Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 Year in Review

A review of my photography year for 2016.  This marks the fourth year in a row I have done a Year in Review.  You can check out my past YIR for 2013, 2014, and 2015 here Year in Review

2016 has been a very good year for me in photography.  I have gotten to see some great light, experience some wonderful dark skies, saw the aurora for the first time, and finally got a stamp in my passport!

The year in photography always starts for me going out for sunrise on January 1.  It is a tradition I started in 2000 and shows no sign of ending.  I have yet to get a great image at sunrise on January 1 but that has never bothered me.  Just getting up to greet the sunrise on New Years Day has become one of my favorite traditions.

January saw me out photographing locally and it also took me to Salt Lake City.  There I got to catch a sunset and sunrise on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.  What a super location.  Just a 30 minutes drive from downtown SLC and you are on an island that with snow looks very, very far away from anywhere.  Almost other worldly.  In a way the water, ice, and snowy peaks looked like something almost polar.  Add in seeing a few bison and it was a great winter experience.

February and March had me photographing locally.  February marks the start of Milky Way photography season as the galactic core becomes visible again.  In February it is just for a few minutes right before dawn and I have been visiting a spot on the Brazos River where I can see it rising in the east.

March also took me to San Diego and San Bernardino.  It was not a photography trip and the traffic in So Cal is so bad I was never able to get to the mountains, when I got to La Jolla I was able to get out to see one sunset with the waves crashing on the rocky coastline.  It turned out to be a good sunset and made up for a few days of traffic frustration.

April brings bluebonnets to Texas and I spent a few days in search of wildflowers and sunrises.  The clouds did not cooperate on most of my drives but finally I did catch one very good sunrise and added another good bluebonnet picture to my collection.

I also did a trip to New Mexico and west Texas.  A quick visit to the Guadalupe Mountains.  Followed by a night on the Lost Mesa specifically for a Milky Way image.  Yes, I planned a trip and a drive of hundreds of miles for one image.  Then I drove down to Big Bend to spend a week in the desert.  I planned this trip for the new moon and am glad I did as we had little in the way of good light and lots of clear sky.  It made from some good changes for the Milky Way.

In Big Bend, I also did an overnight backpack to the South Rim of the Chisos.  Two gallons of water weighs about 17 pounds and I had to carry that much for just an overnight.  Well worth the weight as I was able to sit on the rim and stare off into the distance.

May took me on a trip to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks.  These are both very popular parks (for good reason).  I did a few hikes and caught an incredible sunrise at the Grand Canyon that made the trip.  I was also able to get a few Milky Way images from the Grand Canyon that I really liked.  I had wanted to see what my Sony A7S could do with the dark of the canyon and as always it came through with some great images.  On a no moon night, the canyon is normally too dark to be anything more than black on an image, but the might little A7S sees in the dark!  In Zion I did get in a few hikes, but did not get to wade the Narrows as the river was too high from spring snow melt.

As summer heated up I turn my attention to night photography.  Texas in the summer is hot, green and usually very clear skies.  I then plan new moon trips out to photograph the Milky Way.  I spent many summer nights out wading in the Nolan River chasing the Milky Way.  Standing there in water in the dark looking at the stars is fun.  If I get lucky I also see some lightening bugs.

Late summer I was in Ohio and went to to explore the Hocking Hills area south of Columbus.  Some great areas of dells, creeks, hills and small waterfalls.  Made for a great evening to get out with my camera in a completely new area.  This was one of those times I was not really on a photography trip but as I seem to always do, I took my little NEX6 kit with tiny Sirui 025x tripod which gives me a great travel kit so I can get some good images in a place.

Summer always seems such a long slow season here in Texas then fall just goes very quick.  Labor Day always marks the start of camping season for me as it begins to cool down at night.  I start chasing fall color, do some travel, and before you know it Christmas is here.   
September had me off to Wyoming for a week.  I put together a solo trip into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  I timed it for the new moon and went specifically to get in some Milky Way photography in both parks.  I had several images planned.  The parks are beginning to shut down then and a few campgrounds were already closed but I was still able to see sights I wanted to see.  I caught an epic sunset in Yellowstone followed by a couple of nights where I stood out by thermal features in the dark with the Milky Way
shining above.  I even caught some bright green on the northern horizon.  It was my first siting of the northern lights!  Yellowstone at night was better than I could have thought!  Two nights was nowhere near enough and I know I need to go back.  The Tetons were also super for night photography.  In September the Milky Way is already in the southwest right after dark allowing me to get some great views of the Tetons with the Milky Way.  Now in neither park did I see a bear.  I had my bear spray and standing out there in the dark alone, I am always cautious and alert but no bears this trip.

I was only home a week from Wyoming in Early October and then was off to Alaska!  I had a week to visit Juneau and Anchorage.  This was my second trip to Alaska and it remains as fantastic as I remember it.  This was my first trip to Juneau and I got to see the Mendenhall Glacier.  It is just a few miles from town and is a short walk.  One of the things I hoped to see on the trip was the aurora.  After seeing a glimpse of them on the far horizon, I was hoping to see them in the sky above me.  Two clear nights in Juneau and nothing.

After making the hop upto Anchorage I was also hoping to see them but again there was nothing. We would drive out north of Wasilla around 10pm and look and look but nothing.  Finally one morning I was up about 0400, walked outside and saw the whole sky was dancing green with the aurora.

It was an incredible sight.

I stayed up the rest of that night taking images.  Alaska had wow'd me again. I am already giving thought to going to back to Alaska or Iceland in winter to photograph them again.

Late October saw me depart for one more trip.  I had been building my entire year around one trip and after what seemed like an eternity I boarded a flight to Scotland!  Like many people I have a list of "someday I will go there" places.  After years of thinking about those kind of trips, I decided to do one, got a plane ticket and went.  The Scottish Highlands is a place that has always fascinated me and so I built the trip around it.  Two weeks camping in the Highlands in the cold, wind and rain.  It was another solo trip as everyone thought I was crazy going then.

I loved it.  

It rained every day.  I only saw the stars twice.  I was very glad to have Gore-Tex boots as it was muddy, wet, mucky ground everywhere.  I ate porridge, fish+ chips, and scones a lot.  I camped by a haunted castle for Halloween.  

Rather than try to see it all, I picked four areas in the Highlands: Glencoe, Isle of Skye, Torridon and Assynt.  I spent about 3 days in each location.  That allowed me to explore some different areas and see some different sights.  If anything, I wanted an additional day in each area.  

All fours areas had great sights as well as castles to see.  While I am a landscape photographer, I am also fascinated by history and intrigued by castles.  So I visited several including photographing a supposedly haunted one on Halloween night.  No ghosts seen.

The mountains, rivers and waterfalls were a sight to see.

I am still looking through all the images.

It was an incredible trip and I know I will be going back again.

After a few months of travel, I spent the remaining few weeks of the year close to to home chasing fall color in north Texas.  I was afraid I would miss it this year while I was in the UK but it was a few weeks late.  I got some good days along the Trinity River, in our Japanese Garden and on drives south of Cowtown.

I sit here typing this on December 23rd (Festivus!!) planning a few last days of photography for 2016.  I will be out on Jan 1 again to welcome 2017.  I am also already putting dates and locations on the calendar for next year.  Places like Zion, Bryce, Big Bend, and maybe even Iceland.

Thankful for the what I was able to do in 2016.  Looking forward to the new year and new opportunities!

Happy Holidays and the best for the New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Big Bend Ranch- Closed Canyon

Check out my new You Tube video on photographing and exploring Closed Canyon in Big Bend Ranch State Park in west Texas.

This is a location that gets regular visits on my trips to the Big Bend country and is a great place to visit in the middle of the day and watch the light bounce down the canyon walls.  It really reminds me of what you might find in Utah.  If you look back through this blog you will find several entries from here over the years.

If you keep your eyes and ears alert in the canyon, you might even see barbary sheep up on the cliffs above.

It is a very good hike and worth adding to a trip in the Big Bend.

See more images from here in my website and look for me on Google+.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Big Bend- Desert Nightscapes

There is something amazing about nights in Big Bend National Park.  The clear desert air with the dark west Texas sky make for some amazing night skies.  Add in the interesting mountains and landscape it it really is a great place to photograph at night.  

When I am looking for a spot for night images, I need a spot that has something interesting like a mountain, rock, etc that I can use as a foreground.  It is different than what you look for in the daytime.  At night, you really need a good (large) object to add an element.  Flat and small, does not work too well.  Then you need to have an angle of view that matches up to where the Milky Way will be in the sky.

Luckily Big Bend has plenty of mountains and rocks so I can easily pick different spots for different times of the year and match up when the Milky Way will be in the right spot of the sky.

The deserts of Big Bend has an interesting volcanic geologic history with an amazing landscape of of volcanic peaks, cores, rocks, ridges, and pinnacles.  I have several areas I like to visit and on my spring trip, I had the chance to see many of them with clear sky.  The Milky Way rises in the east about 330 in the morning so I could catch it low on the eastern horizon and photograph until daylight turned the sky light.

For the first part of the trip I was in the western side of the park and worked the old volcanic core and tuff found there.  I visited the area on two mornings.  I also worked some nearby volcanic peaks where I was able to capture the arc of the Milky Way over them.

Later in the trip, we made the move over to the north side of the Chisos where there are a great many pinnacles and a balanced rock.  I did go to the rock, which is the  main draw, but also got my best shots of the rocky pinnacles in the valley below it.

Over the week, I was able to get many nice night images from various places around the park and was quite pleased with the trip.  Of course, as I type this in the fall, I am already thinking of when I will next get a chance to visit and photograph the dark sky there again.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Unknown Slot Canyons in Big Bend

Big Bend is a truly majestic national park.  It is big, empty, and full of incredible scenery.  I have been visiting the park for over 25 years on numerous trips.  Of late it has been two to three trips per year to the park.

You might think that after all this time I would be bored with it, but it is really the opposite.  Every trip to the park I find something new.

Over my last few trips, I have been looking for out of the way places- here are a couple of them.

A couple of years ago, I was looking at Google Earth and found what looked like a little slot canyon.  I went exploring on my next trip and sure enough, it was!

I have visited that canyon a few times now and really like it.  

It is shallow and it has both narrow and wide spots.  At times the sun shines right through it.  Other times It gets nice reflected light.

I even ventured into it at Night one time to photograph the Milky Way from it.

It has become a favorite place to visit and this last spring, it was a place I spent a few hours one afternoon.

On another clear afternoon, I went exploring further in the area.  I knew that the rock in the area could form little slots so I wanted to see what I might find.

Imagine my thrill to find another one!

This one was very narrow and not even thirty feet long before it reached a pour-off.  However what it lacked in size it made up for in narrowness and charm.

I made my way in and set up a couple of photographs to capture the light.

Finding these off the map and unknown spots is always fun.  Having a spot that no one else has photographed is rewarding and so different then being at an overlook with 500 people like you get in the busier parks.

Being at the end of the road, Big Bend probably sees fewer people in a year than Grand Canyon gets on Memorial Day weekend.  It means a park I can have to myself and being able to find spots like these.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Night on the Lost Mesa

In the spring of the year I made a trip to west Texas and New Mexico.  It was a chance to get out west for a week of dark sky and some landscape photography.  My first stop was to make the drive out to the Lost Mesa.  I have wanted to get there for a shot at the spring Milky Way for sometime and decided to make that the start of a longer trip into the Big Bend country.

If you have read any of my other  Blog posts on the Lost Mesa you will find out what a lonely and quiet place this is.  Roughly 1.2 million acres of mostly public land that has no paved roads, no signs to point the way, and where you are a long, long way from help.  A place few have heard of, and only a handful will ever visit.

A truly wonderful place for the adventurous.

I made the drive out and found the high desert grasslands were in their typical dry and dusty conditions.  There was also the severe clear that one often finds out this direction.  That would make for no sunset but I hoped that would in turn, make for a good chance at the Milky Way at 0300 in the morning.

I did a hike across the mesa and around some lonely mountains.  Occasionally I even snapped a photo although the light was harsh.
As evening settled in with zero clouds I got to my camping spot and would be close to me selected spot for the Milky Way.  I took a few pictures of the sunset light and probably deleted 98% almost immediately.

As dark settled in, I crawled into my Honda Element which was set up in camping mode, stretched out and slept.  By 0300 the next morning I was up and going.  I walked up a small hill with some ocotillo on top and an angle of view to the southeast.

The Milky Way was rising in the sky just as I had hoped and I set about making images of the scene in front of me.

I had brought both my A7R and A7S and was working both on two tripods.  Photographing with two cameras is very tough, but possible at night as the longer exposures give you time to go from one to the other.  However you stay busy and I always worry about kicking a tripod in the dark.

The ocotillo made some interesting foreground subjects that I did some light painting on.  I also did narrower images where I precluded any foreground and just combined the Milky Way and surrounding mountain peaks.

Before I knew it, the night was fading and dawn was approaching.

The image that I had previsualized was there and I was able to get it.  I had a good shot and it was off across dusty roads toward Van Horn, Marfa, and Big Bend.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Great Salt Lake in Winter

In January I had the opportunity to be in Salt Lake City for a couple of nights.  Me being me, I took my camera and tripod with the hopes of getting out to the Great Salt Lake for a sunset or sunrise.

As luck would have it I got to do both!

Since I was going to be staying a little north of SLC I thought getting out to Antelope Island would be a good destination.  Boy did I pick the right spot.

The island is in the Great Salt Lake and a state park.  I had visited once before during gnat season at the end of April now I was going back with snow on the ground.

As I made the drive across the causeway road to the island I entered a winter wonderland.  The view toward the island across patches of snow, water, and maybe some ice too toward the mountainous island and distant ranges beyond looked almost like those images you see from Antarctica.  It certainly was a far different look than I had seen before.

I only had about an hour to sunset and so headed out to an area I knew had a view west and north across a bay with more mountains.

I got there and to the lakes edge with just a few minutes to sunset.  I had brought my Sony A7R and adapted Nikon 20, 50, and 100mm lenses as it makes a very small kit.

I worked with all three.

The light was bright but there were in essence zero clouds in the sky.  So I stated wide and then as the sunset went to a narrower view.  The view north had some great compositional elements and the longer lens and polariser to help make the scene pop some.

It was a good way to end a day.

I was up early the next morning and decided to go back.  I arrived with the stars and moon still in the sky and went back to the same area.  It would put the mountains between me and the sunrise but I liked the location and hoped it would be good.

At first I got a few images lit by the moon.  Then as the night faded I got a few more images.  I stayed there until the light was getting closer to sunrise and the clear sky looked like I had already seen the best light.

I drove across the island to see the view back toward SLC with some low clouds and fog in the sky and I was able to set up a quick composition as the sun was rising over the mountains lighting up the fog into a great scene.

Shortly thereafter I was on the road out of the park with a full day of activities to accomplish.

A sunset and a sunrise.  Neither very long but enough to make a few nice images and have a great experience.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Llano River

After 4 great days in Big Bend with snow, the Milky Way, and fall color, I decided to do something a little different for the way home.  My trips to BBNP are usually a cannonball drive west to the park (ten hours), a week in the park, and a cannonball drive home (again ten hours).  So I left Big Bend mid-morning on Dec 30th with a plan to explore some areas along the drive and a plan to stay over on the Llano River.

I left the park and started a meandering path from Marathon that took me down several lonely roads as I moved east and north.  It was scenic and empty.  My kind of road.

Eventually we crossed the Pecos and made our way up to I-10.  From there it was a quicker drive late in the day to Junction and the Llano River, getting there just before sunset.

There along the river I was just able to catch a sunset view looking up the river.

There were a few clouds in the sky, but I also hoped there might be a few stars too.  So I went about changing over from the daytime landscape set up to the nighttime astro-photography kit.

After it was dark I was able to make out some of the Milky Way in the west and then I was able to make out the fainter ORION arm of the galaxy rising in the east.

I spent a couple of hours taking images until it was time to call it a night and get some sleep.

One thing I did notice is that I no longer had the dark sky of Big Bend.  Looking to the east the lights of Austin were lighting up the clouds and it is still over 100 miles away.  It would seem like a dark sky spot if you came there from Austin but compared to Big Bend.... it was way too bright.

So these were my last few images from the trip and I would take off in the predawn light on the 31st to be home before lunch.  A great trip even if it was a quick trip.  It already made me ready to get back to Big Bend in the spring.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Dark Winter Night in Big Bend

Big Bend has some of the darkest skies in the country.  Being the end of the road and a long way from anywhere makes it a great place to truly experience the night sky. Add in the long dark nights of winter and you can really see the stars.

On my December 2015 trip we were lucky enough to have part of the night without the moon allowing a chance to photography the winter night sky.  Now the galactic core is not visible then as it is below the horizon then you can still see the spiral arm of the Milky Way and even if it is not as bright as the core it is still very visible in the dark skies of west Texas.

Since my journey into the park took so long because of the snow it was very dark by the time I got to the Sotol Vista overlook.  It was also very windy with winds well past 50 mph.  I could see the sky somewhat clearing and I wanted to try a pic.  So I carefully set up my camera and tripod and got all of three images.  The conditions were just so brutal with the cold and wind I was not sure I could even get a non blurry shot.  So I hoped for the best and drove to camp.

Luckily I got one good one!

In camp it was less windy and also dark and cold with snow on the ground.  There was one other camper there!  I put up my tent and did a few customary tent shots.  

My tent, at night, on snow, with fall color in the trees.  What a great way to spend the night!

Over the next two nights I did more nightscape images.  I revisited some of my favorite parts of the park and captured the night sky as best I could.

The rugged volcanic landscape on the western side of the park is a great foreground for night photography and I put the fisheye lens to good use.  In fact, every image in this post is a fisheye lens image.  I love wide angle and I find the fisheye is truly the best way to capture the size of the Milky Way in the night sky.

With the long dark December nights it was easy to get some night images and still be asleep by an early hour.  That is a real plus as one of the things as often happens after a week of night photography is you then need a vacation to get caught up on sleep.

Over the three nights I was in the park, I got lucky enough to make some great images and see some good views of the night sky.

Many people would have missed it as they only look for the Milky Way during the summer not realizing it is visible year round.

I am already looking forward to the dark skies of December 2016 with the new moon between Christmas and New Years it looks to be another good time for a winter trip!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Snow in the Chisos

After driving for 14 hours through snow, I arrived in Big Bend and set up my tent on snow.  It was cold and windy but I knew the snow would begin to melt the next morning.  The sky was rapidly clearing and the forecast for a sunny day.  My plan was for a sunrise at Santa Elena Canyon and then to go to the Chisos, hoping the higher elevations of the mountains would both have made more snow as well as have it last longer.

At sunrise I was at Santa Elena Canyon and while it was not a winter wonderland there was some snow on the cliff walls of the Sierra Ponce.  I photographed the sunrise and then it was off to the Chisos.

The snow was a good 6" deep up around the mountains and there were many stops to be made on the drive.  This was the first time I have been in Big Bend with this much snow and I wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

So it was several stops.  The western ramparts of the mountains made for some great images with the snow on the walls, the peaks, and on the cactus and yucca of the desert.

It was finally mid-morning before we actually got up to the Chisos proper.  It was probably a good thing as the park service had closed the road overnight into the Basin.  It is a steep and winding road and was probably icy.

As we ascended into the mountains the snow got deeper.  The high one goes the more trees grow and they were covered in snow!  Where the leaves peaked out I saw that they were in full fall color too!

The week after Christmas and it is the peak of fall color in Big Bend plus a fresh snowfall!  
I could not believe my luck.

The stops became more frequent.  Every pullout was used as we drove into the Basin.  The views were amazing.  The clouds were rapidly disappearing and the sun shown bright in a clear blue sky.

There were images everywhere.

After what seemed like an instant we finally got into the Basin and it was 1:30 in the afternoon.  The snow was rapidly melting and we were hungry since we skipped breakfast to be out in the snow, so it was off to the lodge for a cheeseburger.

After warming up, a burger, and looking over a few images on the camera, we made our way back out of the Basin.  Already the snow was much diminished from the morning and by the time we got back to Cottonwood the snow was all but gone there.

Luck had been with us and we had seen a great winter event here in the desert.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Journey to Big Bend

In December of 2015 I decided to plan a trip west between the holidays.  The year before, in December 2014, I had done a winter trip to the Guadalupe Mountains and arrived in the park in a blizzard.  It was a spectacular trip where I got to photograph snow as well as the Milky Way over the winter peaks.

My hope was to do something similar in 2015 and I made plans to go again.  As I watched the weather another blizzard was making its way across west Texas and it looked like I would have similar conditions.  With the way the weather looked, Big Bend seemed to be the better option as it would get snow but be more on the edge of the storm.  

Snowy Roads in Texas
On the morning I left the blizzard was stretched out across west Texas.  I started west from Fort Worth on I-20 but could see on the weather and Google Maps that west of Abilene the roads were at a crawl, so I decided to to to go south and stay east of the snow line.  I turned south at Cisco, then followed US 377 southwest to I-10 at Junction.  I started west again, but soon found myself in the snow and worsening roads.  I exited 10 in Sonora and headed south to US 90.  I still passed through snow but now on empty roads and I was able to make progress.  I drove past the Devil's River with trees in fall color and eventually got to 90.  Then I turned west into a 50mph wind and made my way to Marathon.

Devil's River
The snow was blowing there and I turned south on US385 to the park.  I made the park entrance at sunset.  From there it was still almost a 2 hour drive to Cottonwood campground which I found almost empty and I set up my tent in the snow.

What was normally a 10 hour drive had become an almost 14 hour day of zig-zagging to avoid the snow but I had made it.  The drive was interesting and seeing the fall color on the Devil's River was a big surprise that I was glad to be able to photograph.  Now, here I was in a national park that I had almost all to myself and there was snow on the ground in Texas!  Talk about a great way to start a trip!!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Zion Canyon Nightscapes

When I was in Zion National Park last fall, I was there right around the full moon.  Not really the best of conditions for the Milky Way.  Well just 3 days after the full moon you already have a short time of dark sky in the night as the moon rises about an hour later each night.  So by the end of my trip I could go out after sunset and have two hours or so of dark sky before the moon rose in the east.

I made the most of those two days I had the chance and that short amount of time to photograph a few locations in Zion Canyon.

In the fall the Milky Way is already in the western sky in the evening so that helped as the moon would be rising on the other side of the sky.

Deep in the canyon the view is mainly up and sure enough the Milky Way was visible.

On a trip the year before I had made one image with my NEX6 and fisheye lens where I looked up and you could see both sides of the canyon with the Milky Way.  I really liked that image and decided to do something similar.  This year I had my Sony A7S and full frame 12mm fisheye lens which give me much more capability than the little NEX6.

I visited a couple of different spots in the canyon and really was wow'd by the images.  Standing in the canyon looking up with the fisheye was like being in a bucket looking out.

While I mainly used the fisheye, I did try my 14mm and 24mm lens but kept going back to the fisheye lens as I always seem to at night.  Once you find the huge view the fisheye lens gives of the night sky, it is really hard to go back to a narrow slice of the sky of the 24mm.

So for each of those two nights I was out there for two hours until the rising almost full moon rose and the Milky Way faded.

It was really the perfect way to end my week in Zion, standing deep in the canyon looking up at the stars.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Virgin River

Watchman by Night
Photographing the Virgin River is one of the most common subjects in Zion National Park.  After all, it is the Virgin River which has carved the incredible Zion Canyon.  The river runs through the canyon and is scenic in its own right.

One of the most popular spots in the park is to stand on the bridge and photograph the Watchman and the Virgin River.

Many will instantly know what I mean when I say "the bridge", for those that do not there is a bridge at Canyon Junction across the Virgin River where dozens of people gather every night to stand on the bridge and photograph sunset light on a mountain called the Watchman.  

Now when you stand on the bridge cars are going across the bridge right behind you.  I mean right behind you.  As in don't wear a backpack, they are that close.  Now they are not going to fast (maybe 20 mph) but they are right there.

If you have never been to Zion, it is probably a shot you will want to do.  Just be prepared for a crowd.

I have done that image and knew I wanted something different from the area.  So I did a few things different.  I went out there at night.  The crowds are gone, the cars are rare, and the stars above the Watchman make for an interesting image.

Look at the top image here and you will notice, that is not's night.

Virgin River and Peaks
As I walked around the area I thought the view of the mountains in the other direction look interesting.  I walked the river right near the bridge and found a way I could frame them with the river.  Walking around where I was I might have been in a few peoples images when they were photographing off the bridge, so I worked quickly and then tried to be out of sight to be courteous.

Ok, I had a good composition.  Now I just had to wait for the right light.  It took me three days before that light happened but when I did I got what may be my favorite image from the trip. I was able to get the images in a just a few minutes.  My prefinding the right spot really paid off.

I really like the cluster of peaks here, the light and clouds in the sky and the river in the foreground.

Virgin River and Milky Way
On my last night in the park, I went back to the bridge and saw the Milky Way over the river on the other side of the bridge.  I could not work it into my composition with the peaks but I was able to just stand on the north side of the bridge and photograph it over the river.

So in just a 50 yard stretch of the river I was able to make several very different images.  It is why I keep exploring
 areas and like to move around and look at what might be possible.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Zion Narrows

Hiking the Zion Narrows is not only one of the highlights of a visit to Zion NP, it's one of the best hikes in any National Park.  It might be better called a wade as the hike is wading/hiking up the Virgin River as the walls of the narrow canyon rise well over a thousand feet above you.

I knew I wanted to spend a day in the Narrows and I knew I was going to truly have time to do it on my trip.  In the past I always visited the Narrows with only limited time and I was never able to really go as far and photograph as much of it as I wanted.  This trip was going to be different as I set aside an entire day for just the Narrows.

I knew from past experience that it would be cold in the Narrows, especially at the end of October.  I had been in the Narrows in the fist week of November a few years ago and I went in shorts with a pair of Keen sandals.  It was really cold in the water.  As in numbingly cold.  Every other person in the canyon had the dry pants and booties.  Several asked if I was cold.  I was pretty excited just to be in the canyon so it did not bother me.  However, as it got dark and I made my way out it was chilly.  I was glad to be able to change into socks and shoes and warm up walking back to the bus, where I was the last one out of the canyon.

This time I knew I wanted to be up the canyon all day and be warm.  I visited Zion Outfitters in Springdale on Sunday with a plan on going to the Narrows on Monday.  I got sized for my gear, watched the video and would be all ready for Monday.  Now I would have on 5.10 Canyoneer shoes, neoprene socks, and dry pants.  They also give you a hiking stick, but I had a pair of hiking poles I was going to take.  Now I was better geared up for a full day in the canyon.  My legs would stay dry and with a base layer they were warm.  My feet would be wet, but the neoprene keeps them warm.

I had chosen Monday as my day since it was going to be clear (which is important for photography), there was zero chance of rain (never go in a canyon like this with any chance of rain), and the shuttle stopped on Sunday, meaning I could drive into the canyon!.

I got my rental gear from Zion Adventures and was ready early.  I was the first person at the parking lot at the Temple of Sinewava which is the start of the Narrows Trail.  I did some light painting and a few night images.  After sunrise, I had a quick snack and then suited up for the wading/hike the Narrows is.

Orderville Canyon as it meets the Narrows
A few others had shown up and were getting ready for the water.  I waded in and moved up canyon.  I knew the good light would not happen until around 10am and my plan was to go all the way to the Wall Street area and wait for it.  I made my way up the river.  The light in the canyon was still cool so I only made one stop for an image before Orderville Canyon. 

After that you really enter the Wall Street area and I began to look for a good composition with a spot I hoped would get some good glow.  I found a spot of dry ground and a rock for my pack, set up the tripod, and put on my down jacket to keep warm.

I still had to wait almost an hour but I did get a shot.

After that I packed back up and moved farther up the canyon.  Now the light was good and I would wade until another good composition presented itself.  Then it was set up the image, make a few shots, pack up and move again.

This process went on for a good 2-3 hours.  Finally about 130pm, I turned around and now worked my way back down canyon.  

Waiting for the Light
Again, it was move, photograph and move.

As the day wore on I saw more people wading upstream.  Mostly they were just day hikers.  Occasionally, I met a few other photographer.

As I passed Orderville Canyon on my way back down the amount of people increased and if I made any images usually required waiting for people to pass by the scene.

Finally as I got closer and closer to the end of the trail, I gave up trying to get images and just finished the hike out.  By the time I got to the car I was tired but elated I had made it a good day.  I hoped I had a few images in the bag and it was a huge success of a day.

I will certainly plan any future Zion trips to make a full day of the Narrows again as it is a place well worth that effort.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fall Colors in Zion National Park

In October of last fall I made a week long trip to Zion National Park in Utah.  Zion, is a fantastic park I have visited several times and really like the hikes and photography opportunities.  I had planned the trip to be a good week for fall color (or so I hoped).  It was going to be the week of the full moon so I did not have a lot of hope for night images with only the last two nights of the trip having much of a chance where I would have just an hour or two between dark and the moonrise. I also hoped to really have a good day in the Narrows.  I even had a plan to do one night up at Bryce at the start of the trip to see what I might get there before spending the rest of the week in Zion. 

So with those ideas in mind I was off to the park.

My flight was supposed to leave DFW at 9am but because of unexpected delays and problems we did not leave Dallas until almost 4pm.  By the time we got to Las Vegas, got my rental car, and I was driving out of Viva Las Vegas the sun was setting.  OK, things are not going as planned.  No way I am making it to Bryce.  So I scratched that off my list and headed for St. George, UT.  I probably could have made Zion but I did not have a reservation and I was afraid of not finding any open tent sites.

The next morning, I was up early but there were no images to tempt me so I made a stop for a weeks worth of groceries and some last minute items and then made the short drive up to Springdale.  It was still early in the day and it was overcast.  I stopped in at Oscar's there in Springdale for breakfast.  Oscar's is my favorite place to eat in town and they do a pretty good Tex-Mex style menu.  That is really saying something too as outside of Texas and New Mexico it is tough to find good Mexican or Tex-Mex food.  After a good filling meal it was off to the park to check out the fall colors and wait until I could get into my tent site.

I decided to go look at the east side of the park.  This way I could be in my own vehicle and not have to take the shuttle.  It was the last day of the shuttle system for the season and I knew I would be able to drive my own vehicle into the canyon the next morning.  I like the shuttle but knew I could run on my schedule and was looking forward to getting an early start on a few mornings.  Little did I know then that Mon and Tues would be so full in the valley they would turn the shuttle back on.  That actually turned out to be a good thing as Tuesday in the Valley was a gridlock mess as every parking spot was taken and cars were stretched out along the road in a vain quest for a spot.

But on Sunday it was time to check the park out.

Go up through the tunnel and the road then goes up through slick rock country.  The road follows Clear Creek up toward Checkerboard Mesa.  There are several turnouts along the road and each offers an easy walk into the creek bed and the chance to explore the rocks and area there.  This is a great way to see fall color and experience Zion as you are rarely more than 100 yards from the road.  Note, if it looks like rain or is raining, this is a place to avoid as it will flash flood.  The slick rock will funnel all the rain and it can be very deadly very quickly.  So be smart about canyons and avoid them with any chance of rain.

The overcast sky began to break up and I got some times with some good backlight on the trees, which had some great color in them.  

After a few hours of exploring the area I was able to go back and get my campsite and then go off to look for sunset images.  I had a few I hoped to get and hoped to see some possibilities for a few more.

Over the course of the week I was able to spend a couple of days in the canyon and a couple of days on the east side of the park.  I caught some great fall color and managed to even get a few nice images.