Posted by: kerryl29 | February 4, 2019

Alaska: The Brooks Range – The Marion Creek Falls Trail

As I noted during the chronicling of the day of exploration that was our first full day in the Brooks Range, we discovered the Marion Creek Falls trailhead.  The trail emanates from the Marion Creek Campground, on the east side of the Dalton Highway about halfway between Wiseman and Coldfoot.  Given the time of the day (late afternoon), and the fact that we didn’t really know what we were getting into, exploration of the trail that day was limited.  Since then, we’d had the opportunity to read a brief description of the trail in a guidebook and, based on what we’d seen during our initial foray, everyone was interested in spending more time there, and making the full hike up to the falls.  As this would be our last full day in the Brooks Range, and given that the expectation was for cloudy weather throughout the day, we knew that this would be our primary destination.

The weather forecast turned out to be correct.  It was overcast from the word go, with low-hanging clouds that made it look like it might rain at any minute (though in fact we didn’t see any rain).  With no chance of a sunrise, we took our time, and reached the trailhead at mid-morning.  As expected, the campground was completely deserted and we made our way over the now familiar first 3/8 of a mile or so, past the Marion Creek overlook and through the reindeer-lichen strewn forest.  I again noted that, on the way back, I wanted to spend some time at both of these places.  We reached the point along the trail where it becomes clear that the path is: a) going to head up a hillside; and b) is clearly not maintained beyond this spot.  The trail–which is plainly visible throughout–is more of a “social trail” than anything else; no bushwhacking is necessary, but there are plenty of muddy areas and frequent brushing against bushes and shrubs is to be expected.  Though the trail to the falls is only supposed to be a bit more than two miles each way, the fairly rugged nature of the hike for most of its length makes it feel longer.  At one point, as we climbed the hillside, we reached a relatively open area, surrounded by what was, to that point, probably the best fall color we’d seen on the entire trip.  Despite the fact that it was quite windy, we stopped briefly to photograph.  There wasn’t much room to maneuver, given how narrow the trail was and the fact that there were four of us, but we made do.

Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

The wind was annoying, but I was determined to do some focus stacking–for which I was given a bit of a hard time, as no one thought that there would ever be enough of a lull to allow me to pull it off.  But I persisted and that ended up paying off with a couple of photographs.  The above image required only a two-image stack for a sharp combination, but the second shot (below) needed four, as I was practically right on top of the foreground.  The use of a polarizing filter, to take the sheen off the foliage in both instances, was not a benefit when it came to producing the stacks.  It took awhile to be able to execute the sequence but, again, persistence paid off.

Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Eventually, we reached an intersection with an old logging road, as the guidebook had indicated would be the case.  Our route now followed the road and that made the next half mile or so of the hike much easier.  We passed several interesting locations along the way, but decided to let them wait until the return trip as we were anxious to reach the falls.  Eventually, we could hear the roar of fast moving water and found a short spur trail from the logging road which put us right astride Marion Creek and a broad set of rapids, just above the falls themselves.  It was difficult to get much of a look at the main tiers of the falls as they were below us and navigating this part of the mountainside was tricky.  There were huge boulders and the rock faces were often wet and potentially slippery.  There were also a lot of trees in the way.  But this spot, at the top of the falls, was plenty interesting and we set about photographing, with care given the potential hazards.  If anyone fell into the creek at this location, they were probably done for.

Marion Creek Falls, Brooks Range, Alaska

It was necessary to take care to set up here.  Establishing a solid, reliable tripod position was difficult, but absolutely necessary.  And, of course, as is always the case when photographing with others, we had to stay out of each other’s way.

Marion Creek Falls Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

All of the images in this sequence were stacked, utilizing from three to five frames.

Marion Creek Falls, Brooks Range, Alaska

Within the limits of where I could set up, I tried to look for interesting elements to be part of the foregrounds in these images.

Marion Creek Falls Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

Marion Creek Falls, Brooks Range, Alaska

While the majority of everyone’s attention was placed on this end of the rapids, I’d noticed what appeared to be an interesting location a bit upstream from our location, so when I was sure I couldn’t insert myself in anyone’s shot, I made my way over and around a couple of boulders to get a closer look.

Marion Creek Falls, Brooks Range, Alaska

Marion Creek Falls Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

Marion Creek Falls, Brooks Range, Alaska

When we wrapped up at this location and were retracing our steps back toward the logging road on the short spur trail from the falls, I looked over my shoulder and saw a fascinating sight on the cliff face on the other side of the creek.  I told everyone else to feel free to continue on, that I’d seen something I wanted to photograph and would catch up.  The image I saw in my mind’s eye would require a telephoto lens, so I pulled out the camera with the 80-400 mm lens and set up.  It was a slightly awkward spot, given the nature of the trail in that location, but I was able to obtain what I was after.  There was a series of stunted birches, in rich autumn yellow, with reindeer lichen covering substantial spots on the boulders.  All of this was perched high above the crashing rapids in the creek (which were invisible from this spot, but were plainly audible).

Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

It didn’t take long to catch up to everyone else and we decided to stop at a small “rock garden” that we’d found nestled into the hillside astride the old logging road on the way up.  This was an opportunity to engage in some photography of intimate scenes.

Rock Garden Intimate, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Fortunately, this area was protected from the wind, making it much easier to engage in a focus stacking approach.  The above image is a four-image set, the one below is three.

Forest Floor Intimate, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Just steps away from the rock garden area, this intimate scene, replete with color, caught my attention.

Autumn Intimate, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Not far from this location, still along the old logging road but facing the other direction, there were broad views of the mountainside, which was partially enveloped in low-hanging clouds.  It was back to the telephoto rig for another series of images.

Encroaching Clouds, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Encroaching Clouds, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

From here, it was back on the “social trail” until we arrived once more at the forested area, less than half a mile from the trailhead.  I had done a bit of shooting in this location during our visit two days prior, but there was a lot more I wanted to do this time around…and so, I did.

I began with the reindeer lichen in the forest.

Reindeer Lichen Splendor Black & White, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Reindeer Lichen Splendor, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

I slowly made my way along the forested trail, back in the direction of the creek overlook, but with my attention still focused on the carpet of reindeer lichen.  The wind was a factor here, but not as much as it had been on the more exposed part of the trail on the way up to the falls.

Reindeer Lichen Splendor, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Eventually, I turned my attention to the overlook.  I started with wide-to-normal perspectives, with a mix of verticals and horizontals.

Marion Creek, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Marion Creek, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Marion Creek, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Ultimately, I pulled out the telephoto rig, to take advantage of some isolates.

Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Autumn Isolate, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

The climb down to creek level was fairly steep, but Debbie and I found a way and descended to the water’s edge.  There were a number of interesting elements to be used as foregrounds from this perspective.

Marion Creek, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Marion Creek Black & White, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Marion Creek, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

It was a short walk back to the parking area, though by now it was at least mid-afternoon.  We moved along the highway and found another colorful meadow.  It was amazing how much the fall color had developed in just the last two or three days.  This area has been almost entirely green when we passed through earlier in the week.

Brooks Range Autumn Meadow, Dalton Highway, Alaska

I had been hoping to have the opportunity to photograph a scene like this at some point on the trip and now I had my chance.  Again, the wind was a problem, so patience had to be employed.  After obtaining a wide shot, I went back to the telephoto set up; I was intrigued by the notch created by a series of intersecting ridge lines and the marvelous kaleidoscope of color.

Brooks Range Autumn, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Brooks Range Autumn, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Brooks Range Autumn, Dalton Highway, Alaska

At this point, it was early evening, roughly two or three hours before “sunset.”  We stopped at a pullout near a spot where the pipeline rises up, not far from the highway.  It was evident, at this point, that everyone in the group other than myself was completely out of gas–not surprising since it had been another very long day (and the fatigue was surely enhanced by the fact that we’d taken turns getting up in the middle of the night earlier during our stay in Wiseman to check for possible aurora opportunities; spoiler alert:  there were none).

I made a couple of token images (see below) here and then put everyone out of their misery (I don’t think anyone else even got out of the car at this location) by announcing that I’d had enough.

Brooks Range Autumn, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Brooks Range Autumn, Dalton Highway, Alaska

When we got back to Wiseman, I saw what appeared to be some changing light and ran down to the river to make a few last images before the light disappeared completely.  The opportunities were limited, but I found it a satisfying conclusion to another long day of photography.

Koyukuk River Evening, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River Evening Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

Brooks Range Autumn, Dalton Highway, Alaska

And so concluded the last full day of our time in the Brooks Range.  It would be a long trip back to Fairbanks the next day (and we had a ridiculously early flight out the following morning), but there would be photographic opportunities during that return trip, and I’ll chronicle that experience in the next installment.

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Posted by: kerryl29 | January 28, 2019

Embrace the Familiar Difference

A few months back–eight, actually–I engaged in a brief exchange with Gunta, of the Movin’ On blog, in the comments section of a post detailing a trip I made to Cataract Falls State Recreation Area in west-central Indiana last spring.  The discussion centered on the ever-changing nature of the seashore.  But, as I noted, just about every location involves some degree of change–perhaps not as much as the shore, but…

When I went out to the south Oregon coast a few years back, Gunta provided me with some very helpful background information to a number of locations that I visited.  Spending time along the coast day after day for a week made it clear just how changeable a location an ocean beach is; the tides, the light, the wind, the surf, the sky…all of these things change more or less constantly.

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

China Creek Beach Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

One of the first pieces I posted on this blog–more than nine years ago–was a musing on the advantages of returning to a familiar location versus those of visiting a new locale.  The argument in favor of revisiting places revolved, naturally, around familiarity, that it was possible to leverage the things you know about a spot in the process of image-making.  And that’s true enough.  But it’s equally true that the landscape opportunities at any location won’t ever be exactly the same.  That was part of the story when I photographed most recently at Cataract Falls.

The water level of Mill Creek was significantly lower than I had experienced on previous visits…

Upper Falls Area, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

…which gave the place an entirely different look and feel.  Rocks that had been in the middle of the creek were completely exposed.

Upper Falls Area, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

The low wind and mixed light conditions, coupled with the lower water level, allowed me to find a pleasing view of the nearby covered bridge that I had never found fit to photograph on previous visits…

Cataract Covered Bridge, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

A new, partially submerged log produced an entirely different view than had existed before…

Upper Falls Area Black & White, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

This notion of a different set of photographic opportunities can apply even at ostensibly iconic locations, like the uber-familiar Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park in California.  During my time at Yosemite, I stopped at Tunnel View on four different occasions.  The vista appeared entirely different each time, but on only one such occasion was I inspired to photograph, when a combination of dawn light and valley fog inspired me in a way that more conventional conditions did not.

Yosemite Valley at Sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Valley in Fog from Tunnel View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

At the locations I’ve visited the most over the years–Starved Rock State Park and the Morton Arboretum in Illinois–I always seem to see something different, even when I’m standing in the exact same spot.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

The canyons at Starved Rock appear markedly different in different seasons, but even in the same seasons they display a variety of appearances.  That’s true of the Morton Arboretum as well.

East Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Oaks and Maples, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

“Shadowland” black & white; Morton Arboretum, Illinois

There’s a certain irony to the fact that, while it’s theoretically my familiarity with these places–the ability to know exactly where to go and when–that would seem to dictate my visits, in reality I invariably return each time with what amounts to a fresh set of eyes.  I never really see exactly the same thing twice and I almost always see something entirely different, no matter how many times I return.  It’s the expectation of seeing something new that inspires me…

Council Lake in Morning Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

…and I hope it will always be so.

Morning Rainbow, Council Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 21, 2019

Alaska: The Brooks Range – Return from Atigun Pass

In the last post, I detailed the trip up to Atigun Pass, more than 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  We reached our turnaround point, near Galbraith Lake, just beyond the northern edge of the Brooks Mountain Range, by mid-afternoon and began the return trip to Wiseman.  We made numerous stops on the way back as we were no longer fighting the clock.  We paused at Holden Creek–a tumbling stream in a treeless setting surrounded by snowy peaks–to photograph.  Use of a neutral density filter was called for to slow the shutter speed in open sunlight conditions.

Holden Creek, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Holden Creek Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We stopped several times while recrossing Atigun Pass, and photographed a mix of open tundra and snowy mountainsides.

Snowy Mountains Black & White, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Snowy Mountains Black & White, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Snowy Mountains, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Snowy Mountains, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

At one point, alongside the Chandelar Shelf–the wide open plain just south of Atigun Pass–we caught sight of a grizzly bear moving through the tundra.  He was a long way off, so the images were, shall we say, less than inspiring (see below).  We also spotted a fox, but it was while we were driving; it took off and there was no opportunity to photograph it.

Grizzly Bear, Chandelar Shelf, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

At a high point in the road, overlooking a part of the Shelf several miles to the south of where the bear was spotted, I made the image you see below that reveals this immense area of open tundra.

Chandelar Shelf, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Roughly halfway back to Wiseman we stopped at a spot alongside the Dietrich River.  The ostensible motivation for doing so was a wetland with some interesting reflections on the opposite (i.e. east) side of the highway from the river, which was running along the west side of the road.  I spent a lot of time looking at the wetland but couldn’t come up with any compositions that I liked; there was always something unappealing protruding into the viewfinder.  So, without making a single image at the wetland, I wandered across the road to look at the river and ended up finding several compositions that I liked.

Dietrich River Evening, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

It was early evening by this point and the light quality reflected how much later in the day it was.

Dietrich River, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Dietrich River, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Further down the road we reached the lake we had photographed that morning–the one with the moose in it, alongside Sukakpak Mountain and Dillon Mountain.  The light, at this point, was exquisite and the sky, for the first time all day, had some interesting clouds present.  The moose had moved on, unfortunately (but unsurprisingly).

Dillon Mountain Reflections, Brooks Range, Alaska

Dillon Mountain Evening, Brooks Range, Alaska

Evening Light, Dillon Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

Sukakpak Mountain and Dillon Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

Sukakpak Mountain Evening, Brooks Range, Alaska

Dillon Mountain Evening, Brooks Range, Alaska

We raced up the road, in an attempt to photograph Sukakpak from the small pools located on the west side of the mountain that we’d used as a foreground the previous day under cloudy skies.  (The perspective of Sukakpak from the above series is essentially south-facing.)  A gap in the mountains to the west allowed full-throated, angled sunlight to bathe the entire edifice, with pink-purple clouds forming a backdrop (and foreground reflection).

Sukakpak Mountain Evening, Brooks Range, Alaska

We were most of the way back to Wiseman at this point, but we did make one more stop along the Dalton Highway, as the sun set.  It was a location near part of the exposed oil pipeline, but we were able to work around the encumbrance.  I tried both sides of the highway:  an area of tundra backed by foothills to the east; and looking toward the teeth of the Brooks Range and the Koyukuk River to the north and west.

Tundra Evening, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Brooks Range Evening, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Meadow Sunset, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Tundra Evening, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Brooks Range Evening, Dalton Highway, Alaska

What had been a crystal clear day throughout was rapidly turning into a partly to mostly cloudy end of day.  When we got back to Wiseman, I made a quick run by myself down to the bank of the Koyukuk to produce one final image on this extremely long, exceptionally productive day.

Koyukuk River Evening, Brooks Range, Alaska

There was one full day left on our Brooks Range itinerary and we’d spend most of it revisiting some spots we’d only started to explore two days earlier.

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 14, 2019

Alaska: The Brooks Range – To Atigun Pass

The second full day in the Brooks Range was unique, in several respects, not the least of which is that it was the only day we spent in the region that was essentially sunny throughout.  That meant that we had a sunrise to photograph–literally the only time we photographed sunrise on the entire Alaska trip (which consisted of 12 full days on the ground).  Before daybreak, David took us to a spot on the Koyukuk River a few miles from Wiseman.  The sky was almost completely clear, unfortunately, and it was chilly–below freezing–but we made the most of it and I’m glad we got up early.

Koyukuk River Sunrise, Brooks Range, Alaska

We started out the sunrise session photographing from high up on a rocky outcropping (the image above was made from that spot) and gradually moved down to river level as the sun came up.

Koyukuk River Morning, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River Morning, Brooks Range, Alaska

After sunrise, we began the long drive toward Atigun Pass, which had received 6-8 inches of snow overnight.  Dave urged us to minimize the stops that morning as we had a long way to go and he promised us the time up at the pass–and beyond, on the North Slope at the southern edge of the arctic coastal plain–would be worth it.  (Spoiler alert:  he was right.)  Still, minimizing stops didn’t mean no stops, so we made a few.  The first was at a frosty wetland on the east side of the highway.

Morning Reflections, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Frosty Meadow, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

The next stop was at a lake just north of Sukakpak Mountain.  We parked along the side of the road and walked down to the edge of the lake where we spotted a bonus:  a moose cow in the shallows at the other end of the lake.  I switched back and forth between my long lens and wide angle rigs, demonstrating yet another example of the benefits of two cameras, as outlined in the preceding post.

Moose near Sukakpak Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

Sukakpak Mountain Morning, Brooks Range, Alaska

Moose near Sukakpak Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

Sukakpak Mountain Morning, Brooks Range, Alaska

Stops from this point on were more or less eliminated until we got up to the edge of Atigun Pass, which is approximately 60 miles north of Wiseman on the Dalton Highway.  As you move farther north on the highway, the paved sections effectively disappear as you reach locations permeated by permafrost.  The trees gradually become fewer and more stunted and, by the time you reach the Chandelar Shelf, just south of the pass, are completely gone.  There’s nothing but tundra from this point north as the tree line is cleared once and for all.

Just below the pass, we began to see evidence of the snow that had fallen the previous night.  The highway must be kept open to keep the supply route to Prudhoe accessible, so the road had been plowed, though it was extremely muddy.  This took it’s toll on our vehicle as the below image of David’s car plainly demonstrates.

Image courtesy of David Shaw

A bit south of the pass we stopped at a cluster of small ponds surrounded by snow-covered mountains.  The ponds were mostly iced over, despite the dazzling sunny conditions and slowly warming temperatures.  I took the opportunity to work an intimate ice-rock abstract scene.

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

Shortly thereafter the highway began its climb to the pass and we stopped numerous times while traversing the area; I honestly don’t recall how many.  Regardless of the specific number of stops, photo opportunities beckoned at all of them.

Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Atigun Pass Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

While I started out making conventional landscape images, before long I began to see infinite abstract/black & white possibilities just about everywhere I looked and I spent most of the next couple of hours working primarily with my telephoto setup.

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

The sunny weather was producing shadows and revealing textures all over the place.  I’ve included a few examples above, but I put together an entire post on the Atigun Pass abstracts a few weeks back, so if you’d like to see more I recommend that piece to you.

When we reached the bridge over the Atigun River we stopped again for another image-making session.  Between the light and the elements of the scene, black and white once again seemed like the obvious rendering choice.

Atigun River Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Atigun River Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Before we cleared the pass area we came upon a small herd of Dall sheep, which we photographed at a moderate distance.

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Dall Sheep, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

When we cleared the pass area to the north we found ourselves right on the edge of the arctic coastal plain.  Looking back to the south, the northernmost peaks of the Brooks Range seemed to rise out of nothing.  It was a surreal view.

Just south of Galbraith Lake we stopped along the roadside not far from a smaller, unnamed lake that was nearly glass-like in terms of its reflections.  We walked out into the snow-covered tundra to photograph this scene.

North Slope View, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

North Slope View Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

North Slope View Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

This was our turnaround point, a solid 100 miles north of Wiseman and roughly 160 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  There were plenty of photographic opportunities on the return trip, and I’ll present those in my next post.

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 7, 2019

Two Cameras Revisited

Just over four years ago I posted a piece on this blog that provided the rationale for my two cameras strategy for in-field photography.  I’m revisiting the topic now because it became a recurring theme during the Alaska trip a few months ago.

(R to L) Debbie, Ellen and I take in the majesty of The Mountain, Denali National Park, Alaska

The Mountain Black & White, Eielson Area, Denali National Park, Alaska

As background, I’m using the same two camera bodies I mentioned in the four-year-old post:  a pair of Nikon D800Es.  The camera has now been updated twice by Nikon and I haven’t bitten either time.  (We’re coming up on seven years since I purchased my first D800E and I still have no immediate plans to replace it.  This is a reminder that you don’t have to get the latest and greatest; there may be a reason why you could, but it’s not imperative, no matter what the marketing hype implies.  But I digress…)  But on every single extended photo trip I’ve taken over the past four and-a-half years–and on some of the day trips I’ve taken during that time frame as well–I’m reminded of just how nice it is to have two identical camera bodies.

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Those photo trips–the ones where I’m reminded of the benefits of carrying two camera bodies with me–include Alaska.  I dutifully brought both cameras with me and realized the benefits essentially each and every day.  That’s no different than every other trip I’ve made since picking up the second (used) D800E body in 2014.  So why am I raising this subject again?  Because the people who accompanied me on this trip didn’t have a second camera and that became a bit of a thing.

Lower Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Brandywine Falls Black & White, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

The first “no second camera” incident was the one I related in an earlier post.  Ellen’s camera hit the pavement in the dark.  Something broke; it seemed likely that the camera was damaged.  Now what?  It turned out that the only damage was to the lens; the camera survived the fall and was fully functional.  But it certainly appeared for some time that Ellen was going to be without a camera.  Of course, a trip back to the camera store in Fairbanks might have rectified that problem.  And yet, with a second camera in tow, that’s a problem that wouldn’t have needed to be rectified.  In fairness, this little mini-story concludes with a bunch of couldas and wouldas; in the end, the camera was fine, so what’s the big deal?  True enough, but I’ve both seen and heard of enough camera horror stories–the kind that completely ruined entire photo trips–to know that this sort of thing isn’t limited to hypotheticals.  Cameras can and do bite the dust, occasionally at the most inopportune of times.  You have absolutely no need for a backup camera body right up until the moment when you do.

Sneffels Range Sunrise, County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Golden Band, County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

The second part of the no-second-camera story is the one I addressed in the previously linked piece:  the logistical inconvenience of only having one body when engaged in photo opportunities that will frequently involve wildly different focal lengths.  This is always a potential issue–particularly for someone like myself who frequently engages in a great deal of long lens landscape photography–but it’s particularly consequential when photographing landscapes in a location where wildlife opportunities could pop up at any time.  Like Alaska.

Even without the presence of wildlife, a second camera–with different focal length lens mounted and at the ready–can be the difference between making or missing an image (or several).  A good example of this arose during my first trip to the Canadian Rockies, in 2014.  During one sunrise shoot, I was using the camera with the wide angle lens and with it, obtained a number of images at daybreak, including the one you see immediately below.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Seconds after this image was made, I looked over my right shoulder, toward Elliot Peak, and saw a striking scene of fleeting light.  The shot demanded a telephoto lens.  I simply pulled the camera I had been using off the tripod and placed it in my bag, grabbed the second camera body, the one with the telephoto lens, and placed it on the tripod, adjusted my position and composed the photo you see below.

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The light you see on the peak was short-lived, given the mostly cloudy sky to the southeast.  Within seconds,  the rising sun was buried behind a shroud of clouds and the light was gone.  If I’d had to fiddle with a lens change there, that second shot never gets made.

Tenaya Creek Intimate, Yosemite National Park, California

Dogwood Blossoms, Tenaya Creek, Yosemite National Park, California

In any event, this lens switching thing was an issue off and on throughout our time in the Denali area of Alaska this past August–probably most notably during our time on the Denali Highway, but during other excursions as well.  But it became a nearly constant occurrence when we were in the Brooks Range.

Long Pine Lake Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

Moonset, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

The first time Debbie said something about being sick of constantly switching lenses, I calmly related my two-cameras rationale.  In fairness, it took quite a bit of incessant switching before the first complaint hit the airwaves.  If you haven’t been through a long day of photography when circumstances keep changing, requiring a seemingly infinite number of lens changes, you have no idea how bothersome it becomes.  There’s a tendency, after awhile, to start asking yourself whether it’s “worth the trouble” of changing lenses.  That, of course, is when a line has been crossed:  when your equipment (or lack thereof) starts to supersede the creative process.

Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

After listening to my spiel, Debbie raised a couple of pretty reasonable counterpoints.  The first was concern about being weighed down by an extra camera body; most of us are already overburdened with heavy gear bags.  (I plead guilty to this.)  The last thing we need is more gear to haul around.  My counterpoint to this was that you don’t necessarily need to carry that second body with you all the time.  (I pretty much do, but it’s not a requirement.)  If you’re going on a lengthy hike, you can pare down to a single body (and cut back on the lenses too), if you really need to save weight.  But when you’re shooting out of a vehicle (i.e. stopping along the side of the road), that’s not really an issue.  Why not give yourself some flexibility on such occasions?

The Pulpit and Cottonwoods, Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park, Utah

The Pulpit, Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park, Utah

The second objection was the expense of purchasing a second camera.  My answer to that is that you don’t have to buy a second new camera body.  That second camera can be used (mine is!) or, if you really don’t feel a need to carry a second camera except on the occasion of a long(ish) trip, renting can be a good option.

The point is, there are ways of getting a second camera into your hands without busting your budget.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake from Height of Land Overlook, Franklin County, Maine

Mooselookmeguntic Lake at Sunset from Height of Land Overlook, Franklin County, Maine

The second time Debbie complained about being sick to death of switching lenses I simply responded with an admittedly snarky sing-songy “Two cameras.”

The third time Debbie complained about being fed up with switching lenses I simply held up two fingers.  No words were necessary.

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 31, 2018

Alaska: The Brooks Range — The First Full Day

Our first full day based in the Brooks Range brought incessant clouds and the occasional sprinkle of rain; neither impacted our enthusiasm or our time in the field.  During the day, we remained within about 25 miles north or south of Wiseman on the Dalton Highway; it was an opportunity to get a more intimate look at the many photogenic locations within roughly 30 minutes of our home base.  People who know me and how I approach photographing the landscape will not be surprised to learn that I didn’t feel an ounce of creative restriction in this comparatively limited area.

Mountain Scene Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We started the day by investigating the area to the north of Wiseman–previously unseen territory for Ellen, Debbie and myself.  We found a short, unpaved road that led to the remnants of an old gravel pit, to the east of the Dalton Highway.  David told us that there were a number of these old pits, that had been used for material during the building of the pipeline and that had been “mostly” restored subsequently.

Foothills, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

It was an interesting location, with a surprisingly large number of possible compositions, and I used both wide angle and telephoto lenses to capture images.  The biggest impediment–something that was a constant annoyance on this day–was a fairly stiff breeze.

Conifer Hillside Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We continued north, up to–and slightly beyond–the imposing edifice of Sukakpak Mountain, a uniquely shaped stony edifice which rises dramatically from the surrounding tundra.  Amid some shallow pools along the highway, just west of the mountain itself, we stopped to make some images.

Sukakpak Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

Sukakpak Mountain Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

We would return to Sukakpak later on the trip–more than once–under markedly different conditions.

Sukakpak Mountain, Brooks Range, Alaska

The Koyukuk River parallels the Dalton Highway for many miles, and the road crosses over the waterway on several occasions.  Near one of these crossover spots–also within sight of Sukakpak–we stopped, at a particularly interesting bend in the river.  Once again, numerous compositions awaited the curious photographer at this location.

Koyukuk River Autumn, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River Rapids, Brooks Range, Alaska

Rock Pile and Sukukpak Mountain Black & White, Brooks Range, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Early in the afternoon, during what was ostensibly a lunch break, a rainbow appeared…seemingly out of nowhere.  We all kind of watched it for awhile, but I was the only one to pull out my gear in an attempt to capture it.  I have very few rainbow images in my portfolio, partly because they tend to be fleeting, partly because I haven’t seen all that many of them and partly because…the thing about rainbow images is they tend to be, well, lousy.  (Most of mine certainly have been, in any event.)  Much like some spectacular sunrise/sunset skies, unless you already have a strong composition in place and a rainbow happens to appear, the best you’re going to do most of the time is get a generally prosaic image that happens to include a rainbow (or a brilliant sky, in the case of the sunrise/sunset).

The composition, I would argue matters.  The composition always matters.  But I digress.

Here is the only rainbow image that I’ve previously captured that I’m at all fond of:

Morning Rainbow, Council Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

And here’s the rainbow image from astride the Dalton Highway:

Rainbow, Brooks Range, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Additional image opportunities presented themselves as we moved along during the afternoon:

Brooks Range Splendor, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Meadow, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

We also stopped at Minnie Creek, which intersects the highway just north of the turnoff to Wiseman.

Minnie Creek, Brooks Range, Alaska

Minnie Creek Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

Minnie Creek, Brooks Range, Alaska

The last stop of the day, made very late in the afternoon, proved to be the most fruitful of all.  We made a pit stop at the Marion Creek Campground, on the east side of the highway, about halfway between Wiseman and Coldfoot.  Though the campground itself was effectively deserted, we found a sign there, without any embellishment, for the Marion Creek Falls Trail, so we decided to check it out.  After a short walk–perhaps 1/4 of a mile–we came to an overlook of Marion Creek itself, near a sharp bend in the waterway.

Marion Creek, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

The creek itself was an unmistakable glacial blue…though we know for certain that it’s not glacially fed.

Marion Creek, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

The easily traversed trail continued into a (mostly) spruce forest that contained the thickest carpet of reindeer lichen that I’ve ever seen in my life.

Reindeer Lichen Forest, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Alaska

This was a location that I wanted to explore extensively, but since we were anxious to make our way to the falls, we didn’t linger here long.  After another 1/4 of a mile or so the trail, while still clearly discernible, turned into what can only be regarded as an unmaintained “social” trail.  We followed it for some distance further, but after awhile we turned back, not sure how much longer it was to the falls.  We decided that, time permitting, we’d return–at an earlier hour–on a subsequent day, and see if we couldn’t make it all the way to the end.

In the meantime, since we’d decided that this would be our last stop on this cloudy day, I decided to nab at least a few more images from the lichen strewn spruce forest.

Reindeer Lichen Forest, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Alaska

Reindeer Lichen Intimate, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Alaska

Reindeer Lichen Intimate, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Alaska

As we returned to the point near the creek overlook, I made a pair of parting images.

Marion Creek, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

Marion Creek Overlook, Marion Creek Falls Trail, Brooks Range, Alaska

And, with little light remaining, we returned to the car and headed back to Wiseman.

It had been a long, productive day.  The next day would, somehow, be even longer and more productive.

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 24, 2018

Compliments of the Season

I’ll return to a chronicle of the Alaska trip soon.  In the meantime, for followers of this blog that celebrate a holiday at this time of the year, please accept my best wishes for a very pleasant holiday season.  And for those followers of this blog who don’t celebrate a holiday at this time of the year…by all means, have a pleasant experience regardless.

Season’s Greetings, everyone.

Tarn at Sunset, Red Mountain Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 17, 2018

Alaska: The Brooks Range – The Drive to Wiseman

The first day of our trip up to the Brooks Range started in Fairbanks, where we met our guide, David Shaw, and began the drive to the tiny town of Wiseman, where we’d be based for our time in the area.  It was a lengthy–I’d estimate about six hours–drive, which began on the Elliott Highway for about an hour northwest of Fairbanks, to the point where it junctions with the Dalton Highway, due north.  The turn off from Wiseman is 187 miles from the southern terminus of the Dalton Highway.

Trees in Fog, Dalton Highway, Alaska

It had been mostly cloudy in Fairbanks upon our departure and the overcast conditions followed us part of the way up the Dalton Highway.  At one point we hit full-blown fog and stopped to make a few images from a spot alongside the road.

Trees in Fog, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Trees in Fog, Dalton Highway, Alaska

We stopped a few times along the way, mostly just to take a brief break (and, when possible, to refuel).  As we moved further north, the skies slowly started to clear.  I also took note how just green most of the coniferous growth was–somewhat to my surprise.  I had expected this area to be at or at least near peak color, but it wasn’t particularly close at this point.  David noted that fall was coming a bit late to this part of Alaska and that would work to our advantage in the coming days.  (Foreshadowing:  he was right.)

We finally did see some exceptional fall color in the tundra near Finger Mountain, about 100 miles up the Highway.  This area has the feel of a tundra rock garden; it’s almost completely wide open and was very windy while we were in the area, but the colors–which included the autumn incarnations of blueberry and bearberry–were phenomenal.

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Despite the wind, I focus stacked almost every image I made at this location and, with a bit of patience, was able to produce image sets that could be combined in post processing without any ghosting.  These are mainly two- and three-image stacks.

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Our last photo stop before we reached Coldfoot was an attractive wetland area that we spotted to the west of the raised road bed.

Brooks Range Wetland, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Brooks Range Wetland, Dalton Highway, Alaska

I should note that we did briefly top at the sign that marks the location where the Arctic Circle meets the road.  There’s a pull-out at this location, and Debbie snagged a quick snap with her phone for posterity’s sake, but I like to think that we didn’t make any bigger of a deal of this event than it actually was.

Brooks Range Wetland, Dalton Highway, Alaska

The further north we moved, the better developed the color became, and the tundra was undeniably running ahead of the deciduous trees (primarily birch, aspen and dwarf willow).

It was early evening by the time we reached Wiseman and David took us down to the banks of the Koyukuk River to show us what this area–a short walk from the cabins we’d be staying in for the next few nights–had to offer.  The answer was:  a lot.

Within moments of scouring the scene, I saw multiple images I wanted to make, beginning with a shallow reflecting pool formed by a spillover arm of the river.

Koyukuk River Reflections, Brooks Range, Alaska

I was also fascinated by an area along a shoal that contained a set of rapids where the shallow water was rushing over the stony river bed.  I wanted to get onto the shoal, but there was no way to do so without wading.  I was going to go back to the cabin to retrieve my rubber boots (yes, I hauled these things all the way to Alaska and, yes, I did use them on multiple occasions, most prominently when photographing along the Savage River in Denali National Park), but Ellen had a pair of soft waterproof overshoes with her and offered to let me use them.  (These things worked so well–and are so small and light–that when I returned home from the trip, I immediately ordered a pair for myself for future use.)  I thankfully took her up on the offer, quickly slipped them on, and waded out to the shoal.  I stayed in this location, modestly adjusting my position, for some time.

Koyukuk River, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River at Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

Koyukuk River at Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

I gradually traipsed back to the main shore, thanked Ellen for letting me use her overshoes, and then made some images from this spot.

Koyukuk River at Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

Before the sun set completely, there was one last location I wanted to explore:  a thick aven field along the river bank.  The mountain aven is a common alpine flower that blows to tufts in the late summer and fall.

Aven Field Autumn, Koyukuk River, Brooks Range, Alaska

I was charmed by this scene, and produced several photographs as the light became increasingly enchanting.

Aven Field Autumn at Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

Aven Field Autumn Black & White, Brooks Range, Alaska

Finally, before heading back to the cabin, I pulled out the long lens and made a final image as the day expired.

Conifer Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska

On this day, we’d had a mere taste of the Brooks Range.  Beginning the following morning we’d get our first all-day taste.

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 10, 2018

Alaska: The Brooks Range Tour Experience

As I mentioned in my post previewing the Brooks Range experience, it’s a remote place.  Really remote.  What does that mean in practice?

  1. There is only one road–with no intersecting side roads–for the entire length of the Dalton Highway (approximately 414 miles).
  2. There are only two towns (with a combined full-year population of approximately two dozen) on the entire length of the route, and both are near the middle, less than 20 miles apart.
  3. There are only two sources of fuel between the northern and southern termini of the Dalton Highway.
  4. There are only two places where limited supplies can be purchased.
  5. There are only two places where lodging is available.
  6. There are no medical services along the highway.
  7. There is no cell service along the highway.
  8. There are no services of any kind on the northern 60% of the route, until you get to Deadhorse at the northern terminus.
  9. Most of the Dalton Highway is unpaved.

Autumn Tundra, Finger Mountain, Dalton Highway, Alaska

Even if you’re accustomed to “roughing it,” if you have no experience roughing it in this particular area, you probably ought to think twice about heading here without someone who has.  That’s what we decided once we looked into spending time in the Brooks Range.

Sukukpak Mountain Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

As I mentioned in an earlier post covering planning, the trip itself began with the notion of an aurora photo excursion.  There are a number of people who lead aurora photo workshops/tours and, in the process of researching these, Ellen found David Shaw.  Dave is a professional photographer with a background in wildlife biology.  He’s also a 20-year resident of Alaska’s interior.  He leads a couple of pre-scheduled aurora photo trips each year–which is how we found him–but he also guides numerous other photo and wilderness trips throughout Alaska and other parts of the world, and has been doing so for a long time.

Marion Creek Intimate, Brooks Range, Alaska

He also offers private guide/custom trip services and, after we decided to travel to Alaska in the late summer/fall–and decided that we wanted to explore the idea of visiting the Brooks Range as part of the trip, Ellen contacted Dave, explained what we were loosely considering, and asked if he would design an itinerary and price the trip for us.  And that, in a nutshell, is how we ended up visiting the most remote place I’ve ever been with no serious concerns that we were biting off more than we could chew.

Snowy Reflections, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Before I proceed any further with this informal review, I want to note several things that I always specify on the rare occasions when I review a photographic product or service.  (I’ve been writing this blog for more than nine years and in that time I think I’ve posted a handful of reviews.)  I have not been asked to write this review and will not be compensated for doing so.  The service I am reviewing was paid for in full; Ellen, Debbie and I didn’t receive any financial consideration, so I have no incentive to provide anything but an honest rendition of the experience, from my perspective.

Meadow Black & White, Dalton Highway, Yukon River Crossing, Alaska

I think it’s worth noting what we were after in a guide for this trip.  As experienced photographers, we weren’t looking for rudimentary instruction or nightly critique sessions or any of those kinds of things that are frequently touted in workshops pitched to beginning photographers.  We were traveling to a comparatively exotic locale; we wanted to maximize our time in the field, be put in position to photograph at compelling locations at times when the weather/lighting conditions would flatter the given subject matter.

Autumn Splendor, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

That’s explicitly what we were looking for.  Implicitly that meant that we needed someone with experience in the area who also had a photographer’s sensibility.  The second part of that equation is frequently overlooked when people talk about photo-related guidance, but I think it’s critically important.  Subject matter and timing are key components to good photographic opportunities and, frankly, people without a photographer’s way of looking at the world may be iffy on the former and are almost always oblivious of the latter.

Dillon Mountain Evening, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Other implicit things we were looking for:  someone who was pleasant to be around (after all, we’d be spending a lot of time with someone for parts of five consecutive days); someone whose experience with the area covered logistics and safety as well as photographic considerations; someone with the stamina (and patience) to put up with our essentially endless motors.  Remember, we had days with approximately 16 hours between sunrise and sunset and we were hoping to take advantage of any aurora events that might crop up in the dead of night while we were on the ground.  This was really going to fatigue someone not accustomed to this kind of schedule (which is just about everyone).

As it turned out, I think we got all we were looking for, plus a bit more.

Autumn Splendor, Dalton Highway, Alaska

I think the photography opportunities, as represented by the images from that part of the trip that I’ve included in this post and others, speak for themselves.  (I trust that my future Brooks Range posts will do so as well, but those are not yet in evidence.)  I’m sure we would have found some of them on our own, as the majority of them were within sight of the Dalton Highway.  But–and this is important–not all of them were.  For instance, I’m guessing that, without a guide, we never would have made it all the way up to (and beyond) Atigun Pass, as we did with Dave.  It’s a long, long way up there from where we were based in Wiseman and, left to our own devices, we probably would have stopped too many times at other places that caught our eye on the way.  It’s also quite likely that we never would have found our way up the informal Marion Creek Falls Trail (a location so rich with opportunities that we visited the area twice).  But if the point of contracting a guide was to procure a lot of good photographic opportunities, we certainly accomplished that.

Atigun Pass Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

And time in the field?  I doubt Dave knew what he was getting into with us (if interested, you can read his synopsis of the experience here); by his own admission, we were more “enthusiastic” than any group he’d ever taken into the field.  (I acknowledged that, when on these photo trips, I really don’t have an “off switch.”)  But if we wore him down to a frazzle he did a very good job of hiding it and never cried “uncle.”  This despite the fact that Dave did all of the driving (and supplied the vehicle for the trip).

On the more implicit matters, his “photographer’s sensibility” undoubtedly made the aforementioned photo opps better than they otherwise would have been, and Dave was always pleasant to be around, regardless of the circumstances.

Birch Mountainside, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

And the bonus stuff?  Well, we were able to tap into Dave’s naturalist knowledge, which was much appreciated on numerous occasions during the trip as we encountered flora, fauna and (more broadly) entire ecosystems with which none of us was familiar.  Dave was a boundless fount of information.  One of the best–but unexpected–parts of the experience for me was learning the natural history of the region we were visiting.  And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how facile and accomplished a cook Dave was.  He prepared all of our meals (and supplied the food that they consisted of) for the entire trip and we undoubtedly ate better during our time in the Brooks Range than the previous week…or, if I’m being honest, than on any photo trip I’ve ever taken (though that is admittedly setting a very low bar).

Bottom line?  If I was planning another trip to Alaska in a remote area, the very first person I would contact is David Shaw.  And if I was up for any of his pre-scheduled workshop locations, I wouldn’t hesitate to contact him about that, either.  If you’re asking whether that constitutes a personal recommendation, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”

Koyukuk River, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 3, 2018

A Park for All Seasons

Long-time readers of this blog have been exposed, irregularly, to extensive revelations about Starved Rock State Park.  Located in north-central Illinois, roughly 100 miles west of Chicago, the park is a real anomaly, given its geographic situation.  Amid the flat lands of northern Illinois, the sandstone canyon-filled park abuts the southern shore of the Illinois River.  I’ve visited Starved Rock numerous times in the spring, fall and even the summer, as the images immediately below attest:

St. Louis Canyon Waterfall, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

18 distinct canyons are located within the park’s boundaries, many of which host ephemeral waterfalls.  During the snow melt of early spring and at any time of year after a heavy rain, the waterfalls are at their most photogenic.

French Canyon Waterfall black & white, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Kaskaskia Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

The waterfalls are frequently non-existent from mid-summer into the fall, but occasionally a period of heavy rain will rectify the situation.

Ottawa Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Autumn’s Remains, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Tonti Canyon Waterfall, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

While the waterfalls are the main attraction, it’s not the only thing of photographic interest at Starved Rock–not by a long shot.

Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Prairie Trillium, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Sand & Leaf Water Abstract, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

White Pelicans, Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

The one thing I hadn’t done is make a trip to Starved Rock in winter…or, at the very least, in winter conditions.  Until this past week, that is.

Ellen K., one of my companions on this year’s photo excursion to Alaska, was in the Chicago area last week and had a free afternoon.  I offered to show her around Starved Rock, so we made the trip out there on Thursday.  Three days prior, a large snowstorm hit the Midwest and dumped a foot of wet, heavy snow on the Chicago area.  That storm had started with rain and, as the temperature dropped, changed to snow.  Starved Rock received less accumulation, but still got at least six inches.  The two days after the storm were very cold–with highs well below freezing–so the snow hadn’t melted.  But on the day we were there, the temperature had cleared the freezing mark and some melting was under way.

Part of the park was temporarily off-limits, so we confined our exploration to LaSalle Canyon and St. Louis Canyon.  (Given the limited amount of daylight this time of the year, we really only had time for the two canyons anyway.)

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

St. Louis Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

The waterfalls were running, given all the rain that had preceded the snowfall and the early stages of melting.  There would have been considerable flow, but much of the water was still frozen; the remnants of the not-yet completed autumn were on the canyon floors in the form of fallen leaves.  It made for an interesting clash of seasons.  The recent deep freeze produced copious icicles hanging from many of the canyon walls and lips.

LaSalle Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

St. Louis Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Footing was, on balance, fairly good.  The exception?  Spots where significant amounts of ice had accumulated and not yet thawed.

LaSalle Canyon Intimate Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

St. Louis Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

It was remarkable how different this very familiar location looked and felt; views I hadn’t known existed were revealed given the absence of the usual copious foliage.  And, of course, the ice and snow produced a singular atmosphere.

St. Louis Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon Intimate Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

St. Louis Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

This first “winter” trip to Starved Rock is unlikely to be my last.

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