Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Moods of Mono

In late October I spent a week and a half in the Eastern Sierras.  I went for a couple of reasons. The first was to attend a Jack Graham/Guy Tal workshop. The second was to spend some time alone revisiting some of my favorite areas. Mono Lake was one of my favorite muses. It's one of those places where the light changes from minute to minute always offering a unique perspective. I returned for sunset and sunrise day after day to feel the lake's moods. Mono Lake is famous for it's tufa columns.  Made from a variety of limestone, tufas are precipitated when carbonate rich source waters emerge into alkaline soda lakes. Emanating from under water springs, tufas build up a travertine stalagmite type column.

The salts and minerals in the water combined with no natural outlet to the lake preclude fish from living there, yet has created another ecosystem entirely.  Brine shrimp are the only animals that can live in these waters, and every year serve the local bird population that feed on them. As you can see in the second image, brine or alkali flies also live along the shores, and the larvae has sustained the native Kutzadida'a people over the years.  That's what those little black dots are, here in the second image.  Throughout this trip the moon played a major role in my photography, both as a subject and a light source. If the moon was low in the sky, it would be included in the composition. If it was high in the sky is served as a large reflector, as you can see here in the first image.  This image was taken at about quarter after five at what is called South Tufa.  Sleep played a minor role in this trip, and revolved around the moon's position and it's moods. 

The third image here was made from the road on the west side of the lake. I was sitting in Lee Vining waiting for the workshop to begin when I noticed the moon rising through the trees. I quickly rushed down the hill, past the visitors center then pulled over at a wide spot on the shoulder. I got off a few shots before the moon rose too high, and out of the frame. Plus the moon is at it's largest the lower in the sky it is due to the refraction of the earth's atmosphere. Capturing the moon can be difficult if the dynamic range of the scene is too great. If it rises and it's after dark already, chances are you'll either have an exposed moon and underexposed foreground, or a bright dot in an otherwise exposed foreground. The best bet is if the moon is rising just as the sun is setting, when the scene is still lit from the glow of the atmosphere.  Here, also you can see the shadow of the earth just above the horizon, trying to catch up with the moon.  In order to provide water for the city of Los Angeles the tributaries to Mono Lake had been diverted, effectively draining the lake as the rate of evaporation had exceeded the inflow to the lake. Conservation efforts to reverse this trend succeeded in 1994 when California State Water Resources Control Board issued an order to protect Mono Lake and its tributary streams.  The water level has slowly risen to pre-1940 levels, but has slowed recently as a result of the current drought throughout the West.  Before human history water levels used to be at the top of the tufas, which is what allowed the carbonate to flow upward and stack into travertine columns.  Now you can walk on around and below the towers like some prehistoric petrified forest, opening it up for a myriad of photographic possibilities. In one shot I used two opposing light sources to light paint the columns and exposed for the stars.  I got this last shot just before the moon rose, again with some light painting.

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, December 2, 2013

Red Mountain Fog

Traditionally Kristi and I have been finding a place to hike on the morning of Thanksgiving day.  We get up early and hike until about noon, then meet with my parents for the holiday family dinner.  We decided to return to one of my favorite wild places near home, Red Mountain. Taking 180 out of town, past the Snowbowl and Nordic Centers, you pass through Kendrick Park and make your way down the hill on the other side. There is a sign pointing to a dirt (or mud) road. Depending how muddy or snowy or frozen it is, you can park near the highway, or continue a half mile to the designated parking area. Shortly before we approached the turn off we began entering a large fog bank.  From clear blue skies to dense fog in less than a mile. 

Fog is a rare occurrence around these parts, so I was excited to experience Red Mountain under these conditions.  A large cinder hill rich in iron oxide has eroded away from the center creating strange conical towers of rusty rock. I have been here before in winter and really liked the contrast of white snow against red cones.  A result of the snow melt, frozen waterfalls drip down each crevasse.  Pine and juniper trees stand frozen in hoar frost. Six inches of snow crunch under our feet as we made the mile and a half approach.  We arrived in total amazement, the sun started shining through the dissipating fog illuminating the back wall and revealing blue sky.

I shot for an hour and a half trying to catch the fleeting light.   Eventually the fog began to settle in heavily, then rise up creating a rather overcast scene. It was time to leave, and soon we drove back into warm blue skies. It had turned out to be one of those perfect holidays to look back on.  A nice hike, a loving girl friend, a walk with our dog, a photographic foray, and a fine family dinner. Among those other things, I was very thankful to have experienced a rare and fleeting moment of light. It's nice to have a day to be thankful for.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

They Can't Close the Grand Canyon

While the big children in Washington are still learning how to behave in the sand box, the National Parks have been taken hostage in a spiteful battle against a national health care system. Despite what the Federal Government would have you believe, they don't own and can't close the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon's borders are shared by the Havasupai, Hualapai, and Navajo tribes, as well as the Kaibab National Forest. Those lands are still open and can be visited, though not as convenient as the Park itself.  Hiking, backpacking and camping are permitted on the Havasupai Indian reservation.  Reservations are required, but this time of year you have a good chance at getting in.  Though not recommended, you can hike down there without a reservation, pay a little more, and not be turned away. Just so long as you can find a place to put your tent. I know from experience, as I did that a few years ago.   The Hualapai has the famed, and oft criticized Grand Canyon Skywalk.  This new attraction was built with the partnership between Steve Winn and the tribe.  They installed a giant glass horseshoe walkway that cantilevers over their portion of the Grand Canyon. 
If that thing isn't your style the Kaibab National Forest maintains a large portion of the north rim.  Called the Rainbow rim you can follow forest service roads to five unique 'points.' Parissawampitts, Fence, Locust, Timp and North Timp points offer grand views of  features such as Powell Plateau, Steamboat Mountain, Tapeats Amphitheater and Great Thumb Mesas. The best part of the rainbow rim is the trail that was constructed to connect each point.  At eighteen miles long you can't possibly see the whole thing in a day, so plan your visit over at least a few days.  I've parked in the middle and biked each half in a couple of days.  Be warned, though there is no water, restrooms or any services for about 22 miles to the Kaibab Lodge. Fire Point is one of those epic sunset points that's popular and if you are really lucky you can pitch a tent in one of only two spots right there on the rim. To get to Parissawampitts view point from Hwy 67 turn right on FR 22 for 10.5 miles to FR 206. Turn left and continue on FR 206 for 3.5 miles and turn right on FR 214 and follow it for 8 miles.  Its pretty easy to figure out the rest of the view points, but if there were a fallen tree in the road and you don't have a chain saw you'd be much happier if you had a forest service map, available at most local sporting goods stores. I know by experience on that one as well.   
There is one point inside the park that can be accessed via a forest service road and a short hike, and probably one of the most iconic formations, Imperial Point.  Again, get the forest service map. The road ends at the park boundary, that's where you hike through the ponderosa pine forest, through a burn area, to the parking area of Imperial Point.  Be careful to stay away from any buzzing logs.  It's probably got a nest of Africanized honey bees.  Yes I know that from experience, too. (Run!)   If you are at the south rim and just can't find the extra days to get to the north rim (yes 5 hours) you can still get your Grand Canyon fix at the east rim.  Take Hwy 89a north out of Flagstaff, and follow the signs from Cameron to the Canyon.  Shortly before the park entrance to Desert View you can catch some unimproved roads. This area lies in the Navajo Reservation, and as a general rule, more adventurous.   I can't guarantee you'll be able to make it to the rim, but don't worry they'll be plenty of view to see.  Hopefully by the time you are reading this the jack wagons that we put in  the ivory tower will have had some sense knocked into them and end this petty bickering at the expense of their constituents.  Especially because I'll be around Yosemite at the end of the month. But I'm not going hold my breath.  For more information, and personal accounts of all the once in a lifetime vacations that have been ruined see the Arizona Daily Sun article :Park Visitors, businesses most affected by government shutdown.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Kanarra Creek Canyon

For my Birthday, Kristi gave me tickets to renowned Utah's Shakespeare Festival. It's a repertory theatre in Cedar City hosted by Southern Utah University.  They perform both secular and non secular plays through out the summer season. Boasting both an indoor and outdoor Shakespearen theatre, as well as a separate theatre. It allows them to rotate shows in such a way you can see four shows in a weekend. The beauty of Cedar City is where it lies. Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument,  Bryce National Park, Dixie National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land surround the town.  I like to speak to the locals about nearby hikes and attractions that may fall below the radar.  The University art gallery had a photo of Kanarra Creek and some falls, which turned out to be close to town, just outside Zion National Park.  The creek is located in the hills above the little town of Kanarraville right off of I-15.

The trail starts at the parking lot, and has a $10 fee to maintain bathrooms and trail, as well as the ladders over the falls. The trail starts off for the first mile rather exposed but soon reaches the creek. The second three quarters of a mile are walking through the creek, and into the narrows.  The onset of the narrows offered a precarious maple growing out of the canyon wall about 30 feet up.  Really makes you appreciate the delicacy of life.  A short wade brings you to the first falls.  I'm not sure whether or not nature was responsible for leaning the giant log against the falls, but the stewards definitely welded a nice ladder along the length of it.  The next half mile offers a slightly wider portion of the canyon as well as a couple of other smaller but nice falls.  The canyon narrows again to the largest falls yet.  There used to be a ladder up this falls as well, but a recent flood reduced it to toothpicks.   Here's were we stopped. Had we had the determination we could have climbed up a couple of ropes, but you'd get soaked to do it.  Now had I carried my pelican case I may have attempted it, but a simple backpack is all I had to protect my camera, so I opted to err on the side of caution and just take images of the falls. There is a nice description of the trail and canyon on a great website

We made two trips here, the first being on Saturday.   Although this canyon may not be widely known, it was definitely not a secret.  When we arrived we were pleased to find only a handful of cars in the lot. Within an hour the canyon began to fill up with people. They came streaming in by the tens, then twenties. Soon there must have been fifty or sixty people.  I was posed at the first falls thinking I could wait it out. A person asked how the photos were coming, and I made a comment on all the people. He said I'd be waiting a while as this was a 'ward' function. Well if you know anything about Utah, when there is a 'ward' function they don't come two by two, the come in ten by ten. We bailed.  I wasn't even remotely done exploring this cool canyon, so we decided to come back on Sunday morning, early. This plan worked out better, and I felt I had the time I needed, without the hoards.

If you go, try to do an early mid week trip. As mid day approached, the canyon offered some interesting light reflecting off the walls. I took advantage of capturing that with a long exposure for the water. One issue I was trying to avoid was the wide angle ghosting you get when glare from the sky washes out the top of the frame. A lens hood is helpful but wasn't enough. I used instead the shade from the canyon walls, and the bill of my ball cap to cut the glare. An umbrella could have helped more, but I still got favorable results.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Remembering Havasupai and The Zen of it.

This last May I was preparing for a show at a local gallery, and chewing the fat with one of the employees there that I've know now for a few years. A really cool guy, with a lot of the same interest in the outdoors, backpacking, canoeing and hiking. We both had been to Havasupai in the Grand Canyon and were speaking of our adventures there. Then he mentioned that he had made 20 reservations for the end of the month and only 7 people confirmed to go. It had been about 8 years, and my images from the last time really didn't survive into our current digital era. All my digital gear and experience led up to this moment. I said "I'm ready." You may have read my earlier essay about my third experience in Havasupai, being a paradise lost: Grand Canyon's Havasupai- The Trouble with Paradise. This trip would be much the same, but this time I'd be determined to get into the Zen of it. The weather was looking nice with only a chance of rain. The temperatures were to be a bearable 93 degrees at the bottom, and the reservation was for a Wednesday, so parking at the hilltop the night before might be possible. Kristi would decide to stay home and tend to the dogs. It was shaping up to be a fine trip. I had finished packing the weekend before, and including the food, a 5th of tequila, 3 liters of water, a tent, sleeping bag, hammock, and my camera gear I weighed in at 60 pounds. Oh, no. That wouldn't work. I dumped out everything and started over. I shed everything but the bare essentials. Well not really. I still carried everything I listed above, but some how was able to get the pack down to 55 pounds. As a 5'9" 185 pound guy, I knew that would be my limit for a ten mile hike. Food for 5 days was unpacked and resealed in seal-a-meal portions, the tequila in a new camelpack style container. It must have been hubris, but I actually chose to backpack the trip as if I were going into the wilderness. Plus I had to hang with the 30 somethings I was hiking with. I came to find out that they were carrying packs in the range of 35-40 pounds, most of which was top ramen and liters of vodka and cranberry. They were a bit jealous of my tacos, backpacker eggs, and sloppy joes with mac and cheese, all dehydrated from the natural food store. The tequila mixed with lemon-lime Emergen-C was the pièce de résistance- a margarita style liquid libation. The camera gear consisted of my Pentax K5, two pancake lenses (15mm Ltd, 21 Ltd) a weather sealed 50-200mm compact zoom, and a very small 4 section carbon fiber tripod with a really small modified ball head from Promaster. Two batteries, a couple of filters and a small remote shutter release topped off at just over 8 pounds. Not exactly GoLite. I really couldn't have done this without the two hiking poles. I learned early on that backpacking without the poles was just plain masochistic. The atmosphere started out light at the hilltop parking lot. I got there a bit early, much before sundown. We were to rendezvous that evening, then hike down starting at 5 am to beat the heat, as they say. I brought some dinner and beer in a cooler, backed up to the edge of the canyon dropped my tailgate and truly enjoyed myself watching the sunset.

The Two Sisters

We got up a little late the next morning but shortly before sunrise we were bouncing happily down the trail making small talk and exchanging gossip. We stopped and rested at the usual shady narrow spot to munch on trail mix, just as the sun was making its way to the bottom of the canyon.   Arriving at the little village brought back memories that were surprisingly buried for some time. I had forgotten about the Two Sisters rock formations. Legend says that when the two rocks fall from their pillars, the Havasupai would have to leave the canyon (never mind the government). A new general store had just opened, complete with ice cream and soda coolers. The properties looked quite a bit better maintained, and some nice new buildings had been built next to the chapter house. It was about noon when we checked in at the tourist office, and hot. Now I live at 7000 feet and rarely am subjected to temperatures over 85. By the time I hiked the two miles in sand to the campground I was pretty burnt. My friends forged on to find a campsite, where I stopped at the creek to cool off. I wasn't concerned. I ditched my pack and found them about a half an hour later. I returned to where I had left my pack to find a squirrel trying to chew through to my trail mix. We were both agitated to see one another and exchanged expletives. Settling into camp, and me into my hammock we were to wait out the hottest part of the day. I let my friends know that I was there to experience the canyon and falls with my camera, and not be concerned if I disappeared. What they didn't know was I wanted time to be away. Away from the chatter, away from expectation. I was there to be close to the earth and be in the Zen of it.  Careful to stay away from the mine shafts (literally and figuratively), I began to re-familiarize myself with the canyon and the falls. I had not been here this early in the season before and was happy to find spring flowers blooming on the trees, and at the base of the Havasu falls. The flowers filled the canyon with a sweet smell that lifted my spirit. I was free to explore at my leisure all the nooks and crannies, light and angles that I might use for compositions.

Now this had been my fourth time visiting Havasupai, but my first time actually taking the time to get into the Zen of it. Previously, I always moving, hiking to the next destination, never stopping to turn over a stone or smell a flower. This time I was there to take the time to experience it on my terms. Sitting, noticing, smelling, feeling, hearing. This time I wasn't just a tourist snapping shots like a sub-machine gun. I would be thoughtful and contemplative. I would watch the light, and see how it made its way across the canyon walls. I would see the brilliant reflections off the blue-green water. I would watch the clouds move across the canyon diffusing the light in some areas, and brightly reflecting it in others. I would feel the little fishes nibbling on my toes, and hear the buzz of mosquitoes by my ear. I was there to hear the din of rushing water slamming into the large pools, drowning out the thoughts of society just a days away.  All that stuff will be there when I get back.  What I needed was to immerse into the surroundings. And, of course swim.  Jump into the large blue cool water. Feel the spray of the waterfalls. Feel the chill of the depths, and the warmth of the sun on by back. Feel the grit of sand between my toes.  Most of all I was there to remember.  A funny thing about memory. This had been my fourth time here, yet it felt almost like the first.  No not like the first time I had been here, but like it was my first time here. My memory seemed almost wiped clean from the first three visits.  Everything was familiar, yet new.  It was almost like seeing a photograph of an area, then visiting it afterword.  My previous memories were no more real than had I seen the picture, and remembered it once I got there.  An interesting thing about memory and photographs.  It is widely known that photography serves not only as art, but as a documentary form of remembering. Think back of when you were a child.  Do you remember the moment that was captured, or do you remember the photograph of you that was captured?  I can remember the photos taken of me as a child, but can scarcely remember the moment I was living when it was captured.  With all the visits here I had only a handful of photos, all taken with film.  My film archive was horribly taken care of, and of the ones I still had, most could barely make snapshot status.  My memories were just as poorly tended. I could remember the experiences, but not the feel, the light, the sound or the smell.  Was it my memory that was failing?  Or was it the inevitable result of our short term memory challenged 20 minute attention span that was at fault.  Perhaps it is a sign of maturity, or that desire for adventure.  In that quest for adventure, was remembering and feeling to be the casualty?  I can't tell you for sure, as it's different for everybody.

What I can say for sure is that art is rarely captured by a snapshot.  It's just not enough to simply be there, and have the photo to prove it. There has to be some thought and feeling and quiet contemplation, both for art and for remembering.  How can you possibly remember a beautiful waterfall if you simply shot it from a passing car window.  You have to get out of the car and feel the spray of water on your face and the mud between your toes.  If you don't you are not only short changing your photography you are short changing the memory and feel of a place.  How can you possibly create art, if there was no thought or feeling creating that art.  There in lies the magic of photography.  Does the printed image transmit the feeling of being there? Does it illicit an emotional response from the viewer?   If your image is to be successful, if your image is to be considered art, it will.  That's arts job. To transcend from the documentary to the emotional.   To make the jump from a quick snapshot to the exalted position of art you have to get into the Zen of it.  See it and most importantly feel it.  You'll not only remember it better, your art will be better.  The featured image here was taken about 5 in the morning, just before sunrise. I had scoped out these flowers the day before and knew I had to get a shot with them and the falls.  I crossed at the shallow spot on the major travertine below the main falls, circled around and came to a pool just below the flowers.  Problem was my tripod nor I was tall enough to be able to see the travertine over the plants. I began to experiment with different positions, and then discovered a green plastic milk crate. I assumed it was trash left over from the many floods that occur here.  I positioned the crate vertically, then gingerly set my tripod upon that. Using live view, I set the comp, and exposure and tripped the shutter with my wireless infra-red remote. I knew it would come in handy.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Silver Lining and the Fish that got Away

It was Fourth of July, and the fireworks display was going to be cancelled. Not on account of rain, but rather lightning.  The sky was alight with a giant electrical storm, and threatening our local display.  A couple of times a year the ferocity of the monsoon season roars in and reminds us that the natural display of lighting upstages the meager human attempt of fireworks.  This evening was an unusual evening for lighting. It was extremely active, and better yet started a bit early.  There was still light in the sky from sunset and the clouds were not so low that covered the mountain. The lightning was setting itself up so that when a strike hit it would illuminate, or back light the San Francisco Peaks. I was on my way home from a 4th barbecue at my parents house, and I could tell it would be a spectacular display.  The university a block from my house had just recently completed a high rise parking garage.  I had visualized this evening, being able to catch lightening from the 5th story deck of the 6 story garage.  I would be high enough to get a nice view of town, but still under cover from the rain and exposure to a strike.

I got up in position and set my exposure to ten seconds then let the shutter rip until my card filled up.  I got about three good shots with the mountain in silhouette and lightning streaking across the sky.  An officer from the university police department was curious to what I was doing, and I showed her the image I captured.  I was so excited I ran home and showed my girlfriend the shot. She was impressed.  I then did the dumbest rookie maneuver, resulting in erasing the entire memory card.  I had the card in a reader in my Mac, while it was asleep.  In my rush to get to the location, I pulled the card out of the reader without waking up the computer and properly ejecting it. That probably wouldn't have resulted in any damage, except that I used the camera to erase the card before I used it. That probably wouldn't have resulted in any damage had I not then inserted the card back into the computer, then woke it up.  That hosed it. Had I awoken the computer before reinserting the card, it would have given me a warning that it wasn't properly ejected, but not erased the card.  I then attempted to do a disk repair in the disk utility, but that probably made matters worse by resetting the directory.  I tried to use recovery software downloaded from the net, but only one image could be recovered, and that was a dark frame. You might think there will be plenty of lightning storms over the season, and yes there are. But that evening was really extra ordinary, an evening that may come along once a year.  A few weeks later I did go out in another storm and get these images here.  The storm was going nuts around Mars Hill, and even struck the hill.  I did get some pretty cool images, but if you would have seen the one I got with the mountain and lightning you would agree. It was the fish that got away. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Who's Watching the Watchman

If you have ever been to Zion National Park, you know what the Watchman is. It is the huge monolith rock formation that dominates the Zion village and Springdale township.  Perhaps it got its name because is seems to be watching over the whole valley. Perhaps its because the rock face lights up in a curious orange glow during sunset. Or perhaps its being watched by every photographer that has ever laid eyes upon it, waiting for sunset.  However it got its name, its still one of the great icons of Zion NP.  I spent a week there last fall and tried to shoot it in all its moods. I set my tripod in the holes of many other photographers, like the first image here. It was taken from the bridge that crosses the Virgin River.

Every night just before sunset, the narrow sidewalk along the bridge fills up with photographers from every walk of life and country imaginable. Tripod legs intertwined like newborn baby spiders. All different languages are spoken, and once the rock face begins to illuminate, oohs and awes are universally expressed with excitement. The first couple of evenings I wasn't too happy with the shots, as there was either no clouds or too much cloud cover, so the light show was spotty.  Finally on the third attempt I was lucky enough to get both cloud and light.  Having camped in the campground in our trusty VW campmobile with our bikes on the rack made it easy as pie to take the dog for a run up the path to witness the show of all shows. I did attempt to make some original compositions. I even tried some early morning shots. I explored and set my tripod in unconventional places to get something somewhat original. For example a mid morning shot back lit through the autumn leaves.  A night shot with stars.  Try as I might I still couldn't top the light and composition of the standard iconic shot from the bridge.  Who was watching the Watchman?  Well I was.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Subway

Throughout the southwest natural formations are constantly being named after man made objects. The Cookie Jar, Steamboat Rock, Cathedral Rock, Park Avenue are but a few examples. In Zion National Park we have this place on the Left Fork of the North River called the Subway. It gets its name from the under-cut rock that forms an S-shape in the bottom of the canyon.  If you get there before noon you can catch the light reflecting off the canyon wall and into the 'subway tube.' It'll appear as if train headlights are coming at you down the tube.  The Subway is one of those places that posses a certain magic.  The combination of the canyon's unique undercut formation, the constant trickle of the water down small waterfalls into large pools, the interplay of reflected light through-out the canyon, along with some fall color really leaves a lasting impression.  People come far and wide to be able to experience it, but only the fit and committed individuals actually make it there. In order to visit the Subway, you have to obtain a permit at least the day before. During summer months you have to make a reservation.  The cooler months you can get one usually just walking up to the back country office desk.  You'll  have to drive out of the park, then back into the back-country to get to the trail head. You arrive at a much higher elevation, and in late fall the sun barely makes it to the bottom of the canyon.  The hike is a fairly vigorous one, and if you hike from the bottom trail head up and back it will total to about 9 miles. The first three quarters of a mile is a cake walk, but once you hit the canyon rim you have to descend down a steep wash about 600 feet to the canyon floor.

There are no switchbacks here. All you can do is rock hop and boulder to the bottom. Round trip, will take all day. I wasn't sure of the conditions at the bottom since there just was a cold snap. Bryce got about 5 inches of snow about three days before so I wanted to be prepared for the worst.  People typically rent canyoneering gear for the Narrows in Zion. I decided to go ahead and rent the gear for the Subway as well. Best to err on the side of caution. Down at the bottom, the trail is the creek. The gear consisted of neoprene booties, and water proof canyoneering pants made of Gore-tex on top and a tight rubber seal at the bottom around the bootie. We then donned the special shoes made by rock climbing gear manufacturers that have special grippy soles and special mesh to drain when you lift your foot out of the water. The gear worked pretty well. I wouldn't say I was warm, but I wasn't freezing either. Kristi was cold however, but she gets cold easily. I suppose it varies from person to person where their comfort level will lie. Obviously you will have to decide for yourself, taking in consideration the weather conditions.  This morning was cold, the leaves had all but fallen from the trees. There was ice and snow in the more shady areas of the canyon.  It was slippery enough, so to add some ice in the mix made the hike a little more slippy.  The first three miles was a lot of rock and boulder hopping. You could begin to see where people had established little trails in the direction of the easier routes. Although the Park Service discourages the creation of these kinds of trails they really do make life a bit easier. Finally you begin to see the canyon narrow, and the rock creek bed turn red.  The last mile is amazing. You come to a variety of cascading waterfalls. Take time now to capture these falls, because on the hike out the sun will be high in the canyon and too harsh to get any keepers. Don't spend too much time here either, or you will miss the light reflections in the Subway, and increase the chance of hiking in the dark later on. Archangel falls is one of the iconic falls that can't be missed, and it can only best be shot in the shade. Soon you will reach the Subway.

There was only one other person there, and he probably was about a half an hour ahead of us.  I gave him a wide berth and shot the lower part of the canyon, and a fissure with water flowing in it.  Eventually I made my way up. The guy was kind enough to offer to leave, but I stated we were going to have lunch and to keep shooting.  Just about the time we finished our sandwiches he began to move on.  Suddenly he slipped on the wet stone, landed on his butt and his camera, still attached to his retracted tripod went full force into one of the deep pools. He sat there stunned for a second then realized his camera was upside down in the bottom of the pool. I wasn't sure what model Canon he had but the look on his face wasn't good.  I asked if he was okay, he said he was, and kind of stumbled off.  I continued to shoot the Subway, looking for compositions that both had and hadn't (that I has seen) been done before. Alas it was time to leave, and I was satisfied that I had gotten some keepers.  The light was just beginning to change anyway.  We got there about quarter to twelve, and by one o'clock the light wasn't reflecting off the canyon in that special way anymore.  See, in the morning the sun will reflect off the western wall, and shine down the Subway 'tube'.  It is this effect that appears as if you were in a subway tube with  train lights approaching. The rest of the canyon was in full sunlight now, and the beautiful falls we had passed were covered in harsh shadows.  I was sure glad I got some shots in earlier. The hike out seemed to pass by quickly since I was done stopping and shooting. The weather warmed up a bit, and once we got to the bottom of the steep part the sun was just going down, so we could climb out in the shade. Once we finally got to the rim of the canyon, the hike to the parking lot seemed like it took forever.  We got to the van right at dusk, then made a bee-line to the pizza place in Springdale. Talk about a perfect day.  We weren't worried about returning the gear since we had a hike in the Narrows planned for the next day.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Save the Confluence

Water here in the desert high country is sacred. You can never take it for granted. It is the life force. The dry arid landscape lays dormant until it's arrival. Either in the form of run-off, snow fall or a monsoon downpour the power that water has is far reaching. It is also fiercely fought for. Water rights here in the west are continually being challenged. The Colorado River is methodically being syphoned off and consumed. Farmers, cities, tribes, outfitters, tourists and developers are all clamouring to get a piece of the pie. These rivers and streams bring life and prosperity. They are also threatened. Threats of contamination, and extinction. Threats of containment and threats of development. Even today the war hasn't but begun and it's more relevant than ever to raise awareness. There are plenty of battles conservationists haven't won, and water will continue to be the most important battle to fight.

Uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and the proposed building of a tourist attraction at the Little Colorado and Colorado River confluence are but a few hot issues we're facing today. I previously thought that the development of the Confluence was but an internal affair to the Native Americans, and believed that I would have no voice on the matter. Based on the reaction toward snow making on the San Francisco Peaks, I never would have imagined the issue to have progressed at all. After all the area is also considered sacred by the Hopi Tribe. Historically matters such as this, (e.g. a proposed bridge over Grand Falls ) would require a unanimous decision to get it done. This project is being handled behind closed doors, and opponents are being escorted from the chambers by police. Another issue associated with the Confluence project are the borders between the Grand Canyon National Park and the area of the Confluence. There seems to be two official maps, dated more than twenty years apart. The border issue here will likely be resolved in court. The good news is if the National Park Service maintains the Confluence to within the park, the public will be able to weigh in on the decision making. Here is where you can help. There are petitions you can sign and have your voice heard: If you want to get involved follow these links for more information

Grand Canyon Trust Uranium Actions

Save The Confluence .com

Friday, April 19, 2013

Grand Falls (Adahwiilíní)

It's been about three years since I've been to Grand Falls, even though it's only an hour and a quarter from home. The last time I went I remember it being really windy. So windy, the water was blowing around the whole canyon in a sticky muddy mist. It would cover the car windshield, and any camera lens with in the wind's reach. It was quite a sight, but not great for photography. This time I had the chance to catch the end of the year's run off. I planned a nice long evening to spend here and experience all it's grandeur.   The falls are absolutely huge and rivals the height of Niagara Falls.  The water, however, is quite a bit muddier. Some people call it the chocolate falls, or the mud falls. Spring runoff drains the Navajo reservation into the Little Colorado River, which in turn drains into the Colorado River. Adahwiilíní, the Navajo name for Grand Falls, is located West of Leupp, AZ.   Here is where volcanic basalt meet sandstone. As the story goes volcanic lava flowed from one of the many cinder cones in the area, blocking off the original course of the Little Colorado. The river was forced to change it's course over the cliff edge.

Grand Falls Sunset

The north side sandstone  catches the last rays of sunlight in a bright orange reflection. Combine those colors with the light brown water, and sunset colors in the clouds, makes for one pretty scene.  The sun here is really intense, so even up to early in the evening the colors can remain quite harsh. You literally have to wait until the sun hits the horizon before the colors finally get warm.  There was a bit of a breeze this evening propelling a few puffy clouds around, slowly clearing over the course of the evening. Tourists rolled in took their snapshots and rolled back out again all before sunset. By the time the sun set, I was all alone. I found a pretty neat vantage point that was below the rim in a little valley out of the wind. That's where I settled in. The spot allowed me to get a shot that wasn't looking  down so much on the falls, helping me get more stars in the shot.   I brought an extra coat to sit on and some granola bars and water. Every few minutes I tripped the shutter trying to harvest the light for some exposure blending to be done in Photoshop. From sunset, to dusk to twilight to night. Then a half an hour with the intervolometer cable release to capture the movement of the stars ( or vise versa).  This is how the first image seen here was created.

Firstly I made an exposure for the falls at twilight, where there was enough light reflecting off the atmosphere to illuminate the scene. This method allowed for mostly even lighting, minimizing any harsh shadows.  Another benefit is it allows some extra shutter speed, smoothing out the water of the waterfall. I then waited for about another hour to let the sky go much darker.  This results in a brighter more defined starlight. I usually choose an exposure time between three and a half to five minutes, depending on how much light there is in the sky (from the moon etc..). Depending on my vision for the final image I will choose a total exposure time from a half an hour to an hour.  Anymore than that, the sky begins to look a bit gaudy, any less,  the viewer might feel wanting more. An additional consideration for choosing a final exposure time is the distance from the North Star. The stars rotate much slower the closer to the North Star, so a longer total exposure time is required to get the right effect.  This startrail image had a shorter stack of five exposures of five minutes each. Since the North Star was out of sight here, the stars tracked across the scene much faster.  Looking closely at the star image you can see a couple of interesting aberrations.  The first being the hint of a satellite tracking perpendicular to the stars.

Grand Falls Glow

It is really faint, but runs the entire length of the sky.  The second being what I believe is a shooting star.  In my first exposure,  I saw a falling star shoot into the field of view of the camera. You can see it in the lower center of the sky of the image. This is the first time I have caught a shooting star. I've gone out during a meteor shower before, but never had much luck at capturing one. The timing and positioning was always off, or the intensity was such that it became invisible to the camera sensor.  When I first saw the stacked image afterward, I was skeptical that I actually captured it. So I went back to the original digital negative.  I remembered that it was the first frame taken, and about a minute and a half into the exposure.  The image showed me that the meteor light began about a fifth of the way into the image. Additionally it arcs oppositional to arcs of the stars.  If it were a plane you would see its flashing marker lights dotted across the entire frame, and in a straight line, not a curved arc.  We've already identified what a satellite looks like. Of course I'm open to other theories.

This was taken three years ago just after a big winter. It is a more traditional view, were you can see the Little Colorado wind it's way to the confluence. It also gives a perspective on how much water can flow over these falls, not to mention the muddy color.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Secret of Secret Canyon

Secret Canyon Sentry

Recently I posted some images on Facebook from a backpacking trip to Secret Canyon. Where's Secret Canyon? I was asked by more than a few locals. Having lived in Northern Arizona now for almost thirty years I have asked myself that same question on more than one occasion.  I kept hearing about Secret Canyon, but nothing specific in terms of where it was. I remember looking for it about ten years ago. I'm sure I never found it, at least definitively. I do remember some large pools surrounded by red cliffs, but that could easily have been anywhere.  Funny when you're hiking in a high desert climate, the hotter it gets, the hike begins to loose it's appeal and large cool pools of water begin to look pretty inviting. About three years ago I took up the search once again.  This time I brought a map. Such that it was. It was downloaded from the Red Rock Ranger District web page, and lacked any mileage or scale. There were plenty of canyons on the map. Long Canyon, Loy Canyon, Fay Canyon, Boynton Canyon. They're all on there. And they're all really cool and different. Some even have ancient ruins. Secret Canyon doesn't, but does have a  creek flowing in it,  mostly in the spring.  Until now I've never hiked Secret Canyon in the spring, but could tell you that there were some large pools of water in late autumn. Probably left over from our monsoon season.  So where's Secret Canyon?  The trail head used to be at the end of an old Jeep trail. The one that goes to all the arches (Vaultee, and Devil's Bridge). This year it was different. The forest service errected a new gate, and paved the first little rough part. I used to drive right to the trail head on the 4wd road.  Now we had to drive around the corner and park at the Long Canyon trail head.  This little change put about three extra miles on the trip. Normally I'd shrug. This time I had a nice 50lb pack. About a year ago we made it to the head of the canyon and hiked only a little ways up it.

We decided to make a loop out of it and another canyon, but didn't really explore Secret Canyon it for all it's potential.  We did, however, scope out some possible camping spots. We knew we'd be back.  We didn't know how much water would be there. Turns out, a  lot. The spring run off was in full force, and deep in the canyon we even found some pockets of snow. The map makes the cayon look like about ten dotted lines. The trail description says it goes for three miles and ends at a pool of water. Well I can tell you, it keeps going. In theory it continues to the top of Secret Mountain, but after hiking up it for three and a half hours it showed no sign of ending at some secret pool of water. After 25 (yes we counted) pool of water crossings we still hadn't found the end. I guess we'll just have to try again next year. The vistas are fantastic starting early on. You're surrounded by red rock, spires and of course the canyon.  We chose to bed down in a plateau area surrounded by desert scrub with views of the valley. Yucca, mesquite and juniper left us mostly exposed, but early spring is a bit chilly in the shade, so a litttle extra sun was welcomed. A little warmer, and we would have had to camp up the canyon which was much more shaded by large ponderosa pines, sycamore and maple.  The mesquite was in bloom and the sweet aroma of the little white flowers was starting to attract honey bees. Spring run off was trickling down the cliffs and into the creek.  The trail begins high,  follows the creek, and zig zags back and forth up and down.

The more impassable areas by-pass higher in the canyon on available terraces. Walking along the creek gives you the feeling of being in Zion.  High orange stained walls and deep under cut channels mimmick the back country canyons of Utah. Deep in the channel you can find a fairly large waterfall. If you were to follow the creek you would have to climb out one of the drainages to circumvent it. Its a little too large to be climbing through. Farther up the canyon the tall ponderosa pines contrast against the blue sky, and the red and orange cliffs. If you're observant you can see a natural arch high on the canyon wall. So where's Secret Canyon?  Just ask the helicopter pilots. For an extra few bucks they'll fly you along the length of the canyon in just a few minutes. Pay no attention to the hikers blatently exposing themselves to you from the canyon floor. They worked thier butts off to get there for a bit of solitude. So where's Secret Canyon? I could tell you, but then it wouldn't be a secret. Why would I deny anybody the joy of discovery?

Desert Camp

Looney Guy at the Grand Canyon Lodge

Canyon Vantage

 While traveling home from Cedar City's Shakespeare Festival last summer, we drove through Cedar Breaks and Brian Head ( see Twisted Forest ) and scheduled a night at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  On previous trips to the North Rim I've camped outside the park along what they call the Rainbow Rim. I haven't actually visited inside the park since I was in high school, so I figured that since I had a National Parks pass I'd continue to put it to good use and re-visit the North Rim. I got re-acquainted with the Grand Canyon Lodge with all it's little cabins. The terrace at the lodge is really an amazing sight.  Sitting in the Adirondack chairs and watching the sunset with a beverage is a nice relaxing way to spend an evening. Too bad I didn't do that.

Grand Canyon Lodge at Sunset

  No that would be wasting precious time immortalizing it with my camera.  I did enjoy it all the same, except I can continue to enjoy those moments when I reflect back and look at the images I took. No, I was climbing up the rock spires and out on ledges to find that unique shot.  I even shot a guy climbing up rock spires and out on ledges shooting with his camera.  Truth be told we did have some beverages, albeit self served. We sat at the highest point along the canyon rim, watching the sun sink lower, casting its light show off the late monsoon clouds. The brilliant interplay of gradient yellows, oranges, and pinks morphing into new and interesting formations. Listening to the silence of the canyon absorbing the surrounding energy of the fading day.   The sun was gone, and so were our beverages. It was time to pack it in before it got too dark to make our way back to the trail. As I was slowly ambling back to the parking lot I saw that guy.

Canyon Macrotogropher

You know, the looney guy standing on the spire shooting with his tripod into the abyss. "Hey, you're that crazy bas#*rd that was shooting from that spire."  "Oh, that was nothing," he said like he does it every day.  We exchanged gear tech notes for a bit, and discussed our camping arrangements. We both had VW campers, and spoke briefly of all the virtues of a the mobile sleeper unit.  "You know, I have a pretty great shot of you on that spire. If you give me your email address I'll send you a copy."   We exchanged addresses and handshakes and parted ways.  Our paths crossed coincidentally a couple of more times after that both on some forest service roads and even here in Flagstaff.  I sent him a high res file in exchange for his model release. Currently the image is on Allstar Grand Canyon's tours website promoting thier tours in exchange for promotional consideration as well as shuttle service between the canyon and Flagstaff. It feels good to make these connections once in a while, and to be able to make people happy with an image I've taken. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Toroweap Thanks for Giving

Beginning in the high elevations of the San Francisco Peaks near our hometown of Flagstaff, to the low canyons of Zion and the Grand Canyon, Kristi and I got to enjoy a nice long fall here in the Southwest last year. We had just gotten back from a trip to Zion when I had another trip planned, this time to the remote and rugged Toroweap area of the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Our preferred method of travel is the restored and retrofitted 76 VW camper, but this trip would probably see the van's demise. The rugged and unimproved sandy road to the rim is notably tough. The warnings from the park service state that a high clearance vehicle, spare tires and extra gas and water were highly recommended. Agreed, the last 10 miles were definitely an adventure. 70 miles from the nearest town, you don't want to be unprepared. The National Park Service maintains the small area, with composting toilets and a remote ranger station. They don't however, maintain the road.

I already serviced my 4Runner, and outfitted it with brand new BFGs with an extra thick sidewall. We packed the truck with gear and water then headed off. Kristi wasn't looking forward to the five hours sitting in the car, but I was determined to spend Thanksgiving far from any stores, commercials or Christmas consumerism that America bombards it's citizens with during the holiday season. I can remember driving through the area ever since I was about twelve years old. Back then I was bored to death and it seemed like an eternity to get to where we were going. Now as I drive through there I see nothing but photographic opportunities. I dream of the day when I can stop at every wide spot in the road and capture the amazing light bouncing off the red canyon walls. Too many photos to little time. Kristi, however, was bored to tears. I handed her my iPhone with some movies, and she settled down while I drove through the dreamscape that is Northern Arizona. We made decent time and arrived at the Canyon at about three thirty that afternoon. There were a few campers at the Tuweap campground when we got there, but the sense of quiet solitude was still present. We chose a nice spot facing the afternoon sun, just below a ridge of strange orb like formations. We immediately settled down, and tuned into the quiet. For four days we'd be gazing at the wide views, and listening to the gentle breeze.

There were only a few trails there, mostly along the rim. We carefully explored each one, analyzing the best viewpoints for later visits during sunset or sunrise. We were there undoubtedly for the photographic opportunity, but more importantly to relax and unwind. Sometimes photographers end up living through their lenses and not actually spending time absorbing the energy or the wildness of a place. Sure I made some images, but they mostly were squeezed in at the beginning or the end of the day. There was plenty of time to hike around and explore during the middle. We even played a few hours of Frisbee on a flat red slick rock near camp. After taking a couple of shots of the orb like rock formations, I got the impulse to set up a night shot. I had been watching the moon cast it's silvery light the night before and calculated that about 2:30 it would illuminate the rock and the canyon. I set my alarm, but like the many times before awoke shortly before it actually went off. I composed the shot, set my remote timer, and laid back down for the hour. Laying there staring at the stars I floated in an out of day dreams. Crickets and the gentle flap of the tent door were the only sounds....except... what was that? It was a sort of plastic rustling sound, and it was coming from the truck. My curiosity was piqued. I grabbed my flashlight and popped the hood to find a large mouse weaving in and out of the fan belts.

I wasn't sure I scared it off sufficiently, so decided to start the truck (if the wiring hadn't been chewed through). It started, but I stirred Kristi and had to explain we were being attacked by killer mice with death wishes. No doubt they were attracted by some coolant that had seeped around the hoses. I went back to sleep but with one eye open.  Wouldn't want to be mauled alive without a little warning. I came away with a couple of sunrise, and sunset shots plus a night shot and a couple of other flora shots. But the time outdoors watching the light and gazing into the deep canyon was what was really needed. Incidentally we were there during the first flooding of the canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam. They decided to let an enormous amount of water from the dam so it would create or recreate some beaches and mimic the ebb and flow of the river floods prior to the building of the dam.  From the rim you couldn't tell how much water was there, but I didn't have anything to compare it to.  They did continue the river trips, as we spent some time watching the rafts float their way down to Lava Falls. The weather here in Northern Arizona is usually really nice around Thanksgiving and I make a concerted effort to get outdoors, wherever it may be. Thanks Toroweap, for giving me a great Thanksgiving!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

First Friday in February

I am pleased to announce that Vora Financial has asked me back as their featured artist for Flagstaff First Friday Art Walk. That's February First. I have almost thirty framed prints spanning the last few years of images. Many have never been seen until now. I've included images from Zion, from both the Subway and the Narrows, as well as my signature night and star trail photography. If you are in Flagstaff on February First head over to Vora Financial at 14 E Birch in downtown Flagstaff. A special thanks to Darmesh Vora for opening up his business space to display local art and artists. It starts at 5:30 and goes until about 8:30-9:00.