Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tuff Canyon

One of the neat walks in Big Bend is the short little trail to overlook or the slightly more ambitious trail into Tuff Canyon.  This is a great roadside opportunity to see some interesting geology.

Tuff canyon is a short canyon carved out of volcanic tuff, which is compressed volcanic ash.  Geology aside, it is a neat view and a nice little walk too.

Here is a view of the mouth of the canyon when the stream that carved it exits where the tuff had been formed.  This view is looking east from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive through the volcanic western side of the park toward the distant Chisos.

The second view here is an afternoon view from the rim overlooking Tuff Canyon also toward the Chisos.

I think both views give you a size of how this is a fairly shallow canyon but one that offers a tremendous view when it rains and floods (be careful) as well as an interesting place to explore the boulders and pools of water in other times of the year.  Finally, if you want a shot walk to take in a sight it is a mere few yards from car to overlook.

Just another one of those neat features I like to visit in the park.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Santa Elena Canyon Sunrise

Santa Elena Canyon is the crown jewel of Big Bend.  There are many fantastic views in this park, but Santa Elena Canyon at sunrise is my favorite.  This is a place I return to every trip to experience again.

After seeing the potential of the sunrise from Desert Mountain Overlook, I arrived at the mouth of the canyon early and walked along the banks of the Rio Grande to find a spot to take in the morning show.  The river at my feet and the towering 1500 foot walls of the Sierra Ponce through which the canyon has carved its way rose above me.  I was in a front row seat at an amazing location awaiting the sunrise.

The clouds were still moving past and the long predawn exposures were leaving them as streaks in the sky.  I made image after image as the light came up in the sky and night became twilight.

The clouds lit up and a hint of a morning light started to slightly warm the wall.  My images were all running close to 30 seconds and the results were looking fantastic.  The movement in the clouds adding that extra punch that really made the image dynamic.  The light slowly faded in the clouds, it was that pause before the sunrise.  

Suddenly the sun tip of the canyon walls began to turn orange as the sun rose in the east.  As the sun rose higher the orange light worked its way down the canyon wall. 

I photographed the fully lit Ponce wall but now the images were very short under a second.  The light was intense, but the clouds were now frozen static in the image.  
While the scene was still amazing, I thought it was missing the dynamic of the cloud movement.  I added a solid ND filter which took my exposure back out to 20 seconds and I was able to capture the warm light on the rocks and the moving clouds.  

I could not believe what a show I was getting this morning.  I could only hope the camera was capturing the incredible sunrise I was witnessing. I took image after image until the intense light was gone and the morning had become day.

As I packed up my gear, I smiled. I got lucky that morning and had witnessed a scene I had never before gotten in a decade of photographing this place.  I had read the right signs in the darkness on the hill at Desert Mountain Overlook and was rewarded with an amazing sunrise at the amazing place that is Santa Elena Canyon.





Monday, August 19, 2013

Signs of a Great Sunrise


Morning on the west side of Big Bend National Park is always special.  There is something about the quality of the light here that can be magical.  I was up at my usual hours before dawn and left the Cottonwood campground in search of some morning photography and that magic morning light.


About a mile down the road from the camp is the Desert Mountain Overlook.  There are good views here on both sides of the road here with several angles to work.  It can be good in both morning and evening light for photography.  So when I leave camp every morning, I usually start here to get a read on what the morning might bring and see if I want to stay here or go elsewhere for sunrise.

This morning had a few clouds in the sky but there were plenty of stars.  I decided to do some longer star trail images while I waited to see what the morning might bring.  I worked on a few compositions looking in different directions and wondered if the clouds might light up or if there might be a good view along the river.

After making a few images I found that the clouds were moving and suddenly realized this had the potential for an amazing sunrise.  I also realized I was at the wrong spot. While this would be a good spot, I knew that if the moving clouds lit up the better shot would be 7 miles away at Santa Elena Canyon.  I had to go and go fast.

So with these to spur me on, I packed back up and left for Santa Elena Canyon and what was to be a fantastic sunrise.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Best Campground in the NPS

I have camped in many national parks.  From Denali and Kenai Fjords in Alaska, to Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon (among many others).  I enjoy visiting the parks, camping and photographing each of them.

However, if someone was to ask me what is my favorite park campground, I have to say Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park is the best.  Yes, better than any of the campgrounds in the other parks.  It is not that the parks are bad, but most of the other parks are so crowded that the camping there is tough.  Want to stay in a Yellowstone campground?  Make a reservation weeks or months in advance.

Cottonwood is different.  It is a much more quiet and relaxed experience in a great park in the middle of some of the best photography spots.

It is shady from the namesake cottonwood trees.  The sites are spaced out so you do not have the next camper right on top of you.  It is isolated from the rest of the park.  So isolated that you are less than 100 yards from Mexico.  It is quiet here as there are no generators allowed which keeps out the big RV's.  Finally it is close to some great photography locations.

All of that adds up to a fantastic place to camp.

It is my home away from home in the desert and I always look forward to staying here.

I arrived in February to find my favorite site was available and set up my tent.

Here is a view of the campground as twilight fades into night.  A few fellow campers enjoying the cool quiet of the desert in the best campground in the entire NPS.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Volcano Country of the Big Bend

The western side of Big Bend National Park is a place of geologic marvels.  From the fault blocking of the Chisos to the depths of Santa Elena Canyon.  Between those two lies an area of ancient volcanoes with fins, plugs, tuff and volcanic features spread across the landscape.

One of my favorite views in the park take in some of this country and for sunset on my first night in the park, I thought I would take in one of those views. I had found this spot several years before while hiking cross country in the desert.  It is off trail, unmarked, and frankly lost amid the splendor that is Big Bend.

Finding these off the map places is one of the great things of Big Bend.  There are so many well marked and amazing views that just photographing from overlooks can easily fill a week.  There are amazing views off every road too.  Just photographing from the side of the road and the overlooks will be very fulfilling with great views.

The abundance of possibilities is still actually only a fraction of what is possible here.  Even after visiting here for twenty years, I still find new sights to photograph.

This is one of those great areas that I found and now keep coming back to photograph.  I love the rocks and the view.  All it needs is great light to get a great image.

I made my way here in the late afternoon.  There were clouds in the sky and I thought there might be some good possibilities that the light would be nice over these volcanic features.

I set up the tripod on a hill overlooking this valley and watched the show unfold.  The light on the volcanic peaks was great and the clouds had just a little bit of movement I was able to capture.  I enjoyed the light until the sunset.  Then just when I thought the evening was over the clouds to the west started to light up.


My view was to the northeast and I was far enough from the road that I could not get to a another spot so I framed up the sunset with Cerro Castolon with the Sierra Ponce wall and the sunset above it.  Here was the highlight of it.

As the light faded I made my way back to my vehicle already with some great captures and wondered how the rest of the trip would go.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Heading toward the Chisos

This last February as the brief winter turned toward spring, I had the opportunity to head west to the Big Bend Country.  I packed up and made the 570 mile trip to the end of the road with plans on spending a week photographing in the park.

Big Bend has always been one of my favorite parks.  It is a landscape photographers dream destination with incredible views, amazing geology, differing terrain, and elevation changes from low desert to high sky island.  

Then there is the river. The Rio Grande makes the southern boundary of both the park and the United States.  It is lonely place you will not happen upon-you have to want to get here to the end of the road.

I left Fort Worth in the afternoon and drove part of the way to the park, getting an early start the next day with hopes of reaching the park for sunrise and some good light.  I was near the north entrance of the park in the predawn light but the sunrise was non existent with weak and hazy light.

I photographed the mountains and desert near Persimmon Gap and then started into the park as the sun started to rise rapidly into the sky.  The bad morning light actually became a little better in the brightness of mid-morning as it burned through some of the haze.

As I drove I started to see some possibilities to not only make images but also to use my large format camera.  See that on my LARGE FORMAT BLOG

The route into the park runs south toward the Chisos and I made the drive with many stops for images, finally reaching the Chisos about 11am which was just perfect to visit the lodge and have a plate of enchiladas.  

See a few images here from my morning drive through the desert and finally into the cooler greener Chisos Mountains.

I am always amazed at the park and that morning drive was no exception.  The vastness, the desert, the big empty quality it has.  I was here for a week and I was ready for the light and sun to paint this desert landscape.