Saturday, December 31, 2011

December Trip West - Day 20 - Santa Fe

Headed down to the historic center of Santa Fe about 9:30 this morning.  It was pretty quiet except for the Native Americans sitting literally shoulder to shoulder at the 'Palace of Governors', the oldest U.S. public building still in continuous use.  Under a unique program guaranteeing authenticity of their products Native Americans can be found here 365 days a week from 8:00am till dusk.  A few tourists were milling about looking at the crafts and jewelry for sale.  The rest of the main plaza area was very quiet so Thule and I walked around a bit.

I was specifically looking for Pueblo, adobe, architecture to photograph.  Now, I'll admit this isn't really my strong suit as far as photography and I do admire photographers that can do this well but I try.  The problem was I wasn't seeing anything very compelling.  The first thing that struck me was how commercial it was.  Expensive shops of all sorts lined these historic streets.  I thought there would be more emphasis on the history of the area instead of just casually mentioning it.  I stopped at the visitor information to get a map and some history of the place and was given a chamber of commerce booklet.  There are many preserved buildings whose history would be interesting to know.

After walking some of the neighboring streets we returned to the plaza.  I noticed this smell in the air of Mexican food.  Boy did it make me hungry.  The plaza is surrounded by eateries and since I had Thule I wasn't going to be eating in one.  Then I noticed on a street corner steam rising from a street vendor.  Ah that's where the smell is coming from so I bee-lined it over to the stand and bought a tamale.  They sold fajitas as well but I went with the tamale.  Sure was good so I went back for another.  And to top if off later in the day I had a fajita.  I couldn't think of a better meal.

Around noon time some musicians started arriving and the plaza began taking on a more festive mood.  In addition to the musicians people from all walks of life were milling around.  Santa Fe is really an artist mecca and as such draws a wide variety of people.  Not only was the plaza festive the people watching was outstanding.  What this really reminded me of is a cruise port call.  Locals come out to sell their wares, tourists by the hundreds, maybe thousands, expensive shops, music, etc, etc. Brought back some memories.

About 4:30 I decided to get set up with my room for the night.  As I was leaving I noticed people setting up speakers and others putting out smalls bags of sand with little lights inside.  The must be having a New Years celebration.  We had to return.

When we returned about 5:30 there were speakers talking to the crowd of people.  One person then another.  I wasn't paying any attention figuring is was local politicians opening the night.  Before I knew it someone was singing Auld Lang Syne and the night was over.  It was 6:10pm and everyone started disbursing.  We walked around a little move making a few more images then went back to the Motel 6.  Did I tell you this was a nice Motel 6? 


Tomorrow we take the high road to Taos.


Friday, December 30, 2011

December Trip West - Day 19 - Bosque Del Apache - Santa Fe

Today started out with a big blast and ended with a real dud.

It was back to Bosque Del Apache for the morning Snow Geese 'blast-off'.  Yesterday I barely got there on time today I was really early.  I wanted to get a broad view of the geese so had on my 24-105mm.  The geese were some distance from us and spread out quite a bit so I could get a wide view and still zoom in a little.

It is such a rush when they take flight.  The blast-off starts at one end with a loud racket and quickly spreads to the whole flock.  It's followed by this eerie silence.  I even thought about spending one more night just to see this again but there will be other opportunities in the future.

I decided to head over to the farm area to see if the Snow Geese had landed close to the road.  Upon arriving there was a nice flock not far from the road.  A few years back when I first came to Bosque there was a flock of geese right next to the road.  They would blast off over and over flying back to the same place.  This is something I didn't see 2 years ago but was hoping for it this year.  So I thought this group might provide that spectacle.  As I waited they kept flying away in small groups.  I'd seen this behavior before.  It meant no blast off.  But I did notice a number of large groups off in the distance blasting off over and over.  Hoping that they would eventually work their way over to us I went back to a spot closer to them.

I got my camera ready then had some cereal for breakfast waiting patiently.  While I was waiting the Sandhills were returning to the fields.  There were some good opportunities to shoot them flying overhead.  Eventually my patience wore out and I had to leave.  In the end it was a fun morning.

Last night I decided that I would mix things up a bit and head over to Santa Fe and check out some of the history there.  After a night or two there I'll drive the High Road to Taos and spend a night in Taos before heading home.  Well that's the plan but my plans have changes quickly so we'll see how this one plays out.

On the way to Santa Fe I decided to take in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  Last night I looked Tent Rocks up to get GPS coordinates so my Nav could get me there.  After passing thru Albuquerque I exited I-25 on to US 550.  After 20 miles NM4 headed to the right for the last 26 miles.  Once I reached my destination I knew something was wrong.  This wasn't where Tent Rocks were.  In fact there was a mountain between me and the monument.  It was 3pm and the sun sets a little after 5pm and I was determined to get there.

So after figuring out went wrong I backtracked the 50 miles to the interstate and headed north another 16 miles to the correct off ramp.  Ah. there's a sign pointing to Tent Rocks.  I followed NM22 for about 10 miles to a left turn toward Cochiti Pueblo.  I went thru the pueblo and drove about 5 miles to a remote village.  I knew this was not the way to the monument so I did a quick u-turn.  Well as it turned out there was a sign to the monument just after entering Cochiti Pueblo that I'd missed.  Finally I'd found it but when I drove up to the entrance it was closed.  I'd been thinking of heading over there in the morning since it is just 40 miles from the Motel 6.  What I wasn't expecting was the big 'NO DOGS' sign.  Sure enough no dogs are allowed in the monument.  Their site mentions some sort of human safety concern.  HMMM, that's weird.  Guess what I won't be doing tomorrow and no pictures, sorry.

San Ysidro Catholic Church

So it was off to Santa Fe and the Motel 6 and what a nice Motel 6 this is.  Tomorrow Thule and I will be walking the streets of old Santa Fe.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

December Trip West - Day 18 - Bosque Del Apache - VLA

This morning started early with the alarm going off at 5:30am, there was a blast-off to shoot.  Normally photographers will get up 2 hrs before the sun rises to catch the early morning rays of sunshine.  But at Bosque you rise early to see a few thousand Snow Geese take flight virtually all at once.

Individual or small groups of Snow Geese will take off and fly away until something triggers all of them and they all take off and head for the fields.  The blast-off is a noisy affair with birds covering the sky.   What was once a noisy carpet of white Snow Geese there is left an empty, well not really the Sandhill Cranes remain, silent, except for the Sandhill Cranes squawk, area of pond water.  In a matter of seconds the sight most everyone came to see is over and most everyone head for their cars.

After the exciting blast-off I like hanging around watching the Sandhill Cranes slowly wake up and go for their morning walks.  They will line up in groups from 2 to 10 and slowly walk across the pond.  Then something triggers them and they fly away.  Unlike the Snow Geese, that leave all at once, the Sandhill Cranes leave in small groups.  Eventually they are gone as well and the morning show is complete.


When I was at Canyonlands photographing Mesa Arch I met Markus, from Germany.  He said they were heading to Socorro to visit the Very Large Array (VLA).  I'd known the VLA was in the area but had never looked it up.  I mentioned Bosque Del Apache to him.  He hadn't heard of that and said he'd check it out.  Well after Markus mentioned the VLA I decided to check it out.

It's about 50 miles from Socorro on the Plains of San Agustin.  The VLA is a configuration of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration making it one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories.  These dishes weigh 210 tons and are huge, 82 ft in diameter.  You could fit a baseball diamond within one.  The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna from a little over .5 miles to over 22 miles.  The antenna on each of the 3 legs can be spread out across 13 miles, I guess it's very large.  The configuration I saw, the D configuration is the most compact of the options.

Visitors can take a self guided walk that included standing at the base of one of these giants.  This radio telescope operates 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week, unaffected by the sun or cloud cover.  While under the dish you can hear and see it move.  When one moves they all move.  It's interesting seeing this 210 ton instrument making very small and precise movements. Notice how the position changed in the previous images over the course of 1 1/4 hrs.

After visiting the VLA it was back to Bosque.  They had closed the southern loop road due to the terribly muddy conditions.  When I drove it yesterday I was thinking cars could get stuck in this mess.  But I was interested in the farm loop since the birds hang out in the farm area during the day.  Traffic was rather heavy but finally I made it.

Sure enough there was a large group of Snow Geese, and of course Sandhill Cranes, looking for food and flying in and out.  Lots of good flying photo ops and I took advantage of the opportunity.

Soon time came to head over to one of the main ponds and watch the birds come in for the night.  First the Sandhills start arriving they same way they left, a few at a time.  Then the Snow Geese start arriving in much larger groups.  They don't arrive all together like they leave but the groups they arrive in can be rather large.

Tomorrow morning it will be an early rise again for the blast off.


December Trip West - Day 17 - White Sands - Bosque Del Apache

Sunrise today is a little after 7am but White Sands doesn't open till 7:00.  I figured I'd get there at 6:30 and wait till the gates open and get in as soon as possible.  It was 6:35 when I arrived and sure enough the gate was open and I was able to enter.  I thought of asking the Ranger what time he'd be there the following morning but I'd already entered the monument.

Looked like I was the first one in.  The sky was getting bright but we still had a while to get setup before the sunrise.  Besides photography starts before the sun rises and lasts after the sun sets.  There is always the pink of the illuminated sky contrasting with the blue of the earths shadow opposite of the sun to enjoy.

We walked around a bit, setup a few shots and found a place to shoot the first rays of sunshine.  Again I was feeling a lack of inspiration.  I saw people streaming in, snow was everywhere, cloudless sky and still no ripples in the sand.  So about a half hour after sunrise we went back to the car and headed out.  Instead of the three days at White Sands I decided to cut it to just one night and move on to Bosque Del Apache.  I knew what to expect at Bosque, or so I thought.


Along the way to Bosque we pass Valley of Fire Recreational Area outside of Carrizozo, New Mexico.  This part of the long Tularosa Valley contains many square miles of buckled, twisted basalt lava, part of an extensive flow up to 165 feet thick and over 45 miles long that originated from several nearby volcanoes, including one vent now known as Little Black Peak, a few miles away.  Also along the way is the Trinity site.  On July 16, 1945 the world changed forever with the explosion of the first atomic bomb.  Visitation to the site is restricted to just 2 days a year and some year I'd like to attend.


The trip to Bosque Del Apache was uneventful.  I pulled in early afternoon and was surprised to see all the snow, I know I shouldn't have been surprised, as well as the frozen ponds.  The birds roost at night on open water and there wasn't much open water to be found.  

As sunset approached I drove around the loops looking for a place where the birds might congregate.  There were alot of cars around the viewing platform, a place that has not had the best viewing in my two previous trips, so I moved on.  I ended up shooting at a location on the Farm Road and fortunately we had a few clouds the sun could paint orange at the end of the day.


As I was exiting the reserve I saw why all of the people, and even more, had gathered in that area.  Lots of Snow Geese were roosting there.  Now I know where I'm going tomorrow morning and tomorrow evening.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December Trip West - Day 16 - White Sands

It's Tuesday December 27, Happy Birthday Kaylee.  It sure was nice seeing my family again and giving them and Carolyn a chance to get to know each other.  We had such a wonderful time.

Yesterday I took Carolyn to the airport for her safe flight home and after letting her off I was back on the road.  I had over 800 miles to Alamogordo and knew I'd be stopping somewhere along the way.  That somewhere turned out to be North Tucson, back in a Motel 6 right next to railroad tracks.  I could even hear the trains blasting their horns without my aids so it was quite loud.

I got to White Sands well before sunset and headed out to scout locations for my next three days of shooting.  It had been snowing in the area and there was quite a bit of snow still on the sand dunes.  It was virtually impossible making an image without snow showing somewhere.  Thule and I walked around a bit as sunset approached.  Fortunately there was a hint of color behind the mountains as the sun set.

I noticed there were quite a few people at White Sands, more than I remember from my first trip.  As I was setting up for sunset I had to be aware of the others enjoying the sunset as well from dune tops.  Some no doubt made it into my images.

Another thing I noticed was the lack of ripples in the sand.  The fall and winter storms had really flattened out the sand.  I had imagined using the ripples in my compositions but there really wasn't any to be found.

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed.  I'd really looked forward to spending 3 days here but I'm not off to a great start.  I'd reserved a room for three days but when I checked in I just paid for two.  We'll see what tomorrow brings with sunrise.  I can always add the other day back in if things go well.


December Trip West - Day 11 - Lone Pine, Fossil Falls


Last night I decided to leave Death Valley and head to Lone Pine and do sunrise in the Alabama Hills.  I'd shot in the Alabama Hills once before a few years ago with my brother Ralph on one of his Eastern Sierra workshops.  Many movies have been made in these hills and you have a wonderful view of Mt Whitney rising above all other peaks in the Sierra Nevadas, and the lower 48 states.

I've been staying in Motel 6es for two reason, cost and they are pet friendly.  But Lone Pine doesn't have a Motel 6 so I stayed in the Comfort Inn.  When I opened the door to my room it almost blew me over with pictures on the walls, a nice chair with ottoman, desk and exec chair.  Pretty fancy.  Another thing they have is a continental breakfast.  I had planned to get to my shooting location an hour before the 7:05am sunrise.  But breakfast was being served at 6:00am so I decided to stop off there "quickly".  French waffles, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, etc, well it took me longer than I'd planned.

Once I did hit the road it only takes 10-15 to get to the shooting spot.  I found a location and watched the alpenglow light up the mountains.  Alpenglow is the illumination of high mountains before the sunlight actually his them.  This is the second time I've knowingly seen it.


After an hour or so of shooting, until the light got really flat, I headed back to the hotel, packed up and headed south.  Ralph had told be about Fossil Falls which was just off the highway.  I had time so I stopped.  The Owens Valley is home to ancient volcanic activity.  Fossil Falls is a lava field thru which the Owens River flowed.  The river doesn't flow any more but it's obvious looking at the falls torrents of water flowed over the 40 ft high fall.  The lava has been polished and carved into interesting shapes.  It would be fun to shoot there on an overcast day to even the light out.  A clear blue day such as today is just to contrasty.

As I was leaving Fossil Falls I accelerated to get into traffic when my Check Engine light came on.  This happened a few months ago and it turned out to be a bad oxygen sensor, that took a week to get in stock.  The car ran fine and after the previous experience I didn't worry much.  But when the Check Engine light comes on the cruise control is disabled.  I have a very difficult time driving long distances without cruise control and the nearest Subaru dealer was over 100 miles away.  When I finally did get to the Subaru dealer it turned out to be a software problem which they were able to fix on the spot.  Was that ever a relief. 

From there is was a few more hours and I was at my brothers house ready to spend Christmas with my girl and my family.


December Trip West - Day 10 - Death Valley

Yesterday ran in to today.  I ended up sleeping in the car, in the drivers seat of the car.  The plan was to go back and get the camera around midnight then take it back out for moonrise.  Well when it came time to get the camera I was just to cold plus I'd been sleeping anyway.  So I decided to wait till moonrise and just replace the battery for the sunrise sequence.  I almost didn't go change the battery cause I was just to cold, temp was 26.  26 isn't that cold if you're dresses for it which I wasn't and I was to cold to get dresses for it.  The one thing I did know is a mile and a half walk would warm be a little so around 3am I headed out.

Being the brave soul I try to be I opened the car door and shook off the cold and began my walk.  On the way out I was wondering how long it would take them to find my frozen body on the playa, did I say I was cold.  Again I followed my GPS right to my camera, I never would have found it without that.  I quickly switched batteries, change the exposure to 30 sec, f4, ISO 6400 and headed back to the car.

It was well before sunrise when another photographer arrived.  I'd seen him coming and was rather surprised to see someone that early.  He got there a good hr before he could start shooting and the road takes an hour or more to drive.  At any rate once I got back to the car I ran it for about 15 minutes to warm the inside a little, tilted back the front seat and dozed off again.

Before I knew it it was time to head back out on the playa for the last time.  I got out to my camera and finally had the opportunity to check the star trails.  Remember I said I frequently run into problems.  Well when I put one of the heating pads on I moved the camera.  The composition I'd setup moved and cut in half of my foreground rock.  Looks like the star trails came out really cool but the rock was screwed up.  Oh well better luck next time.  I think the Mesa Arch star trail turned out though.

I stayed an extra hour or so shooting star bursts.  I was able to get 5, I think, star burst compositions thanks to the ragged mountain the sun was rising above.  At the other end of the playa is a monolith called the Grandstand that I had to walk around on my way out.

Also on my way out, it's actually at the start of the dirt road to Racetrack is the Ubehebe Crater.  I did stop and have a look.  It's a half mile across and 500ft deep.  There's a trail that leads to the bottom, a steep trail.  I went down the trail a ways then was reminded of the thought that once you go down you must come back up.  I decided to swallow my pride and make a hasty u-turn, besides I didn't see anyone else down there either.  The crater was a cool stop.  I'd have liked to spend more time but I had to get to the sand dunes, tonight's sunset location.

We pulled into Stovepipe Wells and paid for a night of camping before heading over to the dunes.  The plan was to shoot the dunes at sunset tonight and sunrise tomorrow.  It was about 3:00 PM, sun sets around 5:00 so it was time to head over to them.  Ralph told me how to get around the public entrance and increase my chance of finding dunes with no footprints.

It was about a mile walk into the dunes, an easy walk.  I got there and started looking around for inspiration.  I tried a few things but nothing really clicked.  A few ideas were spoiled with foot prints.  Maybe I could isolate something with my longer lens so tried that.  I made a few images that have some potential but in the end I found the dunes uninspiring.  That coupled with my plans to spend 3 days at White Sands resulted in a change of plans.  Instead of staying in Death Valley tonight I drove to Lone Pine in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Tomorrow I'll be shooting sunrise in the Alabama Hills.

After shooting the Alabama Hills I'll be heading to southern California to be with my brothers and their families for Christmas.  On Friday Carolyn will be flying in and I'll finally be able to see her again.  Life is Good.  On Monday December 26 I will leave California and head toward New Mexico where the photography part of the trip will continue.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December Trip West - Day 9 - Death Valley


Spend the night in Beatty Nevada, the gateway to Death Valley.  Since sunrise is like 6:40 and I wanted to give myself 2 hrs to get to Badwater it meant I was going to rise really early and I almost didn't hear the alarm.  I wear hearing aids and have a bluetooth device that links my iPhone to my hearing aids. When they are linked whatever sound the iPhone makes it gets rerouted to my hearing aids.  I'd forgotten to unlink the two before going to bed so when the alarm on the iPhone went off it squawked once on the iPhone speaker then switched over to my aids, which I don't sleep with.  Thankfully I heard that one squawk.

Anyway I was up, got Thule in the car, stopped for a "free" coffee and hit the road.  We got to Badwater well before sunrise.  There was already one photographer parked in the parking lot and out on the basin.  I took my brothers advice and drove around the bend and walked out about 3.4 mile from there.  I must admit I wasn't sure what I was going to be seeing out there.  I've seen different formations in Death Valley but wasn't sure what this one was, all I know was my brother said this was a sunrise you must do.


Well Badwater is Bad, I mean BAD.  I've seen some amazing things on this trip and this ranks right up there with the best.  It's all salt formations out there.  I tasted it and you could season your food with it.  If you were to stop at Badwater and walk out as far as most people walk you would have no idea what Badwater was all about.  You have to walk way out beyond where most people go, to where the photographers go, to really see it's grandeur.


After a couple of hours I went back to the car and Thule and we both had breakfast.  It was time for the second adventure of the day.

Devils Golf Course

Ever since seeing the rocks at Racetrack I've wanted to go see these marvels but I'd always heard warnings that the road out there eats tires, lots of flats.  The recommendation is 4x4, high clearance and all terrain tires.  Of the three all terrain tires are the most important.  So since I wanted to go to the Racetrack and my Forester had all seasons on them I needed all terrains and get all terrains I did.  I knew they would be useful beyond the Racetrack but it was the Racetrack that was the real reason for getting them.

I was pretty paranoid when I got on the 27 mile road, driving maybe 10 mph.  A number of people were passing me by but I was determined to make it without getting a flat.  After about 2 1/2 hours I finally arrived with about an hour left before sunset.  I had to remember sunset has a different meaning in mountainous areas.  Sunset is when the sun goes behind the mountain.  There were a number of people out on the playa where the rocks are to be found, about .6 miles from the parking area.  I started on my little trek to join them.

Tea Kettle Junction
What you see is mind boggling how these sometimes large rocks move from this one hill out on to the playa then move in all sorts of different directions.  Scientists only guess how they move which I thought was strange.  I'd think they would have figured it out by now.  One of the strange things is you see alot of trails but the rock that made them is missing.  I guess people have been removing them for some strange reason.  I can only imagine what this playa looked like before all of the rocks were removed by ignorant people.

I had been planning all along to spend the night out at Racetrack and make a star trail image.  While out there shooting I was looking for places that I'd want to use as a foreground.  When I found that location I marked it as a waypoint on my GPS then headed back to the car to feed Thule. 

Once it got dark and all of the others were gone I went back to my spot and set up my night shot.  I was going to do some light painting on the tracks but that turned out to be harder than I though so I played around making images of different light patterns.  My thought was the ground would be virtually black during the star trail shot and I could use whatever foreground light painting I wanted. 

I finished up the light painting then setup for the star trail.  I was going to make consecutive 15 minute images until the battery ran out.  The exposure was 15 min at f4 and ISO 400.  All was setup and I got the process going.  As I was walking back to my car I noticed I could see my breath.  I hadn't put a heating pad around the lens and decided I needed to do that so went back.  It's a good thing I went back since my ISO was still at 6400.  I do 30 sec exposures at ISO 6400 to setup the composition then change all the numbers when making the final exposures.  Well I'd forgotten to set the ISO to 400.  While I was at it I also decided to try my experiment of putting a heating pad on the battery as well.  It's about 7:00pm by now and the temp is about 32 so back to the car I went.