Posted by: kerryl29 | June 29, 2020

The World at Our Feet

Over the years, for some reason, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking at the ground when I size up a would-be photography site, particularly (but by no means exclusively) when I’m in a wooded setting.  This has produced approximately zero “trophy” shots; it has, however, generated a collection of what I consider to be intriguing images of the intimate variety.

Spring Forest Floor, Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

Forest Floor Intimate, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Beach Stones, Au Sable Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

These images, often filled with details and/or patterns, can produce a remarkably evocative picture of a place despite directly displaying only a tiny portion of it.

Fall Forest Floor, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Driftwood & Beach Stones, Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Dunes Abstract Black & White, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

I don’t often visit a location with this sort of image specifically in mind.  (An exception would be those occasions when my goal is to photograph what I term “flowerscapes.”)  And yet it’s remarkable how often I find myself indulging this secondary inclination.

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Forest Floor, Auxier Ridge Trail, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Fallen Maple Leaves Close-up, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Perhaps the best thing about this sort of subject is that it’s almost literally always present.  You simply have to be aware enough to consider the possibility.

Leaves and Roots, San Miguel County, Colorado

Whirlpool black & white, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Coos Canyon Intimate, Oxford County, Maine

I don’t think there’s a place I’ve visited for photography over the years where I haven’t at least considered a subject of this genre.  And more often than not I’ve followed through and produced the image…or images, plural.

Lichen Wall, Acadia National Park, Maine

West Rim Florals, Zion National Park, Utah

Ice Abstract Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Clash of Seasons, Eagle Creek Park, Marion County, Indiana

What I’ve found is, once the idea of a ground-level intimate pops into my head, I become awash to the plethora of possibilities that exist all around me.  And that’s when the creative part of the photo experience really comes to the fore.

Seashells Black & White, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Olivne Pools Intimate, Maui, Hawaii

Sand Ripples and Beach Stones Black & White, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Just remember to look down every now and again.  That’s likely all you’ll need to do to immerse yourself in this wonderfully rewarding type of landscape photography.

Pink Canyon Abstract, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

 

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 22, 2020

Big Bend Day 3: Further Explorations

The goal on the second full day at Big Bend National Park was to cover the major areas of the park yet to be explored, and fit in some hiking along the way.  The plan was to photograph sunrise somewhere along one of the main park roads–perhaps in the Dug Out Wells area which had been visited the previous day.  So I dutifully got up good and early and made my way into the park long before daybreak.  But as I was driving along, looking for a possible sunrise location, a key problem became obvious as it got lighter: it was cloudy.  With no sunrise likely, I changed gears and made my way to the major spot along the road to Rio Grande Village that I hadn’t checked out on Day 2:  the Hot Springs area.

The light was still coming up when I pulled off the paved road and onto the maintained but unpaved access road to Hot Springs.  This area of the park is a former resort spot–it predates the creation of the park–with the remains of some of the original buildings (a post office, motel and general store) still intact.  There’s a trailhead here, which leads down to the Rio Grande where the remains of the hot springs pool that was originally constructed in the first decade of the 20th Century (still used by many park visitors) is accessible.  I was the day’s first visitor to this spot and quickly checked out the buildings.  The old post office, with it’s accompanying (and very healthy looking) date palm tree immediately caught my attention in the early morning overcast.

Hot Springs Post Office, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I wandered down the trail, in the direction of the river, but before I got very far I reached the motel remains and another huge date palm tree, both of which made for interesting photographic subjects.

Hot Springs Motel Intimate Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Hot Springs Motel Intimate, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Date Palm Black & White, Hot Springs, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The light was even and the wind was virtually nonexistent.

Before I got much further I reached a rocky cliff side with a smattering of pictographs.  They were too far away for me to do much with them photographically, but they were quite interesting to look at.  I made my way down to the riverside amid signs of some clearing in the sky.  I wandered past the hot springs spot, which didn’t make much of a photograph, but not much farther along, still astride the river, I found a spot I found intriguing.

Rio Grande Black & White, Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The trail wound along for another quarter mile or so along the river and then gradually began to snake up the adjacent hillside.

Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Eventually it reached a series of overlooks of the Rio Grande Valley.

Rio Grande Valley Black & White, Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande Valley, Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande Valley, Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

By the time I’d taken the loop back to its point of origin, the area around the post office had taken on an entirely different look compared to my first photographic effort, so I set up again.

Hot Springs Post Office Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

It was still fairly early in the morning when I wrapped up at Hot Springs and took the park road all the way to its end, back at Boquillas Canyon.  My scouting session the previous day paid off as I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

From here, I headed back to The Basin, site of the previous day’s relatively short hike.  I decided to spend the bulk of the rest of this morning and early afternoon taking a longer, more strenuous hike on the Pinnacles Trail.  It was about three miles one way (six miles round trip) with an elevation gain of better than 1000 feet.  The locations of interest along the way would be a couple of grassy meadows in the high country, beginning with Juniper Flat, about 1.5 miles up the trail.

Casa Grande from Juniper Flat, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The meadow was interesting, with a mix of plant life, from cactus to evergreen trees to tall grasses.  The views of Casa Grande from this spot were excellent.

Casa Grande from Juniper Flat, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Juniper Flat was interesting but the next meadow–Boulder Meadow, another mile or so up the trail–was even more intriguing, mostly because it’s larger with more and better access points.  I spent a fair amount of time here.

Casa Grande from Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Casa Grande from Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Casa Grande from Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I went another half mile or so up the Pinnacles Trail, to a junction with another trail which led to other high country locations, but I didn’t feel that I had enough time–given the other things I still wanted to do this day–to explore any further on this trip, so I turned around and then spent even more time in Boulder Meadow on the return.  The below image of the Pinnacles Trail (the Pinnacles themselves are visible on the cliff in the background) was made at the spot where I turned around to head back down in the direction of the trailhead.

Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The images below were made on my second visit to Boulder Meadow.

Casa Grande from Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Boulder Meadow Black & White, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

As I descended closer to the trailhead more views of The Window–first seen the previous day–were revealed.

The Window, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The Window Black & White, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

When I returned to the trailhead I made a quick detour on the nearby paved Window View Trail and produced one head-on image of The Window.

The Window, Window View Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

As had been the case the following day, it started to cloud up significantly late in the afternoon.  I decided to make a run down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, all the way to the end:  Santa Elena Canyon, the other canyon access point to the Rio Grande, all the way on the opposite side of the park from Boquillas.

I took note of the many attractive features on the more than 30-mile long Scenic Drive, but didn’t stop as I wanted to reach Santa Elena before it got dark.  I did so, just as the only other people in the parking area were leaving, and raced down the short trail to the river.  It was at that point that I realized that further exploration of the canyon would be next to impossible.  Going beyond the first quarter mile or so of the trail requires crossing Terlingua Creek, which spills into the Rio Grande at this point.  While the creek was just a trickle, the area around the water was extremely muddy and, while I had my rubber boots with me, I’d left them in the car.  I took quick stock of the situation…if I ran back to the car and changed shoes, by the time I got into the canyon I’d have to come almost straight back as it would be very close to sunset time.  It didn’t appear that there would actually be a sunset for the second straight day, but the point was that it would be very dark inside the canyon and any real exploration would be next to impossible.  I’d have to come back on another day.

I started back along the scenic drive, caught sight of a location that I thought was intriguing and stopped.  I wandered out into the desert and found a composition, featuring an ocotillo in the foreground and set up.  To my surprise, as I was fine tuning the composition, some color appeared in the sky, even though I was facing northeast.  Pleased, I produced a couple of images.

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at Dusk, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at Dusk, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I got back in the car and headed north on the Scenic Drive, figuring that the day’s photography was over.  But then I caught a snatch of open sky to the west, in between some mountainous formations, and realized that there was a crack in the clouds near the horizon.  The sky was lighting up and here I was in the car with almost no western vantage point.  I drove on, hoping something would emerge and, sure enough, after about two minutes, it did.  I pulled off the road and raced to set up, glancing all the while for some sort of foreground.  There was just enough breeze at this spot to be annoying, but I waited it out.

Desert Sunset, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Realizing that the best of the sunset sky was never going to reach particularly high above the horizon on this evening, I pulled out the telephoto rig and focused on the intriguing pyramid-like shape of a distant formation.  It was extremely difficult to focus in the dim light, but I zipped into Live View mode and did what I could.  The below image was made at greater than 300 mm.

Desert Sunset, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

After a few moments the color began to fade and within a minute’s time, it was gone.  Another day of exploration and photography had come to an end.

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 15, 2020

The Story Behind the Image: Fastidiousness

During what became Waterfall Spring of 2016–a photo trip of about 10 days that May–I split my time between Ricketts Glen State Park in northeast Pennsylvania and a variety of locations in western New York.  As part of the latter piece of that trip, I visited a location known as Havana Glen.  A municipal park that includes a campground in the small town of Montour Falls in the Finger Lakes region of New York, the site is home to a remarkably rich number of photo opportunities given its circumscribed area.  The center of interest is Eagle Cliff Falls, a waterfall of about 50 feet in height located at the head of a box canyon.

When I visited this location I had it to myself for part of the time…a few people came and went while I was there, but no one else hung around for very long.  That was fortunate for me because it was a partly cloudy day and the sun kept going in and out.  I wanted to photograph the natural amphitheater in even light; that meant being patient during those times when direct sunlight fell on the scene and being ready to photograph when clouds acted as a diffuser.  You can imagine how frustrating it can be to, say, wait for 10 or 15 minutes for the light and then have someone walk into the scene once it’s shootable.  While this sort of thing has been a seemingly constant problem during my photo shoots, fortunately, it wasn’t a major problem on this day.

When I arrived the scene was in even light so I hastened to make a few images.  When the sun hit the setting–and I could see that it would be a little while before clouds might block the sun again–I did what I should have done in the first place: take a good look around and try to really examine all the elements that were present and think about how best to approach the scene.

As I mentioned, the waterfall was at the rear of the canyon, pouring over a sizable cliff.  From there, the water zigged and zagged fairly chaotically, until it approached the mouth of the canyon where the creek tumbled over a series of cascades before pouring through a narrow slot.  Once on the waterfall side of the slot, only some of the cascades were accessible and, even then, only a few tiers of them could be used as a foreground, due both to outright accessibility issues and visual limitations caused by the contours of the slot itself.  if you were too far down the line of cascades, Eagle Cliff Falls simply disappeared from view.

I examined my options carefully.  Given the issues noted above, where should I set up?  I’d donned waterproof footwear, as is my custom when photographing around water, so I had a few more choices at my disposal than would otherwise have been the case.  After looking through the viewfinder at a number of possibilities, the scene came together for me.  I wandered out into the creek, taking great care with my steps as the wet rocks were quite slippery, and set up near the left-hand edge of the top cascade tier.  The tripod was set up fairly low–roughly at knee-height–to produce a bit of an in-your-face perspective with the foreground.  I let the waterfall ease to the right-hand side of the upper half of the frame; the canyon wall on the left side was better aligned with the slant of the cascade, and better enhanced the overall lower-left to upper-right flow of the composition.  The upper right-hand corner was nicely filled by an overhanging tree branch, lush with fresh spring greenery.

It took me awhile to find it, but I kept looking and eventually it came together rather nicely.

Eagle Cliff Falls, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 8, 2020

Big Bend, Day 2: Discovery

As I mentioned in the last entry, my plan was to spend Day 2 at Big Bend National Park photographing daybreak at Dagger Flat.  Dagger Flat is an area in the east-central part of the park, and probably the most cactus-strewn tract that’s relatively accessible.  it’s reached by following an unpaved road known, somewhat misleadingly, as the Dagger Flat Auto Trail.  The road runs for roughly seven miles to the east of the main park (paved) road that runs between the north entrance and Panther Junction.  As long as it hasn’t rained recently, this road doesn’t require four-wheel drive to be traversed.  High clearance, however, is recommended; I wouldn’t take, say, a Ford Mustang on this road.  And if it has rained in the area recently, I would avoid this route entirely as it will become impassable fairly quickly.

As noted last time, I stayed in Marathon the night of Day 1. The drive to the Dagger Flat turnoff went smoothly.  I saw no other vehicles on the 60-or so mile drive but I did see a ton of rabbits darting hither and thither through the vehicle headlights once I was inside the park.  I estimated an hour’s drive or so to the turnoff for the Dagger Flat Auto Trail, and an indeterminate amount of time to drive the seven miles to the end of the road.  I’d never been on this road before so I wasn’t sure what to expect and, what’s more, I’d be making this first drive in the dark.  So, I gave myself an extra 45 minutes.  This turned out to be a wise call because driving this road in the dark was, while not dangerous, a bit iffy in a few spots.

When I reached the end of the road–which is indicated by a large circular area allowing for a relatively easy turn around process to head back toward the main park road, light was just beginning to come up.  It was chilly–not horribly cold–and windless.  I got out and looked around, attempting to size up the location.  Cacti–mostly yuccas–dotted the scene, which was rolling and rocky, with ridges and mountains in the distance, particularly to the south and west.

Before I knew it, color appeared in the eastern sky and I hastened to take advantage of it.

Dagger Flat Sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The sky conditions were mostly, but not entirely, cloudy.

Dagger Flat at Sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The pinkish color in the east sky didn’t last long.  I climbed most of the way up a fairly steep, rocky rise and pointed my camera to the southwest.

Dagger Flat at Sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat at Sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat at Sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat at Sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Before long, dawn was over, but that didn’t mean photography had come to an end.  I got back in my vehicle and made my back towards the main park road but stopped whenever something caught my eye, which was frequently.

Dagger Flat Morning, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat Morning, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat Morning, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat Morning, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat Morning, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat Morning, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat Morning, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I didn’t see another soul during the several hours I spent at Dagger Flat.

After I reached the main park road, I turned south, in the direction of Panther Junction and its visitors center.  Before I got there, I spotted a scene along the road that drew my attention and stopped to photograph it.

Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, Texas

After stopping at the visitors center and officially securing my park pass for the week, I headed off to do some exploring–which covered most of the rest of the morning and early afternoon.  My first stop was at Dug Out Wells, a one-time ranch site–with the windmill still intact.

Dug Out Wells Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

There’s a short–but very interesting–nature trail also located at Dug Out Wells and I took a turn on it and made a few images, featuring some of the three different types of prickly pear cactus that are endemic to the Chihuahuan Desert

Chisos Mountains, Dug Out Wells, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Chisos Mountains, Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, Dug Out Wells, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Chisos Mountains, Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, Dug Out Wells, Big Bend National Park, Texas

From here, I continued south, all the way to the end of the line.  This extension of the park road takes the traveler all the way down, ultimately, to the Rio Grande, which can be accessed from a number of spots, including Hot Springs, Rio Grande Village and, ultimately, Boquillas Canyon.  I checked out all of these locations, other than Hot Springs (to which I would return for an extensive exploration and photo session later during my time in the area), and several other spots as well (a couple of river overlooks, primarily).  I wandered around Rio Grande Village a bit and made the short hike (about 2.5 miles round trip) into Boqullias Canyon.  The midday light was awful, so these were all scouting sessions–with one exception.  I had hauled my gear, seemingly pointlessly, into Boquillas Canyon, but far along the trail, I spotted some turtles swimming in the Rio Grande shallows.  I was perched high above them–there was no way to get close in this part of the canyon–but tried to make the best of the situation.

Big Bend Slider, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend Slider, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

When I was done with the exploring, it was around 2 PM.  I decided to check out the Basin area, next.  The Basin, accessed by a winding paved road, is the jumping off point for numerous trails that lead into the Chisos Mountains high country.  This area has a very different look and feel, both literally and figuratively, compared to the desert floor well below.  The Basin has a lodge, store and visitors center and a good-sized parking area.  I poked around the immediate area a bit, and checked out the very short (1/4 mile) Windows View Trail, which is paved, with a nice view of the Window, a v-shaped cut in rocky cliffs to the west of the overlook.

By now it was around 3:30 PM, probably too late to take any of the longer hikes I had in mind from this area.  Deferring those to later in the trip, I decided to check out the relatively short (around 2.5 miles) Basin Loop Trail, with the intention to be back at the Basin itself, leaving myself more than enough time to potentially photograph sunset from the Windows View Trail.

The Basin Loop Trail has some very nice views of Casa Grande, one of the Basin’s most notable landmarks.

Casa Grande, Basin Loop Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Casa Grande Black & White, Basin Loop Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

There are also some interesting views of the Window–more oblique in perspective than those from the Window View Trail.

The Window, Basin Loop Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

All in all, it was a pleasing hike.

Basin Loop Trail Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

It had clouded up considerably by the time I finished the hike, about 90 minutes before sunset.  Rather than hanging around to photograph a sunset that was beginning to appear wouldn’t happen, I decided to check out a few areas in the western part of the park, which I hadn’t yet explored at all.  But before I took off I spent some time photographing a particularly cooperative roadrunner who was hanging out between the trailheads area and the Basin Store.

Greater Roadrunner, The Basin, Big Bend National Park, Texas

It’s about 15 miles from the bottom of the Basin road to the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive that leads into the southwest part of the park, and about 10 miles or so up the drive you reach its high point–Sotol Vista.  It was within 30 minutes or so of sunset when I got there, and still mostly cloudy, but this is where I chose to make my stand.  Indeed, it remained mostly cloudy, but I tried to make the best of it, focusing on images that I thought would work in black and white.

Foothills Black & White, Sotol Vista, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Sotol Vista Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

With one exception.  A small crack appeared in the southwest sky and I pulled out the long lens to try to take advantage of it.

Mountain Sunset, Sotol Vista, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Before long the crack had closed and the light show for the day was over.  I checked into my lodgings in Terlingua, just outside the park’s west gate, and plotted my course of action for the next day.

Posted by: kerryl29 | June 1, 2020

Big Bend: Planning Considerations

This post is a general recitation of my experience setting up my visit to Big Bend National Park during the first half of February and will include a small subset of images from my brief time in the park on the day I drove to the area.

As I mentioned during my introductory post a couple of weeks ago, I first became familiar with Big Bend several decades ago but had never even come close to formally planning a trip there due to its remoteness.  As a function of my partial relocation to the Houston area last year, it was finally plausible to consider visiting the park.  During the planning phase, which took place in December, roughly two months before I planned to make the trip, I learned a number of interesting things.

Chihuahuan Desert Sunset, Big Bend National Park, Texas

1) Big Bend National Park is rarely, if ever, truly “crowded,” in the U.S. national park sense of the term.  The park receives approximately 440,000 visitors a year.  Let’s put that in some perspective.  Only nine national parks in the continental United States received fewer visitors in 2018 (the last year for which full data is available) than Big Bend; three of those nine cannot be accessed by car.  By comparison, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (a place I have visited numerous times) drew more than 11 million visitors in 2018.  But Big Bend has roughly 60% more acreage than Great Smoky Mountains.  Yosemite National Park has only slightly less area than Big Bend but it drew nearly 10 times the number of visitors.  The only time, I was told, when things even begin to get somewhat crowded at Big Bend is during spring break–some time around the middle of March.  Otherwise, particularly on weekdays, things aren’t ever particularly busy, at least compared to most national parks in the continental United States.

2) Probably the best time to visit Big Bend, photographically speaking, is during the height of the wildflower/cactus bloom.  Some years are better than others for wildflowers at Big Bend–as is the case for most desert landscapes–and the timing is somewhat variable, but usually takes place at the very end of February and over the first couple of weeks of March.  Summer, while not a terrible time photographically (it covers the monsoon season, which can provide dramatic skies and lighting conditions), is pretty terrible in every other sense, because it gets very, very hot.  Winters are mostly pleasant, though it can get very cold at night and in the high country of the Chisos Mountains within the park.

3) Big Bend, which covers more than 800,000 acres of the Chihuahuan Desert tucked into the (where else?) big bend of the Rio Grande in southwest Texas is remote.  I alluded to this in my earlier post, but it’s difficult to overstate just how remote it is.  Brewster County, Texas, which includes the park, covers almost 6200 square miles and has a population of just under 9300, total.  It includes, believe it or not, a grand total of one incorporated city, Alpine, which is home to about 2/3 of the county’s population.  Alpine is more than 70 miles from the north entrance to Big Bend.  So…remote.

Persimmon Gap, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Unlike most US. national parks there are no bordering “feeder” towns immediately outside Big Bend.  Feeder towns contain lots of services–hotels, restaurants, gas stations, outfitters and the like–for park visitors.  Zion has Springdale, Utah.  Yellowstone has feeder towns near three of its four entrances.  Yosemite has…Mariposa, sort of, plus the park itself, home to thousands of lodge rooms and Yosemite Village, which is a hiccup away from being a full-blown outdoor mall.  Acadia has Bar Harbor…and so on.  There is nothing like this at Big Bend.  Whether this is the reason for the park’s low visitor total or a product of it is much debated, but irrelevant, for our purposes.

There is a lodge inside Big Bend National Park; there’s a small (but fairly well stocked) store as well, and a gas station.  Sounds perfect, right?  The problem is that it’s effectively impossible to reserve a room at the lodge.  I know because I tried.  Two months in advance, everything was sold out.  This led to further investigation and I determined in short order that the entire year of 2020 (remember, this was in December, 2019) was sold out.  Apparently rooms do become available at the last minute from time to time due to cancellations but that’s only significant if you don’t want or need to plan ahead…and, of course, there’s no guarantee that a room will become available.  Ever.

There are a number of campgrounds inside the park and there was space available at all of them, I believe, during my time at Big Bend.  There are about 200 sites, but only 25 or so have RV hookups.  (There are also a number of primitive camping sites within the park that must be hiked to.)

Sunset Silhouette, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Let’s talk about the park’s logistics a bit.  It has two entrances, one on the north and one on the west.  The southern and eastern edges of the park are bordered by the Rio Grande.  The nearest town, such as it is, to the northern entrance is Marathon, population a bit more than 400.  Marathon, which has three places to stay, a tiny grocery store, two gas stations (one of which has pumps which are accessible 24 hours a day) and a couple of restaurants, is 42 miles from the northern entrance to Big Bend.  It’s nearly 70 miles north of Panther Junction, a kind of mid-point inside the park.  So, the nearest place to base oneself north of the park has very little in the way of services and is really too far to be used as a base camp.

There is a town–of sorts–very close to the western entrance to the park:  Study Butte-Terlingua (which is technically two places, on opposite sides of a bridge crossing Terlingua Creek.  The total population of this area is approximately 300.  There are some places to stay; there are a couple of places to eat and a grocery store as well as a gas station.  It’s about a five-minute drive from here to the west gate and about a 30-minute drive to Panther Junction.  If you can’t stay inside the park, this really is pretty much the only viable option if you’re going to visit the park for more than one day.

Further discussion of the park’s layout and other considerations will be made during my day-by-day posts covering my time in the park.

I drove from the Houston area to Marathon on Saturday, February 8.  It’s a long drive–more than 550 miles.  Most of it is on I-10, and after traveling east of San Antonio it gets very empty very quickly.  (The drive included a gas stop at Buc-ees, something of a Texas roadside institution which really must be experienced.)  You drive through the Texas Hill Country, west of San Antonio, and the terrain gradually transforms to desert thereafter.  Exiting at the nondescript Ft. Stockton, it’s a solid hour’s drive on U.S. 385 to the speck that is Marathon.  I arrived there late in the afternoon and, after unloading my things, decided to make a run into the park, even though it would take the better part of 45 minutes to get there.  I thought, at least, that I might have the opportunity to scout a sunrise spot for the following morning and, perhaps, get a bit of shooting in before the sun set.

Persimmon Gap, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I drove the deserted US-385 south, past the Border Patrol station about five miles south of Marathon, and reached the park entrance without encountering a single southbound vehicle.  The entrance station was deserted, so I went in without paying (I rectified this at Panther Junction the next morning) and poked around.  The light was pretty nice the entire time I was there but there was a copious desert breeze.  It was temperate–and dry as a bone (humidity is extremely low in the Chihuahuan Desert–typically 20% or below)–when I arrived there, but it got quite chilly before I packed it in.  Fortunately, I came prepared with a number of jackets.

I didn’t get very far.  The Dagger Flat Road is the first major “thoroughfare” south of the north entrance, 15-20 miles into the park.  Even though it was my intended destination for the following morning, I never made it there that evening.  All the images you see accompanying this entry were made that evening, at non-specific points in the desert along the park road between the Persimmon Gap Visitors Center (just inside the north gate) and the Dagger Flat Road.

The next installment in this series will begin to cover the day-by-day experience of this trip.

Big Bend Moonrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 26, 2020

The Story Behind the Image: By the Sea

Landscape photography is fundamentally about seeing; of that I am convinced.  But sometimes seeing is only the first step; completing the photo requires figuring out how to execute the process, and that can take on many different forms.  Consider the following experience.

In the spring of 2015, I took a trip to the West Coast.  The principal destination was the southern Oregon coast, where I spent a week.  (The Bandon Beach image that was the subject of a recent Story Behind the Image entry, was made on this trip.)  The secondary destination on the same trip was the redwood forest of far northern California, where I spent a few days.

There are several state parks–and one national park–devoted to the redwood groves in this part of California which are jointly managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Parks Service.  I was staying in Crescent City and was making the drive to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park, both of which are located 30-plus minutes south of Crescent City.  Doing so required driving through Del Norte Redwoods State Park which, unsurprisingly, is mostly made of up of forest.  But as you drive south on US-101, known colloquially as the Redwood Highway, and you reach the southern portion of the Del Norte, you hit a clearing and you can see the Pacific Ocean.

The Redwood Highway in this area is a winding two-lane road that hugs the coastal area; it’s quite hilly, if not truly mountainous in nature.  Guard rails line most of the ocean side of the road, for obvious reasons.  Shoulders are narrow and rare.  Pull-offs are rarer still, and when they are present, it’s almost impossible to anticipate them because of the dramatic curves in the road and the decent amount of traffic on this, the only north-south through route in the area.  By the time you see a pull-off, it’s virtually impossible to safely access it.

On the morning of my drive south, I was admiring the scene, while still keeping my eyes mostly on the road, and I caught a glimpse of a patch of yellow in my peripheral vision.  I quickly glanced at it, saw what looked like a shock of flowers and the ocean and then…it was gone…because I’d driven past it, whatever it was exactly.  I went on to my planned destinations, where I spent most of the rest of the day, but I couldn’t get the earlier experience out of my mind.  I attempted to find the location again when I returned to Crescent City that evening, but I was heading the wrong direction and couldn’t spot it.

Determined to get a better look at what had caught my attention, I made a special trip back to the area, again heading south on the Redwood Highway, the next day.  I couldn’t remember exactly where I had seen what I’d spotted, but tried to go relatively slowly when I approached what I thought was the area, without holding up traffic.  I caught sight of the yellow this time and could tell that the color represented a patch of wildflowers.  What’s more I could see, though I didn’t have time enough to slow down and stop, that there was a pull-out located a very short distance north of the wildflower patch that would provide some access to the spot.  I drove ahead to the Wilson Creek Beach parking area, about a mile south of my pull-out, and turned around, heading back north on the Redwood Highway.  When I got all the way to the parking area for the Damnation Creek Trail, at least five miles up the road to the north, I pulled in and again turned around, heading back south.  I made sure that I waited to pull out on the road so that no one was right behind me and headed back toward the pull-out.

This time, I was able to anticipate the spot and was able to get off the road.  I still wasn’t sure that there was a photograph to be made, but I felt compelled to check it out.  The light wasn’t any good at the moment, but if I determined that the spot was photo-worthy, I could plan to come back when the light was nicer.  So, I checked it out.  What I found was the patch of wildflowers serving a s foreground for a very attractive coastal view.  With good light and a nice sky, I reasoned, this would make a very nice image indeed.  Accordingly, I marked the spot on my GPS so finding it wouldn’t be a problem in the future.

Early evening on the following day, I planned to photograph sunset at Wilson Creek Beach.  My pull-off would be right along the way, so I made the decision to stop there first.  The conditions were almost perfect.  The light was quite nice, the sky was partly cloudy, with interesting formations and there wasn’t a breath of wind–a much appreciated factor since I knew that I’d have to focus stack to complete the shot.  With access to the pull-out and the lack of wind, executing the final image was a simple matter and, I think, well worth the effort.

Pacific Coast, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 18, 2020

Big Bend National Park: An Introduction

I first became familiar with Big Bend National Park in the 1980s.  I don’t recall how; I must have read an article about the park in some publication.  Regardless of specifics, I’ve always wanted to visit the park and my interest only increased as I became truly serious about photography in the late 1990s.  And yet, I never even came close to actually making a trip to Big Bend.

Chichuahuan Desert Sunset, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend probably isn’t the most remote national park in the continental United States; either Isle Royale or Dry Tortugas, neither of which can be reached by land, probably wins that title.  But, make no mistake, Big Bend is plenty remote.  The nearest commercial airport is located in Midland, about three hours away.  The nearest sizable airport, in El Paso, is 4 1/2 hours away.  San Antonio is roughly six hours distant.  And unlike some other relatively remote national parks in the continental U.S.–Yellowstone, for instance, or Glacier–there are no large “feeder towns,” filled with accommodations and other services, nearby.  No, Big Bend is remote.  And during the period of time that I was based exclusively in the Midwest, the logistics of making a trip to the park seemed too onerous to seriously consider.  So, I didn’t.

Desert Dawn, Big Bend National Park, Texas

But when the Indianapolis area hub was replaced by Houston last year, the thought of a making a journey to Big Bend became, if not easy, at least viable.  Houston is not close to Big Bend.  Hardly.  But it is within a day’s drive…a long day’s drive (roughly 650 miles), but a day’s drive nonetheless.  So, last December, I began to seriously ponder driving out to Big Bend–for no more than a week, including two full days for the round trip drive–in the first half of February, before the west Texas heat begins to become oppressive.

Rio Grande Valley, Hot Springs Loop Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

It was a good thing I went when I did.  The coronavirus pandemic hadn’t impacted the area at all during my trip (I was on the ground at the park for five full days), but within a month of my return to the Houston area on February 14, the park was closed to the public and remains so, as of this writing.

Desert Sunset, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

To say that my experience at the park wasn’t a disappointment would be a massive understatement.  Though set in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, a vast variety of different ecosystems, with their own distinct looks and feels, exist within the park boundaries.

Located in the eponymous Big Bend region of the Rio Grande (which serves as the park’s southern border), access to towering river canyon walls can be obtained in multiple locations.

Rio Grand Black & Whte, Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The Basin high country of the Chisos Mountains provides an interesting–and on a warm day, welcome–contrast to the desert floor.

Casa Grande, Basin Loop Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The Hot Springs area provides a fine entree to the Rio Grande Valley.

Hot Springs Post Office Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Dagger Flat takes the visitor right into a cactus-strewn section of desert.

Dagger Flat, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is almost a park inside a park.

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive from Sotol Vista, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The Grapevine Hills area is worth the ride on an iffy road.

Grapevine Hills Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

And the nearly limitless opportunities to hike are not to be missed.

Window Drop-Off Black & White, Windows Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Interesting wildlife abounds.

Greater Roadrunner, The Basin, Big Bend National Park, Texas

And the photo opportunities endlessly ebb and flow with the changing light.

Mule Ears Sunrise, Mule Ears Viewpoint, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

And the remoteness of the park, the catalyst to some of its challenges, also presents a huge positive:  the park almost always feels relatively empty.

Sunset, Sotol Vista, Big Bend National Park, Texas

In the coming weeks I’ll detail my February experience at Big Bend.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Windmill Sunrise, Dug Out Wells, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 11, 2020

The Story Behind the Image: When You Least Expect It

Although it’s been a few years since I’ve been there, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been a frequent destination for me.  I’ve spent extended time five times, all but one of them in the spring, when the dogwoods and wildflowers are in bloom and the creeks are flush with the winter run-off.  Most of my trips to the park have been relatively successful, because the conditions on those occasions have been, if not perfect (they’re never perfect), decent.

There was one exception, however, and that’s when I spent a a few days in the Smokies in April, 2009.  As I recall, I was there for parts of four days; I’ve typically been on site for about a week at a time, so cutting things short in this particular instance was probably my first mistake.  Regardless, the problem on this trip was that I experienced one blue sky day after another, without interruption.  As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, the only thing worse than an endless string of cloudless days is an endless string of days of hard rain.  This is particularly true at a location like the Smokies, which is filed with forested spots that rarely photograph well in bright sunlight.

Because of the sky conditions, the days on this trip were filled with frantic sessions at the edges of the day–when the light was briefly nice and/or there were good-sized plots in the even light of the shade cast by the steep mountainsides.  The rest of the daylight hours were spent scouting and photographing diffused subjects–when the wind cooperated, which wasn’t often.  (Don’t get me started on that subject.)

The park straddles the Tennessee/North Carolina state line and I’ve always lodged in Townsend, Tennessee, just a short distance from the Tremont section of the park.  On one day of that 2009 trip, I’d spent the afternoon on the North Carolina side of the park, and early in the evening I was returning on the Newfound Gap Road to the Tennessee side.  The Newfound Gap Overlook is the high point of the road as it crosses the mountains and roughly straddles the state boundary.  A series of tight curves makes up the first part of the decent back into Tennessee and the road drops steeply back in the direction of the Little River.  I was probably halfway down the mountainside, snaking through a series of bends in the road, alternating between areas bathed in the remaining light of the day and those in dark sunlight when I rounded a curve and something to my left caught my eye.  I was moving too quickly to tell exactly what it was, but it had been striking, so when I reached the next pull-off on the road, I took it, got out, and ran a few hundred yards back up the shoulder to see what it was that had attracted my attention.

A tree on the roadside, right next to a fairly sheer drop-off, in fresh spring greenery, its leaves just beyond the budding stage, was in a shaft of sunlight.  The mountainside in the background was in deep shadow.  The contrast was striking; the still budding leaves lit up like tiny jewels.  I ran back down the road to get my camera and tripod, then ran back to the original spot; there was no time to lose because when the tree was no longer sunlit, the image would be gone.

I sized up a composition for the first time.  There was no way to include the entire tree in the frame.  It was too tall; the top was above the distant ridge line, which would destroy the intimate, contrasting effect were it to be included.  My focus was on two adjacent boughs and the branches arching from them.  I filled the frame with the two trunks and their progeny and exposed entirely for the highlights.  If the shadows went completely dark, so much the better.  Fortunately, for one of the few times during that trip, at that moment there was a little wind.

The end result was what had caught my attention in the first place:  the bright green buds and a kind of rim light that carved the detail of the branches into the viewer’s imagination.  On a trip mostly devoid of memorable images, this one continues to stand out for me.

Backlit Tree, Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 4, 2020

Hawaii, Day 14: Aloha

[If you’re wondering why I’m detailing photographic experiences on this blog as if a pandemic wasn’t ravaging the planet, click here.  Be sure to read the comments.]


The final full day of last year’s trip to Hawaii–and the last day of photography, period–began as the previous day, had:  at Papawai Point.  It was my third daybreak at the point, but good early morning spots are limited on the west coast of Maui.  I didn’t get anything remotely like the previous day’s sunrise, but there was a brief moment where the sky above Haleakala lit up.

Papawai Point Dawn, Maui, Hawaii

Brilliant as it was, the effect didn’t last very long and there were only a few other images to be made at this spot that morning.

Sunrise Over Haleakala, Papawai Point, Maui, Hawaii

One of those images was of the sky to the north, above the hill across the road.

Papawai Point Dawn, Maui, Hawaii

Another was of the view to the west, featuring the island of Lanai in the background.

Papawai Point Morning, Maui, Hawaii

When I was done at the point, I made the drive north along the West Maui coast to Ka’anapali.  On both of my previous visits to Maui, roughly 40 years prior, we’d stayed at Ka’anapali.  Needless to say, it has changed a bit over the past four decades.  I strolled up and down the pedestrian walkway, adjacent to the beach, and found a few things that caught my attention.

Ka’anapali Beach Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

Palm Morning, Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Rainbow Sail, Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Boats Black & White, Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Ka’anapali Beach Morning, Maui, Hawaii

One of the Ka’anapali Beach hotels–I think it was the Hyatt but I won’t swear to it–had a number of birds wandering around on its property.  I photographed a few of them from the walkway.

Mute Swan, Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Ducks, Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Black Swan, Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Black Swan, Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Flamingo, Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Flamingo, Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii

I headed the short distance north, up to Kapalua, and spent more time on the trail that I’d only had a short opportunity to explore several days prior.  This time I spent several hours poking around, and covered a couple of miles of the rugged seaside along the Kapalua Coastal Trail.

Kapalua Coastal Trail, Maui, Hawaii

Kapalua Coastal Trail Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

Note the natural “swimming pools” in the image below.  They’re probably pretty enticing as long as a rogue wave, aided by an incoming tide, doesn’t swamp them.

Kapalua Coastal Trail, Maui, Hawaii

When I was done on the trail, it was early afternoon.  I drove back south, through Lahaina, and stopped at a spot I’d driven past three or four times since I’d been on the island.  Ukumahame Beach stretches right along the Hanoapillani Highway (HI-30), and there’s one spot where the trees and the surf meet.  I pulled off the road.  The light was pretty harsh, but I thought it would work for black and white conversions, so I set up and made several images of the scene.  I even left one image in color, just to provide a contrasting (see what I did there?) view.

Ukumahame Beach Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

Ukumahame Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Ukumahame Beach Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

It was still fairly early in the afternoon after this brief stop and I drove back to my lodgings in Kihei.  The hotel I was staying at sits right on Keawakapu Beach.  At about three in the afternoon I wandered, shoeless (and gearless), out on to the beach, which stretches uninterrupted for miles to the south and just walked in the shallow water, until I didn’t feel like walking anymore.  Then I turned around and headed back in the direction of my starting point.

When I was a kid, I spent countless hours in the ocean; it was a significant part of my formative years.  During my walk on Keawakapu Beach and points south that day, I tried to remember when I had last gone swimming in the ocean and I realized, after much effort, that it had been on my last trip to Hawaii, in 1980.  I had not yet turned 16 years old; I hadn’t been in the ocean for 39 years!

Until that day.  Late that afternoon, I spent 30 glorious minutes remembering, through experience, what it was like to dodge waves and frolic in the surf.  It might have been the best choice I made on the entire trip.  (The best decision I made before the trip might have been to buy a pair of bathing trunks, which made bathing a possibility.)

The mood had been set.  When I was done in the water, I walked back to my hotel, rinsed off the sand, changed clothes and wandered back out to the rocky area on Keawakapu Beach to see what kind of a sunset there would be.  It was a bit of an anticlimax, but I wasn’t sorry that I’d headed out one last time

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

West Maui from Keawakapu Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Dusk, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

And with that, the final day of photography on the trip to Hawaii was over; I had a red-eye flight back to the mainland the following day.  I had hoped to get back to the islands at some point in the next couple of years to photograph the wonders of the Big Island and Molokai, but I hadn’t even developed a serious plan for doing so and with the uncertainty of travel given the pandemic, all such thoughts are on indefinite hold.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed seeing a bit of Hawaii vicariously through my eyes.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time at Big Bend National Park in west Texas in early February, before virus-related concerns shut things down in the United States.  I’ll turn the blog’s attention to that experience in the coming weeks.

Please be smart in your actions and stay healthy.

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 27, 2020

The Story Behind the Image: Bandon Beach at Sunset

[If you’re wondering why I’m detailing photographic experiences on this blog as if a pandemic wasn’t ravaging the planet, click here.  Be sure to read the comments.]


Photographing on the Oregon coast can be frustrating.  Despite indescribable beauty stretching for hundreds of miles, being able to appreciate the splendor without a thick pasting of marine layer fog can be difficult to achieve.  That truism, in fact, describes pretty much the entire Pacific coast, from (roughly) Santa Barbara, California in the south all the way to the Cape Flattery, on the northwest tip of Washington.

I got a heavy dose of this reality when I spent a few days on the Oregon coast in July of 2009, when views, particularly around sunset, were pretty much always extinguished by the marine layer.  On one of two days when I was based in Bandon, Oregon that year, I spent hours on the beach beginning in the afternoon, right through the evening, in a futile attempt to see a Pacific sunset.  It wasn’t a total waste of time, as the marine layer thinned just enough shortly before the appointed hour of sunset to produce a diffused, surreal scene.  The glow was fleeting, however.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon is known for its long, deep beach, which is rarely if ever truly crowded, and for its plethora of interestingly shaped offshore rocks and seastacks.  When I returned to the Oregon coast–this time for a full week–in May of 2015, I based myself in Gold Beach, a solid hour south of Bandon, but I was determined to spend a bit of time, weather conditions permitting, at the latter spot.  I wanted to see what a Bandon sunset was like.

I spent part of the third day of that particular trip mostly at points north of Gold Beach.  I was at Floras Lake State Natural Area, just north of Cape Blanco, late in the afternoon that day.  Unsurprisingly, a marine layer event had fogged things in that day, but as I was trudging back to my car I noticed that the marine layer was beginning to burn off.  I was only about 20 minutes south of Bandon and I decided that this was the time to take a chance.  I was nearby, the unfolding weather was beginning to look promising; this might be my shot at Bandon without the fog.

Sure enough, as I drove closer and closer to Bandon, the conditions became better and better.  By the time I pulled into the parking lot at Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, the marine layer was completely gone.  It was only about an hour until sunset and things looked good.  I descended to the beach, and headed to the area that I’d found so appealing six years earlier.  The tide situation was a bit different, but it didn’t matter all that much.  What did matter, however, was that, unlike my previous visit when I’d been the only photographer on the entire beach (best I could tell), this time there were a number of other individuals already set up when I got there.  That meant that, unlike my prior experience, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to go anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted.  I needed to pick out a spot, one that wouldn’t interfere with anyone else already on site, and pretty much stay put.

And so I did.  And I got a few images that I was relatively pleased with, if not entirely wild about (see immediately below).

Bandon Evening, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

The thing about photographing rocks and seastacks is that composing them in a pleasing way, where they don’t merge with one another much, if at all, can be extremely challenging.  It can be hard enough when you’re free to set up anywhere; it’s immeasurably more difficult when you can’t move about.

The truly spectacular sunset that I think we were all hoping for never really happened.  Despite a very nice array of clouds, the sun dropped behind a cloud bank as it dipped below the horizon, which muted its impact considerably.  The other photographers melted off and I used that opportunity to move.  The light was still nice and if the post-sunset sky wasn’t epic, it was still quite pleasing.  Craving a completely different look, I virtually ran up the beach to the north, hoping that I’d find something that caught my eye before the light faded to nothing.

Suddenly, I found it.  Unmarred ripples in the wet sand.  An arching waterline lovingly wrapping around a foreground rock.  Face Rock itself, with a smattering of others, off in the distance.  The pastel-colored clouds and their reflections in the tidepool and wet sand.  I set up quickly, fine-tuned the composition to maximize the effect of the leading line and produced the image you see below.

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

Finally–and fortunately for me, not for the last time on this trip–the marine layer had cooperated at sunset.

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