2019 Year in Review

Big Bend Night Sky
It is the waning days of 2019 and time to take a look back at the year.  This was a year I revisited many old favorites and did a couple of visits to areas I wanted to see more of.  Like every year, it is never enough time in the field with the camera.

This was a good year for me chasing images with night images being some of my best work.  It also was a good year with getting published.  In particular I had two images in the 2019 Texas Highways calendar.  Then had images published in the October fall color issue and the December night sky issue of the magazine too.

Pacific Coast
Jan 1 is always a First Day (as the term has become) event as I went out to watch the sunrise and try to make some photos.  It has been a tradition for me since 2000 and will continue again in just a few mornings as I welcome the first sunrise of the new decade in 2020.  As I write in my Year in Review (YIR) each year I do not think I have ever gotten a decent image on new years day.  I do not see that as the point though.  It is being out there in the cold watching the sunrise that it what is important.  I can usually convince a few other photographers to go with me.  Not a bad way to start the year.

I made a trip to sunny southern California in January and it was rainy with some storms the entire week.  That made for some big surf and I spent a few sunsets along the rocky shores of La Jolla in the rain.  It was some nice weather for photography, although most people were not out in it.  It is why I always like to pack a camera and at least my small tripod, so when I get these chances I can get out and make some photos.

Palo Duro Canyon
February saw me make a long weekend trip up to Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle.  This is a very neat state park and the second biggest canyon in the US (you can easily guess the biggest).  It is someplace I had not been for several years as it seems if I am going to make the 5 1/2 hour drive there, I usually just make the 8 hour drive to Guadalupe Mountains instead.  So it was good to spend a little bit of time to explore this park and one I really need to put more effort into.

As the clock turned to April I finally put in a week long trip and went to Big Bend.  I had skipped the park for a couple of springs as I went out to the Grand Canyon in March of 2017 and 2018 and it was good to get back.  The week was mostly clear (a common theme in 2019 for me) and I did most of my images at night.  It is one of the reasons I now plan most of my trips around the new moon.  Clear skies might not be good for landscape photography, but they are outstanding for nightscape photography where I can put the Milky Way into the image.  I spent most nights out under the stars on the trip.  I also put a new toy into use as I bought a star tracker.  This allows
Big Bend
me to do longer exposures than off a standard tripod and still get sharp stars.  There was a learning curve to both using it and processing the images.  Where as before I would make a  single 15 second image with both the sky and the ground and be done, with the tracker I make 2 images.  One with the tracker off for the ground and then a second with it on for the sky.  In the ground shot, the stars turn to streaks and in the tracker shot the stars are sharp but now the ground is blurry.  I take the 2 images and blend in the sharp parts from each.  That part also takes work (and some software) and can still be a bit of a struggle.  But when it does work I can get a better overall image than the single photo.  

There in the park I revisited some of my favorite spots for nightscape images like Santa Elena Canyon, Cerro Castellan and the rocky pinnacles.  It was a good trip into the desert.

May saw me in Florida where I spent some photography time photographing a dune lake.  These are a rather unique feature that only form in a few locations around the world.  One of which happens to be the Florida panhandle.  For a photographer they were a nice place to go for sunrise before spending the day at the beach.
Snowy Range

As the year progressed to summer I finally had a couple of chances to get to Wyoming.  A great way to beat August?.......Wyoming!  I had a chance to be nearby and took one night to run up to the Snowy Range and photograph the Milky Way.  What a gem of a place!  The crowds race to Rocky Mountain NP, I have the Snowys to myself.  I get a few hours photographing the stars over the peaks and manage to make a few neat images.  It is one of those areas I have only visited a handful of times but was glad to have the chance to make even a short visit to see.

As summer ended and we reached Labor Day I flew up and spent a week in Yellowstone and the Tetons.  Most people goto Yellowstone for the wildlife (which is amazing) I go for the geysers.  Here my plan was to photograph some of the geysers at night (see my Blog Post on Yellowstone ).  This turned out to be a good plan as there was just clear sky when I was there.  It ended up being a good productive trip after an adventure of just getting there when storms caused air travel issues that took a couple of days to resolve.  Standing out at night watching a geyser erupt while seeing the Milky Way (and even the northern lights one night) is an awe inspiring event.  
Geyser by Night

Yellowstone and the Tetons have delivered a few of them.  It was in Yellowstone in 2016 I first saw the northern lights and it was in the Tetons in 2017 I saw my first total eclipse.  Several nights here under clear skies were amazing and I brought back several of my best images of the year from this trip.

Late September took me to Zion NP.  Another favorite I have visited many times over the last 15 years or so.  It is a park that has dramatically increased in popularity and attendance.  I saw Zion is now the 4th most visited park.  It can be crowded (even overcrowded on Angel's Landing and in the Narrows) but is still a great park to explore with a camera.  I had mostly clear sky (again) and I spent my days doing hikes and my nights out with a camera doing images.  Since I was staying at the lodge in the canyon, it was dark and quiet at night, especially after the last shuttle.  It allowed me to get a few night images of the canyon looking up out to the dark skies.

Now going into the beginning of 2019, I had been planning a return trip to Scotland.  It was an amazing trip for me in 2016 and I was looking to getting back into the Highlands with a target of early November.  In January the UK was planning Brexit for March so I figured November would be good.  Then it was postponed until the end of October.  That caused me to change plans as I was afraid of showing up in country just 2 days after the event.  Especially after my travel delays getting to Salt Lake, I did not want that getting across the pond.  Maybe in 2020........

So I packed up the Element and went to west Texas for fall color in the Guadalupe Mountains.  Another old favorite that I had been away from for a couple of falls.  I had another clear week (the 2019 theme) except for one foggy morning.  The foggy morning I spent in McKittrick Canyon with some peak fall color.  That was a very good day with some of the beast fall color in the west.  The maples of the Guadalupe Mountains will turn to incredibly vivid red, orange and yellow in autumn and put on a color display that rivals Vermont.  Except the tress cling to life hidden in desert canyons as a hold over from the last ice age.  
Guadalupes and Milky Way

The clear nights found me out chasing the Milky Way over the peaks of the Guads or on the salt flats to the west.  Over several nights in the park I was able to get a few nice images and again put the tracker.

November saw me chasing fall color across north Texas.  The skies would continue the severe clear until Thanksgiving.  I also found our color went early and fast this year.  Normally it starts in late October, peaks around the end of November and lingers until right before Christmas.  This year the color mostly flashed in early November and was all gone by the first weekend in December.  Even our local Japanese Garden went fast.  Normally in peaks Thanksgiving week into early December but I found it already more than a week past peak on Now 24th.

Foggy Caprock Canyons
Late November and December saw me put those clear skies to my advantage as I made a few trips down to do some night photography.  The Metroplex puts out a big light dome but if I can get just an hour away from town I can see and photograph the Milky Way.  So I made a few day trips out to see the stars and made a few images.  Getting away from town even for a day and being able to be outside for a night where you watch sunset and see the Milky Way shine in the sky is a treat.  It is also a good way to make a few images and keep photographing on those times I cannot make a trip farther afield.

I ended the year with a quick trip out to Caprock Canyons SP in the Texas panhandle.  Another very nice state park I have visited but not really spent the time it deserves to photograph.  The canyons are the edge of the Llano Estacado, a pancake flat land the makes the heart of the Texas panhandle.  The headwaters of the Red and Brazos rivers have cut dramatic canyon on the eastern edge.  Caprock Canyons and Palo Duro Canyon being two great examples that have been set aside.  

Star Trails in Caprock Canyons
Clouds and rain were the forecast.  I arrived to overcast skies and went exploring.  I had heard that in addition to the main canyons and red walls, one could also find slot canyons there and I did find one. They tend to be small and not very long but even to happen upon one was a great find.  Then the skies went to partly cloudy and I set up my cameras for some night sky images.  There were enough clouds to make me doubt I could get great images but I still put in the efforts to chase the Milky Way.  I managed to even pull a few images out of that night.

Then I woke up to thick fog and rain that last all day.  I hiked the park and watch the rock walls and towers appear and disappear into the fog.  It is one of those days I am not sure if I will get a great image but I had a great time hiking out in the fog and mist.

That brings me to the last few days of December.  Another year over.  They go too quick.  Another year to plan.  Already have a few ideas for 2020.  Some might not work out, others need some planning to make work.  Who knows how it will go.  Being far afield is a hope I have every year and with the start of a new year anything is possible.

Here is to a new year and new decade!


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