Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Snow in Sedona


"We haven't had this kind of snow in at least 7 years!" remarked a local Sedonaite during a conversation on the suprise snow storm on March 17th. Indeed. It was a bit of a surprise to me too. Kristi and I took the last couple of days of her spring break to explore a bit of unknown areas in and around Sedona, Arizona. We spent the first two days lingering around Oak Creek, and Sycamore Creek working our tans and throwing our dogs into large pools of water. Now we were deep into a wild moist spring storm. I had advance knowledge that we were expecting a storm, but according to NOAA's web site, we were only supposed to get 4 inches- in Flagstaff. Sedona rarely gets snow, so when it started raining late Saturday night I was hardly concerned. We could see the storm blowing in, but we had chosen a nice campsite 9 miles out on Forest Road 525, in a wind shadow of sorts. A huge fire, liquid libation, and dinner mixed with a day of hiking the ruins around Loy Canyon brought heavy sedation to the both of us. So when I awoke around midnight and heard some rain on the roof of the van we knew the storm was upon us. Sleep once again arrested my consciousness. I woke again early the next morning to extreme silence. Warm and cozy in our sleeping bags we were stirred by the dogs anxiously shaking, announcing their full bladders. Sliding the van door opened we began to fully grasp the gravity of the storm. There was 5 inches of snow on the ground, and after stepping out, two inches of mud below that. About 75 feet off the forest service road in an established campsite, we scratched our heads and wondered if we would ever get the van out, and whether or not we had cell phone coverage. Snow was still coming down, blizzard style. With out our habitual morning coffee or breakfast, we decided to leave- if we could. The van started with little issue, and I pulled forward to get a running start and promptly slid into a large bush. Now the wheels were spinning. Kristi started to stress, fearing the worst - A six mile hike to the highway in a snowstorm and a hefty towing bill. I got our spade out and cleared an area of snow around the van, then threw some rocks in with the mud. Rocking back & forth I freed the van, and trying to avoid a large pile of rocks promptly slid into another bush. We decided to spend some more time clearing the remaining 50 feet of snow off the ground all the way to the roadway. I instructed Kristi that she would need to push, since she was not willing to drive backward. I told her I would be pulling forward, then quickly backward to gain enough momentum to drive over the hole I had created with the spinning wheels.
She would need to push once I started backward. It worked, once I was free I gently feathered the accelerator then gunned it once I got momentum. I bumped over the ditch and slammed on the brake as soon as I hit the road. Since the road was on an incline, the rain water shed off, and all I had to deal with was 5 inches of snow. We slipped and slid through wet mud puddles and snow until we hit pavement on Boynton Canyon road. I began to breathe easier now that the threat of sliding into a ditch was less likely. After getting a bit of gas, we made our way to the freeway only to find that the Highway Patrol had closed it. They were making travelers exit, and blocking the entrance to prevent anyone from entering. Even though the van had no heat, we thought we would use the time to play tourist in the snow of Sedona. We drove around to the various sites, capturing the rarity. Getting cold, hungry and jonesing for some coffee, we decided to hang out at a local coffee shop until they opened the freeway. NOAA said the storm was to last until the next day, dumping even more snow in the meantime. We had our laptop, so we started looking at the internet and some prices of a room. Rooms in Sedona are ridiculous, maybe we'll just drive to Cottonwood, we thought. At about 11:30 we checked the Flagstaff paper online- the freeway was open. We took off, and immediately it began to snow even harder. Peering through small gaps between snow on the windshield we crept up the freeway to find a couple of tractor trailers parked side by side, and traffic behind them. Great, no heat and stuck on the freeway behind two trucks sliding backwards on a hill. Impatiently, one car was able to edge along side of them, then another and another. If I had any traction, I was going. We got around the trucks and slowly drove 25mph for the 45 miles home. White knuckles all the way.Believe it or not a 76 VW bus is great in the snow. It not only has high ground clearance, the engine is at the rear over the drive wheels. Backing up through mud and snow is a kin to a front wheeled drive car doing the same forward. Go VW! We got home to 18" of snow and another 8 fell over night.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Yellowstone for Waterfalls

Yellowstone National Park is known for many things, probably most notible, the abundance of wildlife. While there is much opportunity to capture bison, moose, eagles and bears there is a limit to how far from the car you can travel. Especially if you have dogs waiting in the drivers seat for you to come back. Since we were travelling with our dogs, and in a National Park, we could only dayhike, or hike with our dogs on the paved surfaces, according to park policy. As much as I like shooting wildlife, I seem to lack the luck of getting that wild pack of wolves chasing an elk calf, or that bear foraging safely close enough and not interested in me. That's okay with me. Allthough not known for sweeping mountain vistas reflecting off still waters, Yellowstone will not dissapoint a landscape photographer. Our foray into Yellowstone started with pulling into a beautiful little campground right on the Snake River. Snowcapped hills and rushing water flowed just feet from the campsite. So did the mosquitoes. We watched the other campers running from thier vehicles to the bathroom waving thier arms and hands as if to confuse the bugs off thier trail. We spent the afternoon with a map of the park trying how best to see the sights, without backtracking. The weather report called for rain for the next couple of days. Perfect! What am I crazy? No, but overcast skies and rain are perfect conditions for shooting waterfalls. We tracked out a sort of basic outline to hop from falls to falls, and ultimately exiting the park from the north, or Mammouth Hot Springs. Our first stop was my favorite, Moose falls. It was located just inside the park entrance from the Teton side.
If you weren't careful you could easily drive right past it. It indeed was raining, but somehow the light was just right to really bring out the greens in the mosses. With overcast skies, you can leave the shutter open longer, and thus smooth the water out to make a nice silky waterfall picture. The next stop was Lewis Lake. There was a small falls just nearby, but you have to park and crawl below the bridge for a decent view. It was raining really hard at that time, and the composition was a bit flat so we moved on.

Our next stop was out toward the east end of the park. There was not much to see at that end, except a big lake. Which would have been nice, though wet. Instead, we opted for a quick side hike to a natural bridge. I was surprised another little waterfall was flowing just below it. We exchanged greetings with a family of yellow bellied marmots, and returned to the van to our patiently waiting pups. Next stop: the venerable Upper & Lower Yellowstone Falls. It was raining, still.
Lower Yellowstone Falls 2
I blew out the Upper Yellowstone falls, because I couldn't set my tripod up with all the hoards of people. I did have fairly good luck at the Lower falls, as well as Inspiration Point.
Unfortunately, a bear had just attacked a hiker just a few miles away from the area and all the hiking trails were closed, forcing us to move on. Next up was Gibbon Falls. The rain began to let up by this point, which meant that the light would be brighter, and leaving the shutter open would likely blow out the highlights. To solve this I installed a polarizing filter and a netutral density filter. They kind of work like dark sunglasses. I could then leave the shutter open longer, giving the water that silky look.

Alright. You can't not see It. It is really spectacular. Water shooting out of the ground. And on schedule. You can't get that lucky even in bed. The rest of the day we saw the usual boiling cauldrons and exited out the west gate in search of what else; free camping. Somehow we found our selves on a bluff looking down at the border of the park and a large creek surrounded by wild flowers. Not a bad place to chill, kick back some beer and slumber.
Our first stop for the day was gas, ice, beer and groceries. The next stop was a shower. Worth the two bucks, by the way. We did some back-tracking to get to Tower Falls, but oh well. It's only gas, and the destruction of the planet. Tower falls was one of my favorites, and we tried to hike to the base. The trail ended up being closed due to a number of trees that had fallen and made the trail impassable.
Undine Falls
Undine Falls was next on the menu, and also very pretty. It was best seen from the road side pull off and a great place to eat lunch. We got to Mammoth Hot Springs, but it was getting late. If we were to find a free camp spot we would have to leave the park and have time to search out a site. So I took a couple of pics and we cruised down river and out of the park. We found an interesting site over looking a river and an old quarry of sorts. We did return to Mammoth, but that story will have to wait.