Thursday, December 24, 2009

Solstice


Winter Solstice 2009 was a couple of days ago. I was unable to make it out for sunset like I had in prior years but when out in the afternoon I did get a chance to see some of the last of our local fall color.

Fall color the week of Christmas? Yep. Unlike many other states where fall color is a brief 2-3 weeks ours is a long slow change here in north Texas. Our trees start yellowing in late October and then we get changes all through November, peak color of our best local trees is at Thanksgiving and then we get our last lingering color through the week of Solstice.

So on a pleasant December afternoon I saw this red oak that still had some nice color and grabbed this one.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Peaks of RMNP


The peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park.
I arrived on what was really a rather clear but windy day in RMNP. The fall color was gone. There were clouds clinging to the peaks and that drew my interest.

There was a foreboding to the wind and the clouds among the high peaks. Something that made them exceptionally wild that day.

I can only imagine the conditions for any alpinist that had dared the high country. The wind and the chill in the air had to make it a very difficult ascent. Despite my desire to walk among the high peaks,

I stayed in the low valleys and walked, photographed, and occasionally thought just maybe.....

Friday, December 11, 2009

Across the Plains


After several days of being in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, camping in a couple of blizzards, and taking quite a few images, I headed for the plains and the drive toward Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Snowy Range ends abruptly and then you are on the plains. As I drove I watched rain in the distance. Then the clouds started to breakup and I caught a rainbow. In this big open country I caught the full rainbow. I made images of the entire 'bow but it was when I saw a windmill that the image idea fully got formed. Call it an homage to Galen Rowell. This might not be the Potola Palace, but in a way having a ranch in Wyoming is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Another image from that drive of some horses on the plains.

I headed for town and a warm meal with thoughts of getting to Rocky Mountain NP.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Snow in the Sierra Madre


I awoke to snow falling in the mountains. What had been a mostly clear afternoon had gotten thick clouds in the evening and that heavy overcast was now snowing!

By all means it was time to get further up the mountain.

I had passed some locations that I thought would be perfect with snow falling. Along the way the snow kept getting thicker and heavier the further up the mountain I went.

I made it to an overlook with a lake in the predawn dark. There were no stars and only snow billowing in. It was very quiet and the view was spectacular.

When the light came up I was able to make some images that captured the cold and the snow. See the second image.
At the same time I noticed that the snow was getting thicker and I still had to cross Battle Pass. Discretion is sometimes the better part of valor, so I decided to get over the pass before they closed it. Especially since they had closed the Snowy Range just a few days before.

When I crossed the pass the snow was flying in sideways and it was windy. I tried to get out of the vehicle to make a few images but it was pretty much impossible from the wind and blowing snow.

The top image is from below the pass where the snow was still in a moderate wind, but you can get the idea.

Finally the last image shows the road and how quick the snow was piling up. I just might have been the last person across Battle Pass this year.

Like I said in my last post, I cannot recall seeing many, if any, images of the Sierra Madre. I think it gets overshadowed by Colorado to the south and by Yellowstone in Wyoming. And that is fine with me! This way I can be one of the few people to seek it out.

No question, I am going back.


But you would not like it, so stay away :-)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wyoming Aspen


Wyoming. The cowboy state.

After a few days making my way across Colorado I entered Wyoming near the town of Baggs. From there it was up into the Sierra Madre.

This was ranching country and the Little Snake River valley was practically right out of movie. As I drove up into the mountains, I started to see aspen. Then more aspen. Then even more aspen. It reminded me of SW Colorado there were so many aspen trees. And 95% had lost their leaves. Winter beat me here. But that was ok, as the area and views were spectacular, even past the fall color.

This was one of those areas that really quick you knew you would have to be back.

Here are just a couple of the locations and views I took in. First is a grove of perfect vertical aspen. I think I spent two hours here photographing but I could have spent the whole day. The vertical lines and road were amazing.

Second image is from one of the scenic overlooks and takes in a view across the range. Unlike the neighboring Snowy Range, this lacks some of the big granite peaks but it more than makes up with all the aspen.
The views here really take in the entire heart of the range and those trees, even past prime they were pretty amazing.

Yep, this place is going on the must return list. But next time it will be a week earlier!



Sunday, November 15, 2009

White River Country

Driving from the Maroon Bells toward Wyoming took me through the White River country. I had been to Rifle once on my west out I-70 to Ouray, but had never ventured north.

After escaping the surprising development along the Roaring Fork between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, I was eager to get to a less settled area.

I followed the road north of Rifle into a hilly ranching country. This was a place of cowboys and had the look of the old west.

As I drove I encountered the White River and was I ever impressed. The grassy hills with this small river winding down the valleys lined with golden cottonwoods was a wonderful sight.

I was intent on getting to Wyoming but had to make a few stops to take it in and take a few images.

Here are a couple to just touch on the area.

The geese were honking and milling around the rivers edge. Not many more birds than you see in the image but a pleasant sight none the less.


Then a view of the river as it turns past a stand of cottonwood. I may have missed the aspen this far north but the cottonwoods were very nice and provided a source of photographic inspiration along the White River, Yampa River, and Little Snake River as I moved north.


All of them seemed right out of a movie and even the little towns had an authentic quality that most places lacked these days.

So after enjoying the river country I crossed the state line and headed toward the mountains.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maroon Bells by Night


After waiting out the light and not seeing the Bells, I went back to camp while the snow fell. I woke up at 3:30 am and it was still and clear, so I went back up to the Bells to find them lit by the full moon.

Not one to pass up such an opportunity I started two cameras making night images.

This is one of the longer images at about twenty minutes. I really liked the curve of the star trails and the way the moon lit the scene.

Bonus to the night images was how I again had the whole place to myself. It was only at dawn the the first other photographer showed up, not realizing they had already missed the best light.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Blizzard at the Maroon Bells

My plan had been to drive from Great Sand Dunes NP up to the Snowy Range. But Mother Nature did not plan the seasons on my vacation schedule. Turns out the Snowys were living up to their name and WyoDOT had already closed the road through the mountains.

Darn.

Ok, so now to reroute. I took a break, got out the map and a Dublin DP from the cooler to ponder for a moment. A good DP helps with that and a Dublin DP is about as good as it gets, but I digress....

Decided to drive over Independence Pass and then to Maroon Bells. I always thought that the Bells were overdone, heck there is even a bus stop to haul in the tourists.

But it looked promising for snow and maybe a little fall color hanging around.

I got there to find not only snow, but it was almost whiteout blizzard. The Bells were not out. The fall color was 98% gone. That might be generous on my part.

But the blizzard more than made up for it! Limited visibility with snow billowing in. It was not touristy at all. It was spetacular!

It reminded me of being in the Misty Mountains. The peaks I could see were hazy in the snow and the whole place took on a magical far away look.

And I had it all to myself!

I set to making a few images. Then wipe the snow from the camera as it was really coming down.


I stayed until dark photographing, hoping the mountain might pop out but there was just the snow. It didn't matter as this was so good I just enjoyed the time and the view.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

At the Great Sand Dunes

The Great Sand Dunes are one of the wonders of Colorado.

I was headed for Wyoming but I had also decided to take the winding scenic route. After watching sunup on Mt. Capulin I made my way through Red River and then up the San Luis valley to Great Sand Dunes National Park.

I tried to venture out onto the dunes but the wind made it brutal on the sand. So for a different view I hiked into the hills behind the campground and photographed the dunes from a distance. It was a new view for me. It also allowed me to photograph the dunes, mountains and fall color all in one image. See the first image for that view.

The dunes also made an interesting subject for the long lens as the distance had compressed the waves and ridges. See the second image for that view.

Not a bad second day to make for the dunes.

I went out the next morning and it was still breezy but significantly better than the prior afternoon. I made a few images of the stars over the dunes but was less than impressed with what I got. None of them were as good as these two images.

And with that is was off across the state.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Heading West



Heading west for a week is one of the great moments in a year. A week. The open road. The big open country of the American west. Nothing quite like it.

It really is something you cannot get in other parts of the country. I've done drives east but they never have the same feeling of adventure of going west. There is something about the big open country of the west that is magical.

I left Fort Worth and took off up US 287. By the time you get close to Amarillo the towns have really started to really be spaced apart. There are more cows than people out here. The sky gets darker at night. You watch your gas gauge.

After staying up at Lake Meredith, I headed for New Mexico and the volcano studded open range in the north east part of the state.

It was cold and clear. I thought about doing an image of Mt Capulin with the stars. Then I passed into a thick cloudbank. So much for that. Right as I neared the mountain, I popped out of the cloud cover and into some cold clear air. My star trail image did not work but as the light came up on the plains low clouds started moving around the mountain. I managed to make an interesting image of the low clouds and morning glow on the mountain (top image).

BTW- I also got a chance to watch ice crystals form on my tripod leg as I was photographing. It was cold behind this front!

After watching the sunrise I headed farther west and by the time I made Raton, I was back under overcast sky.

I followed the road toward Cimarron and passed through ranching country. It was on that lonely road I made the second image of the range land and mesas that lie at the eastern edge of the Sangre de Christo Mountains.

It was the first full day on the road. I was heading to Wyoming. I was on the open range driving west.

What a day!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Storm on the Lost Mesa

A thunderstorm breaking up at sunset on the Lost Mesa.

The day had started clear. A few puffy clouds started to form in mid morning. The clouds built up. The sky turned dark and rained in the afternoon. Late in the day a few storms were rolling across the mesa. At sunset, this thunderstorm was moving toward me it was also breaking up.
I could see rain falling on mountains that were only a few miles away. A rainbow appeared. I saw a single bolt of lightening. The clouds were racing toward me and breaking up at the same time.
The sun continued to set behind me. The light got better. The rain never made it to me.
I photographed until the light was gone from the sky. Then waited for the stars.
This image was from the height of the magical light. Sometimes you just get lucky and get to see days like this.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Moonrise on the Lost Mesa


Moonrise on the Lost Mesa.

I know, it looks like sunrise, but it is a full moon rising. Click the image for the larger version and see the stars. It's night. That's the rising moon lighting up the eastern sky.

You can still make out the distant shapes of the Horned Mountains.

I actually was hoping to do longer star trails but the moon was lighting up so much of the sky, that was not possible. So, instead I was able to get the moonrise looking like a sunrise.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chasing the Tlaloc Man


Tlaloc Man is a petroglyph found in rare locations in the southwest. He is thought to be associated with rain and storms. In the southwest, that is a good thing. It is also a glyph I was always fascinated with ever seeing an image of one from Hueco Tanks State Park near El Paso.

Except I had only seen it in books, never anyplace I went. I've been to Hueco Tanks several times and saw rock art but since I was usually there as a climber finding Tlaloc took a backseat to the days climb.

So imagine my surprise last year when I not only randomly walking found one almost 4 foot tall! The Lost Mesa is a magical place and there is rock art to be found. I set out in search of it and wandered the sides of a mountain. At first I saw nothing. Then a solitary glyph. Suddenly walking around a rock I see a slab with a 4 foot tall Tlaloc.

Tlaloc is usually described and found as a trapezoidal shaped glyph with geometric designs and goggle eyes. This was it. Not just a Tlaloc, but a big one!
He was not alone either. Carved on the same slab were several trapezoidal outlines. Proto-Tlaloc men? A sketch pad for the final masterpiece? I do not know. Four such shapes were on the same slab face. A tiny Tlaloc was on the side of the rock.

After returning to the mesa this late summer, I found even more. Several examples of the Tlaloc were spread across the mountain. Most were small or "proto" outlines, none were as good as the first one. One looked like the body but the head was never finished.

A collection to say the least.

Here are a few to sample them.

The top image is the big one. This petroglyph is almost four feet tall and stares out at the sky. Four proto-Tlaloc men can be seen beyond on the slab. Two of those are detailed in the second image. The outline is there but the details were never fully finished. Both of these are also in the three fo
ot tall range.

Finally, the third image is of one of the tiny ones. This one is only a few inches tall, yet the trapezoidal shape and goggle eyes make it unmistakably a Tlaloc.

Great glyph at a great location. Yet another area that deserves more visits.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Lost Mesa-Big Sky Big Country


Late summer on the Lost Mesa is one fantastic time to be out here. Ok, who am I kidding? Anytime is a good time to be here. It is that during the late summer monsoon season there is always a pretty good chance for some afternoon thunderstorms to build, bringing both rain and big sunsets.


So on a recent weekend out on the mesa I got a chance to see some great clouds and even some rain. Summer 2009 has had some rain out here but it seems to have been a little less than normal as many of the plants that I saw in bloom during prior years were not blooming this year. Now maybe I missed them by a few weeks, but it did seem a little drier here. But who is to let a little rain, or lack of it get in the way of being out on the Lost Mesa?



I am always amazed by the big empty quality of the land here. Big empty spaces. Lonely yet teeming with some energy that cannot be described.
And the sky! That big sky. Montana has nothing on this place.

The open range goes on for miles and I drove across the vastness of it kicking up dust behind me. Open range.....
Your eyes are always looking into the distance here. Looking at distant mountains. Following the swell of the land. Catching a glimpse of pronghorn speeding away. Watching the yucca forest appear suddenly.

And the sky. The big blue sky.

Here are a few examples of that big sky. First a sunrise. The sun pops up over the rolling rangeland and brings the light of a new day. A lonely mountain pops up out of the grass.
Second image is another view of how these mountains pop out of the grass. Each a lone unique peak in a sea of grass.
Third image is one looking across the rolling vastness of 1.2 million acres of open range.
Big open range. Big open sky. Big open country.
It was good to be back.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hiking the Rim




Hiking the rim is one of the great ways to see and photograph at the Grand Canyon. Sure you can descend into the depths. I think it sounds fun. Not everyone does.

But walking the rim is pretty easy. It's all but level and the views are fantastic. They have a bus you can take but then you only see the major view points. Just like everyone else.

Take a hike and walk the rim and you can really experience the big views this canyon offers.

Here is one of those views. This was along the rim trail between the crowded bus stops. We had the trail mostly to ourselves only occasionally passing another hiker coming the other way. It threatened rain the entire day and started as we made it out to Hermits Rest.

But as luck would have it that is a bus stop, so we got to walk out and ride back in the rain. Call it luck. Great walk, great views, nice images, exercise, and get to keep the camera dry in the bus going back. What's not to like?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rain over the Grand Canyon

After getting lucky with clear sky at my visit to Antelope Canyon, I headed for the Grand Canyon. As I drove the clouds started to build in the sky. By the time I got there is was raining.

What luck!!

I got the clear sky I needed for a slot canyon and then I got rain over the Grand Canyon.

Perfect.

We stopped right at Desert View and Point Lipan to get some views of the rain falling over the canyon. Lightening was around so the visits to the edge were quick and it was get the image and go.

After getting checked in at our lodging I was hoping I might get a chance to see the sunset behind the rain. With the severe edge of the storm gone but distant rain, I jumped on board the shuttle bus for Hopi Point. I no sooner stepped off the bus and saw this great view west with a gap in the sky and rain falling. It was going to be perfect.

Trifecta!

And here is the sunset from Hopi Point into the rain.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Into Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is one of the wonders of the southwest. Sure there are many slot canyons on the Colorado Plateau, but Antelope is probably the premier place for the photographer.

There are actually two Antelope Canyons, Upper and Lower. They are on the same "gully" but are about a mile apart. Both are also on the Navajo Nation and run under the supervision of the Navajo Parks.

Upper is the more famous. It is the easier of the two. For most folks they pick up a tour in nearby Page and are driven out to the canyon. The canyon there is level and in some places fairly roomy. It can also be packed with tourists.

Lower is a little different. It's closer to the road and you can drive yourself to the entrance. However it is much narrower and requires negotiating some twists and a few narrow ladders. BTW- each canyon is a separate admission. Lower was $26 in summer 09. It is well worth it.

After visiting each, I prefer Lower. As a photographer I liked the quieter aspect of it. Like I said, it requires a bit more dexterity but is more rewarding.


Check out the first pic to see the entrance. That narrow crack is it. You can see the stairs going down into it. The canyon can be 50-70 feet deep or so in places.

Once you drop down into the canyon the light levels drop and the light bouncing off the high walls above make for some wonderful soft colors and light.
I wandered slowly and photographed what seems like every turn in the canyon. Everything looks neat and it would be easy to spend the day here.

Actually it is the perfect place for the lazy photographer as the best light here is on clear sky days when the sun is high in the sky. In other words-you can sleep in.
I visited on the drive from Zion to the Grand Canyon which put me there around 10am-perfect for visit into the canyon.

It was my first trip into Lower but it will not be my last. I am already planning on making another trip here next year as I liked it so much.

For the photographer my advice would be to take a camera, tripod, remote release, and your widest zoom.
Add to that an extra battery and memory and you are ready to go. I'd try to travel light and highly suggest leaving the photo backpack in the car. There are tight squeezes here and a small shoulder bag/fannypack will be all you want.

Here are a couple of my favorite images I captured in my few hours in the canyon. I hope they can give you a sense of the colorful and narrow confines of this incredible place.
Do not let others images deter you, this is one place every photographer needs to go to.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Narrows

The Narrows is one of the premier hikes Zion National Park.

At the back of Zion Canyon the canyon becomes very narrow (hence the name) and you follow the Virgin River in a place that is maybe 25 feet wide and probably 1000 feet deep.

It is not a hike in the traditional sense as you are not on a trail but instead you are wading up a river. The river often is wall to wall. In places it can be deep but in mid summer it was mostly knee deep on me.

I had a chance to visit the park and wade some of the river one afternoon but this was going to be the first chance to really photograph it.

I caught an early shuttle bus and made my way to the last stop and started walking the short trail to the waters edge. After trading out shoes for sandals, making sure my camera gear was sealed in Ziplock bags, and getting my trekking poles out, I started up stream.
An advantage of starting early is you can beat some of the crowds of mid-day.

One of the first things you notice is the water is cold. It was July and the temp was going to 105 that day and the river was cold. Some of the outfitters in town rent special dry booties to keep your feet warm and hel
p protect you from the rocks but for summer water a good pair of Keen sandals was all I needed. BTW-the trekking poles are a huge help with keeping your balance. No one like to slip, but with a pack full of camera gear you never want to slip.

It was not that far into the canyon when I found a good sandbar and some nice light bouncing down off the canyon walls. I started setting up the camera and then went to work making images.

The light is everywhere and it is amazing to wade into the river with camera to find the best compositions.
I spent at least half of an hour in that first spot and only pressing time made me go. So I packed back up and started further upstream.

It was then I made a decision that I needed a pocket camera as it seemed every step was a new image and my camera was safely sealed in plastic. I need something handy for moments like this.

The scenery was amazing and it was not long before another sandbar became a place to stop and I got the camera back out.

I continued this for a while but it seemed I was not getting very far. This is someplace to devote time to, not make a quick trip of.


Here are just a few of those images from that short morning. I think my favorite is the last one with the glowing light on the weeping wall and the water running over the stones of the river. That really captures the sense of place what it is like when you are in the Narrows.

You might also notice the small waterfall cascading down into the river in the middle image.

A breathtaking place. Already on my list to get back to.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Watchman

The Watchman is a mountain in Zion National Park.


It is a famous view and one of the most photographed images in the park, maybe the most photographed one. BTW it is the pointy peak over the river in the first image.

As you might guess, I photographed it too. Why? Easy. Look at it. It wants to be photographed. The river, the canyon the mountain-this has it all.



So I went off to make the standard image late in the afternoon, just like most photographer would. Now what the image does not show is WHERE you make the image from. Take a look and you might guess you are on a bridge. That is correct, but it is a two lane bridge with no sidewalk.



That's right, no sidewalk. There is about a two foot striped area on the side of the bridge. Photographers joke that the stripes mark out spots for photographers since it can get busy with photogs. This is a place one needs to have a minimal amount of equipment as if you are wearing a backpack there are times it seems a bus will snag it off your back. Luckily being in the park the speed limit is low, but when a truck goes by at 30-40 mph about a foot from you and your tripod it does start to be "fun".



The first image is that standard afternoon one. I know the photographers are already thinking, the dork left his polarizer on with his 10mm lens. Yes I did. Doh! But at least you can see what the standard view looks like.



I knew the lack of clouds would make the first image pretty bland so when I got up early the next morning and it was still cloudless I went back to photograph the stars over the Watchman.

What you see here was the first image I got. The Watchman was catching some light, the Milky Way hangs in the sky and the river had a little glow to it. As soon as I saw it on the screen, I knew I liked it.

Then late in the trip I had a very cloudy afternoon and I thought I would go back and try one last time for an image. This time I went down into the river and photographed out of it for a different take on this famous view. The clouds really made this one work.



Clouds are awesome!



Now I had two images that I really liked and both were a little different than the standard shot.


I guess the moral of the story is do the classic locations but then try to do it differently. You might just get a much better image.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Angels Landing


I just returned from a trip to Zion National Park.

Zion is one of those great Utah parks in red rock country that really became well known and highly visited in the last 15 years or so.

It really is a spectacular park and I have enjoyed several visits to it.

One of the classic hikes in Zion Canyon is Angels Landing. It, of course, was one I had to do on the trip.

For those who have not been to the park before, let me set the stage. Zion is a fairly narrow canyon of sheer big walls. Some of the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world are right here in the park.
Take a look at the top image.

That is Angels Landing.

It is a giant cliff that sticks out into Zion Canyon proper.
The Angels Landing hike zig zags up these cliffs for over 1000 feet. You start at the very left side of that image and switchback up the canyon wall. The trail ducks into a small canyon at the base of the ridge notch. It emerges at a place called Scouts Lookout. The lookout is 1000' feet above the valley floor.

It is there the trail really gets interesting!

From there the trail follows the spine of the ridge up another few hundred feet to the very top of Angels Landing.



This trail is not for everyone. It is 4th Class climbing-you will want and need to use your hands here. There is exposure to sheer drops. The do have a chain in several places to offer a hand but it is still not for the faint of heart.


Check out the second image. This is one of those spots. The "trail" goes up these rocks and it ain't that wide. And it is a LONG WAY DOWN.


I scampered up the ridge taking in the view. The climb is a fun one. You will need your hands and you make use of the chain in a few spots. Climbers will find it easy, but fun. Non-climbers will find it to be thrilling.

Make it to the top and your reward is a dramatic view in almost a full circle. The valley is now far below.


Take a breather and enjoy the view.
See the view looking down canyon in the third image. This view is south. The Zion lodge is down there and the village of Springdale is farther down canyon.


Then you have to go back down. Be careful as going down is where I would think most people slip.


Take your camera too as you will want to have images and movies of this one!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hidden Desert Oasis

Hidden in the desert of Big Bend are several places that are truly a desert oasis.

Where there is water-there is life.

Water brings, trees, and shade, and plants and animals.

Some places are well known. Others, not so much. And then some are downright secret.

If you want to see a good example of a desert spring hike to Mule Ears Spring. The trail head starts at the Mule Ears Overlook off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. A walk through the desert takes you to a spring and an acre of green. Sit by the spring and it seems along way from the dry desert that is just 30 yards away.

Then if that experience gets your interest, start looking for others. If you look long enough, you might find this one.

Here a waterfall spills down into a shaded pool. A stream cascades down from there into a small canyon filled with trees, ferns, yellow columbines, etc.

A secret oasis.
It is a place I stumbled upon several years ago and a place I try to make it back to on a regular basis.

I once encountered a mountain lion here. He was about 50 feet away. It was an exciting moment!

Here are a few images from a recent visit. The spring had been rather dry in the Big Bend so only a trickle of water was flowing over the falls, but the pools and shade were all there.

You can see the stream had water in it that gurgled down through the small canyon. You just might make out some of the yellow columbines in the image.
Finally an image of the ferns that grow in in cool moist shade of the canyon.

It is a far cry from the dry desert.

A small place. Maybe three acres. Maybe.

The water runs through this small area and then then desert pulls it into the ground. Quickly the land goes from green trees to scrub to desert.

A fleeting glimpse of life in this harsh dry place. If you can find it.

Keep looking, it is not a mirage.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Closed Canyon


The neighbor of Big Bend Ranch National Park and it's 800,000+ acres is Big Bend Ranch State Park and it's 250,000 acres.
Both are spectacular, but even fewer people go to the state park than go to BBNP.


One of my favorite places to visit in Big Bend Ranch SP is Closed Canyon. This is a narrow cut through steep and deep red rock. It is a very much like a slot canyon that is often 8-10 feet wide. I liken it more to being in Utah than Texas.
It is a place well worth a visit.

Like the canyons of Utah, the best time to visit is closer to mid day when the light shines into the canyon and bounces off the walls.



BTW-every visit here is a new experience as the rains and floods alter the canyon on a regular basis. This last trip saw than many areas had been cleaned of sand and gravel. Places that had been flat now had three foot drops to navigate. Places that had been short two foot hops were now a 5 foot scramble down boulders lodged in the cracks and curves of the walls. It was as fun as ever.
Here are a couple of views. first one of the longer stretches of the canyon that really gives one a sense of how deep and narrow it is. the second of a frequent visitor to this area-the Auodad.


Aoudads were introduced to a few areas in west Texas after some of the native desert sheep died off in the early 20th century. In the rugged areas of BBRSP they have established a foothold and I see them on a regular basis when visiting the canyon. This one was high above me on the canyon rim.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Santa Elena Canyon-After the 2008 Flood


Santa Elena Canyon is one of the major sights to see at Big Bend. It might be the best.
It is certainly something I visit, hike, and photograph on every visit.

The past spring was my first visit since the record floods last fall.

Wow-has it changed!

One of the things you notice along the Rio Grande south of Presidio is how the banks of the river have been scoured. Brush, vegetation, and bank have been taken in many places. Upriver in Big Bend Ranch the river took an entire campground. It's just gone.

What the river did in the narrow confines of Santa Elena Canyon was even bigger. In the 20 years I have been visiting the park, I have come to expect the thick cane and brush that filled much of the areas along the river.

It's all gone.

The river took it. And the brush. And the soil.

All that was left was mud and rock.

Check out the third picture. A year ago this would have had 6 feet of dirt and cane so thick you could not walk through it. Now it is just a mud hole.

And in all honesty, I have never seen the river look better.

With the cane gone and the banks cut back the river was broad, with sand bars and was running clear. It is the best looking I have seen it-healthy.

It shows the power of nature as it should be.


We need a good flood every few years.

Looking past the changes the the flood brought, it was still the spectacular place it has always been.
When you drive to the western side of the park and see this towering 1500 foot tall cliff wall that runs for miles you are impressed. Then you see this crack and realize it is a canyon carved through it, you are wow'd. Then you walk inside it and you are in awe.

The images are just a sample. The first one is a view from the overlook. It was here Ansel Adams made his image of Santa Elena. Mine is nothing compared to that.

The second image is looking out of the canyon toward the Chisos Mountains. This is an image I have always wanted to capture but have never had a wide enough lens to get it all in one frame before.

Again, the third shows how the canyon has been scoured.

I wonder what it will look like next time?

To see more on Big Bend see the article I had published on Nature Photographers Network

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rock Art of the Big Bend

Hidden across the reaches of the desert and mountains of Big Bend one can find signs of the past peoples who dwelt here.

Some places like the Chimneys or near Hot Springs are well marked and seen by many people. Near Persimmon Gap they say you can see the signs of the old Comanche War Trail.

Others are not so easily found. But, if you look at the right places you can find some very nice rock art here.

Here are a couple of images from such places. This field of large boulders has a variety of petroglyphs (carved into rock) and pictographs (painted on rock).

The large boulder panel measures some 10+ feet across. The petroglyphs rise 8-10 feet off the ground. I was here very early one morning and wanted to photograph the panel at twilight. I liked the idea of the distant dawn the panel painted by flash.


The second image is taken in a nearby shelter. Here I found pictographs painted on the ceiling of the large boulder as well as a grinding stone.
Look and explore out here. Never know what you will find.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Mariscal Mine


The Mariscal Mine is an old cinnabar mine that operated in the early part of the 20th century.

Today the ruins of the mine are still somewhat standing in Big Bend National Park.


I had been to the mine several times when out driving on the backroads of Big Bend but it was always in the middle of the day. this last trip I decided to camp at the nearby Fresno backroad site and photograph the mine.

The first thing one will notice is that the mine is on a steep side of the mountain and is actually on several "levels". That makes it neat to explore and to get interesting camera angles. It also made it a little difficult to paint with light at night as it was difficult to get large views one could easily paint.
I spent an afternoon looking for the best potential angles to light paint from. After watching the clear sky fade to night (cannot really call that a sunset), I set up a few locations to light paint. After working several smaller scenes I went to the base of the structure and used a spotlight to paint the front as the sky darkened into the black of a moonless night.


After being at the mine I made my way down to some of the mine houses and painted them with light too.

Finally after several hours I called it a night about 1130pm.

Back up at 4am to work with the almost full moon that had risen in the night, I returned to the mine houses which with their windows, doors, and roofless nature, worked well for what I wanted to do.

I enjoyed the images I was making I did not make it back to the mine itself until almost sunrise and went for a different view by climbing the ridge next to the mine to be able to see over it toward the Chisos.
Two thumbs up as a location. Well worth the drive (two hours on rough road from pavement) and staying the night really made it a photographers place.
See more images in my galleries