Autumn in Zion

I wanted to do something different than the expected canyon and cliff scenes - even though we saw more of those today.  But this really is Zion - it's Zion in Autumn.  Nestled among many of the cliffs are washes where the water runs off from spring rains and summer storms.  All along these washes, plant life flourishes. The plant life includes hardwood trees like oaks and maples - they're a bit smaller than back East but they are unmistakable.  And in October we know what happens to hardwood trees - they turn bright colors.  And they do that here right in the canyon too!

We walked through one section that was so large it felt like we were back home.  The unmistakable scent of autumn leaves in a forest was present - steps away from orange and yellow cliff faces 3000 feet tall.

We hiked the West Rim Trail today - 11 hours of hiking and more than 3000 feet of elevation gain. We were very tired by the time we got back, but it was one of the best I have ever done.

We wrap up tomorrow so this will be the last blog post.  Thanks for reading!

Zion Canyon

Once again we started the day early - in the darkness before sunrise.  But today we hiked the East  Mesa and East Rim trail which means we were at the top of the canyon.  We didn't know this meant it was 7,000 feet high and we certainly didn't know this meant that it was 24 degrees out when we started the hike!  Eventually the sun came out and warmed us up and rewarded us with some great views of Zion Canyon from the East Rim.

The temperature would eventually hit 83 - a full 59 degrees warmer then when we started.  There were many photos to choose from, but it was hard to pass up this one from the East Rim looking down Zion Canyon.  Hard to believe that what appears to be a small river carved this out of the cliffs!

Zion Sunrise

Some of you know that I am on my next photo and hiking adventure - this time in Zion National Park in Utah.  We started off our first day in total darkness - leaving the hotel room 2 hours before sunrise, driving up a dirt road so steep the SUV lost traction twice, and practically running up a 2.8 mile hike in the dark wearing headlamps, to get the view above.  It was worth it!  This is a view of Zion Canyon from Eagle Crags Trail

I have been to Zion once before - about 10 years ago and I remember how impressive it was.  But to see it in this light as the sun rose was incredible.  It is truly amazing.

As we hiked back down from the top of the Eagle Crags trail, we were surprised how far the hike was.  In the dark, driven by the need to get to the top for the sunrise light, we must have had super-human strength! ;)   And then we were also surprised about the drive back down that steep rock-strewn road.  At times, we were going 3 miles an hour over the rocks and down the steep dirt road with a cliff to one side.  I think it's good it was dark when we drove up that road!

September Morning

This post is about color and light.  It's isn't really about the chokecherry bush in our back yard. This post is about a time of the year told through the perspective of color and light. 

The color for the last couple months has been nothing but green. It's like someone spray painted green across the entire landscape. The grass was the greenest it has ever been. The corn stayed dark green all summer long. The leaves on the trees, the weeds along the road, the hay fields - green, green, and more green!

But just like that, the greenest summer I can remember is fading away. The first hints were the soybean fields turning yellow. Then the ash trees, which are always the first to go, turned yellow. And now there are dry brown oak leaves on the ground getting mulched as we cut the grass which grows slower each week. And in the distance, where only a short time ago there was nothing but green, hints of yellow and light brown are telling us Summer is being replaced by Autumn. 

But is there any more impressive color than the impossibly blue sky under a clear September morning sun?  The angle of light and the sky on a clear September day look different than at any other time of the year.  And the bright yellow-green leaves and the intense red berries on the Chokecherry bush against that clear blue sky accomplished the impossible - it caused me to get up out of my Saturday morning chair on the patio. 

I often talk about seeing the extraordinary in the commonplace as more rewarding photography than that of exotic locations. It can't get any less exotic than this - I was sitting on our patio early on a Saturday morning, looked to my left and saw the green and red against that great blue sky. And if I had my camera on the chair with me I would not have even had to stand up!

Enjoy Autumn!

A Wet Summer

I know what you are thinking - not another waterfall picture from Ricketts Glen. How many waterfall pictures does this guy need?  But this isn't a picture of a waterfall at Ricketts Glen. This is a picture of what Ricketts Glen FELT LIKE on a July day during the wettest summer in many years. 

By late July in a normal summer, the water flow in Kitchen's Creek is slow and quiet as it stumbles down the many falls in Ricketts Glen.  On a typical lazy late summer day at the Glen, you can walk slowly and almost hear the thoughts in your head. One year a friend and I walked down the middle of the creek for much of our hike - sometimes walking in the shallow slow-moving water and sometimes hopping from stone to stone.

But not this July.  We've had a lot of rain and the creek was roaring - drowning out almost all other sound - especially at the base of each waterfall. The trail was so wet it was hard to tell where the trail stopped and the creek started. There were small waterfalls coming down the sides of the hill where none ever existed before.  These were new waterfalls given brief life as the rainwater came down the hills flowing out of the saturated ground.  Rocks that are normally exposed were completely submerged. And where thin ribbons of water usually fall in slow motion over rock ledges, sheets of crashing water took their place. It was loud. It was new. It was exciting. 

I come to Ricketts Glen often.  And when the alarm goes off at 6am on a summer day it is tempting to stay in bed thinking you have seen it all before. How different could it be?  But as the photographs in this Folio show, Ricketts Glen has many moods.  And on this July day in the wettest of summers, it was exhilarating!  Yes, it's a picture of a waterfall. But hopefully it is also a visual way of communicating what it felt like to be at Ricketts Glen that late July day in a very wet summer. 

See the Ricketts Glen Folio here. 

Witness Tree

They call them Witness Trees - they are trees that were present at the Battle of Gettysburg.  They are the last living survivors of those brutal three days in July of 1863.  While the people have long since gone, about 150 trees that were alive during the battle, remain alive and in place today.  If you stand and run your hands over the rough bark, it's quite possible soldiers from the battle 150 years ago did the same thing.  If the trees could talk, what would they tell us about what happened here?  Is it possible they remember what happened here?  

The tree above is a stately old oak located above Devil's Den - scene of some of the worst fighting in the battle.  Today, it watches the sun rise above Little Round Top and warm the rocks of Devil's Den, before setting over the distant ridge of South Mountain.  Today, it's like any other tree in any other field.  But it is definitely not like any other tree.  

I've had this idea for awhile - I thought of creating beautiful landscape images in fields that have seen battle - beauty where there was horror.  I thought I would start with the Civil War battlefields and start with Gettysburg since it is only about two hours from where I live.  It may become a long term project - or it may fade away.  But I think this is a good start.

Summer Fog

It's a Saturday morning in early summer. It's humid, very cloudy, and we've had several downpours by 9:30am.  A check of the forecast shows the rain is over but it will stay very cloudy, damp and humid all day. Do you stay inside or go outside?  Outside of course - there is no such thing as an "inside day" on a weekend in June!  Seriously, get a rain jacket on and go outside and do something different!

One of my favorite places to go on a cloudy, misty day in the summer is the forest. It just looks and feels totally different than on a sunny day.  On this misty summer Saturday, I decided to hike and photograph at Hawk Mountain. 

I spent four hours wandering the ridge top trails.  I hiked in similar foggy damp conditions one winter day and wrote about it here.  And while there were some similarities, the differences couldn't have been more dramatic. 

Everything was a dark saturated green. The fog was bright and changing, moving among the trees, ferns, and rocks. The mountain laurel were near the end of their blooming, but still a dramatic white and pink among the dark green leaves and pale mist. The tree trunks were varying shades of black and gray depending on distance. The occasional breeze brought the sound (and wetness) of rainwater falling from leaves overhead. It looked prehistoric. I imagined this is what the land looked like hundreds of thousands of years ago. I even think the one tree trunk rising in the right half background of the photo above could easily be the long neck of a Brontosaurus as it looked up from munching some grass!

There were only a few people on the trail with me that day.  Many more should have put on their rain jacket and hiking shoes and gone out there. They would have been well rewarded. 

Other Hawk Mountain images are on the Hawk Mountain Gallery page.  At the bottom is a grouping of the best four photos from this foggy Saturday morning.  

Transitions

The forecast called for rain and cold - not surprising for a Spring filled with rollercoaster weather patterns - 80's one day and 50's the next.  We had planned the spring weekend in Ocean City for a couple months but with this weather forecast I gently suggested we not go.  Marilyn's answer was pragmatic and strong - we spent the money on the hotel and we're going!  So of course we went.  And of course Marilyn was right and the weather forecasters were wrong.  The rain blew out early Friday evening and left incredible skies and decent weather for much of the weekend.

On a single weekend I was treated to rapidly changing skies and light that only happens during transitions.  We were in the transition between the storm system and calm weather - with the struggle going back and forth multiple times over the two days.  On the marsh it would be sunny while over the ocean the storm clouds were racing up the coast.  I was on the beach just after sunrise photographing under a cloudless sky and a few hours later freezing in the wind and drizzle.  

It got me thinking about transitions.  The best light and photographs are during transitions... the early morning transition when night becomes day or the golden hour transition when day becomes night, the transition where land abruptly meets water, the transition between winter and spring when the leaves are just barely covering trees, the rolling foothills where the flat land transitions into mighty mountains.  Transitions create adventure and interest.  Maybe not just for photography but for life too.  We should seek the transitions!  

In retrospect, it was a perfect weekend - just like I knew it would be!

Seeing Trees

Trees are so plentiful that it's easy to miss them. The forest and the trees virtually disappear into the background - like a stage set that serves no purpose. But this is only because we take them for granted - trees are everywhere, they become commonplace, they'll always be here.

But what if you take the time to look closely and really see trees. See them in different seasons, different light, different weather conditions, different stages of their lives. In the summer the leaves hide the true nature of the tree.  In the winter, the lines and patterns made by leafless branches with directional sunlight is like a charcoal sketch made by nature itself.

Of course to really see trees, we need do the hardest things of all - we need to slow down, walk, stare, stop and think. And if we do, the trees will come to the foreground and we will see them.

 

FOLIO PROJECT

For anyone who has followed my photography, you'll know that trees are a recurring subject for me.  So I created a small black & white folio project called "Seeing Trees".  

Click on the link...  Folio - Seeing Trees to view them.  Enjoy!

The Sycamore on Mill Road

Less than a second... that's the amount of time the shutter was open to record the light and make this photograph.  But in many ways, this photo has been a couple years in the making.  This grand sycamore tree is on my normal bike training loop.  I have ridden past it hundreds of times.  In the spring, summer, and fall it is like a thousand other trees I pass.  But in winter, something different happens.  Without the leaves, the white bark catches the low angle morning sun and the twisted branches pop out against the dark background.  I notice it every time I ride by and I think about the best time to photograph it.

I'd like to say this was all planned.  But as is often the case, there was some luck involved.  When I set out to photograph the tree this past weekend, there was still snow on the ground from winter's revenge - a mid March snowstorm after a warm February!  The sunlight reflecting off the snow also lit up the branches from underneath - giving them an extra pop of light.  To me, it looks like the tree is glowing as it enjoys a solo performance in the sun.

Hopefully next month's post will feature a beautiful warm spring image!  In the meantime, pay attention when you are outside - this is the time of year when things change almost daily!

Winter Trees

I like winter trees.  I definitely prefer the warmth of summer over the cold of winter.  And nothing is better than being outside on a warm spring or summer day.  But for me, trees have much more character to them in the winter.  They are more unique, more individual.

I pass by this field often since it's within a five minute drive of where I live.  I see it in all seasons, at all times of day, in all kinds of weather.  And every time I drive by, coming up the hill, this group of five grabs my attention.  But it was a winter day, as the sky was clearing, that the trees spoke most clearly.  

I don't know what kind of trees they are.  I'm sure they are five completely different kinds of trees.  And in other times of the year it's easy to see that one is no longer living.  But on this winter day, the five came together, alive, and communicated a welcoming message to anyone who was there to listen.

 

Trees, Silver in Light

I had a couple hours free on a recent sunny winter morning.  And because I only had a couple hours, I took my camera and once again went out to visit the Unami Creek - my favorite local wandering place.  I picked a new spot to enter the creek area and started walking along the banks - enjoying the sun, the quiet, and the crisp still air.  Just ahead, the creek rounded a bend and I stopped - I was fascinated by the tracery of the branches and how they caught the sunlight - looking silver rather than the normal color of branches.  As I looked even closer, I was struck by how the trees appeared to be reaching out across the creek.  And with the sun lighting up the grass, I knew it would be a strong photograph.  It captured the feeling I had on that sunny winter morning on the creek perfectly well.


Favorites of 2016

I have seen this on many websItes so it is not an original idea by any stretch.  But I thought it would be fun to choose my favorite 20 photographs from 2016 and put them in one place.  Many of them you have already seen, but several haven't been shown before - including my absolute favorite sunset photo ever.  

The photo at right was taken in the field behind my sister-in-law's home in October.  I happened to have my small camera with me in the car - just in case.  I was outside and saw this beautiful sunset forming but I resisted the urge to grab the camera - how many more sunset photos do I need?  A few minutes later it became too much to resist and I grabbed the camera and ran into the field and spent 45 minutes photographing the sunset that evening.  Glad I did.  See my favorite images of 2016 here!

Winter Light

On my favorite days in winter, the light is soft and very different than the light at other times of the year. Unlike the harsh sunlight of summer, the winter light is often softer and more yellow.  If you notice on those days, you'll see that the winter sun is veiled by thin, white, high clouds. It's what gives the soft light of winter its distinctive look and feel.  And with no leaves on the trees, the shadows are more open - you can see right into them - unlike when they go deep black in the summer. The winter sun is almost always at a low angle in the sky giving that yellow, glare of light that illuminates everything more evenly than the harsh summer sun. 

On one of those winter days, a late December Friday before Christmas, it was time for my third annual December Hawk Mountain hike. It was 45 degrees and calm - with the soft winter sun shining and providing warmth against the cool air. It was perfect winter weather for a hike. And while I didn't cover a lot of ground, I saw much. There was a little snow and ice on the trails left over from the dusting the week before. 

The image above caught my eye because one rock was lit by the soft yellow winter sunlight while the others were colored by the cool blue open shadows cast by larger rocks. The day started off sunny but the clouds were moving in quickly and the blue patch of sky completed the image for me. An hour later and the Mountain was under the dull light of a cloudy sky.  It was time to pack up and head back down the mountain and look forward to another trip sometime soon. 

Olympic NP Gallery

It has taken me a long time to work through the final set of photographs from Olympic, but I have finally finished.  You may remember I took this trip back in July with my friend Rich.  Five months later, as I look at the photos on this website and the ones hanging on our walls at home - I am still amazed by what we saw.  It is truly one of the best parks I have been to.

Olympic National Park is located in Washington and it is like three parks in one.  You can stand on top of 7,000 foot mountains with awe-inspiring 360 degree views that look like the Alps, walk among giant moss covered trees in a temperate rain forest, or walk along rocky beaches with off-shore sea stacks.  And, you can do it all in one day!  

The park is defined by the atmosphere and the weather.  Due to its location on the west coast and the size of the mountains, rain and clouds and fog play an important role.  You can start your trip into the park at the base of the mountains in full cloud cover, convinced you won't see anything.  But just before the road ends, you emerge above the clouds into the most amazing light as the sun rises.  Or, if you are very lucky, you can see the full moon setting over snow covered mountains right before the sun rises as in the photo above.  And for extra measure, you can go from completely clear to completely fogged in, and back again in minutes.  Mist rises up and suddenly surrounds you, rainstorms with thunder and lightening descend upon the valley, and clouds come and go quickly.  Olympic is easily one of my favorite places.

Here is a link to the full Olympic NP Gallery on my website.

 


FOLIOS

I have started creating folios as a way to preserve my best photographs. Folios are a cross between a book and a portfolio. Like a book, folios contain several pages, several images — and even text or text signatures. Unlike a book, they are not bound, but rather are individual sheets and images. Each sheet, each image, can be handheld and viewed as a single print.  Yet the collection of images in every folio is built around a central theme. 

Each folio is a collection of about thirteen fine art archival prints on 8.5 x 11 paper.  All prints are contained in a hand-crafted linen paper enclosure with an image title shown on the front.  The prints can be kept in the folio or they can be framed individually.  The folio concept was originally introduced by Brooks Jensen of LensWork and has been used to present a set of related fine art prints intended for handheld viewing.

Here is a link to the Folio Page on my website.  And here is a link to a black & white folio of Olympic National Park.

Twenty Three Minutes

We think of the landscape as something that doesn't change.  Or if it does, it changes over long periods of time.  The sky is a different story.  I think we all know and see the sky changing.  But still, we notice it's changes over longer periods of times - like hours - and mostly when something big is happening, like a storm front blowing in or clearing out.  On a normal late October sunny day, the sky will change for sure.  But how fast does it change?  And how much change could there possibly be in twenty three minutes?

Read the entire story and see additional images here at Twenty Three Minutes.

Harvest!

Wine Country

Marilyn and I just came back from a nice time in California celebrating a slightly late 30th anniversary.  We started in Santa Barbara, then drove up the coast through Big Sur to San Francisco, and finished in wine country at the tail end of Harvest.  The photo above is one of a small number of grapes that have escaped the annual Harvest.  It was really interesting how the entire Napa and Sonoma valleys were alive with excitement over harvest.  Here at home many different crops are grown and they all mature at different times.  But in Napa there is only one crop - grapes and wine - and September/October marks the time of harvest!

We learned a lot about the surprising number of variables and impact the land and weather have on the grapes they grow and the wine we drink.  The vines are planted all over the place - on the flat valley floor, on hills, and up the slopes of the mountains.  They abruptly stop in some areas, only to start again a small distance later where the volcanic soil creates perfect conditions.  We learned how different grapes thrive in the northern Napa Valley where it is about 10 degrees warmer than the southern valley due to fog from the nearby San Pablo Bay.  Slope of land, amount of sun, amount of fog, drainage of soil, angle of sun, what's planted between rows of vines - all of these things affect the quality of the grapes and wine.

The rolling hills, the mountains forming the Valley, the autumn colors from the grapevines planted row after row, and late the summer flowers all make this an exciting area to photograph too.  The only problem, is it is hard to get up for sunrise and good photographic light when you are enjoying wine and great food all day long!

 

The California Coast

Of the eight days we spent in California, we had beautiful sunny days with cool air and warm sunshine for seven of them.  The only day it rained was the day we set aside to drive up the scenic Big Sur coast from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.  Of course I whined a little about the weather - Marilyn will claim I whined the entire way!  In fact, we almost didn't go.  The forecast called for a flash flood warning in the Big Sur area below where a forest fire burned this summer and they warned of landslides.  But we decided to go and while it was not the beautiful sunny day I had hoped for, we did get a hint of how magnificent this area of coast must be.  

We made our way up the California Coast on a ten hour scenic drive up Pacific Coast Highway 1 (did I mention it was cloudy, rainy and foggy!).  We drove through the home of Split Pea Soup (Buellton CA), through the garlic capital of the world (Gilroy CA) and we added a little gas to the tank at the mere cost of $6.59 per gallon in the middle of nowhere.  When the road climbed up mountains on the coast - we could see almost nothing.  When the road dipped down to sea level, we got a hint of how great a sunny day would have been!  And just at the tail end, there was a small break in the clouds where we actually saw some late day golden sunlight.  The two photos below give you an idea of the better conditions we had during our drive.  It was still fun, and now we have another reason to go back.  After the drive up the coast, we spent two nights and a day in San Francisco before heading to Napa.

 

Santa Barbara

Our California trip started in Santa Barbara - an area Marilyn has always liked.  It's sometimes called the Riviera of the United States - with it's great weather, palm trees, oceanfront location and hillside background.  We met up with an old college friend who was in our wedding, but whom we hadn't seen in 25+ years.   We had two great dinners with him and his wife and caught up on 25 years of life!  The conversations and dinners were fun - it felt like that 25 year gap had disappeared.  The two photos below are from the Santa Barbara Harbor.  The Harbor holds sailboats and yachts but there is also a working section.  The mix of boats and activities is very interesting.

Our friend and his wife own a small Inn in Santa Barbara called the Casa Del Mar Inn.  If anyone is looking for a great place to spend some time, we definitely recommend Santa Barbara and please stay at Casa Del Mar!

NPS - 100 Years!

August 25th marks the 100 year anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS).  National Parks have been called "America's Best Idea" and we established the practice that the world has followed.  Setting aside truly remarkable lands for current and future generations to enjoy was a very far-sighted idea 100 years ago.

I have been obsessed with the outdoors since I was very young - long before I became interested in photography.  To this day I measure the "success" of a summer day by how long I have been outside, doing anything, or doing nothing - as long as it is outside.  So it's no surprise that when I became interested in photography, I would use the camera to show others what I enjoy most - the landscape.

I have used photography as a reason or a license to explore many national parks.  But it's not just the photographs, it's the experience of being there.  I have hiked in the dark by headlamp into the middle of a dune field to watch the sun rise and turn the sand shades of gold and yellow.  I have seen a tiny creek in the mountains knowing that at the other end as a mighty river it carved the Grand Canyon.  I have stood on the lowest ground in the United States.  I have stood on the Continental Divide where rain falling flows either to the Atlantic or the Pacific.  I have walked among strange sandstone formations called hoodoos and watched the light reflect in many directions.  I've watched in silence as the full moon dipped below snow capped mountains at five in the morning.  I have stood on a 9000 foot mountain staring at the remains of a dormant volcano.  I have climbed above the clouds many times watching amazing light change minute by minute.  I have felt the cool autumn air mix with the warm sun in November as it only can in the desert.  I have "heard" the sound of complete silence in one of our most remote parks.  I've watched in awe during forty sunrises and forty sunsets - all unique, all different - all amazing.

Of course, I have also almost backed the car off a six foot embankment because I saw a great photo.  I have run toward better photo angles leaving Marilyn or Rich to pick up the stuff I have left behind.  I've hiked to the top of a mountain trail in great excitement only to find we didn't bring enough food or water.  I've had leg cramps in more parks than I can remember.  I've set up for a beautiful sunset composition only to find the scene behind me illuminated by the setting sun.  And I've returned several rental cars with a few more scratches than they started with.  But it was worth it!

The 25 photos above are some of my favorites from just ten of the Parks I have visited.  I can't wait to experience the next one and the one after that.  If you enjoy the outdoors, make your next vacation at one of our National Parks.  And if you need photos, I can be hired for a low hourly rate!  ;)

(For extra credit, tell me the 10 National Parks pictured above!) 

Olympic NP Day 4 - Mountains

Today was our last day at Olympic and we spent it back in the mountains.  We learned a couple things today - weather changes fast, you can't predict sunrise or sunset light conditions, lightening storms in the mountains are loud, small clouds turn into big clouds, and it takes far longer to cover four miles with a camera than it does without one.

We hiked a trail called the Grand Valley Trail and the views were definitely grand.  We had to cross several snow banks and we walked along a ridge line with a great view of the mountains literally on all sides of us.  Every direction you turned - more mountains.  I think I took a photo of the same mountains every ten feet as the view changed.

It started off as a beautiful day - 48 degrees and the sun shining.  It rose quickly into the fifties and sixties.  It was the perfect combination of warm sun and cool air.  We had a snowball fight on one snowbank (I won) and rested on top of one of the most picturesque spots we have seen.

Then, as we were preparing for some sunset photography, the weather changed quickly.  And a lightening storm came down the valley.  The image above is from the early stages as the clouds rolled in.  The sun was still out at the other end and providing some great light.  It got worse than this and the lightening and rain chased us down the valley (we were in the car).  There was even some sleet mixed in with the rain.  So while we didn't get the typical sunset photos, we had a great day anyway!

The first photo below is an early morning view of Lake Crescent as we drove back to Hurricane Ridge.  And the other photo is what the same mountain range looked like during the nice sunny part of the day.

Hope you enjoyed the Olympic National Park photos as much as I enjoyed making them!