Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Signs of the Ancient Past

Signs of an ancient past in Big Bend National Park.

This rock is covered in petroglyphs (rock carvings as opposed to pictographs which are painted). The panel is at least a dozen feet long and taller than I can reach.

Under the light from the stars (signs of another ancient past) it speaks of timelessness.

This is one of those locations that just drew me in. As soon as I saw this panel, I knew the image I wanted would be at night but it took me three more visits before I got it right. I think I finally like it. Although the next time I goto Big Bend I might try it again.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Big Bend By Backroad

The backroad system of Big Bend is one of the neatest things in the park and is pretty unique too. In most parks you would never be allowed to drive off the pavement. In Big Bend there is an entire system of rough roads that those with the right vehicle and the sense of adventure can explore.

The roads can be short, mostly gravel, and car capable like the short drive into Hot Springs or Maverick Road. They can also be long, rutted and 4x4 required like some of the Ore Road or Black Gap. The River road is long and it is a journey that crosses the desert, goes over mountains, follows the river, drops in arroyos, dips through dry creek beds. It is usually passable with high clearance and driving smarts. If it rains all bets are pretty much off and you might need a lifted Jeep to get through.

The road is high clearance required even in the best of conditions and because there had been a long dry spell it was in decent shape in early November. When the road is like this a pickup, Subaru, or SUV should be fine. Still, being smart, knowing how to drive in sand, gravel, over rocks, around ruts, down arroyos, crossing creek beds, etc is all needed. I am comfortable with that, so away I went in my 4x4 Element to enjoy the backroads. The Honda Element (see image two to see it near the end of the road) is a great vehicle in this situation. It has a great little 4x4 system that kicks in when needed and it can float across stuff that will start to sink bigger vehicles. It is grippy and peppy. It has gotten me through many rough road conditions. Ground clearance was my main concern as the Element is right under 7" but I found it made the road fine.

As I mentioned in my last post the first camp was near the Mariscal Mine. That was about 18 miles in and it takes over two hours to make those 18 miles.

The second day I made it around Mariscal Mountain and down toward Talley (where the side road was rutted really bad so I parked about half way down that one). I ended the day back along the river at Loop Camp.

Loop Camp is a spot of gravel on a small bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. There is not a building, light, or human to be seen. There is only the desert, river, and mountains.

The top picture is from he campsite at dusk. The view is north toward the Punta de la Sierra. Before you start to think -he is in Mexico, I am not. I am still in Texas, but because of a curving loop of the river I am south of the Rio (while still being north). The river is flowing right to left and then loops around behind me.

Finally after a great sunset the sky cleared a little and the stars put on a show. Here is a bit longer of an exposure showing the swirl of stars in the night sky and the glow of the Milky Way.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Where They Make the Milky Way

Deep in the deserts of west Texas I found a special place-where they make the Milky Way!

When I was in Big Bend back in November, I spent three incredible days driving the River Road. One of my stops was to camp near the ruins of the Mariscal Mine. A hundred years ago they mined cinnabar here, which was processed on site into mercury.

The mine is long since closed and is now inside Big Bend National Park. There is a backroad campsite nearby and I chose that as one of my stops along the road so I could photography it at night.

Normally I want clouds for a fantastic sunset, but here I was actually wanting clear skies. I got them, plus it was a new moon so it was DARK.

The mine is on the side of Mariscal Mountain and one has to climb the hillside slope to work around it.

After working above the mine, I moved down below it to find the Milky Way framed perfectly over the mine. So, that's how its made! I framed the mine and the sky, then a little light painting on the mine and viola!

On a technical note, if you look close at the sky you see the only flaw with the Canon 50D......banding. Once the sensor gets warm from doing longer exposures at night, I get horizontal banding (although it is vertical here from the portrait orientation). It does not matter the ISO or exposure length. I never see it in the daytime, even if I put on a ND filter and do long exposures, but I sure pick it up at night.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ringing in the New Year

January 1st. Welcome to 2011.

In the waning days of December I took a few opportunities to do some photography and got out into the field on a few mornings.

It was a time to make a few last images for 2010. It was also time to review my year in photography as well as to look forward to what the new year will hold.

My 2010 list was a winter trip to Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon in February, a long weekend on the New Mexico plains, a long weekend on the Lost Mesa, a week in Acadia, and a week in Big Bend.

I made a few images I think are real keepers. I also seemed to see way too much clear blue sky.

Looking into 2011 I am planning another winter trip, this time to Moab. I'll be spending a week in Canyonlands and Arches. If I am lucky I will see snow and great dramatic light. I am also planning on returning to the Guadalupes for fall color and a couple of long weekends if I can work them in.
Here in these last few days of the year I went in search of landscapes on day drives. After several months of mostly blue sky, we finally got some fog and clouds. I ran with it.

The horses here were running across a pasture with the white one out front. My first thought was- Shadowfax. I wonder how many get that reference? I had to try for an image and this was probably the best. One thing I relearn every time I try to photograph animals is-I aint a wildlife photographer.

Then there is the foggy field. Now this is much more my speed. Trees do not run very fast and even I can normally get a picture before they scamper away.

Lastly is the image up top, my first of 2011. I continued my New Years Day tradition of being out to photograph the sunrise. Most people stay up late, I get up early.

This year there was just a sliver of a moon so I went to the Trinity to frame it over the river and downtown.

Out on the river in the crisp winter weather watching the sunrise. What a way to start the year.