just keep the amount of sky in the frame minimized.
9. Pick subjects that can be photographed without much sky - it is easier to keep the sky out of your compositions if the subject can be photographed without the sky being prominent. If you’ve never been to where you are going, and don’t have an idea whether the sky will be prominent or not, many subjects can be researched on Flickr to give you an idea. (For example, look at this Flickr search for the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, my main destination last Friday.)
10. Use a polarizer - using a polarizer can make a big difference in your images. When everything is wet, everything has reflections. With that big gray sky above, there are a lot of annoying reflections in any composition. Of course, using a polarizer cuts down on the light entering the camera, making the use of tripod (#3 above) even more important.
11. Watch out for wind – wind complicates matters considerably. With a stiff wind, rain no longer fall vertically. Wind demands even more care to keep things dry.
12. Use a memory card with enough storage - start your photo shoot with a fresh memory card and one with enough storage for the entire shoot. You don’t want to open up the camera to change cards and get water inside.
13. Consider your lens choice carefully and change lenses out of the weather - you don’t want to change lenses in the rain; there is too much chance of getting water inside the camera. Before you leave you car, put on the lens that will give the most shots. Consider using an all-purpose, travel zoom, like an 18-200 mm or similar (of course, such lenses typically have less light gathering power than other lens with less zoom range, making tripod use even more important). If you do have to change lenses, do so in shelter or with much care if still outside. (BTW, I do not own travel zoom. I try to restrict my compositions to those requiring a single lens. In last Friday’s case, I only used my 24-70 mm lens).
That’s it for now. Do have any other hints for photographing in the rain?
Over the past couple weekends, I’ve led two photo scavenger hunts. Participants in the hunts had 3 hours to photograph a list of 20 topics, such as: color, contrast, bark, soft, old, action, life, and ugly. The area I chose for the hunts was the Old Town portion of the Tacoma waterfront because of the wide range of possible photographic subjects (and, quite frankly, the nearness to my house). I think all the participants would agree, it was a fun time. Because there were two hunts, for two different clubs, and a few people members of both clubs, I made two separate lists with only a couple topics repeated on both lists.
Doing a scavenger hunt is a great way to push your photographic vision, to force yourself to think outside your normal “box.” Want to give it a try? Here’s a list of my favorite topics compiled from the two different lists I used over the past two weekends (minus topics specific to the place). Go someplace you think might have good photographic opportunities, give yourself 3 hours, and try to get a good image of everything on the list. Try for something different from your normal routine shot, be creative and push the envelope!
I’d love to see some of your results or hear your thoughts on whether this is a worthy exercise. Send me some of your results, and I’ll post them in my blog.
Here’s the list:
- time (many people in the hunts I led photographed a watch or clock; try to think a bit more creatively and make a photograph that shows time itself)
- person/people (try to make it someone you don’t know)
- contrast (many options here, contrast between objects, contrast between light and dark, etc.)
- negative space
- autumn (if in the southern hemisphere, substitute spring)
- photographer’s choice (photograph anything you want)
To give a bit of inspiration, here are a few of my shots for the above topics. (Disclaimer: for the actual scavenger hunts, participants are required to take jpegs, so the images submitted have no post-processing. The images below have undergone post-processing with Lightroom 5).
Washington, being the Evergreen State, doesn’t have a lot to show when it comes to fall colors. Roughly speaking, evergreen trees cover more than half the state; sagebrush covers the rest. Further, many of the deciduous trees that do grow in the state don’t have particularly colorful leaves in the fall (such as alders). However, there are some good spots for autumn color if you know where to look. Most are high in the mountains, such as Heather Meadows up by Mount Baker (which I blogged about last year). Unfortunately for color seekers this year, it snowed in the high country a couple of weeks ago. While some spots are still accessible (often with snowshoes), others are probably snowed in until next spring. With sunny weather forecast for this week, we may get a second chance, but I wouldn’t bet on it. To make matters worse, the US government shutdown has closed the national parks, making access to fall color even worse.
With the high country covered in snow, the options are few for good fall color. However, I did find a hidden autumn jewel last Friday – a small desert canyon full of beautiful aspen trees starting to turn yellow. Black Canyon, located in eastern Washington, is about midway between Ellensburg and Naches (west of Yakima). At first glance, this seems like an odd area to find fall color. The hills between Ellensburg and Yakima are mostly treeless. Even in the Yakima River canyon, which runs through the area, there aren’t that many trees. But if you drive some of the back roads through the region, you will find hidden groves of trees in valleys and canyons and along some of the water courses. Even more surprising is that some of these trees are aspens – not exactly the tree I think of when I think of the Evergreen State.
Black Canyon is one grove, hidden in the mostly barren eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It is hidden in several aspects. First, it is not a well known spot. I had never heard of it before about two weeks ago (and I know about a great many places in Washington). Second, from the start of the trail into the canyon, it doesn’t look like much. The mouth of the canyon (actually more of a valley than a canyon), where the trail starts, is rather plan and dry. But as you hike up the valley, the underbrush in the canyon bottom gets thicker and more colorful, until about a half mile from the start, you start seeing aspens. While the aspens are confined to the center of the valley, near a tiny stream, the grove gets thicker and taller as you continue up the valley. At about one mile from the trail head, there is an old wooden cabin nestled in the aspen grove. The trail continues another couple of miles, and the aspens eventually give way to pine trees as the trail climbs to the top of the ridge (reportedly with views of Mount Rainier). More about the hike can be found here.
When Tanya, Carson and I made the hike last week, the color was truly amazing, particularly in stark contrast to dry, sagebrush covered valley walls above. Besides the aspens, much of the underbrush was also various shades of yellow, orange and red. This is the perfect time of year to go.
What is nice about Black Canyon, besides its obvious beauty, it is on accessible public land. A Washington State Discovery Pass is required to park at the trail head (or anywhere along the road to the trail head). The trail head (46°51’1.07″N, 120°42’5.05″W) is at the end of 1.2 miles of very rough unpaved road. We were glad to in 4-wheel drive; I doubt our passenger car could have made it. Other hikers (we saw two other couples) parked at the start of the road, and had an couple miles (roundtrip) to hike. If you go, also be aware that the area is shared by hunters this time of year (though we did not see or hear any).
Black Canyon is definitely a jewel worth visiting. When we were there, the aspens were not yet at their peak, so you may still have time to visit for the color. Do you know any other hidden jewels of autumn color? If so, please feel free to share yours by leaving a comment.
“What’s in your wallet?” So goes the tagline from a Capital One credit card commercial that most of you (at least in the United States) probably know well. With that tagline, Capital One would have you believe that their credit card is better than others and should be the one in you wallet.
For photographers, the comparable question is “what type of camera do you use?” or “what gear do you carry in you camera bag?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked these questions, I could buy a new camera.
I believe good photography has more to do with the gray matter between your ears than your camera equipment. However, that said, it is true you cannot do photography without equipment. When two photographers meet for the first time, the inevitable question always arises: “What camera do you shoot with?” My question to you is, does it really matter?
I think one reason this question gets asked is that the two photographers in question are trying to find common ground as they create a social relationship. Personally, I don’t take any comment seriously that claims one camera is better than any other, it is just that some cameras are better at creating certain types of images than other cameras. For example, my DSLR beats my Android phone without question at shooting landscapes, but the phone does a better job at spontaneous photos among friends (not that the DSLR wouldn’t do a fine job in that instance, but by the time I dig it out of the bag, put on the correct lens, and get the exposure set correctly, the moment of spontaneity will be gone).
There seems to be a particularly big “conversation” about Nikon vs Canon among many photographers. There are loyalists on both sides, and while often good-natured, sometime the conversations seem more like battles. Personally I shoot with Canon equipment, but this is not because I think Canon equipment is better. The only reason I shoot with Canon equipment is that when I switched from film to digital, Canon had a newer camera model than Nikon. If I made the switch a few months later, I could well be shooting with Nikon equipment today. (My film camera is an Olympus OM4T. So, if at the time of my switching to digital, Olympus had made a digital camera with a full-frame or APS sensor instead of a 4/3s sensor, which uses a different lens mount so with their camera I couldn’t use my existing film lenses, I’d be shooting with Olympus equipment.)
So, even with my mini-rant above about such questions, inquiring minds want to know what’s in my camera bag. Therefore, I present what is in my camera bag (or should I say bags, as I have more than one and carry different items based on the type of outing).
Standard (or default) equipment:
- Canon 6D camera with Canon battery grip and Acratech quick release plate
- Canon EF 17-40mm 1:4 L USM zoom lens
- Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L zoom lens
- Canon EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM zoom lens with Acratech quick release plate
- Canon EF 100mm 1:2.8 USM macro lens
- Canon EF 1.4x II extender
- Lowepro Vertex 100AW camera bag
- set of three Kenko extension tubes
- Vello wireless Shutterboss
- Canon RS-80N3 remote switch
- Canon 550EX Speedlight with Yongnuo compact battery pack SF-18
- Yongnuo off-camera shoe cord OC-E3
- ThinkTank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket (digital card holder) with 4 to 6 SDHC cards (8, 16, or 32 mb, various brands)
- 2 spare Canon batteries
- lint-free cleaning cloth
- Lenspen lens cleaning pen
- allen wrench (for removing quick release plates)
- hot-shoe double bubble level
- set of 15 colored filters for use on the flash
- 2 B+W 77mm circular polarizing filters (one is dented and very hard to rotate)
- B+W 77mm 110 ND 3.0-10BL 1000x filter (10 stop neutral-density filter)
- B+W 77mm 092 IR 20-40x (infrared filter)
- Tiffen(?) 2-stop, soft-gradient, split neutral-density filter
- six AAA batteries
- Op/Tech Rainsleeve
- user manuals for the 6D, the 550EX and the Shutterboss
- spare contact lens case
- business cards
- Manfrotto 190 carbon fiber 4-section tripod with an Acratech Ultimate Ballhead (I often carry the tripod along, but not always)
Extra equipment (in addition to the standard) for event-shooting
- Canon 50D with Canon battery grip
- a second Canon 550EX speedlight with battery pack
- Demb Flip-it (variable angle flash reflector)
- Demb flash bracket
- Demn flash diffuser
- Lowepro Nova 180AW camera bag
Minimal kit (when I don’t want to carry a lot of stuff)
- Canon 6D camera with (optional) Canon battery grip
- Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L zoom lens
- (optional) Canon EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM zoom lens
- a small Lowepro bag (either the Nova 180 or a yet smaller one that I’m not sure of the model number)
- lint-free cleaning cloth
- Lenspen lens cleaning pen
- a couple spare SDHC cards
Optional equipment that I sometime carry
- Photoflex MultiDisc 5 in 1 42-inch reflector
- Photoflex MultiDisc 5 in 1 22-inch reflector
- Wimberley plamp
- Visual Echos Flash X-tender
- Thinktank Photo belt, harness and modular bag system
- Bogen 3021 tripod with Bogen ballhead
So, what is in your camera bag?
I’ve heard photography described as the art of capturing light, and perhaps I’ve been guilty of describing it that way as well. Photographic tips often talk about looking for dynamic light, chasing the good light, etc. Yet photography is more than light, it is also time. Consider your camera. Leaving ISO aside, there are two ways to control exposure: changing the aperture and changing the shutter speed.
Time is an essential part of photography. Too little time, and your image will be black; too much time, and it will be white. Every photograph captures a slice of time. Sometimes a very small slice, a small fraction of a second; sometimes a long slice of minutes or even hours.
The human eye is better at capturing light than a camera. The human eye can see detail through a very large dynamic range compared to the best DSLRs out there. This is why HDR is popular, why there camera accessories like split-neutral density filters. But, at least in my opinion, the camera is better than the human eye at capturing time. My camera can capture the action of a running gazelle much better than my eye can. Similarly, it is much better at capturing the movement of the stars across the night sky.
Time makes every photograph unique. Each image captures a different piece of time, and each piece of time is different. I use to tell my kids when they were young, that if they wanted to see something no one in the world had ever seen before, pop open a peanut shell. No one in the world ever saw that particular peanut before (and no one would see it again after they ate it). The same is true for photography, want to capture something no one has every photographed before, take a picture, any picture – you’ve just captured a bit of time that will never be captured again. Okay, I hear you. If you take two photographs one second apart, you have two nearly identical photographs (the extreme example, I guess, being two studio-lit shots of a still life taken seconds apart). I didn’t say your capture would be exciting, only different (and perhaps not even on a visible scale). Making that capture of a small slice of time exciting, making the image worthy to look at, is where the art comes in.
The act of capturing time with a camera is not art. Instead making that capture an experience (both for the photographer and the viewer) is the art of photography. Just like composition makes a big difference in photography, selecting the correct small portion of time to record also makes all the difference. Look at the four examples below of the Colorado River taken from Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, taken minutes apart and all processed the approximately the same way in Lightroom and Photoshop. I took the first two before sunrise, four minutes apart. The third was taken seven minutes later and the fourth seven minutes after that. Depending on your tastes, the second or the third ones are clearly superior than the first or the fourth (my favorite is the second one). A few minutes made all the difference here.
Selecting the correct time to press the shutter button is not limited to the quality of the light at the time, it also is dependent upon the subject. The best people shots come with when the subjects are showing their emotions to the camera, something that is difficult to capture because it is often so fleeting. And this timing aspect is not limited to people. When shooting scenes with flags flapping in the breeze, for example, I will usually take many shots, just to capture one where the flag looks good. Here’s a couple more examples. The first image, taken on Caye Caulker in Belize, is a little girl fishing with her father. I snapped of a dozen shots, but this is clearly the best, with the girl lightly touching her father. As you might imagine, a girl of this age didn’t hold that pose long, but was quickly looking this way and that, and interacting with a brother just out of the frame. The second shot is of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, I wanted an image with the swans in the pond, and was lucky enough to capture them in a good , with one looking directly at the camera. The birds were only in this position for a quick moment, and all the other shots I took don’t come close to the quality of this one.
The length of time captured in your image also makes a difference and, as I mentioned above, can reveal things not readily apparent to the naked eye. This is true both for short exposures and for long ones. For example, in the following image of snow geese in the Skagit River delta area of Washington State, the very short shutter speed was able to capture some unique looking wing angles and positions. In the second example, of the ferry dock at Steilacoom, Washington, a long shutter speed created beautiful patterns in the water. If you are a regular viewer of my photography, you likely know that I love using long shutter speeds for the effects of it creates – the effect of compressing many seconds of time into a single image.
Sometimes two different sets of time can both be important to an image. In this example, taken from my trip up to Harts Pass several weekends ago, a long exposure was necessary to capture the stars. For images such as this, too short a shutter speed will not show many stars; too long a shutter speed will result in star trails instead of points of light. The shutter speed for this image was 20 seconds. (Generally, for star shots without trails, you will need to shoot at 30 seconds or less). However, in this image, I wanted to add some foreground interest, and I chose to do light painting on the tree. I painted the tree for just a couple of seconds, running the light from the flashlight briefly up and down the tree. More than a few seconds would have made the tree too bright; less, too dark.
Here’s one last example of the importance of time to photography. The image below is of a tree with colorful leaves taken while moving the camera vertically downward. I used a shutter speed of 1/8 second. A longer shutter speeds would have resulted in too much blurring; a shorter shutter speed, too little. The proper shutter speed for this type of shot will vary greatly depending on the subject and the amount of camera movement.
These are just a few examples of the importance of time to photography. I’m sure you can think of more. Photography is nothing without light, but it is also nothing without time.
In my last post, I focused on the forest burned in a 2003 wildfire near Harts Pass. Today I’d like to show more shots from the Harts Pass area, focusing on images taken near sunset. These shots were captured near the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead on the western slope of Slate Peak, about 1.5 miles from Harts Pass. As I mentioned in my last post, this is a spectacular area. It is well worth a stop if visiting north-central Washington.
The featured image (above) was actually the last image I took, taken approximately 40 minutes after sunset. I really like the color the sky takes during the “blue hour” (the twilight period following sunset, or before sunrise, before complete darkness. I discussed photography during this period in my recent post “After Sunset? Don’t be Blue, Keep Shooting.”) As was the case with many sunset, some of the best color comes long after the sun goes down.
Most of these images were shot with a split neutral density filter. All are RAW images processed in Lightroom.
Sitting on a stump, hot cup of coffee in my hand, warm sunshine on my back in the still crisp morning air, looking out on nearby mountain tops and a forest of bare trees, silver from a 2003 wildfire, Tanya and Carson nearby at our campsite, I felt truly at peace. I reflected on how lucky I am to live in place where such a spot is a short drive from home (well, kind of short, about 5 1/2 hours). Later that day we would drive back to the city, encountering miles of stop-and-go traffic on the way, and life would return to “normal.” But for those five minutes on that stump with that cup of coffee, life was very good.
We had spent two nights at the Meadows Campground, near Harts Pass at the uppermost end of the Methow Valley in the Okanogan National Forest. The Harts Pass area is the highest point you can drive in the State of Washington. The pass itself is over 6,200 feet; the road continues to the trailhead for Slate Peak, at about 7,200 feet. We didn’t actually find the time to climb Slate Peak (a short 1/2 mile hike) because Carson is ailing, instead we stopped at the 6,800-foot high trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked several miles north along a flat trail that hangs along the mountainside. That was enough for Carson for the weekend, and we spent the rest of our time in the campground, except for two short outings by myself to do some photography.
Driving to Harts Pass is half the adventure. Considered by some to be the most treacherous road in Washington, I didn’t think it was that bad (many Seattle intersections are probably more hazardous), but you do need to pay attention. Most of the road is typical Forest Service gravel, but there is one short section known by locals as Dead Horse Point that running off the road would result in a drop of several thousand feet. Harts Pass is up Forest Road 5400, about 16 miles from Mazama, Washington. There are two campgrounds at the pass area, Harts Pass campground with five sites and the Meadows Campground with 14 sites. While the Harts Pass campground was full when we pulled in Friday evening, we were only the fourth campers at Meadows (which eventually was about half full). Meadows sits on the edge of the 2003 wildfire area (and was completely destroyed by the fire, but was since re-built).
Earlier in our camping trip, especially after having our hiking cut short by our sore dog (he has been on limited activity for about two months due to a neck injury, and us taking him hiking was too much, too fast), I had felt some self-generated pressure to create some good images. But then, on Sunday morning before we were breaking camp to leave, I just enjoyed the morning without much thought of photography. I remembered why we were there, to relax and enjoy the mountains; and even though the trip was planned as a photography trip, photography was really second to enjoying the time away. I didn’t have a paying client on the line, I didn’t have any time constraints.
It’s funny, but the Harts Pass area is known for its fantastic views of the North Cascades. Being near the tree line, you don’t have to travel far to see endless mountain views. And I did take some such shots on the weekend. But, it was after my peaceful realization that I created my favorite images of the trip, several shots in the silver forest not a 1/2 mile from our campsite and some fun shots of Tanya and I playing around on the very stump where I had my peaceful moment. None of these favorite shots have the vast mountain views the area is famous for. That’s often the way it is with photography, let the pressure and expectations go, forget about any grand plans for images and just be with the moment, and let the images find you.
Enjoy these images from the silver forest.
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.
Recently I’ve decided to upgrade my website to include more photo galleries. In that regard, this weekend I added two new galleries featuring the two largest cities in the State of Washington: Seattle and Spokane. I’ve displayed many of the images in the new galleries previously here on the blog, but there’s a few new images thrown in as well. Please take a look and let me know what you think.
To illustrate this post, I’m posting two shots of conservatories, one in each city. The Gaiser Conservatory in Spokane sits above the beautiful Duncan Garden in Manito Park. The Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle is missing the beautiful outside garden, but the building itself is very photogenic. Shooting inside conservatories is a lot of fun, particularly on rainy fall days (which will be coming sooner rather than later). I’ve shot inside both these conservatories, as well as the small conservatory here in Tacoma, and made some great shots. I typically use a tripod and a macro lens when photographing in conservatories. If you plan to photograph at your local conservatory, and plan on using a tripod, it’s best to go on weekdays when there are fewer visitors. Also, be kind and move your tripod when others need to walk by. In fact, at the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle, tripods are only allowed on weekdays. When the weather turns bad, consider your local conservatory to keep your creative photographic juices flowing.
If you read my last post, you know I have been frustrated by not having time to go out and shoot. I’m still pretty busy with other stuff, but did find a few hours last Thursday to sneak out with the camera. The evening sky was partially overcast with light clouds, which provided a nice diffuse, low-contrast light. The air as still. A perfect evening for macro flower shots. Luckily, I live less than two miles from one of the nicest dahlia and rose gardens in the Puget Sound region. I grabbed the gear and headed over to Point Defiance Park.
As I was entering the gate to the garden (the garden is surrounded by a 10-foot tall fence to keep the deer out), a gardener was coming out. She told me they had just dead-headed the whole garden and it was in prime condition. I couldn’t have picked a better time. The dahlia blooms did look like they were in their prime, as were most the roses. I set up the tripod, slapped on a 100-mm macro lens and some extension tubes and lost myself in the work. Perfect!
I wasn’t the only photographer there that night, there were three portrait photographers in the garden, two doing senior-high photos and one was shooting two young children (I don’t envy that poor photog). They were making money, and may or may not being enjoying their work. I was not making money, it is highly unlikely I will ever sell any of the images I made that night, instead I was enjoying my craft and saving my sanity.
Occasionally, there was the slightest breath of a breeze, slightly moving the blossoms. I turned up the ISO a couple stops to keep the shutter speed less than a second, and kept on shooting. I ended up shooting for about two hours until the light started fading and the exposure times became increasing long. It was the perfect antidote to my pent-up need to create.
In the past two months, I have barely touched my camera. I shot a wedding in July, a few family shots last weekend, and did took a few quick shots while in Cannon Beach at the beginning of August. That’s it. Now wedding and family photos are fine, but they really don’t wet my creative juices like travel or landscape photography does. The time in Cannon Beach was fun, but it really wasn’t a photography trip. However, if I had known at the time that I wouldn’t have a chance to do any serious work later in the month, I would have taken many more images there. But I didn’t, and now I have huge pent-up desire to do some photography.
There are many reasons and obligations as to why I haven’t been out making images, but that is not really the point. The point is I have this craving, this deep-seated need to have the camera in my hand and spend a day creating. It is as if my soul has a hole in it right now.
And while this desire is very deep and is truly uncomfortable, I am actually glad I have it. Why? Because it confirms for me that I am an artist and not just a documentarian (I hold nothing against those who make documentaries as their artistic outlet, but I think you understand what I’m saying). I’m also glad for this need because while I consider myself a professional, it confirms for me that I’m not just in it for the money (not that there’s a lot of that). I am an artist. I have the need to create and the camera is just my paintbrush, the computer screen and photographic paper are my mediums.
These thoughts come not only because my lack of creative photography recently, but also due to a blog post by Dan Baumbach, a very talented photographer. In his blog, Dan questions whether he is an artist. I think many photographers have had these thoughts. I know I have had such doubts in the past.
Perhaps it is easier for others to see the art in a photographer’s work than the photographer themselves. Looking at Dan’s images, it is easy (at least for me) to see he is an artist. In comment I left to his post, I mentioned how I recently gave a short talk on using Lightroom to a group of photographers and someone asked how I was allowed to change the white balance to make the image look different (than what they thought it should look like in the real world). And the answer is that I’m an artist, I’m not trying to replicate the real world, I’m trying to create my own personal vision of it.
Sometimes my vision looks like how others see a scene. Sometimes it doesn’t. It is always amazing to me how several different photographers can photograph the same scene and come up with totally different photographs. That’s because we photographers are artists.
It is said that art is in the eye of the beholder. Excuse my language, but that is bullshit. Art is in the eye of the artist, the creator. When you put that camera to your eye and decide, consciously or not, what to put in the frame and what to leave out. You are making artistic and creative decisions. The same is true for every tweak you make in Lightroom or Photoshop. (See this earlier post on how we, as photographers, make creative decisions in processing images.) You are an artist. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Okay, enough with the ranting. Presently, I just need get out there and feed my craving to create. Now, where did I put that camera?
David duChemin is a wonderfully talented photographer that I follow. Though he resists being labeled, I’d call him a travel photographer – he truly has a knack for portraying a sense of place through images of people and scenes beyond the typical tourist shots. I’ve enjoyed most of his hard-copy books as well as a few of his ebooks.
Earlier this week, David announced on his blog that his first (at least I believe it’s his first) ebook is now being given away for free. The book, TEN, Ten Ways to Improve Your Craft Without Buying Gear, is a short, educational book on how to improve your photography. While most of its tips were not news to me, his fun writing style and suggested exercises in the book made me think about my images and my approach to photography. Topics covered include creating contrast, creating depth and balance, changing perspective, and looking for “good” light – all topics I like to cover when teaching photography myself.
If you are looking to improve your photography, this short little ebook can certainly help. You can download the ebook at David’s blog.
The cover image of David’s book is used here with permission.
Tanya, Carson and I attended our annual Becker family gathering last weekend. This year it was at Cannon Beach, Oregon. We camped, as did several of my brothers and sisters. Other family members slept in hotel rooms (I have four sisters and two brothers; all but one attended the weekend, as did my Dad, stepmom, and various nieces and nephews). However, most the visiting was in the campground. We arrived Friday evening, and I didn’t even make it to the beach until Saturday night. I considered not even taking the camera out for the whole weekend, instead just enjoying being with the family. However, I couldn’t resist the call of the camera, and I planned a shot for Saturday sunset. Using the Photographers Ephemeris, I planned a shot with the sun setting behind some small islands just off shore. Most images of Cannon Beach show Haystack Rock (don’t believe me, do a Google Image search of Cannon Beach). I wanted to do something a bit different; to show a different part of the beach, and this is the result. It wasn’t the best sunset in the world, but I was happy with the result.
Western Washington has had nice summer weather most of July. Most evenings, there have been few if any clouds, which of course makes for very boring sunset shots. However, when the weather is like this, the hour after sunset brings gorgeous light. Even as it gets too dark for humans to see color well, there are wonderful colors out there to be recorded by your camera.
The period after the sunset (and before the sunrise) is called the blue hour. During the blue hour, sometimes the light is blue, as a result of the blue sky, but other times it is wonderfully warm. This warm light has been referred to as salmon light by the guys over at Photo Cascadia. Whether blue or salmon light, these cloudless evenings can make for good photography. For some reason, I’ve found better luck with the blue hour after sunset rather than before sunrise, but maybe that’s because it’s so hard for me to get out of bed in the morning (especially when the sun rises before 6 a.m., like it is doing now).
I’ve found a online calculator (by JetKo Photo) for determining when the blue hour will occur. However, I’m not sure one is really needed. All you need to know is that after the sun sets, keep the camera out and keep shooting away, even as it gets quite dark. All you need is a tripod and a camera that allows for long exposures. Many DSLRs, in the auto exposure modes, will only allow shutter speeds up to 30 seconds long. When hunting blue hour shots, be prepared to go to manual mode and use the the blub setting on the camera. (Don’t make the same mistake I did recently when first using my newest camera in the blue hour – learn how to set it to blub before setting out).
So after sunset, don’t get blue and put your camera away. Keep that camera out and capture the blue hour.
I’d like to announce the launch of my new ebook, Scenic Seattle The Best Spots – Best Shots Guide to Photographing the Emerald City. The book started a personal project on travel photography in Seattle (as described in this earlier post) early last year. The project is now finished and Scenic Seattle is the result.
Scenic Seattle is a photographic guidebook designed to help photographers and others easily find all the special Seattle views. The book contains descriptions and directions to over 80 places to photograph in the city and provides specific advice on how to capture the best shots. Areas covered include Pike Place Market, Seattle Center, the waterfront, Chinatown, West Seattle, and many more. It has over 60 example images, as well as maps and directions to the image locations. The book is currently available on Amazon and Smashwords. Just today it was accepted into the Smashwords Premium Catalog, which means it will also soon be available at the iBookstore, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Sony. It is also available directly from me (if you order from me, I don’t have to pay the commission, which ranges from about 18 to 60% depending on the retailer; so if you want a copy, please send me an email).
If you are a regular follower of my blog, you’ve already seen most the images from the book as I’ve posted them over the past year. I’ve put a few more in this current post that I don’t think I’ve blogged before. With the book, in addition to the photos, you get directions where to go to take these photos and advice on how to take them. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about how I go about taking my images, or if you have an interest in visiting Seattle, this book is for you. Previews of the book are available at both Amazon and Smashwords.
Last weekend Tanya presented a seminar at a chaplains’ conference in Orlando, Florida. So we made a quick flight down (well not so quick, it basically takes a full day to fly from Seattle to Orlando). Though we stayed at the Hilton at Disney World, I had no desire to visit any theme parks. Instead, Tanya and I drove out to the Orlando Wetlands Park.
The Orlando Wetlands Park was of particular interest to me because of my day job. The wetlands there are man-made using reclaimed water (that is, water from a waste-water treatment plant). Photographically, it’s a great location as well.
The place is amazing and well worth a visit. First, compared to the artificial environment of Disney World, filled with people and mouse ears, the Orlando Wetlands Park is a natural refuge. In the two hours we were there, we only saw one other person, but we saw plenty of wildlife – in particular birds and alligators, but also deer and a raccoon. Secondly, it is easily accessible, with wide trails on berms above the wetlands, making viewing the wildlife easy. We also lucked out in that the rain and thunderstorms rolling through the area left us alone while there.
If you are ever in the Orlando area and want to get away from the crowds, I recommend Orlando Wetlands Park. It’s free and open daily from dawn to dusk.
I have never used screen protectors on my cameras. The reason, I think, is because I’ve been a photographer since long before digital photography, so I saw the birth and growing pains of digital. In the “old” days of digital cameras, all the screen protectors I saw were thick, permanently attached, and, in my opinion, obstructed and lowered the quality of the LCD screen view. I certainly didn’t want one of those on my camera. Now, years later, I guess I was aware that screen protector technology had progressed over the years, but never reconsidered using one until now.
I was contacted by the makers of Expert Shield and asked to review their product. Why not, I thought, with my 6D still relatively new, perhaps it was time to reconsider screen protectors. The screen on my old camera (a 50D) has quite a few scratches, and the 6D already had one or two. So, a screen protector might be called for. I said yes, and shortly thereafter, installed Expert Shield’s product on my camera.
Overall, I’m very happy with the Expert Shield screen protector. It was moderately easy to install, does a great job protecting the screen, easy to remove, and did not leave any residue on the screen. Once installed, I barely noticed it was there; to my eye, there was no visible loss of light transmission through the screen protector. Additionally, Expert Shield screen protectors come with a lifetime guarantee against scratches or peeling.
The key to installing the screen protector is not to have any dust on your screen. The instructions on the package state “dust, your worst enemy.” This is totally true, each speck of dust on your screen when you install the protector will result in an air bubble. Having been shipped two sample screens, I installed a protector twice (one for my testing, and one after testing). The first time, it went very smoothly, and I was able to install the screen protector without any bubbles. On the second installation, I did have a few small bubbles. However, by following the directions on how to remove dust with tape (making sure not to touch the inner surface of the protector with anything other than tape), I was able to again achieve a bubble-free installation. The protector comes with a lint-free cleaning cloth to help ensure the screen is dust free and clean before installation.
Once on, the screen protector is barely noticeable. It does cause a slight, colored interference pattern that is only visible when the screen is off. When turned on, the screen looks perfect, as if the screen protector is not there. Also, the few small scratches I already had on the screen prior to installation were virtually invisible with the protector in place.
I decided to test the guarantee against scratches. While the screen protector doesn’t scratch easily, it does scratch. With the edge of a coin and a bit of pressure, I succeeded in putting a permanent scratch on the screen protector (and I was glad it was there, because that scratch would have really gouged my screen). When I later removed the screen, there was no corresponding scratch on the screen (luckily, or I would have been really pissed). Removing the screen protector is easy. By placing a piece of tape on the corner and pulling gently, the screen protector easily peeled back. If you plan to re-install it, don’t touch the underside. If you are not planning on reuse, it can be peeled back with a fingernail. Once off, it left no residue on the screen.
In summary, I recommend this product without hesitation, just be sure to apply according to the directions and be very careful about dust. While it is capable of being scratched, it will certainly protect your screen. And with the lifetime guarantee, if your protector is scratched, you can get a free replacement. My only disappointment is that Expert Shield does not make protectors for all my devices. While they do have them available for many cameras, smartphones, and tablets, they are not available for my 50D, my smartphone, or my wife’s tablet. That said, they are available for very many devices. You can see a complete list at the Expert Shield website.
Expert Shield screen protectors are available directly from Expert Shield or from Amazon, starting at about $10. Want to try one out for free, Expert Shield will give a free sample to one of my readers. Leave a comment listing your camera or smartphone model and I’ll pick one commenter by random for the giveaway.
Disclaimer: Expert Shield provided me with free samples of this product.
A couple of years ago I purchased an infrared filter, used it perhaps once, stuck it in the camera bag, and have been carrying it around ever since. Earlier this month, I thought it was high time I tried it out again. My subject was Riverfront Park. It seemed like a good time to try. It was the middle of the day, with bright sunshine, and I was somewhat unimpressed with my “normal” shots.
So I pulled out the infrared filter. Here are three samples of one scene from the park, one shot normally in color, a black and white conversion of the color image, and the infrared shot. All were processed in Lightroom.
While I like the infrared image the best of the three, I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with it. It certainly seems to be lacking a bit of the character I normally associate with infrared – namely very dark skies and very light foliage. It may be that my camera (Canon 6D) doesn’t transmit much infrared. Or perhaps there is an issue with the subject I picked. Any experienced infrared photographers out there want to give me some advice?
April in the Skagit Valley is one on the photographic highlights of Washington State. April is when the tulip and daffodil fields west of Mount Vernon are in bloom (actually, the daffodils typically start blooming in March). These fields, and the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, attract big crowds – and, therefore, I’ve avoided them for years (actually I did photograph some of the early daffodil fields a few years back, visiting at non-busy time). However, I did venture up to the fields last Friday – and wow, was I missing out by not going earlier. Actually, I picked a good day. It was rainy in Seattle and Tacoma, but not too bad up in Mount Vernon, and the weather may have kept the crowds down (being a weekday also helped). There still were plenty of people, just not the mobs the flowers attract like bees on sunny weekends.
Here’s a quick report:
- best time to go – go now! The tulips are at their peak. The early tulips have already been headed (the growers de-head the tulips to prevent disease and promote bulb growth, and the longer you wait, the more flowers will be de-headed), the mid-season tulips are in full bloom, and the late-season ones are just starting. Most the daffodil fields are long-past their prime, though a few still have decent flowers.
- best display garden – Roozengaarde. There are two major tulip growers in the valley, Roozengaarde (a division of Washington Bulb) and Tulip Town. Both have display gardens. Roozengaarde’s is larger and better developed. There is an entry fee of $5 – well worth it. This fee also gets you into their tulip field across the road. Roozengaarde’s other tulip fields, elsewhere in valley, are free to visit.
- best tulip field – Tulip Town. Behind the display garden at Tulip Town is relatively small tulip field, but one packed with lots of colors and varieties. Most the other tulip fields in the valley are very large, and though they may have several varieties of tulips, it’s difficult to get more than a couple of varieties into a single image. No such problem at Tulip Town. Another big advantage at Tulip Town is two red barns next to the field that make good backgrounds. Like Roozengaarde, there is a $5 entry fee.
- weather – it rains a lot in the area in April, you just have to work with it. Sunny days (like today) are great, but not very predictable unless you have a flexible schedule. You can make great photos on cloudy days, or even in the rain (as long it is not a downpour).
- footwear – the fields are muddy – extremely muddy if it has rained lately. Wear boots. I wore hiking boots; many people had rubber bo0ts.
- pets – of course, Tanya and I had Carson with us. Dogs are not allowed in the display garden at Roozengaarde or in Tulip Town, but are allowed in most the fields. Carson had a great time laying in mud puddles.
- parking – the entrance fee to Roozengaarde also pays for parking at their fields – assuming the parking lots are open (they close if it is too muddy). There is also a parking lot at Tulip Town. Otherwise, you will need to park on the road. Be warned: if any part of your car is across the marking the edge of the road, you will get ticketed. The local cops were out in force when we were there.
The 44th Annual Ocean Shores Juried Art Show starts tomorrow. I have five images accepted into the show in the Photography Division – those posted here. Regular readers of my blog may recall the five images as I believe I’ve posted all of them before.
The show is open Friday, April 19th from noon to 5 pm; Saturday, April 20th from 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday, April 21st from 10 am to 3 pm. In addition to photography there are fine arts (paintings mostly) and electronic arts divisions. If you are in the area, it’s worth stopping in to see some great art. I’ll be there Sunday afternoon to see the show and pick up my work. Hope to see you there.
Here are some more details about the Paria Canyon hike along with some more photos.
There are four trailheads: three starting trailheads (assuming hiking downstream), all in Utah: Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, and Whitehouse campground; and one ending trailhead, at Lee’s Ferry, AZ. My hiking buddies (Rob Tubbs, an friend from grad school; his wife, Deanna; and daughter, Abby; and my brother Rob) and I choose to start at the Whitehouse trailhead because there were better camping options on this route (there are no places to camp in Wire Pass and very few in Buckskin Gulch). The Whitehouse trailhead is on the Paria River, two miles south of the Paria Contact Station on US Highway 89, roughly mid-way between Page, AZ and Kanab, UT. The Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass trailheads are south of US 89 on House Rock Road. Roads to all the trailheads, at the time of this writing, were passable by passenger car.
Buckskin Gulch is a tributary to the Paria River, and hits the Paria 7 miles from the Whitehouse trailhead. Wire Pass is a tributary to Buckskin Gulch, and is relatively short. Hiking Wire Pass cuts off a portion of Buckskin Gulch.In addition to the hike to Lee’s Ferry, it is also a popular hike to start at Wire Pass or Buckskin, hike to the Paria, then upstream to the Whitehouse trailhead.
Permits: a permit is needed to hike from any of the trailheads, and there is a limit of 20 overnight permits per day. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of people on the 6 days we were in the canyon. Permits are also needed for day use, but there is no limit on the number of permits issues. Dogs are allowed, but also need a permit. Permit information can be obtained here.
Shuttle: Unless you want to backtrack back up the canyon, this is a one-way hike. There’s no quick way to drive from the starting trailhead to the end. Unfortunately, the quickest paved route is not currently an option because the highway between Page, AZ and Lee’s Ferry is out for the foreseeable future due to a landslide which took out a portion of the road on February 20th. Now the quickest route involves driving the length of the unpaved House Rock Road. In our case, I followed Rob Tubbs’ Ford F350 truck in my little Hyundai Elantra. Now, while I’m a proponent of the drive-fast-over-washboards-on-dirt-roads method, I’m a piker compared to Rob Tubbs, whom I swear is a teacher at the Drive-As-Fast-As-You-Can-on-Desert-Roads School. There was no way to keep up with him, but we did eventually make the drive. In total, the shuttle took 3.75 hours, with about half the mileage over dirt roads. (Google Maps suggests the round trip over the same roads should take approximately 5.5 hours). It is also possible to leave your cars at one end and hire a shuttle company to do the driving.
Best season: This is definitely not a place to go hiking when it’s raining. The flash flood danger is serious. Plus, as the Paria River drains a large area north of the hike, a thunderstorm miles away can cause a flood in the canyon. August is typically the rainest month of the year here, with May having the least rain; though floods have been recorded in every month of the year. The peak visitation is during April and May – but with the permit system, the canyon is never crowded.
Trail conditions: there is no official trail. Much of the trip is in water. On our hike, I estimate 20% of the trip was walking in the river – mostly in the narrows section. The water was typically ankle-deep, but occasionally knee-deep. Of course, water depths depend on the weather – flash floods occur every year and can be dangerous. It’s best to plan the hike during the dry season (spring). In the lower portion of the canyon, where the canyon opens up, there is an unmaintained overland trail (with many river crossings) which is much easier than walking along the river – which contains many large boulders in this portion of the canyon; these create deeper pools.
A large portion of the hike, when not actually in the water, is on muddy river bank. Quicksand is fairly common, both on the muddy riverbank and in the water itself. It’s not dangerous, but you can sink quickly up to your knees (this happened to me once), and it is difficult to get out of without help. You can avoid quicksand by testing suspect locations with a light foot before putting all your weight on it. Also, when crossing the river, favor rocky spots rather than slow water spots.
Buckskin Gulch is known for having large pools of standing water that sometimes must be waded or swum, as well as one point where boulders block the route. In previous years, these boulders present a problem where some climbing might be necessary. Currently, we found the boulder section, several miles upstream from the confluence with the Paria, was easily passable without scrambling. Report from other hikers who had done the complete length of Buckskin reported no large pools of water either. Of course, this could change with the next rainstorm.
Guidebook: there is a guidebook with maps of all three canyons (Paria, Buckskin, and Wire Pass) available at the Paria Contact Station for $9. This is well worth the money, particularly as it shows the locations of springs. My one complaint about the maps is that they lack north arrows, which can sometimes make it difficult to orient the maps properly (every map is oriented differently, with the river/canyon running lengthwise on the page).
Shoes and clothing: I wore hiking boots with gore tex socks over wool socks. Don’t bother with the gore tex socks – they just filled with water. Most people hike in sandals or tennis/running shoes. I chose hiking boots for the ankle support – but the boots never completely dried out the whole trip. Your feet will get cold. You might consider neoprene socks to help keep them warm.
Even in warm weather, it can be cool in the narrows section of the canyon where there is plenty of shade. This is even more true in Buckskin Gulch where it is rather dark. Take warmer clothes than you would think are necessary based on the weather.
Water: the river water is very silty and will quickly clog a water filter. Luckily there are a number of springs in the canyon where fresh water can be obtain. We drank from these springs without using filtration (do take some care how you fill your bottles if not using a filter). The springs are well marked on the guide maps, but still may be hard to find. We had a particularly hard time finding one called Shower Spring. The boy scout leader we met told us his scout group planned to camp there, yet when we arrived, we saw them hiking off down the canyon. But then, we couldn’t see the spring. We just about gave up looking for it, but as we were running low on water, I gave one last look. I crossed the river and found a hidden trail through tall, thick pampas-type grass, and behold, a big spring with lots of water! The last spring, aptly named Last Reliable Spring, was easier to find, but has a low flow rate so it took time to fill our bottles. The final 12 miles of the hike do not have any reliable water sources. If you plan well, you can minimize the water you have to carry by planning your daily mileage around the spring or by camping near by the springs. Do remember to carry enough water – you’ll need it, even in April or May.
Campsites: there are campsites marked on the map, but many other campsites are available – just be sure to camp high enough above the river in case the water comes up overnight. Within the narrows section of the canyon, campsites are much harder to find. And in the full 18 miles of Buckskin Gulch, there are only a couple, including the one we stayed at our second night, shortly up canyon from Buckskin’s confluence with the Paria.
The Scoop on Poop: When you check in at the Paria Contact Station, you will be given human-waste disposal bags. These consist of one or two silver bags with some dry chemicals in them. These bags open up to rear-end size. And a yellow mesh bag to carry the used silver bags. The ranger writes your permit number on the silver bags, so if perchance you leave one in the canyon, they will make you come and get it (okay, they’d probably give you a fine; she said they started putting numbers on the bags after some hikers started leaving the used bags in the canyon thinking the rangers came through and picked them up). Luckily, you are only required to use these bags within the narrows section of the canyon. Elsewhere, you can dig “cat holes” away from the river and campsites. In our case, we were only in the narrows for about a day and a half. It’s amazing how your body can react when forced with the possibility of using one of these bags. Four of the five of us were able to “hold it” and carried out empty bags. Concerning toilet paper, that comes out with you, even if using cat holes.
Historical sites: portions of the canyon were historically used by Ancient Pueblo people (Anasizi). There are no ruins, at least that we saw, but there are several petroglyph sites (only one of which is marked on the guide map). If you go, the best petroglyph site we saw is between mile 24 and 25. There are several more recent sites as well. These include the remains of an irrigation pump from an ill-fated attempt to pump water out of the canyon in the 1949 at mile 17.5 and a historical ranch property right at the end of the trail in Lee’s Ferry.
Critters: We saw few animals on our hike other than birds, bats, lizards and mice (luckily only at our final campsite), but I did find a scorpion behind my backpack the night we camped in Buckskin Gulch. You should also be aware that rattlesnakes are occasionally seen. Reportedly there are also beavers (we did see some logs they had worked on), coyotes, jack rabbits, cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, deer and bighorn sheep.
Overall, this is one hike I can highly recommend. The scenery is outstanding. The country is remote, but easily accessible. I waited about 30 years to take this hike – in hind sight, I should have gone a long time ago. It’s one fantastic hike.
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.
A week ago last Saturday, Tanya, Carson and I took another hike. This one to Ebey’s Landing up on Whidbey Island. This hike covers a bit less than 6 miles roundtrip and involves walking across a classic, island prairie, along the tallest coastal bluff in Washington State, and along a driftwood-strewn Puget Sound beach.
Though this is a great hike anytime of the year, it is especially good in the winter when snow prevents hiking in the mountains. It is also in the Olympic Mountain’s rain shadow, so it rains less there than in Seattle (the average annual precipitation is about 24 inches compared to 34 inches in Seattle).
Almost every step of this hike has a great view of the Olympics (though they were mostly cloud covered on our trip). There is also an awesome view of Mount Baker, and even a view of Mount Rainier far to the south. The hike even has a bit of history; the hike being inside Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. The area was first settled in the 1850s, and a few of the original homestead buildings are still standing today.
And after the hike, don’t forget to drop into the nearby, historic town of Coupeville for some of the famous Penn Cove mussels. We stopped at Toby’s Tavern for a quick bite and a cold beer. The tavern sits on the water of Penn Cove and offers affordable seafood and other bar foods (though if stuffed animal heads make you nervous, you might want to try someplace else).
PS – Kickstarter update: my project has been online a little over a week and has already been fully funded. However, the project will still be active on Kickstarter another few weeks. You still have a chance to pledge. For a $5 pledge, you will receive a copy of the ebook – that’s a discount on what the ebook will cost after it’s published. Check out my Seattle ebook project here.