Friday, May 29, 2015

Salt Flats of the Guadalupes at Sunset

It rained all day.  After walking out from the dunes after a non-sunrise it rained all day.  I explored a few areas along the edge of the Otero Mesa but the overcast and rain made for a wet and rather uninteresting day.

The rain had made the road to the dunes impassable so I knew there was no chance to even think about going back out there.  Plus there was zero indication of a chance at a sunset.

Late in the afternoon I decided to go back to Pine Springs Campground by the park HQ for the night.  I lollygagged along the road and thought I would stop by the salt flats to see if there might be a sunset, but held little hope for anything.  

As I drove the rain began to taper off.


Socked in
I got out to the edge of the salt pan and could see the day of rains had left pools of water on the flats.  The mountains were completely socked in and there was still occasional sprinkles.  I parked the Element and took in the whole scene.

I began to notice the clouds looked to have a few holes in the west.  Soon the cloud layer began to slightly break up in the west and then the mountain peeked out of the clouds to the east of me.  I knew something magical was going to happen.

I walked the edge of one of the pools of water with two tripods and two cameras.  I had a rented Sony A7R with my 17-40 Canon lens and then my Canon 5D2 with the 70-200.  I started taking pictures.  At first there was just a peek of the mountain.

As the afternoon drifted toward sunset the western sky began to break up and clouds began to fall away from the Guadalupes.

The light got intense and the sky was dramatic.

I was getting yet another chance to witness a great sunset at the salt flats for the fourth year in a row.  West Texas is a land of big sunsets.  However sometimes even here a sunset goes off the charts.  I have been lucky enough to have seen one each of the last three years from this same spot and I knew a fourth one was about to happen.


I could not believe my luck.

When I saw it has been dreary and overcast all day, I meant it was just downright bland with zero indication there would be anything but that until the next day.

However, as it often does in the Guadalupes, the the weather was going to rapidly change right at sunset.

In an hour we went from socked in to an epic sunset.

I worked two cameras capturing the view both wide and long.  The mountains lit up with dramatic light while still half covered in clouds.  The sky was filled with light and clouds.

I kept moving from camera to camera wishing I could move faster and get more images.

As the sun sank below the horizon the light changed and the Guadalupes went reddish pink.

The light after sunset kept going and the sky took on color.

It was another day I stayed long after sunset taking in the scene.  Much as I had done several times before I had witnessed a truly epic sunset here and as before I was elated and exhausted.

I stayed until I could begin to see the Milky Way in the western sky and even got a few images before I finally called it a day and finished the drive back up to the campground.

All I could say was wow.........


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Morning Twilight on the Dunes

After my sunset on the dunes I had driven to my campsite and called it a night.  I awoke early and decided to head back out to the dunes for a possible sunrise.  I have always just done sunsets at the dunes and thought a sunrise would be something different.

I hiked into the dunes and found my way back to the same area I had been the prior sunset.  There were still some starts in the sky and I could just make out the Milky Way.

I set up two cameras and went to work.  Night images are a slow process with most images being 15 or 30 seconds.  It gives me time to go from camera to camera.  It still keeps me very busy making adjustments, tweaking the composition and trying different light painting techniques.


I was also bouncing between different lenses to see what kind of look different focal lengths gave to the scene.

I had a rented 6D with me and I was using the Samyang made lenses of 14mm f/2.8 and  24mm f/1.4    I also did a few shots with the little Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 lens.  The Yongnuo is very difficult to focus at night as it is very sensitive to any movement and so critical focus is hard to achieve.  I think a good 40% of the images were out of focus from that one, but a few did work.

I was also using the 24mm and 50mm on the little NEX6 via an adapter which gave them the look of a 36mm and 75mm respectively.  It allowed me to have some different looks to the images.

At first the sky had a few clouds but as I could see on the back of the camera the clouds were moving toward me.  

I made images and it got close to sunrise.  The clouds kept getting thicker.  And thicker.  And thicker.  I lost the stars to the clouds.  I kept hoping somehow light might peak through.  No such luck.

There was no sunrise.

Then a few rain drops started.  I packed up.  Thinking this could be some rain, I put my rain jacket on and covered the pack.

The drops became frequent and as I hiked out it became a full fledged rain.

It was raining pretty good by the time I reached the vehicle.

The road into the dunes is clay and rain turns it to slop pretty quick.  My drive out was very slick but still passable.

The rain kept falling so I went back to Dell City and had breakfast at Spanish Angels.  After a plate of huevos rancheros, I explored the mesa edge north of town as the roads are gravel and not the clay of the road to the dunes.

It would end up raining all day.

I knew there was no chance to get back to the dunes for sunset as it would be impassable.  So, I decided to drive back toward camp at Pine Springs late in the day.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Back to the Dunes

In March I put together another trip out west.  It would be spring in the desert and after some rains over the winter, I hoped there would be some good wildflowers.  I also timed the trip for the new moon.  I had some great images I had made in spring of 2014 and was looking forward to getting back to try more.

I also put this trip together to be a combined trip to both the Guadalupe Mountains as well as Big Bend.  I headed west to the Guadalupes first with the plan on staying for two nights before going down to Big Bend for the remainder of the week.

The drive out to the park was one of rain from Big Spring all the way to the park with heavy overcast and periods of very heavy rain.  I stopped at park HQ and it was still overcast although the rain had tapered to off and on sprinkles.  

I drove down through Guadalupe Pass onto the lower deserts west of the range and the clouds parted.  It was dry and only partly cloudy west of the range.  That may seem strange but is often the case here.  The Guadalupes can trap weather on their east side.  I have seen it be cold, fog, and rain for days in camp and it is clear, calm, and warm just 5 miles away.

I drove out to Dell City getting there for lunch at Spanish Angels Cafe and had the enchiladas with eggs on top.  As always, they were world class and a place not to miss.  

After food and fuel, it was off to the dunes.  I hoped for a great sunset with incredible light shining on the Guadalupes.

The hike in was good and I arrived to find I had the whole place to myself.  I made my way out to an area I had photographed before and set up my tripods.  I spent the late afternoon exploring and making images of the sand, clouds, and mountains.  The sky was partly cloudy with some nice blue as well as great whispy clouds.

As the light got intense at sunset I made more images shooting both wide and long. There were nice clouds and after the sun actually set, we had some nice warm pink light and some distant high clouds.  It was a good day and a good way to start the trip.

Sunset on the dunes is always fun although I have yet to get the right light.  I have seen a few good sunsets, but I still have a vision of what I want it to be and have yet to get it.  I have had much better luck from the salt flats where I have had several times where there was incredible, off the charts sunsets.  But not at the dunes.  So I will keep going back when I get a chance with the hope of one day getting the perfect sunset.


Friday, May 1, 2015

On the Dunes

The wonderful snow I had on arriving in the Guadalupe Mountains mostly melted in 24 hours leaving just patches of snow.  While that was still neat it lacked the beauty of the fresh snow so two days after the snowfall, I decided to go out the sand dunes on the western edge of the park.

The Salt Basin Dunes are pure white gypsum sand, just like at White Sands which is northwest of here about 70 miles across the Otero Mesa.  I knew with the lower elevation it was highly unlikely they had any snow and hoped I would be able to get a nice sunset on the dunes.

The dunes see little visitation, even less than the main parts of the park which is already lightly visited for a National Park.  It is a 45 mile drive  and a mile plus hike to the dunes which also probably keeps people away.  finally the road into the dunes is a clay surface and if it starts raining.......it goes to slop very quick and even 4x4's will struggle to get in (or out).


I went out via Dell City so I could eat at the Spanish Angels Cafe there.  The ladies there make the worlds best Huevos Rancheros.  Seriously.  The Worlds best.  After enjoying the great food I drove out to the dunes.

The road was in good shape and there were a few clouds.  I had hope for a sunset.

I hiked into the dunes and walked along the edge of the dune field looking for compositions.  It was early and I had a lot of time to find the right spot for sunset, so I wanted to check out some other parts of the dunes.

After getting a few images, I wandered deep into the dune field until I found a great section of waves with no foot prints.

I sat up my two tripods and walked around picking out compositions and trying different angles to really use the rippled sand in the image.

I was out there all afternoon.  The whole place to myself.  When it is still there is no sound unless a plane is passing over high above.  No sound.  Absolute quiet.  One could go as far to say the silence if deafening.

Finally the sun began to sink in the west, the light went orange and I photographed the dunes and mountains in the golden light.  I stayed out there until the sun had set and the light had left the clouds.

It was dark by the time I got back to the Element.  I made the slow drive out and then back to camp at Pine Springs in just over an hour.  It was cold and dark and in camp which I had all to myself.

Calling it day I headed to my tent with two days of great images and hopes for more the following day.