Volcanic Plug - Kayenta, Arizona

Last February, Jaki Good Miller and I flew into Albuquerque and headed out on a five hour drive to one of my favorite places on Earth, Monument Valley. We had hoped to get to the 13-mile marker north of the Valley to get a sunset shot of the famous road shot made famous in the movie, Forrest Gump. Our timeframe was tight and we weren't sure we would make it. Of course, landscape photographers can be easily distracted when the light is terrific and a new and different subject appears. Cue in the volcanic plugs that we spotted about a half-mile south of the Valley. The biggest plug was the 1,500 foot high Agathla Peak, which I posted last year. In the fields around the peak there were a number of smaller volcanic plugs, like this one that made nice subjects themselves.

So, what is a volcanic plug? I'll be honest, I never heard of the term before and only learned about them when researching Agathla Peak. Simply put, they are a volcanic rock created when magma hardens within a vent on an active volcano. A plug can cause a build-up of pressure if molten magma is trapped beneath it, which could lead to an explosive eruption. I don't know whether that is the case here, but I was interested in other volcanic plugs in the US. Turns out, two places that I have visited before, Morro Rock in California and Devils Tower in Wyoming (featured in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind) are volcanic plugs. Who knew?

Chandelier - Wilderness Lodge, Disney World, Florida

One of the things that Disney does so well is creating their resorts so well that you think you have been transported to somewhere else. Take this photo of one of the buildings that comprise their Wilderness Lodge. The lodge was built in 1994 and Disney's goal was to recreate a turn of the century themed resort hotel that had the look and feel of the National Park lodges located in the Pacific Northwest. The main building was modeled after the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park. An artificial geyser and hot springs are located on the resort grounds.

This photo was actually taken in the adjacent Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, which opened in 2000. We stayed there a few years ago and I took this from the center of the first floor looking up at the timbered ceiling. The Villas were themed to look like lodgings that were built by workers on the transcontinental railroad. 

Park Avenue Pano - Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

There are some places where you cannot easily transfer what you are seeing to a photo. They usually are vast landscapes that span 180 degrees or more. Yes, you can capture parts of the scene by zooming into subjects within the scene, but they don't give a true look to the whole experience. That is where panoramas come into play. For those who don't know how a panorama is created, it is a series of photographs that are taken of a scene and then stitched together in post-processing to create one combined photo. Alternatively, today's smart phones and mirrorless cameras have a panorama feature that allows for the pano to be stitched inside the phone or camera. The downside is that quality of the resulting file of the latter method is a bit inferior. The other disadvantage is that all panos end up as a very thin photo (unless you stitch together another "row" of photos) that doesn't always transfer well to the internet (especially Facebook).

The photo above is a pano of one of my favorite places and hikes in Arches National Park, namely Park Avenue. The vantage point where I took this photo is the beginning of the trail which ends up where the two sides converge in the center. It is not a strenuous hike but so rewarding. As you walk down of the center of the landscape and look up at the towering sandstone, you realize how Park Avenue got its name.

Remains - Cook Bank, Rhyolite, Nevada

Most ghost towns have a unique story and Rhyolite, Nevada is no exception. Located near Death Valley and 120 miles from Las Vegas, the town was a mere teenager before its death. Its lifespan lasted only 15 years. It was founded in 1905, like many towns of its time, as a result of he discovery of gold. It was made home by thousands of prospectors and miners looking to get rich. Investors came in to build the town, providing it with telephone, electricity, buildings, a hospital, a newspaper and an opera house. By 1907, the population approximated 4,000. In 1908, as the main mine began to dry up, an investor ordered a study and the results were not promising. The exodus began, with only about 1,000 remaining by 1910. It took another 10 years for the remaining residents to vacate the town. Since then, it has been used in motion pictures and is also a tourist attraction. The building in the photo was the Cook Bank which also served as a Stock Exchange. 

Glowing Mountaintop - Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Anticipation. It builds up from when the second the alarm goes off at 3:30am. After you shake off your groggy head and begin to think clearly, you check your weather app. Great news. Sunny with clouds. You peek your head outside your hotel room and look at the sky. Yep, it might be a killer sunrise. As you drive to your location, the anticipation begins to build. Once you arrive, it is still dark. You don your head lamp and determine where you want to set up your tripod. Check your settings. Take a couple of test shots. You are always amazed what today's camera sensors register in the darkness. And then you wait. You take a few more shots because there is nothing else to do even though you know they will never see the light of day. The it finally happens. The clouds start lighting up. You now know it is going to be a killer sunrise. The minutes pass by like hours until you start to see the tops of the mountain start to glow. This is when you can't be distracted because you know that this light show will last mere minutes. After the sun is up high enough to light the mountain, you begin to relax because you know you got some good photos. You know that you will shoot the rest of the day, but already the anticipation is beginning subconsciously  for tomorrow's sunrise.

Johnson Lake Clouds - Banff National Park, Alberta

Banff. So many amazing locations to shoot. Way too many to shoot during the golden hours over a four day visit. After a number of visits (five, if you are counting), it gets easier to prioritize which ones are the best at sunrise and sunset. That leaves other times of the day for everything else. Some photographers will tell you that for a photo to be good, you must shoot during the golden hours. I agree with them to a degree. If you are lucky enough to have good weather with nice cumulous clouds, the light that you get at sunrise and sunset can't be matched (it's not called golden hours for nothing). But to stop shooting because the golden light is gone is simply hogwash to me. Take this photo of Johnson Lake that I took in mid-afternoon. It wasn't the best conditions that I had on this visit. In fact, it was dreary most of the afternoon. If you are patient and wait long enough, you might get a little sunlight breaking through and lighting the treetops and clouds.

Tree - Palouse, Washington

Last August, I took Jeff Clow to the Palouse for a scouting trip. Many of the photos that I have posted from this beautiful area center on barns in all stages of repair (or disrepair); occupied or abandoned farmhouses; farm machinery; rolling farmland; and, of course, the iconic views from the top of Steptoe Butte at sunrise and sunset. The butte towers about 3,600 feet above the surrounding farmland. There you get a 360-degree view from its top. I thought I would post a different shot of the butte (instead of from the butte) from below. I really like the grand old tree and used it to frame the butte.

Mesa Arch Flare - Canyonlands, National Park, Utah

One of the most iconic and most challenging images to capture of the American Southwest is Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. Why is it so challenging? It is not because it is difficult to find or get to. It is really all about its popularity with photographers; getting "the" shot during a small window of time (sunrise); and a very small area for photographers to get a good position. In fact, there may be space for only 10-12 people, and there are some that camp out overnight to get a prime spot. So, even when you get up well before sunrise, drive 45 minutes from Moab, hike to its location, you may well be totally shut out.

Last March, we arrived before sunrise and more than half of the space to shoot the arch was taken. That left few areas to get any shot of the sunrise. I was able to get a position on the right side which enabled me to get this photo as the sun rose above the distant La Sal Mountains. I wasn't able to get the full arch into my composition until later in the morning. All in all, I was pretty happy with this image and liked the sun burst and sun flare.

Museum Covered Bridge - Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont

One of the sad things about progress is that remnants of the past slowly disappear. Sometimes, it is not obvious as the disappearance happens slowly over a long period of time. All of a sudden, we realize that what we once treasured is now hard to find. Take windmills for instance. At one time before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, there were over 200,000 windmills in Europe. Today, there are very few windmills to be found there. North America's version of the windmill are covered bridges. Many were built when horses were still the main method of transportation for individuals. Their decline started with the introduction of the automobile. Many have been replaced by modern roads and bridges. Do a search for covered bridges in your state and you will find quite a small number.

One sign that covered bridges are facing distinction is that some can now be found in museums. My wife and I spent some time in Vermont this past September and visited the terrific Shelburne Museum, which has a covered bridge on its grounds. The bridge once crossed the Lamoille River in Cambridge, Vermont. It was dismantled in 1949 and was moved to the museum grounds, situated over a small pond. The bridge is only open to foot traffic and I captured this photo of the pond and this one-room schoolhouse that was also relocated to the museum grounds. If you are in the Burlington area, please take a day visiting this unique museum. It is one of my favorites.


Desert Sky - Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Happy New Year! My week of not posting on the Blog or Social Media turned into two weeks. It was a time to reflect and I am looking forward to getting back in gear in 2017. 2016 was one of my most traveled years, and I am still behind in culling through last years photos. So let's get going.

This photo was taken last month in Death Valley. We got to the dunes well before sunrise and faced a half-mile to mile hike out from the parking lot. Donning our headlamps, we all headed out in different directions. As we hiked, the early morning light began to appear, revealing some great clouds in the sky. This is a bit unusual in that Death Valley doesn't usually have  a lot of cloud cover (we were blessed with clouds all week). I kept checking eastward to see how the clouds were being lit and realized early on that we were going to get quite a light show. I snapped this image just before the sun peeked over the mountains.

Wash View - Artist Palette, Death Valley National Park, California

One of our stops on Jeff Clow's Photo Tour to Death Valley was to Artist Palette. The main attraction at this stop is the palette itself that you can see in the upper left, although the colors from this angle are not that pronounced. Trust me, from the parking lot, you can get a great straight-on shot of the palette where the colors are really apparent and I do have those shots. For whatever reason, I was in an exploring mood during the whole week of my trip and so, after getting the straight-on shots, I climbed and hiked out to get a composition looking up the wash. From this point, you can see where the water would run on the very few occasions that it rains in Death Valley. It also gives a better view of the Black Mountains in the background. If you look at this photo large, you can see four of my fellow photographers shooting the palette. 

Dante's View - Death Valley National Park, California

When one thinks about Death Valley there are two things that usually come to mind: the scorching heat and the lowest point in North America. There is no dispute on either claims. The average summer temperature is about 120° Fahrenheit, with the hottest day on record hitting an unbelievable 134° Fahrenheit. The lowest point in North America is pictured in this photo, Badwater Basin at 283 feet below sea level. This view, known as Dante's View, is from the north side of Coffin Peak (the location names in Death Valley are cool, but I am sure that there are many sad stories of how they got them). Dante's View is actually at 5,476 feet above sea level, giving you an idea of how far we were above the basin.

A few of us visited this overlook on a pre-photo tour scouting trip. It wasn't a particularly cold morning and we had some great clouds. I hiked from the parking lot far enough to get a full shot of the salt flat down below. The clouds had a great pattern to them and I was lucky to get a shot of the sunrise hitting the tops of the Amargosa Mountain Range at the end of the basin to the right. Just another great day in Death Valley.

Evening Drive - Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada

On our way to join Jeff Clow's Death Valley Photo Tour, Jaki Good Miller and I headed to the Valley of Fire for a couple of days. After landing in Las Vegas, we were ready to head there for the hour-long drive on the highway. Using Google Maps, I saw that there was a much slower route that looked to travel on the west side of Lake Mead. Being a landscape lover, I opted to head on the hopefully more scenic route. 

What a great decision that turned out to be. After getting out of Vegas, we came to the entrance to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. I hadn't realized that we were actually driving on Federal land. After getting through the gate, the scenery was absolutely fabulous. With a sunset scheduled at a very early 4:30pm, we were blessed with great golden hour light most of the way to our hotel.  Near the end of the park lands, we pulled over for a road shot of this amazing scene. If you look at this photo large, you can see a bright red car coming toward us, giving you a sense of how big these  rock formations are. I don't know the name of them, so if you do, let me know.

Fire Wave - Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Before joining Jeff Clow's Death Valley Photo Tour (a must do) earlier this month, Jaki Good Miller and I headed to the Valley of Fire to visit this stellar Nevada State Park. According to its website, "The Valley of Fire derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape." I can attest to the uniqueness of the formations and their color.

One of the parks must do and see locations is the Fire Wave. Unlike the more famous wave in neighboring Arizona, the Fire Wave does not require permits and it is a grueling hike to get there. Yes, there is a decent hike involved, but it isn't that bad and well worth it. Unfortunately for Jaki, her new camera started freezing up. Even though I have the same camera, we both couldn't figure out what was going wrong. When we finally got to the Fire Wave, Jaki sat down to see if she could get it working and I headed down the wave. That's Jaki in the upper right corner of my photo. The good news was that we were able to get the camera working somewhat sporadically and she was able to shoot the wave. 

Dune Top - Death Valley National Park, California

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Last week I posted a photo of the highest dune in Mesquite Dunes at sunrise. I knew as soon as I saw it that I wanted to climb to the very top of the dune before I left that morning. So off I went toward that dune very slowly (slow is the key word as walking in the sand is never fast). Along the way, I ran into fellow photographer and great friend, Jaki Good Miller. She asked where I was going and I told here that as soon as I saw the height of that dune, I was going to stand on top of it. Of course, Jaki said she had that same thought, so off we went trudging though the sand. 

Let me tell you, climbing to the top of that dune was no easy feat. Every step you would take up the steep incline, you seemed to sink backwards three quarters of a step. I even tried running up (I must have looked like one of those cartoon characters) but it did not really make any difference. I was determined to make it and, if I didn't walk five miles a day, I am not sure I would have. Jaki, on the other hand, was an All-American athlete, but she was hampered with a bad foot. I made it up first and her first words after taking my photo was, I don't think I can make it. I knew that she would not let me stand there alone (she is quite competitive) and allow the old guy to beat her there. Minutes later she was standing next to me.

This photo shows the view looking down along the dune's ridge line. The photo below was taken by Rad Alzyoud with his very long lens of Jaki capturing my photo before her climb to the top,

Desert Ruggedness - Death Valley National Park, California

Twenty Mule Team Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California

In yesterday's post, I posted a photo that I took from the top of a rock formation in Twenty Mule Team Canyon. Today's post is from almost the same spot, but instead of looking eastward, I am looking westward toward the Amargosa Mountain Range that serves as a border to Death Valley. If you look at both photos, you get an appreciation of the diversity of the landscape in the park. This spot shows only a small section of the canyon, so you can imagine the vastness of it. Not only is it big, but the views from the tops of the rock formations show a harsh landscape that is extremely diverse.

Up On Top - Death Valley National Park, California

Twenty Mule Team Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California

Some the best locations to explore in Death Valley are the many canyons that seem to be just about everywhere. Some are small and narrow, while others are wide enough to have roads. Of all of the canyons that we visited, Twenty Mule Team Canyon was my favorite. Truth be told, it probably was my favorite spot in the park. The canyon was named after the teams of 18 mules and 2 horses that were attached to large wagons that transported 10 short tons of borax from the mines. The trip traversed the Mojave Desert and was 165 miles long. Considering temperatures during the summer can be as hot as 134 degrees, it must have been a very difficult trip.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon is quite large, and viewing it from the ground didn't give me the perspective of the area. Fortunately, the rock formations are climbable if you are in decent shape. So up I went to the top of many of the surrounding formations, some by a trail and others blazing a new trail. When I reached the top to look around, I had a 360-degree view of this section of the canyon. As you can see, the landscape is quite amazing, with small ravines running between the formations. The dirt road is in between the two formations on the left.

Dunes - Death Valley National Park, California

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Death Valley is part of the largest desert in North America, namely the Mojave Desert. Of course, when one thinks of the desert, one of the first things they picture are sand dunes. The one thing that surprised me about my visit to the valley was, while there were dunes, the majority of the park (at least the parts that I saw) was more valley floor and mountains. Fortunately, down a few miles from our hotel, the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes were there waiting for us to explore. Arriving at the parking lot for the dunes about an hour before sunrise, we trudged out toward the dunes in the distance with our flashlights and head lamps. Along the way, the clouds began to put on a light show, before the sun peeked above the horizon (we were lucky enough to have clouds most of the week, which is most unusual for Death Valley). I shot a number of photos of the clouds, but my heart was waiting for the sun to light up the landscape and the dunes to the west.

As you can see in this photo, the sun did its job and delivered amazing soft light that exceeded my expectations. My main subject was the big dune in the background, which is the highest point in Mesquite Flats (more on that in future posts). The sun and clouds were kind to me, leaving a soft pink glow in the sky. A great start to an amazing morning.

Layers - Death Valley National Park, California

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park, California

Last week was my first visit to Death Valley National Park. It has long been on my bucket list, and it being a National Park is always a bonus. The one thing that surprised me was the presence of lots of mountains. There are two mountain ranges that create the valley -- The Amargosa Range to the east and the Panamint Range to the west. Both ranges are quite long in length, measuring 100-110 miles. That makes a mountain-loving visitor like me very happy. Perhaps the most famous viewpoint of the Amargosa Mountains is the view from Zabriskie Point. Every sunrise you can find lots of photographers lined up waiting to see the rising sun gradually lighting up the landscape. 

The viewpoint is often photographed from above, which is what I did on both mornings that I visited. The second morning, I decided to hike down lower to get a different perspective of the rock formations. This is where I captured this photo. I really liked this composition as it showed different layers, including the shadowed foreground and the Amargosa Range in the background. The formation that looks like a shark's fin is named Manly Beacon after the man who searched for help to save his fellow prospectors during the Gold Rush of 1849. 

Me and the Amazon - Valley of Fire, Nevada

Just back from another awesome Jeff Clow Photo Tour to Death Valley. I have heard people ask why anyone goes there to shoot because it is just desert. When you go there, you will know. Anyway, Jaki Good Miller and I spent a couple of days before Jeff's tour and visited the Valley of Fire in Nevada. I spent a few hours there way back in 2000 before I was seriously into photography. Boy, what a shame I hadn't been back there until this trip. The terrain looks other worldly. Our first morning, we found Elephant Rock (above us in this photo) and decided to take a shadow selfie. It looks like Jaki is towering above me in this shot and I called her an Amazon. She told me that she was called that when she was an All American volleyball player at Marshall University. For those of you who don't know, Jaki was the first female volleyball player inducted into Marshall's Hall of Fame.