Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 6 - Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It’s Wednesday, half way thru the trip.  I woke up to a beautiful day.  Jessica was in camp and Travis had left to shoot sunrise at Devils Garden.  When he returned he said he had tried to wake me.  He shook the car then shook me and all I did was grunt and roll over.  I hadn't felt a thing, darn.

We had some coffee and ate breakfast and then we were off.  Travis and Jessica had picked the Zebra and Tunnel slot canyons to visit and I was all for it.  Having come from the cold Midwest, today was going to be a great hike.  The day was absolutely beautiful and the temperature couldn't have been better.

The terrain in this area is quite interesting.  The hills are generally bare and consist of many layers of sandstone.  A few years ago, like 600 to 2000 million years ago, this area hosted warm shallow seas and was located near shore environments.  Slowly this area has undergone an uplift of some 5,000 to 10,000 feet and is where we see it now.  Who knows what it will look like in another 50 million years.  What I do know is the fascination I have with what I see surrounding me.

As we hiked to Zebra slot the lines and shapes and patterns around me really struck me.  It’s fascinating how mother nature bends and twists itself into so many diverse ways. (Am I using the word fascinating to much?)

The entrance to Zebra canyon revealed little of what was to be found further along.  It’s not a long canyon but it quickly narrows and the walls grow tighter and tighter.  It’s hard getting your footing since your shoes are easily wedged in the V shape where the canyon walls meet at your feet.  Unfortunately Travis wasn't able to squeeze thru but I just made it.  After a short ways into the slot area, there was a little opening where you could actually easily stand.  This is a canyon where visitors need to take turns visiting.  There just isn't much room.

I’d seen pictures of Zebra Canyon and what I’d seen didn't look like what I’m seeing.  Further up the canyon though there was a boulder wedged in the canyon and it was clear to go further a little climbing was needed.  I got myself up and over the rock and there it was, the Zebra slot.  It is a very short section, maybe 25 feet long but looked really cool.  I walked to the other end and realized this was as far as I was going so I turned around and began photographing.  Since it’s such a confined space and there were others wanting to get in I didn't photograph as much as I’d like but there was more to see so we moved on.

Normally a visit to Tunnel slot means walking back to Harris Wash and walking up the wash to that canyon.  Jessica and Travis had heard of a different route that took us over the hills and into the back end of Tunnel Canyon.  The main reason for taking this route was to find the Moqui Marbles.

Did we ever find Moqui Marbles.  They were all over the place and were just fascinating.  Most were a dark color and those that had been cracked in half had red sandstone inside like the sandstone all around us.  They are just like black eggs and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  According to Wikipedia, Moqui Marbles are iron oxide concretions which are broken down iron-bearing silicate minerals.

Travis found the way down into the back end of Tunnel Canyon. I’m not sure if it’s actually called Tunnel Canyon but since Tunnel Slot is in the canyon I figured Tunnel Canyon would work.  It was a short distance before we reached the slot and what a surprise we got.  It definitely looked like a tunnel but the full length of the slot had water in it.  What was clear was we weren't going to back track but were going to go thru  it.

What we soon found was this was not a get your feet wet kind of water depth.  It started out being a little more than knee deep, at least for me.  Then it became deeper and it became apparent my iPhone and keys might be getting wet so I stopped to put them in my back pack.  When I pulled my phone from my pocket I heard something splash in the water.  I thought it was my keys but no they were still in my pocket, whew.  I felt around with my feet but couldn't feel anything and the water was to deep for me to reach down plus I had a backpack on my back so I went on.  It turns out the deepest part was at the far end and ended up above my waist.  First time I’d ever been in water like that and made for a memorable time.

Once we got thru the slot we took out shoes off and attempted to dry out a bit before returning to the cars.  It was then that I realized my GPS had fallen into the water.  Figuring it was fried I didn't go back to find it.  

It was a great day of hiking.  Tomorrow we’re planning to hike to the Grand Cathedral out of the Egypt trail head so we headed over there and camped out close by.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 5 - From Farmington to Escalante

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Today is another travel day.  I remember when I lived in Calif. and traveled to Arizona, which I did often, it would take me less than a day.  One trip I met a couple in Monument Valley that traveled 2 full days to get there.  I remember how lucky I was.  Now I’m in their situation.  But I’m not complaining since I really like cross country travel.

I woke up around sunrise.  I decided to bypass sunrise and get up when I get up.  The parking lot was still empty so I had the place to myself.  Yesterday afternoon I’d met a couple what was asking about the hoodoos on the west side of the road.  I’d heard about them but had not seen them.  Since I had some time, and was trying to not be in a hurry, I decided to look for them.  It didn't take long, just a half mile from where I was camping, and there they were.  I got pretty excited with the discovery.  Lots of the cool stuff at Bisti is a few mile walk into the wilderness but this was just off the dirt road.  I grabbed my camera and tripod and began exploring.

True to Bisti form there were lots of photo ops.  I’m not sure how far I got into this area but I know I didn't explore the whole thing.  I just find these places so fascinating.

After a couple of hours I decided to pack up and head to Escalante, Utah where I am meeting up with the newlyweds Travis and Jessica.  We were going to meet at the BLM office in Escalante in the afternoon but I knew I wouldn't make it till after dark.  We decided to meet at a site by Devils Garden just off Hole In The Rock Road.


Having spent much of the previous drive going thru Nebraska and it’s rather featureless landscape the drive from Farmington to Escalante was full of wonderful sights.  Before I’d left Farmington I had eaten so when I went by the turnoff to Four Corners I had to force myself to keep going straight.  You see there is a Navajo Taco vendor there and I would have loved having a Navajo Taco, poor planning on my part.

This route took me thru the eastern part of Glen Canyon Recreation area, thru Hanksville then thru Capitol Reef National Park.  I’d thought of spending a night in Cathedral Valley here but decided to do it another time.


I arrived at the camping site where Travis and Jessica were already setup after dark, 8:30ish.  We talked a while when Travis mentioned going over to Devils Garden for a little moon shine shooting.  At first I didn't want to go but I’m glad I did.  We spent a couple hours over there and finally decided to head back to camp after midnight.

Tomorrow is a hike to Zebra and Tunnel slot canyons.


Friday, April 12, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 4 - To Farmington, and beyond

Monday, March 25, 2013

I woke up this morning to a beautiful sight outside my motel room.  The sun was shining and there was a clean layer of snow on everything.  No matter how long winter has been I always love the sight of falling snow and sunny mornings after a fresh snowfall.  I decided I needed a real breakfast this morning instead of cereal again and found a local restaurant in the middle of Walsenburg.

When I walked in I was greeted by four men sitting at the table in front.  I imagine they regularly meet at the Alpine Rose Cafe for breakfast.  I sat down at the bar and the lady reading the newspaper a few seats down came over and gave me a menu.  It will be bacon, eggs and hot cakes plus coffee, somewhat similar to my favorite breakfast at South of the Border in Grand Marais.


I suspect the lady was also the cook since she disappeared into the back and eventually came out with my breakfast.  She had given me the local newspaper and as I ate I checked out what was happening around Walsenburg.

Alpine Rose Cafe

After breakfast it was time to head west.  I'd decided to take this route, heading west from Walsenburg on US 160, since it took me to Farmington but also passed by Great Sand Dunes National Park.  My thinking was to spend some time at Great Sand Dunes then head to Bisti Wilderness, outside of Farmington,  for late afternoon and sunset.

I got to the turnoff to the dunes made the right turn heading in north in the direction of the dunes.  I'd stopped here twice before but have never actually been out on the dunes.  The problem today was it was noonish which isn't a good time photographically to shoot the dunes.  It's much better morning and evening when the lines made my the sand stand out and create interesting patterns.  I'd driven about a half mile down the road when I decided to abandon this idea and just head to Bisti and I'm glad I did.

The drive to Bisti was uneventful and I arrived in the parking lot about 3 in the afternoon.  Sunset was around 7:30 so I had a few hours to shoot.  There were a few people in the parking lot but they looked like they were leaving.  My original plan was to get to Farmington Sunday night and spend the day at Bisti but that didn't work out.  Now I had the late afternoon, a great time to be there, and I was going to make the best of it.

This was my second time at Bisti.  At first glance the area looks rather dull and uninteresting but once you get about a mile into the wilderness it changes drastically.  Since my time was limited I decided to go to an area where I'd been during the last trip.  It was just a 1 or 2 mile walk from the car and it had some interesting formations.  I loaded up my gear and was off.

Following is a collection of images I made that afternoon and evening.

It was dark then I got back to the car.  The moon was shining brightly which meant I didn't need, nor use, my flashlight.  I've always love walking at night by the light of the moon.  Had I been more adventurous,  having someone with me would have made it fun, I'd have stayed out and done some shooting by the light of the moon.  There is something about moonlight that adds a different character to the scene.

Tonight was going to be my first night camping out on this trip.  By camping out I mean sleeping in the back of my Forrester.  When I went looking for a travel vehicle a few years ago I wanted one that I could stretch out my 6'4" frame in the back and be comfortable.  It took a little customization and the result is quite comfortable.

Tomorrow I'm meeting up with Travis and Jessica who are on their honeymoon.  I'm looking forward to spending a few days with them exploring Utah and some slot canyons.

Good Night.


BTW, when I first viewed the portrait image above on the computer there was movie figure that popped out of the screen.  Do you see what I see?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 3 - A Morning with the Sandhill Cranes

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Morning came early with the anticipation of what might lie ahead.  I was concerned about not hearing my iPhone alarm so I put it on vibrate and put it under my belt against my skin.  This served two purposes, 1) my body would keep it warm and the battery wouldn't die and 2) I would feel the vibration.  Sure enough it worked.

It was cold this morning and the sleeping bag was nice and toasty but once I put my hearing aid in and heard the faint sounds of cranes I was up.  I looked outside and didn't see any cranes, but of course it was still rather dark.  It's not uncommon for the cranes to move during the night and I was afraid they had. As the light on the river increased to my relief I saw the cranes and they were there in large numbers.  

It was clear this morning.  The storm had passed during the night and a sunrise, with the sun, was in store.  It’s hard to explain what the next few hours were like.  The cranes were to far away to make any decent pictures so I spend my time videoing.  I knew there was an excellent chance of getting video of one or more blast-offs.  It's impressive to see on video but mind blowing in person.  The river explodes in sight and sound and the sky fills with noisy cranes.  Take a few minutes and watch how the morning unfolded.

It was a show like I'd never seen before.  There's no need to travel to other countries to see amazing migrations of birds and animals, we have one right in the middle of our country.  Researchers believe from 600,000 to 800,000 cranes use this 80 mile stretch of the Platte River every spring.  That's 80% of the worlds population of Sandhill Cranes.

I had asked the person that took me to the blind to pick me up as early as possible since I was planning to drive to Farmington, New Mexico.  The Rowe Sanctuary is mighty protective of the cranes.  The activities of the sanctuary go out of their way to limit and minimize impact on the roosting cranes.  Their policy is to wait until all of the cranes have left the river before they pick up the people in the photographer blinds.  The cranes were so comfortable in the warm morning sun they didn't want leave.  It was after 10:00 am before enough left for them to come down and get me and there were still a dozen or so that were left.  Funny thing was before we got out of there they were coming back to the river undeterred by out activity.  As we were riding back to my car I learned that the two other groups in blinds downstream were out by 7:30.  The eagles down there spooked them and all of the cranes left.  I consider myself lucky.

I must say I was happy to get out of the blind.  I'd been in there for about 17 hrs, you do get a bucket, and I was anxious to get on the road.  After a little breakfast I was heading west toward New Mexico.  As I passed south of Denver I ran into a snow storm and decided to stop and spend the night in Walsenburg, CO.  

It was another memorable few days with the Sandhill Cranes.  It's now time to explore the wonders of New Mexico and Utah.  I will be returning to the Platte on the way home next Saturday so I see another crane encounter in my future.


Monday, April 8, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 2 - A day on the Plains

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Well the long anticipated day has finally arrived.  For the fourth year in a row I will be spending the night in a photographer blind on the banks of the Platte River with a few thousand Sandhill Cranes.  But first there is the morning group blind to experience.

Taking Flight

One must be at the Rowe Sanctuary visitor center by 6:00 am for the morning blinds adventure, so it’s an early wake-up call.  Actually my iPhone alarm was silenced but my internal alarm was working so I made it just in time.  This morning we went downstream from the visitor center to the East blind.  Slowly we walked down the path none of us could see.  The volunteer guides knew the way and we trusted their guidance.  Reaching the blind we entered and began our wait for the sun to start coming up.

The Dance #1

It was a chilly very overcast morning.  The cranes for the most part were quiet, every once in a while you would hear some talking.  It was impossible to determine how many cranes were actually out there since it was so dark.  As the sun began casting a glow of light across the river we began seeing that we had a nice group of cranes right in front of the blind.  The anticipation of a memorable morning was beginning to build.  People were getting their cameras ready and those with binoculars were looking at the outlines and shapes of the cranes.  As the excitement arose so did the cranes.  Before you could make a decent shot the birds were spooked and they were off, all of them.  There wasn't a crane left.  At that point I was ready to call it a day and head back to the visitor center but we waited just to see if any would come back, which they didn't.  As we gathered outside the blind for the walk back snow started falling.

The Dance #2

I spend most of the day driving around the fields looking for some field action.  It’s hard to catch good images of the birds in the field.  As soon as they see you coming they start walking, and flying if you’re too close, away from the road.  Most of the shots you get are tail feathers.  Once in a while though you get some dancing and with my 100mm-400mm you can pull in some images.

The Dance #3

It was a little after 4:00 pm when I was back at the sanctuary getting ready for my trip out to the overnight blind.  Inside the visitor I found the guy managing the overnighters.  Having been there before I knew the blind I wanted, the one upstream, but it’s always a gamble on who gets which one.  I was happy to find out that a new system was put in place, which worked to my advantage.  Blinds were given out in the order reservations were made.  Since I made the earliest reservation I was able to select my preferred blind.  Twenty minutes later I was at the blind.

It was a blustery snowy day with a brisk wind.  The wind was coming from the north-east right into the windows in the blind.  So for the first few hours I sat there with the windows closed but with the back door open just so I’d be out of the weather.  The sun didn't set until 7:30 or so and the cranes don’t come in until sunset or later so there was plenty of time to kill.

 As night time started taking hold the cranes started flying over.  The mystery is where they are going to land.  I was hoping they would land on my side of the river but that was not to me.  Directly across from me the first few cranes started landing, then more and more and… (well you get the idea).  As you can see this became a video fest.  I have never seen more cranes in one place in my life it was overwhelming.  All I can saw is watch the videos and imaging being under this canopy of flying cranes. It was a show that I will not soon forget.

First to Arrive

They kept coming

And kept coming

And kept coming

Once it got to dark it was time to hit the sack.  Since I was alone in the blind I brought my cot along and did I sleep like a baby.  This is one of the very rare occurrences when being hard of hearing helps.  Once I take my aid out its quiet.


Friday, April 5, 2013

2013 Spring Trip - Day 1 - Driving to Nebraska

Friday, March 22, 2013

Boy it's been a long time since my last blog.  It's not that I haven't been doing any shooting it's just I haven't been doing much.  During this time of the year it's time to head out west which is what I did from March 22 thru March 31.

I left home early in the morning.  For the first time I was going by myself.  My wife Carolyn is still in school, just a few more weeks to go, and my friend Travis, whom I have traveled with the three previous trips had gotten married just two days before, March 20, and he and his wife were a day behind me, we would later meet up in Utah.

For the forth year, the first stop is the Rowe Sanctuary by Kearney Nebraska.  This is the time of year when the Sandhill Cranes, and other bird,  head north to their summer breeding grounds.  The Platte River, in central Nebraska, has long been a refueling stop for the Sandhills with hundreds of thousands passing thru here during a 3 to 4 week period starting in March.

Landing Gear down, prepare to land.

It was a beautiful day as I left Minnesota but I knew a storm was brewing across Nebraska.  It wasn't until I headed west from Des Moines that the sky started clouding up and the further I went west the cloudier it got.  I was rushing to get to the sanctuary by 5:00 pm since I had a reservation in the evening group blind.  Turns out that wasn't a problem and I got there with plenty of time to spare so I spent a little time driving around the fields look for and shooting the cranes.

A long exposure makes ghostly figures except for the one standing still

The central U.S. has long been a great place for the cranes to rest during their migration north.  Before man started taming the wilderness it was said the Platte River was a mile wide and an inch deep.  This along with the spring ice and floods that flowed from the Rockies kept this area free of plants and trees and made for a perfect place for the cranes to roost at night.  The river gives them protection and a warning from predators.  Today with dams in place and the water flow being controlled, the Platte River is much narrower and native vegetation has covered much of the area the cranes need for roosting.  Thanks to the efforts of Rowe Sanctuary, and other organizations, work is done during the summer to keep areas of the river free of vegetation so the craned have a perfect place to roost.

Group landing

The diet of the cranes has changed a bit as well.  Cranes will eat seeds, tubers as well as bugs, mice, snakes and other creatures.  What with the extensive farming in Nebraska the cranes have an abundance of waste corn on which to gain the 20% of their body weight they put on for the continuing trek north.

The afternoon turned quite dark as the clouds thickened and shooting cranes in the fields required hi ISO, large apertures and slower shutter speeds, far from idea conditions (a theme that would follow).  I didn't make many images but it was fun being in Nebraska with the cranes again.

A long exposure turns the cranes in flight into an visual abstract.

We met at the sanctuary, split into our groups and headed out to our blinds.  Our blind was upstream and named Stevie, a very nice blind.  We enter the blinds well before the sun sets and well before the cranes arrive.  I've seen some wonderful sunsets from these blinds but a sunset was not to be this evening.  As the sun set behind the clouds it got quite dark very early.  By the time the cranes started arriving it was almost to dark to photograph.  Those of us that were using tripods and had camera with decent ISO capabilities were able to capture a few images.

The sky fills with cranes

One thing about the weather being like it was, I found myself watching the cranes more so than looking thru a viewfinder.  The number of cranes was astonishing and I believe I was experiencing the peak of the migration this year.

It was a fun and enjoyable evening.  The only thing missing was not having Carolyn there to share the experience with me.