Friday, June 26, 2015

Ancient Volcano Nightscapes

The western side of Big Bend National Park has a volcanic past.  Much of the geology is volcanic in origin and there are several examples of volcanic dikes, cores, and tuff to view.

These areas are neat to explore and photograph anytime, but I think they take on a whole new dimension at night.  The light of the Milky Way shining over ancient volcanic rocks gives the scene a very primordial feeling.

I had had great luck photographing an area of rocks around an old volcanic core in the Fall of 2014 and also back in the Spring of 2014 so I had great hopes for spending another morning or two in the same area.

I wanted to work some different compositions than I had the prior times and was hoping to get nice groupings of boulders, the peak and the Milky Way shining in the sky.

The first morning I went out I had clear sky and I was able to get a great view of the stars with the Milky Way rising over the peak.

As the night wore on I was able to get a little closer to the mountain and work with some rocks in a gully of tuff (tuff is the white rock in these images).  Going wide with my 14mm gave me a great view from just a few feet to the dark sky above the mountain and included the Milky Way arching across the frame.

I stayed in the area trying different things, light painting, and trying to get the perfect image until dawn.

I like the area so much I went back a second night.  This time I found a fair bit of clouds in the sky.  It was harder to see and get the Milky Way so I worked more with light painting the rock formations and walked away at sunrise with the top image here.

I continue to be impressed with this location and we certainly be headed back there in fall to try yet more ways to chase the Milky Way over this ancient volcano.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Wildflowers of Big Bend

Spring is a magical season in Big Bend.  Warm temps and winter rains bring an early spring and wildflowers.

When the desert gets nice winter rains the wildflowers will explode across the desert.  The rains are the key.  When they happen it is amazing.

It usually starts in February and runs into early April.   Again, it just depends on the rain.

The winter of 2014-15 was a fairly wet season this last year.  The entire Big Bend region is still recovering from a lengthy drought.  Over the last few years the flowers have been week or non-existent.

They were just waiting for the rain.

This year we got it.

Rain and snow in December and early January.  Followed by some regular rain in February and into March brought out a feast of wildflowers.


It was a visual delight seeing the color.

There are several species and you get some nice color but one stands out-the Big Bend Bluebonnet.

Texas is known for bluebonnets.  They are the state flower.  They grow really big in Big Bend.

As in a flower can be 2-3 FEET tall.  That's right two or three feet tall.

It is an amazing sight.

Often growing few and far between, but the rains this year brought large displays, especially along the roadsides.  It was a treat.

I was hoping for some dramatic sunsets to put with the wildflowers but on most afternoons on this trip it was clear.  Only once did we get a nice sunset and the result is the image at the top.

I had hoped for bluebonnets but there were none near what I wanted to have as my background and instead was out among the yellow flowers that had spread across the desert lowlands.

It was a good spring and I enjoyed seeing the desert back to life after the drought.

I look forward to the fall and hope for some fall rains that will bring the fifth season and the fall wildflowers.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rio Grande and River Road by Night

The drive from the Guadalupe Mountains to Big Bend is a fantastic journey.  You are looking at least five hours behind the wheel and even more if you stop to take in the sights or make a few images.  If you are a photographer you are going to need a lot more than 5 hours........

I spent most of the day driving, looking and stopping along the way.  I wanted to see the sights.  It was clear but I still enjoy the drive and the view.  I also wanted to stop along the river to do some night photography. 

The Valley between the Sierra Diablo and Delaware Mountains, around the Beach Mountains into Van Horn.  Then across the high desert grasslands south of the Davis Mountains into Valentine and finally into Marfa.  From there you turn south and cross more grasslands then down through valleys to the Rio Grande where you meet the River Road in Presidio.  Turning southeast you follow along the Rio Grande into Big Bend Ranch State Park.  We made the state park mid-late afternoon.  


There we walked Closed Canyon and went to the Big Hill for sunset.  We set up camp in a nearby camp for state park.  Like most places out here-we had it to ourselves.

That put me in a good spot for some night images at a few locations.

I was up early the next morning to dark sky and and a rising Milky Way.  The Big Hill, the tepee rest area and the old Contrabando movie set were my targets.  All of them are regular places I visit in the day and I thought might also work at night.  Luck was with me and I was able to get them all.

I started on the Big Hill and grabbed a few looking toward the Rio Grande canyons.  I was concerned it might be too dark in the canyons on the moonless night but with just a bit of light on ht e foreground it worked great.   Moving to the Contrabando movie set I set up my lights and took one image of the little village, when of all things two other cars showed up with the same idea.  I grabbed my gear and let them have it.  Photographing at night gets exponentially harder with each additional person.  I decided to move back to the tepees and try there.  Luckily I had gotten one shot.

Along the way I stopped for 15 minutes at the hoodoos and got a very nice shot.  I spent the last hour of dark at the tepees and photographing them with light painting.

It was another good morning with dark and mostly clear skies that gave a good Milky Way image at each location.  Each a shot on my list and each one solidly checked off.

I was especially glad to get a shot of the Contrabando movie set as the news is reporting that it is likely to be demolished.  It was never built to last and some of them damaged bad in the flood of 2008.  In any event my chance may be gone.  Glad I stopped when I did.



Thursday, June 4, 2015

Guadalupes by Night

When you are photographing the Milky Way you do not get much sleep.  I got to camp about 10pm after photographing the amazing sunset on the salt flats.  The next morning I was up and going again by 3am.  I wanted to see if it would be possible to get the water on the salt flats with the mountains and the Milky Way.

I drove down toward the salt pan under mostly clear skies.  I got to the salt flats and the water was still there but fog was forming.  I could see the mountains and Milky Way rising above them.  I could also see the fog building.

I was not sure what that would mean for the picture, if it would be to dark and too foggy to pick up the water, or if it might be too difficult to get the Milky Way clear.

I made a couple of quick images as a test and was instantly impressed with what I saw.  You could pick up all the elements in the image.  Reflection in the water, the mountains were well defined, and the Milky Way shined in the sky.

Using both the 14mm and 24mm lenses I was able to grab several images before the fog became thick enough to began to impact the image as the mountains were lost in it.

There was a spot not far away where I would be just above the salt pan and hopefully away from the fog that had a good view to the southeast toward the Sierra Diablo and Delaware Mountains.  I grabbed the the gear and drove over there to find that yes the immediate area was clear of fog but it had built up in the valley obscuring the Delaware Mountains entirely and only a small ridge of the Sierra Diablo appeared out of it.


I grabbed a few more images there and then moved again.  This time back toward Guadalupe Pass, making a couple of images looking over the Delaware Mountains.  Finally I went back to the salt flats as that was the best of the bunch.  The fog was still there but I occasionally would get a peak of the mountains.

Before I knew it there was gray light in the east and soon morning would be here.  I had a long day ahead of me on a drive to Big Bend and decided to start toward Van Horn.  I drove though fog for most of the way catching the sunrise at the edge of the fog along the Sierra Diablo on my way south.