Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Stroll in the Snow

One of the things I enjoy the most about Bosque del Apache is watching the Sandhill Cranes on their morning walk. Their walk is deliberate and slow. Every once in a while they'll do something funny like both looking to the sky seeing who knows what.

Sometimes there are two cranes walking and other times 6 or 7. I like to isolate 5 or less then make a number of images trying to capture different combinations of movement and position.

Whoops, how did this get in here. The fresh fallen snow hung on all the plants. It was pretty easy getting distracted by the beauty surrounding me.

When the cranes stop walking and arch their lengthened neck, like in this image, you know that one or more are just seconds from taking flight. I was hoping to catch a line of cranes all doing this pre-takeoff move but not yet.

My screen saver at home is a similar line of cranes taken last year. This year we were blessed with a beautiful snow fall the morning of out visit that added a rare element to our images. You can be sure I will update my screen saver with an image from our snowy morning.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Spread Your Wings and Fly

During my visit to Bosque Del Apache we got lucky with a morning of snow. It started snowing right after we left the motel and continued most of the morning. It was fantastic.

I photographed this sequence that I thought was quite interesting. Notice the grace and elegance of the movements your eye just can't capture.

The Sandhill Cranes often walk a ways then straighten their long necks and lean forward just before taking off. It's a good indication something is about to happen.

I just love the details you see when you're able to freeze action like this.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Devil's Garden after Dark

As sunset approached it became apparent that the lack of clouds in the sky meant a (slightly) less spectacular sunset. All was not lost as a lack of sunset clouds meant a perfect night for star photography and the location meant some interesting possibilities.

Thule and I watched the sun retreat behind the distant mountains and the sky slowly loose it's light. I had scouted out a few locations that might prove interesting. Once the night get dark enough the hoodoos took on a different character. The 3-dimensional shapes became 2-dimensional silhouettes.

I started making 30 second exposures with my Sigma 20mm f1.8 lens. 30 seconds is the maximum amount of time to give the stars the appearance of not moving, however zoomed in you can see very slight movement. We moved around from hoodoo to hoodoo having a ball.

My crown jewel image was to be a star trail under the arch with the North Star clearly visible. I must have made 15 30-second exposures getting the composition the way I wanted. Finally I started the 80 minute exposure. I was very pleased with the outcome.

I learned from the experience a few days earlier when I got really cold at Goblin Valley. For the last exposure we went and sat in the car with the heater running. It was very comfortable.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Devil's Garden

After the long hike to Lower Calf Falls it was time to head over to Devil's Garden off Hole in the Rock road. I had left the falls a little earlier than I wanted knowing it was a long hike back to the car and I wanted to get to Devil's Garden before sunset.

After getting a bite to eat we headed down the dirt road to Devil's Garden. The road was in good shape considering the recent snow and the daily melting, think mud.

I didn't really know what I was in store for as I stopped in the parking lot. But once I got amongst these hoodoos a familiar exclamation came out of my mouth. Words like WOW, amazing, awesome, etc. These are words that I was frequently using so far during the trip.

Devil's Garden resides in a small area and can be seen quickly by those that don't have alot of time. As a photographer there is an almost endless number of possible compositions. The hoodoos are very unique and quite different from the others in the area and are really fun to photograph.

As the sun set to the west I began paying more attention to night compositions. With the clear sky Devil's Garden is a perfect star photo site. Next post will contain some of my favorite night comps.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Lower Calf Creek Falls

Three miles down a trail from the Calf Creek campground lies the 130' Lower Calf Creek Falls.

The day Thule and I visited, Dec 16, 2009. There were no fellow hikers on the trail nor anyone at the falls. The trail registry showed a hiker the day before. The next previous entry was 10 days before.

So needless to say it was a quiet and a spiritual visit to the falls. It was a beautiful day with recently fallen snow on the ground and the sun warming everything, myself and the ground, to just above freezing.

However, in the canyon where the falls is located it was fully in the shade so it was rather cool, actually cold like the freezer in your house. In some spots the spray from the falls dampened my face. It was quite exhilarating.

I must have spent 2 hours moving from place to place around the falls trying to capture it's many moods. I stepped in the stream trying to make a stream composition. But it was worth getting a little wet, even with the cold, to get the shot.

The hike was a tough hike trudging thru the snow. Someday I will return without the snow but with many more people no doubt and see the falls in a different light.


Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

Travis had suggested a few worthwhile locations to visit in the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument area. Having never been there before and knowing how Travis' interests parallel mine I immediately marked them as destinations. Travis and his dad Rick had hiked to Lower Calf Creek Falls previously and in addition to enjoying the falls itself also enjoyed the hike.

I had driven by Calf Creek on the drive to Escalante the night before so knew were it was. I mentioned to George, the manager of the Moqui Motel in Escalante, that I was doing the hike and h said the trail should be snow covered but passable. He also commented on what a beautiful hike it is.

My constant companion is Thule, my 11 year old Australian Shepard. He loves exploring the bushes and trotting down the trail as his own speed. Of course his speed is faster than mine so I often tell him to 'Wait for Me'. I just had to laugh many times seeing him patiently waiting for me to catch up. Then off he'd go again only to have to wait again.

Sometimes the trip is as worthwhile as the destination. while the 6 mile round trip beat me up physically the many stops I made to and fro gave me plenty of time to enjoy the solitude and the beauty.

Visiting these places during winter gives one an experience quite different from what the vast majority of people experience. It's cold and there is snow covering the ground and the bluffs. You share the trail with few people and in my case no one. While it can feel lonely it is also spiritual. I truly love and cherish this kind of experience.

As you can see by these images there ae plenty of sights to see on the trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Capitol Reef

After visiting Little Wild Horse Canyon it was time to move on. Moving on meant going thru Capitol Reef National Park for a second time in as many days. I had been turned back the day before due to ice on the scenic drive.

I got to the park just before sunset and this time the scenic drive was open so I started down the road. But my Add Fuel light was on and I was quite aware of my dwindling supply of gas. I was so taken aback by the enormity of Capitol Reef. I had been here once before and I don't recall this magnificent sight. The cliffs are so huge it is almost impossible to capture in an image. I kept saying 'WOW' as I made my short but memorable drive on the scenic road.

I spend a fair amount of time photographing the Virgin River as it runs thru the park. Water is a constant subject back home in Minnesota and I'm constantly drawn to it. Silky water is the way water should be represented, in my book, as shown in these two images.

I wish I had more time to explore Capitol Reef, and wish I had a better vehicle to do it in. I saw lots of photographic opportunity in the cliffs as well as the intimate landscape. Someday I will return.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Little Wild Horse Canyon

While at Goblin Valley I was looking for other places to explore. I had read about Little Wild Horse Canyon but wasn't sure I would go.

Right outside the entrance to Goblin Valley there's a cattle guard and a dirt road heading off to the left. A funny thing happened to me as we left Goblin Valley, the car made a left turn almost on it's own. I thought how strange that was and we must be going to Little Wild Horse Canyon.

I knew the hike wasn't long, just about 3-4 miles if my memory is correct. The sandy wash approaching the canyon was very cool, lots of photo ops if one has the time (which I didn't). This was the first slot canyon I had explored in decades and I was pretty excited. There were a few spots where scrambling was necessary and Thule freaked a bit. I had to hold him while I scrambled up the rocks otherwise he had a ball.

The slot was quite narrow and slanted so you had to support yourself with a hand, or two, as you made your way thru some sections. It wasn't particular easy to photograph nor was it very interesting, the slot itself.

I did find a bunch of detail that I concentrated on and that is what I'm sharing with you now. The last image is of a crusty old Cottonwood sitting right in the wash. I wasn't able to capture the real character of the tree but thought it was so cool I had to include this picture. Go do the hike and you'll see what I mean about the tree.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Goblin Valley at Night

We left Goblin Valley with the intention of catching sunset and spending the night at Capitol Reef. Once there we found the scenic drive closed due to ice. Didn't know if it would be a good sunset since the sky was clear, ie no clouds. HHMMM what to do?

That question lingered for about a nanosecond, I'm an IT guy professionally, before I decided to turn around and head back to Goblin Valley. No clouds and a close to new moon means great night shooting. After getting back to Goblin Valley and scouting around a little in the dark I found this first group of Goblins. The first image was a straight 30 second exposure with my Sigma 20mm f1.8 lens. The second was still a 30 second exposure but I turned on my lantern for a few seconds to light up the Goblins just a little.

After a couple 30 second exposures I went for a couple half hour ones. Picking different Goblins varied the images a little. The streak of light going off to the right I figure is the space station. I saw it going across the sky when I was shooting and wondered if I had captured it. Airplanes have blinking lights that leave a pattern (and yes there were plane lights in this that I took out).

During these last two exposures there wasn't anything to do but wait. So I sat against a rock and counted meteors, I think about a half dozen. Also during that time I got really cold. I figure the temps were in the low 20s but laying on the ground really sapped my warmth. I wouldn't warm up the rest of the night but I did get these fun images.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Goblin Valley

Thule and I left home at noon on Saturday. I had hoped to leave early, like by 8am, but a package I'd expected to have arrived Friday didn't. So I had to wait till 8am to call the Post Office and see if they had it. Well to make a long story short, I finally tracked down the mailman at a gas station and he had my package and I was ready to leave. We drove all day, and half the night, to North Platte, NE. The next day from North Platte to Green River, UT over the Rockies where it snowed the whole way.

After 2 days of driving it was time to do what we came to do, explore and photograph. My friend Travis had been to Goblin Valley in the spring and after hearing him talk about it I just had to go to. We got to Goblin Valley before sunrise and made a silhouette of these goblins standing tall just outside the valley.

We arrived to an empty parking lot and empty it would stay our entire visit. Thule was in heaven roaming with me thru this wondrous land.

The valley is laid out to the South and the sun rises over some cliffs to the East. Sunlight slowly creeps across the valley warming the land to just above freezing. Capturing sun stars as the sun just breaks over land form adds a bit of magic to the image.

Snow adds a dimension to the valley unseen by most visitors to the park. It accentuates the surface of the land with interesting lines, shapes and patterns.

Thule and I spend 6 hours roaming around the valley, exploring many nooks and crannies. We could have spend more time as there was more to explore. It was special having the valley to ourselves. It certainly adds to the magic when the winds are calm and silence consumed your being.