Posted by: kerryl29 | July 6, 2020

Big Bend Day 4: The Park in Monochrome

My fourth day–third full–at Big Bend this past February was…different.  It started out cloudy and stayed that way all day long.  In fact, it started raining late in the afternoon and it didn’t stop until well after dark.  Yes, it does rain in the Chihuahuan Desert, and not just during the monsoon season.

Cloudy was, in fact, the forecast, so I was prepared.  I didn’t get up early, which was a good call, as there was no sunrise.  It was also quite chilly and windy, making for less than ideal photo conditions.  Wide open scenes–abundant in the desert–rarely photograph well when it’s cloudy, so I decided to spend my time in places that I thought would benefit from even light.  That meant making another trip to Santa Elena Canyon–my visit there the previous day had been thwarted–but I had some places that I thought I’d hit on the way.  After all, with even light, I could hit the canyon at any point during the morning or afternoon.

My first stop was at Burro Mesa Pour-Off, the access to which is from a paved road accessible from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.  The trail to the pour-off spot–a tall slot canyon, of sorts–where water from the mesa above…pours off–emanates from a parking lot at the end of the access road.  There was no water coming over the cliff when I was there since it hadn’t rained in the area for some time.  It was still early in the morning when I reached the parking area for the trailhead; I was the only one there.

It was cold and extremely windy when I arrived, so I bundled up and trundled down the trail and into the canyon approaching the pour-off.  The trail is short–about a half-mile one way–and easy, with virtually no elevation change.  In short order, the hiker is transported into an increasingly narrow canyon, and eventually reaches the pour-off spot itself.  This location is a water-carved semi-circle, cut into the rock face, that is approximately 100 feet tall.

I looked the situation over, decided that this was a location that called for an ultra-wide lens to reveal the abstract potential; I pulled out the 14-24 mm and went to work.  The rock color was, for the most part, a pastel-like version of pink and dull orange and red.  It didn’t pop at all; from the moment I showed up, I was thinking black & white.

Burro Mesa Pouf-Off Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Burro Mesa Pouf-Off Black & Whtie, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Burro Mesa Pouf-Off Black & Whtie, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Burro Mesa Pouf-Off Black & Whtie, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I then went for some close-ups, pulling out the macro lens for a couple of stacked sets.

Burro Mesa Pouf-Off Intimate Black & Whtie, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Burro Mesa Pouf-Off Intimate Black & Whtie, Big Bend National Park, Texas

As I walked back out of the canyon, I spied a few other scenes–some more “conventional” in nature–that caught my attention.  The wind in this part of the canyon was variable.  At times it was dead calm and at other points it was blowing a near gale.  I waited out the wind, as needed.

Burro Mesa Pouf-Off Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Burro Mesa Pouf-Off Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Burro Mesa Pouf-Off Abstract Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I continued south down the Scenic Drive, in the direction of Santa Elena Canyon, but stopped once I reached a point a bit north of Castolon.  This is a spot with all sorts of intriguing rocks and other desert-inspired elements and I pulled off the road and wandered around the area for an hour or two.

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Ocotillo Black & White, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Finally, I made my way to the canyon itself.  It was around noon by this time and there were more people around than would have been ideal, but it was my fault for being so sluggish to wrap up my earlier activities.  I donned my rubber boots, headed down the trail, and sloshed my way through the water (and around the mud) of Terlingua Creek, thereby overcoming the previous day‘s stumbling block at this spot.  I then made my way down the trail and into the heart of the canyon.  I found a spot where an overview of the lead-in to the canyon was possible.

Rio Grande, Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The overcast conditions meant that I didn’t have to worry about uneven light–which was the reason I’d made it a point to visit the canyon on this day; cloudy days aren’t all that common in these parts.  After about a mile, having hiked passed a lot of interesting (but impossible to photograph) growth and some massive boulders, I reached the first of several spots where it was possible to get close to the river.  I checked each of these locations, and gradually made my way to the end of the trail, where a shallow sandy beach pressed right up against the towering canyon walls–which were hundreds of feet high at this spot–and the muddy, olive green waters of the Rio Grande itself.  I started photographing here and slowly worked my way back to some of the prior riverside spots that I’d identified on my way in.  Again, black & white, which helped bring out the tones and textures, was the order of the day.

Rio Grande Black & White, Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande Black & White, Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande Black & White, Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande Black & White, Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

My parting shot was of one of the boulders and some if the interesting riparian growth that makes its home along this part of the river.  This image I rendered in color.

Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

It was mid-afternoon when I wrapped at Santa Elena Canyon and just as cloudy as it had been all day.  I started back up the Scenic Drive and stopped at a pull-out for Tuff Canyon, a much smaller crack in the rock than Santa Elena.  A trail leads down into the canyon and, without anything specifically left on my agenda for this day, I decided to check it out.  I deliberately left the macro lens in the car, figuring I wouldn’t need it.  Imagine my surprise when I descended well into the canyon and stumbled across the first flowers I’d seen on the entire trip.  I went back to the car to get the lens, then returned all the way back down to the point in the canyon where the trail came to an ignominious end near a massive pile of huge boulders that were impossible to traverse.

There were several clusters of multiple types of flowers, but it turned out that most of them were in spots with far too much breeze to photograph.  This pair, however, I was able to shelter.

Rock Nettle, Tuff Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Tuff Canyon Floral, Big Bend National Park, Texas

On my way out, it started to rain.  This was the late afternoon rain shower that wouldn’t completely quit for several hours.  At one point, I stopped beneath a rocky shelf to get out of the rain and found some interesting subjects that I could photograph from this shelter.

Tuff Canyon Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Tuff Canyon Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Tuff Canyon Abstract Intimate Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The rain slowed, but never completely stopped, and I ultimately slogged my way back to the car and called it a day.  It was the right decision, given that the rain never did quit while there was still daylight.  The fact that it rained did pay off the following day, however, in an unexpected way…


Responses

  1. Good call on the black and white. The textures and shapes really stand out.

  2. Nice range of tones on the black and whites in the canyon. In the pouf-out canyon I cannot get over how many faces are in those rocks. Wonderful textures throughout.

    • Thanks, Jane. Yeah, that rock wall is quite something.

  3. Lovely post, what do you think about my blog?

    • Thanks.

      I took a look at your blog. Your photos display a unique perspective–that’s good! Keep it up. My only suggestion–and take this for what it’s worth–is to consider saying a bit, at least from time to time, about what you’re trying to express through your photography. I think we all have a tendency to think our intent is obvious (I’m as guilty of that as anyone), but what’s obvious to us about our own motivations isn’t always clear to others.

  4. […] Day 4 at Big Bend National Park was relentlessly cloudy and ended with a surprising steady rain.  Day 5 was neither of those things.  The forecast was for sun throughout the day, but–blissfully–it was a bit more complicated than that. […]


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