Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hot Springs Canyon

One of the great areas to explore in Big Bend is the area around Hot Springs.  Start with the namesake hot springs there-a perfect 105 degrees right on the banks of the Rio Grande.  Always a great place for a soak.

Stay for sunset and you get a treat of watching the sun light up the Sierra del Carmen Range.  The view is good on the hill above the springs but better views are downstream.

You can actually hike from the springs along the edge of the canyon into the Rio Grande Village Campground (about 3 miles).

On one of the days we actually had clouds, we decided to take in sunset from the canyon.  We wandered down the canyon looking for images along the river and on the rocks.

A narrow sand shelf had a great trail through some grass that I was able to capture taking in the scene.  

I went farther into the canyon getting  look through the canyon to the Carmens and got a great (and rare for me) long lens shot (top image).  I had swapped out my usually 17-40 for the 70-200 to compress the scene some.

We stayed until the light was fading and I got a more tranquil wider view of the small canyon at twilight.

This turned out to be about the only sunset we got during the week here.  I had a few nice images to show for it and I made plans to return the next morning to see if it would be possible to get a Milky Way shot here at the canyon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Grapevine Hills Nightscape

The Grapevine Hills are an area of rocky outcrops in interesting shapes.  Like most visitors, I normally go right for the Balanced Rock.  I have made a few images of some of the other rock formations but seem to always spend the good light at the Balanced Rock.

A great thing about Nightscape photography is that you have time as the only light that is changing is the position of the Milky Way in the sky.

I wanted to photography these rock formations with the Milky Way rising over them.  After making images at the Balanced Rock, I moved to a location to frame up a ridge of rocky spires and the Milky Way.

Much like with most of my night images I worked on both natural light and some light painting.  You might be surprised at how much light is out there when there is no moon and only the Milky Way as a light source.  

I stayed in this location until the light rose in the sky and I could have easily stayed here all night working this location. Add it to a growing list of places to return to on the next trip.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Balanced Rock

Just north of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park is a small range of rocky hills known as the Grapevine Hills.  They are an igneous intrusion into the sedimentary landscape.  Here the rocks are dramatic shapes and are a very interesting area to both hike and photograph.  

The most famous of the rocks is the Balanced Rock that seems an improbable balancing act.  A one mile trail leads to the Balanced Rock and it is a popular destination with hikers and photographers.

Sunrise at Balanced Rock is a common goal for photographers and I have made the trek a few times myself.  It usually means an early start from Cottonwood Campground to get there before the sunrise, but is one I like to do.

The photography there is usually defined by framing the distant Nugent Peak in the rock window and there is only a small area that can actually frame that right.  By small area, I mean a place between two rocks with exactly enough room for all of one person.  When you have to share this location with four other people it requires congeniality and the ability to work quick and rotate through the spot.

Luckily there are other options for images in the area too and I highly recommend making a visit here.

This last trip was something a little different for the Grapevine Hills.  I wanted to photograph the Milky Way with the Balanced Rock so we took a backroad site nearby.  Then we hiked up to the rock for sunset images.  Because of the way the hills block the view west, you rarely see sunset images here.

The clear sky meant I had no clouds to work with so I set about working a longer lens image photographing the desert and Nugent Peak through the rock window.  The upside to the clear sky was I knew that when I came back at 4am I would have great conditions for the Milky Way.

I was up and going by 3am from the campsite, did the hike and was deep in the hills before 4am.  I could see the Milky Way rising and knew that getting here early was going to pay off.

I walked up to the rock and framed up the Balanced Rock with the Milky Way filling the sky.  I set to work with two cameras:

Canon 5D2 with Bower 24mm f/1.4
Canon 6D with Bower 14mm f/2.8

I started making images of the stars with silhouetted rocks.  Then I started working with light painting.  I used my headlamp, a handheld flashlight and a portable flash unit.  I found the handheld flashlight to be the easiest to work with.  Yes, that puts a bit more of a variable to the equation than the constant output of a flash, but I found it more versatile overall in use.

I worked several different angles and compositions until I felt I had enough basic images with the Balanced Rock and then moved down the trail a few hundred yards to a spot I had passed on the way up that had looked promising.  I would stay there sunrise.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ancient Fire Ancient Light

One of the distinct features on the western side of Big Bend National Park is Cerro Castellan.  This solitary peak is visible over most of the western half of the park.  It is a volcanic core from an ancient volcano.  The rest of the mountain has been eroded away by time but the solid core is still standing tall.  It is one of many volcanic features on this side of the park.

I have photographed this peak several times.  This trip I wanted to see if I could get an image at night with the Milky Way shining above it.

I made my way there early one morning and set up on the northwest side of it where I could frame a field of volcanic tuff and pyroclastic rocks in the foreground, the peak in the center and the bright light of the Milky Way in the night sky.

The familiar peak takes on a mysterious and other worldly look in the dark 

I started by just photographing the silhouette of the peak with the stars but after several frames I began to light paint the peak and foreground rocks to see what that might add to an image.  The glow of a light on the red rocks calls to might the fire of the volcano that once was.  While overhead the ancient light of the galaxy shined in the sky.  

I think to myself that this is a good spot and I know I will need to return here to photograph the night sky and peak again.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mountains of the Big Bend Country

The mountains in the Big Bend country are very scenic.  They rise out of the desert to lofty summits.  Some of the peaks reach about 8,000' feet.  A few of the bigger ranges have enough mass to become "sky islands" with a cooler, wetter climate.  The Chisos being the best example in the park.

Here are a few images of some of the peaks and ranges in the area that stand out and make a great subject for an image.

Tule Mountain is a solitary butte near the west entrance of the park.  Geologically it is related to Burro Mesa and the Chisos to the west but became isolated by faulting and blocking that lowered the surrounding landscape.  It is a great image when one is near the Maverick Mountain and Badlands by the west entrance.  Here I captured it with the Big Bend entrance sign.

The Chisos are the main mountain range in the park.  In fact Big Bend is the only national park to contain an entire mountain range-the Chisos.  They are a classic sky island with pines, aspen, maples, and even black bears in their heights.  This is the view from close to Panther Junction looking up at the range.  The Chisos make a great subject from any direction and can be a great subject any time of day.

Finally a third peak.  This one is actually north of the park-Santiago Peak.  It can be seen from both US-385 between Persimmon Gap and Marathon as well as off Texas 118 south of Alpine.  This is the view near Persimmon Gap in the morning as I was driving into the park.

These are just a few of the great mountain views in the park.  Visit and you will be amazed at landscape potential of these desert peaks.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Secret Slot Canyon in Big Bend

Big Bend is famous for the three big canyons on the Rio Grande.  Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas are all big and spectacular.    A few people are familiar with Hot Springs Canyon or Tuff Canyon but that is about it.  However, there are more canyons in Big Bend that are either ignored or unknown.

Over the years I have found a few off the beaten path canyons to explore.  One of which I cover in this blog as the Secret Canyon and which I refer to as the 1819 Canyon.  Well this year I found another neat little canyon.  This one was somewhat of a slot canyon.  Maybe 40 feet deep and often just a width of five feet across the bottom.

I thank Google Maps for this one.  I was looking over features in the park and noticed what I thought might be a little canyon.  I decided it was worth exploring although I had no idea what I might find.  I even warned my friends that we were going on a hike but I had no idea if it would be neat or nothing much.

It was seriously neat!

This is another canyon that I am sure others have found but it is not mentioned in any book or guide.  It is also not listed on maps.  I have never seen images from it on the web either.  

It was something new, different and fun to try.

The canyon is only a couple of hundred yards long at best.  There are a few obstacles to climb over.  It was still very much a neat little place.

It was one I also decided to visit at night.

After photographing the Milky Way at some locations near camp, I decided to walk into the canyon and see if I could get any images with the Milky Way and the canyon.  It was very dark in the canyon but the Milky Way was already fading in the night sky as dawn approached.

I would walk and set up a shot trying to capture the stars while light painting the canyon wall.  I made several images as I went deeper into the canyon.  Finally the night sky was fading blue when I reached the biggest obstacle.

Knowing that I could climb over it but not while carrying the camera and tripod, I decided discretion was the better part of valor and I made one last image looking down canyon.

I am very impressed with this little canyon and always like finding hidden little gems like this in the park.  You can spend a lifetime here and still find these out of the way locations.  Already looking forward to exploring it more on the next trip.