Sunday, April 26, 2015

Snow in the Guadalupes

Fresh snowfall in the Guadalupes Mountains is a great and fleeting sight.  One you really need to be there when the snow falls, as it will likely melt the next day.  Such is the case for desert mountains.  The mountains are high enough to get the extra moisture to make the snow but also warm enough to melt most of it in a day or so.  If the Guadalupes were 1,500' higher they would probably hold snow like the nearby Sacramento Mountains do in New Mexico, but with the Guads topping out at around 8,900' they are just not quite there.

I have been here several times when it has snowed and in each time you had less than 24 hours to truly enjoy the sights before it was gone.

Arriving in the park with snow falling I knew I would have a couple of chances to see the snow.

After quickly pitching my tent (see two posts ago) I went around to Guadalupe Canyon.  Here I could see light from the west spilling through the clouds.  I hiked up the canyon to see if perhaps El Capitan might pop out in the light.

It was socked in.

However, light was filtering in lower and in the west so I started photographing dry rocky streams and yucca's.  After spending an hour hoping for dramatic light there, I decided to head down to the salt flats for sunset. There I found no snow but did see some great light. (Those images will be another post).

The next morning the front had passed and it was clear.  After spending several hours photographing the Milky Way and stars over the snow I watched the sunrise on El Capitan.

The mountains often glow at sunrise and sunset and the bright morning light made for some nice images, even if they lacked the clouds over the peak I normally want.

The temps were still cold and the wind had yet to kick up so I knew I had to try for McKittrick Canyon when it opened at 8am.  I was there at the trailhead and quickly moving.

I was a little worried there might be some ice but overall found the trail in good shape with only a couple of slick spots.

I moved quickly, as I always seem to when going here, since you cannot get into the canyon before sunrise, you have to hurry to beat the light getting too harsh.

I made my way in and found snow thick on the tree branches.  I hiked and occasionally stopped but wanted to get past the old Pratt Lodge into the heart of the canyon before really going into full photo mode.

I got up there and found I was right to get there.  I was the first one up the path and I had the place to myself.  I stopped, set up the tripod and went to walk and photograph. 

I saw some great snowy scenes.  I also found a few trees with the last of the yellow leaves still clinging to the branches.  This was right as the sun had crested the ridge behind and I was able to capture some night back lit shots in the canyon.

By mid morning the wind began to rise up and it was not long before the trees began to lose the snow.  Then a few other people arrived in the canyon.  Seeing that conditions were already past prime, I made my way out.  By afternoon you could see a huge difference as the snow was melting and almost all gone from the trees.  The winter wonderland of the prior day was already gone.

I had arrived at the right time and got those few fleeting hours to see the park with snow.

Life was good.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Winter Nightscapes in the Guadalupes

The Guadalupe Mountains with fresh snow are a sight to behold.  After arriving in the park during a winter snow, I awoke at 1am to still, clear skies.  Instantly, I was up and was soon out photographing the stars and the Milky Way over the fresh snow.  I know what a rare opportunity this would be to see the snow and I wanted to get every image I could before the winds kicked up and the snow began to melt.

I started in camp just grabbing images of my tent (see my last blog post) and then moved out to photograph El Capitan with a spiral arm of the Milky Way over it.  Having several hours to dawn, I visited several spots and got some different angles on the mountain.

Some close, some farther away.  I was using my Bower (Samyang) 14mm and 24mm lenses on the Canon 5D2 and the little Rokinon (Samyang) fisheye on the Sony NEX6.

That is a very good combo and I was putting them to use in the cold air.

As the night went on ice fog began to form.  I photographed around the edge of it but when it passed over me and the tripod that had the Canon with the 14mm it froze on the lens as soon as it hit it.  Lens frosted over.

I went back and put the lens in my camera bag to warm up some and then switched out to the 24mm.  I made sure to keep the lens hood on as that helps keep the lens from freezing over.

I kept moving about every 45 minutes to a new stop.  Each one to get a different angle on the mountain.

After the spiral arm of the Milky Way set, I kept photographing and despite being out in 15 degree weather for close to seven hours I was still surprised how quick it went.

As the stars began to fade before the sunrise, I finally stopped to wait for dawn at a little rest area.  I set up the camera for a long star trail image and then set up my little stove to warm up some hot water for a little breakfast.  I had been so focused on taking pictures for several hours but as the dark of the night slid toward twilight I realized I was getting hungry.  Oatmeal and hot chocolate were the order of the morning and both were great out there in cold dark of west Texas.

Cooking up breakfast waiting for sunrise
I knew the clear sky that gave me some great nightscape images would mean just intense light at sunrise so I planned to photograph the first ligght on El Capitan and then after the sun came up to make the run up to McKittrick Canyon so I could be there when they opened the gate.  I hoped to make it up into the canyon before the the snow was gone from the trees.

It was already a good day, and I was ready for more!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Winter Camping in the Guadalupes

I had some time between the holidays this year and had looked at getting out of town for a few days with the idea of camping and a little photography.  I had kicked around flying out to Vegas and going to Zion but since you never know what the weather will do decided to look at driving destinations.  

I considered going to Bosque del Apache for a couple of days and then driving home via Guadalupe Mountains.  I have never been to Bosque del Apache and thought it would be neat to see the cranes and geese that winter over there.  However, since I am not a wildlife photographer, that then evolved to going to Muleshoe NWR to see birds and then the Guadalupes.  Muleshoe, which is close to Lubbock, Texas would cut about 400 miles of driving and still let me see birds.

The plan was to leave on December 27th and return home on the 31st.  I packed up and watched the weather.  It had been calling for a front to move through west Texas with the possibility of rain and maybe a dusting of snow.

On the morning of the 27th, I got up and checked to see what conditions were like and saw it was snowing in the Guadalupes.  

That changed everything.  Snow in the Guads!!  I instantly knew I had to get there ASAP.

I hit the road and drove west.  It was snowing by Big Spring.  Big flakes swirling in.  The roads were good but it was starting to stick on the shrubs and cacti.

As I drove west it got thicker.

By the time I made it to the park there was a lot of snow, a good 6" was on the ground.

It was very white and very still.  I was almost like a fog.

I found the park all but empty, only one other camper there.  The cold and snow had chased what few other people away.  

I set up my tent and then finally paused for a moment to take it all in.  Here I was in this incredible fresh snowfall in a national park that I all but had to myself!

Snow happens here but it is always a fleeting event, usually gone within a few hours of falling.  I have been here before in the snow but this was more than I had seen in the past.  I had made the right call coming here.   I secured my tent know it would be ready to take the winds that would surely happen.  I use a mountaineering tent designed for high altitude.  Some might scoff for that kind of tent in Texas but they have probably not camped in the Guadalupes.  50+ MPH winds are very common.  Several times I have camped here in 80 MPH+ winds (hurricane force is 75MPH) and they have recorded winds well in excess of 100 MPH.  So, yes, a mountaineering tent is a useful thing.

Then I grabbed the camera and took off to chase images for the remainder of the afternoon.  I returned to camp after dark and found it still in a foggy white but now the few lights from some of the park buildings were casting an eerie glow to the place.  I grabbed a few more images.  Then ate a few snacks and was off to the tent to get some sleep.

I woke up about 1AM and decided to take a peek and see what it was like.  It was still and it was completely clear.  The front was gone and the stars shown brightly in the sky.  

Clear sky, snow, stars!  I was instantly awake and quickly got ready.  Soon I was out taking night images of the Milky Way, the snow, the mountains, and yes even my tent. 

For the reset of the night I was driving to several different view points and would then spend 30-60 minutes photographing the spiral arm of the Milky Way hanging over this winter wonderland.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Autumn Morning Fog on the West Fork

As autumn arrives in north Texas and begins its slow two month change across north Texas, I begin to visit the West Fork of the Trinity River.  The river runs through town and has some stretches that are scenic, get fall color and are all but unknown.  I think those three qualities make it a great destination for a photographer.

I started going out there on Saturday mornings and would watch the slow change in the colors along the river.  The colors start very subtly with a few yellows here and there.  Then you start to notice more widespread color in the second week of November a week later it is reds that appear.  Fog often appears on these mornings as the warm days and cool nights are good producers of morning fog.  

When it does happen I can get lucky with good atmosphere and then if I really get lucky a great sunrise too.  The sunrise through light fog can make some great light.

So as the fall went on through November and into early December I kept visiting the river and got fog on several visits.  

Our local colors were good in November this last year.  The peak was at Thanksgiving but from peak to bare trees takes another month and only a winter storm cuts short our fall color season which can run up to the week of Christmas.

This last fall saw some good early colors and several foggy mornings.  I made several trips to the river.  I would wade through the water with tripod in hand looking for great compositions among the water, rocks, and colors with the ethereal nature of the fog.

The limestone ledges along the river give it a rocky base to run on.  Plants have been taking root over the last couple of years making some narrow channels that funnel the river here and there.  I would think a big flood event would wash the rocks bare again and the process would start all over.

I try to use these lanes to give me leading lines and as compositional elements of an image.

There is also the Big Falls of the West Fork where the river takes a 9-10 foot tumble off the edge of the limestone.  It is a neat feature and I occasionally can get really lucky with an image here.

Here are a few from the fall season on those foggy mornings on the West Fork.

You can see more of these images from the Trinity River in my Galleries:
Trinity River Galleries

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Grand Canyon Mornings

After spending four days at Zion we moved around to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  The rains and flash flood conditions were long gone and the clouds went with them.  We spent a couple of nights at the south rim and pretty much had severe clear skies the entire time.

Clear sky is the bane of the landscape photographer.  Still, I was at the Grand Canyon and so I still went out every morning to see what I might find.  There was always hope I might get a stray cloud of the Belt of Venus would glow in the predawn light.

I spent both mornings at points east of the main village.  First I like the views better.  Second, you can drive to them and not have to take the bus.

Lipan Point, Navajo Point, and Desert View are probably my favorite three locations.  They have great views that include the river at all three.  They all also make a good view looking north as well as west, which I thought would make for better possible images with clear sky.

One of the things you notice about the Grand Canyon is incredible range in light as well as color temperature.  The depths of the canyon will be much darker and cooler than the rim and the sky at sunrise and sunset.  You should plan on a ND Grad or bracket images accordingly to give you the extra latitude for post processing.

One of the best images I got those mornings was actually of first light with my phone.  I have written in this blog before how great the camera is in the LG G3 and it got me some great shots here at the Grand Canyon.  The HDR feature alone makes me almost not miss RAW files like my DSLR has. Add in the great panorama feature and I can get some great images quick.  Several times I was able to take a shot and then do a few quick edits in Snapseed which gave me a pretty good idea of what might be possible once back home.  That got me to then using those ideas with the DSLR too.

So over the two mornings I got a couple of images.  Nothing overly dramatic and no great light, but a few decent images to have.  Even one where I was out early enough to catch the fading Milky Way over the canyon.