Palo Duro’s Slot Canyons

In my opinion, Texas has one of the most diverse landscapes anywhere in the United States. As my photography business has grown and reached more people across our great state, I’ve had several unique opportunities pop up, and the latest happened this past week – and only reinforced my opinion about the amazing and varied terrain that exists across the Lone Star State.

I was contacted last spring by Todd who runs an incredibly informative blog (with amazing images) called the Caprock Canyoneer. Todd grew up in the Texas panhandle and knows that area and its history better than nearly anyone I’ve met. After months of going back and forth, he arranged for use to meet up with another of his friends, Barry, and explore what they called the Central Utah Slot Canyons – a part of the Llano Slots – located in the remote parts of Palo Duro Canyon.

I rolled into the parking lot before sunrise on the Friday after Thanksgiving – probably around 6:45am. We were supposed to meet up at 7am, and I am never late, especially when afforded an opportunity to shoot in a special location such as this. Not one minute after my arrival, my two new friends pulled up in a black Silverado. They are early, too, and I like that! Having never met in person, I was wondering how we’d work together while covering land without trails. But upon the first handshake and greeting, it was clear these were two genuinely nice and down-to-earth guys. No pretenses; nothing to hide. It was almost as if I’d known them for a long time already.

Back in our cars, I followed them to pullout where we’d leave our cars and begin our hike. Because of the pristine condition of the slots, I cannot divulge the location of our adventure. These slot canyons do not appear on the park map, nor many other maps that I know of for that matter. At one point on our return, Todd and Barry took me by a small canyon closer to the road they called the “Hall of Shame.” This small canyon was filled with graffiti, names carved into stone, and even a monkey face etched into the rock. It was, in a word, deplorable. And it showed why you can’t trust everyone with such natural beauty. I realize that not every person would deface the land, but some will. And I’ve encountered this both in Texas and in Colorado, and it only takes one selfish person to ruin a rock formation that took a million years to form.

After parking along the canyon floor, we readied our gear – cameras, tripods, and lots of water and Gatorade – and began our first challenge – a 600+ foot ascent of the nearest canyon wall. At one point about ¾ of the way up, the clouds turned an amazing pink and blue as the first light of daylight spread across the valley below.

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Palo Duro Canyon Panorama November Morning 1 : Prints Available

Morning light shines across the Palo Duro Canyon area, turning the rock a pink-ish orange and the sky pink and blue hues. Far below, our car sat, and we’d made the first part of our climb to explore the hidden Llano Slot Canyons.

They had warned me there were no trails we’d follow, and they were right. So up we went, hiking the easy parts and scrambling up the more sketchy inclines. But within 45 minutes we were atop the canyon rim, and it seemed all of Palo Duro Canyon spread out beneath our feet. The views were amazing, and through the trees on the canyon’s edge, the first rays of sun filtered through.

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Palo Duro Canyon Rim Sunrise 1 : Prints Available

On a hike to Palo Duro’s secret slot canyons, we paused at the top of the canyon rim to take in the cool November sunrise. The valley of this amazing state park stretched out below us, but we had miles to go before the real payoff – the Central Utah Slot Canyons.

And with that, we were off again – heading across a mesa covered in mesquite and tall, dried grasses just high enough to hide the cacti and fallen tree branches and whatever else slithered underneath our feet. Finding my way across this nondescript landscape where everything looked the same in all directions would have been nearly impossible without a GPS or an expert tracker. But still we walked – for many 45 minutes or an hour. I really don’t know as time seemed to stand still and we dodged and weaved our way through the trees and across the grassy land. After more twists and turns, suddenly we stood on the edge of a box canyon.

Peering down into this unnamed box canyon, I wondered how we’d descend further, but slowly and methodically, Barry followed a series of natural steps and loose dirt. There were a few slips and skids on the way down, but eventually we made it to the wash and begin following that path for another portion of the trip. Maybe twenty minutes later, we came to a small fissure, an opening in the ground no wider than a few feet. We had arrived at the Central Utah Slot Canyons. The sun was just rising over the nearby rocky ridge, and I peered excitedly into the dark pink and purple rock that waited below.

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Morning at Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon 2 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

Sunlight streams over the cliff’s edge and we are on the edge of Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon. From a tiny crack in the ground, we made our way down from this point into the most beautiful section of these pristine slots.

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Morning at Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon 3 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

Pink and blue sandstone shows its colors as sunlight begins to fill the beginning section of the Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Here, my friends explained, the first slot – the Upper slot – started. It was followed by a Middle Slot and Lower Slot. We’d shoot the first portion as sunlight penetrated the sandstone walls, then work our way down to the Lower slot for best sunlight in that location. Down inside the slots, the color was amazing. The indirect sunlight turned the Trujillo sandstone pink and purple and orange only for a few moments before the direct sunlight disarmed the vibrant and smooth colors. Here, I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

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Llano Slot Canyons – the Upper Slot 3 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

Formed from the rare but repeating rainfalls in the Palo Duro Canyon area, these Llano Estacado slot canyons present a beautiful experience for those fortunate enough to explore them. I was gifted the opportunity by two friends who knew the area well. In this particular slot – known locally as the Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon – the morning sunlight of a cool November day turns the sandstone shades of orange and pink and purple. This area is virtually untouched by humans, and there are no signs of human interference in this pristine portion of the Texas panhandle.

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Llano Slot Canyons – the Upper Slot 2 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

Texas slot canyons are rare and beautiful. While most folks may be familiar with those in Arizona and Utah, they are not aware of these creations in their own Texas backyard. This image shows Central Utah’s Upper Slot Canyon, one of the hidden secrets of Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Formed by infrequent rainfall but rainfall that occurs and causes flooding in the same locations over a long period of time. The sandstone, usually found between 3100 and 3200 feet in elevation, gradually erodes and forms delicate striations and curves. This slot is one of the Llano Slots and resides in the Llano Estacado.
The hike to reach this location covered 9 miles by the time we’d gone out and back, and we were able to explore three different slot canyons. Each slot had its own unique look, and when the morning light of this November day was overhead, the indirect light turned the sandstone walls of the canyon hues of orange and purple.

Then we were onto the Lower Llano Slot Canyon – and one particular curve seemed to glow with warm light just before exploding in direct sunlight.

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Central Utah Lower Slot 3 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

The Central Utah Slot Canyons are located in a remote and seldom seen portion of Palo Duro Canyon. The beautiful rock structures are found in a series of three slot canyons – Upper, Middle, and Lower Slots. This is a view of the Lower Slot Canyon as warm morning sunlight filters in through the sandstone walls. Over the course of an hour, the walls seemed to change from a purple glow to an orange glow as the indirect sunlight progressed through the canyon.

Throughout our work-adventure, Todd explained the history of this amazing place. The pride of his Texas heritage, understanding of historical events, and detailed knowledge of the landscape and its features were captivating, and I only wish I could remember half the information he offered.

I could understand now why they both wanted to keep this place under the radar. We saw now signs of humans – no plastic water bottles, no discarded snack bar wrappers, and no names etched in the wall – something these days that seems quite rare.

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The Subway – Palo Duro Canyon : Prints Available

This rock formation – unknown to most visitors to Palo Duro Canyon, and even to many of the park rangers – is called ‘the Subway’ by some of the locals who have visited this location many times. Located just above the Central Utah Slot Canyons in a remote region of the park, this beautiful rock structure has been cut by erosion from wind and rain.

After several hours of exploring and shooting, we decided it was time to begin the journey back. Aside from a few scratches and prickly pear thorns in my shin, the hike back was uneventful – even sliding down the canyon rim to reach the road wasn’t too bad. It was one of those trips I hated to see end. But I hope to return and hike and explore again with my friends. Until then, I’ll enjoy the fact that we live in one of the most beautiful and diverse areas in all of the United States. And for that I’m thankful.

Vaya con Dios, my friends,

Rob
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Trek to Mariscal Canyon in Big Bend National Park

Standing on the edge of Mariscal Canyon at sunset, the skies colored with pastels of pink and blue, I found myself in the middle of one of my more memorable trips to the Big Bend area. But sometimes the journey is just as important. And the effort to reach the Canyon rim of this grand and rugged landscape made the view that much more satisfying.

Rewind about 24 hours… we had arrived at the Chisos Lodge with a full agenda of locations to photograph at both sunrise and sunset. My wife joined me on this 3 getaway and had agreed to some more, ahem, adventurous hikes if we had a room (as opposed to a tent or back of my 4-Runner). So when an opening at the Chisos Lodge came up, I booked it and plans were made.

We were supposed to arrive in the early afternoon on a Friday after a seven hour drive from our home in the hill country. We arrived later than expected, thanks in part to a mysterious illness that had sapped my strength. Our plans to ascend Emory Peak, the highest point in the National Park, were laid to rest, and I could barely make it around the Window View loop… truly disheartening.

Determined not to let this trip be a failure, I rolled us out of bed the next morning and we drove an hour to Santa Elena Canyon. I’ve shot here several times, but I thought by climbing the few hundred feet of easy switchbacks to shoot sunrise as daylight lit up the Rio Grande valley, it might be a little test for my legs to see how I’d feel for something much more taxing. I should note here that I work out most days and longer hikes of 10+ miles are something I really enjoy.

I made it a half mile and felt about 60% normal, so I was willing to attempt the next part of our plan – and the real reason we drove this far.

Several years prior to this excursion. I’d read trip reports about Mariscal Canyon, a remote rock Canyon 1200 feet above the river. Since then, this had been one of my goals. But timing was important. In the spring, the trail is closed because of peregrine falcon nesting. In the summer months, the temperatures are too hot, staying over 100 degrees most of the day. So here we were, ready to take on this next adventure in early November.

The hike itself is not that difficult on paper, requiring a 1200 feet ascent over 3.5 miles. However, the trail is faint, and in many places marked only by cairns every 20-50 yards. The first 2 miles you gain virtually no vertical feet as the trail crosses several washes, taking you up and down, though mesquite trees, scrub and cacti, and across large areas of nothing. And then you start climbing.

But I am getting ahead of myself. After shooting what turned out to be a rather amazing sunrise at Santa Elena Canyon, we took Old Maverick Road to Terlingua and Far Flung Adventures. From this local establishment, we rented the only available Jeep in town. From all my research, this is literally the only Jeep one could rent – anytime -for at least 100 miles. Kudos to the staff who were friendly and helpful, but I had to laugh when Austin, one of the workers and an experienced hiker, warned that even he would not hike our intended trail at night… just too steep and too much loose rock to be safe. My wife was not pleased.

The Jeep and 4-wheel drive would be necessary for where we were going. My 4-Runner could potentially make it, but I also want my 4-Runner to last several more years. We drove the Jeep back to the Chisos Lodge for an early lunch, bought some gifts for our young daughters, then departed for River Road East around 1:45pm. Turning onto the dirt road after 30 minutes of smooth driving, we began a brutal 90 minute grating and grinding crawl along what I’d call one of the longest sustained %$*#iest roads I’ve ever driven. My wife, who had been been rear ended by stupid/careless drivers several years prior and is sensitive to jerky movements now, held her neck as best she could to mitigate the jarring. I don’t think it helped. My hands hurt from gripping the steering wheel; my back hurt from the constant jarring. And after 30 long miles along River Road East, Black Gap Road, and Talley Road, we arrived at the trailhead.

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Mariscal Canyon Trailhead Sign 1 : Prints Available

After 30 miles of a horrid dirt trail on the south side of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National park, our jeep finally brought us to the end of the road – literally. We exited the car to find this trailhead sign awaiting us – and our destination was Mariscal Canyon and the rim that overlooked the deep Rio Grande Valley below.

Opening the Jeep door, we were met with unusually high temps for November – 95 degrees and no shade in sight. I soaked my hat in cold water, started tracking with 2 GPS units, loaded the backpacks with a camera, two lenses, tripod, flashlights, lots of water and Gatorade, and we were off.

The trail starts off by following cairns through a wash of mesquite, then rises 300 yards later on the other side. The first two miles is uneventful, taking you through barren landscape where only tarantulas seemed to live. After one mile and baking in the full force of the sun, we were able to take refuge in the small shadow of a tall yucca. It wasn’t much, but that shade made a huge difference as we guzzled water for a few minutes. We stopped to drink whenever shade presented itself, which wasn’t much.

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Mariscal Canyon Trail 1 : Prints Available

Though the trail was lacking, these cairns (lower middle of the image) mark the way leading up to the remote and amazing beautiful Mariscal Canyon in Big Bend National Park. While easy enough to spot during the day, returning in the dark proved more tedious – and a visual challenge. Strong flashlights helped, as did patience. On the way up, we encountered big horn sheep; on the way down a family of javelinas. The reward was one of the most beautiful locations anywhere in Texas.

After two miles, we started the ascent, and the cairns led us up to a flat area about 800 feet above the Rio Grande. Looking back from where we came, we could see the winding green swath the river cut through the dry and scorched Chuhuahuan Desert.

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Mariscal Canyon Trail Looking Back 1 : Prints Available

The path from the Mariscal Canyon Rim Trailhead up to the canyon rim really isn’t much of a trail, but a series of rock piles (cairns) that lead across a few miles of the Chihuahuan Desert and up a scrub and cacti-filled slope. Eventually, after trekking over lose rocks and 1200 vertical feet, you’ll reach the amazing vistas the canyon rim offers. As one of Big Bend’s most remote areas, you’ll rarely encounter others, and you’ll have the desert to yourself.

This view comes from about the 3 mile mark. As you make your way towards the canyon rim, turn and round and enjoy the beautiful Rio Grande River valley with the ancient mountains of Mexico in the distance.

This Big Bend panorama is available in larger and custom sizes.

My wife was suffering at this point, and I was worried she was overheating. We paused in the shade of a large rock outcropping, rehydrated, and rested. As for me, I felt fortunate to be in a place like this, and I was getting stronger by the hour, feeling more and more in my comfort zone. Five minutes later we continued upward, covering the final 500 vertical feet over about a third of a mile. The rocks were loose and the trail wandered higher through cacti and sharp rocks. Finally, after plodding for 30 more minutes, we arrived on the plain of the plateau and worked our way to the Canyon rim. Exploring the edge of the abyss, I settled on what was my favorite view of the Canyon walls and Rio Grande far below.

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Mariscal Canyon Afternoon, Big Bend National Park 1 : Prints Available

Mariscal Canyon is one of three deep canyons reside in Big Bend National Park. This rocky and beautiful cliffs form the most remote of the three canyons and only the most hearty adventurers reach this point. The cliffs drop nearly straight down 1200 feet into the Rio Grande. On one side of the river is Texas; the other side is Mexico. After an arduous trek of 4WD roads and cross country hiking to reach the rim of this stunning location, the sight before me was much appreciated on this late afternoon in November.

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Mariscal Canyon Evening, Big Bend 5 : Prints Available

It took 5 hours to arrive at this amazing overlook deep a remote region of Big Bend National Park – a 2+ hour drive across to pretty rough roads and a 3.5 mile hike across a foresaken desert finally brought us to this point – the stunning Marascal Canyon. Below, the Rio Grande cuts through the 1200 foot canyon as it meanders east, dividing Texas and Mexico. Views and lanscapes like this – with not a single person within 2 hours – are what keep me coming back to this national park, both for photography and for escape.

After shooting until nearly dark, we started our descent in the dark, but not before one final shot of an amazing sunset:

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Rio Grande from the Mariscal Trail at Sunset 1 : Prints Available

After spending some time on the rim of Mariscal Canyon, we started the trek back to the jeep. The sky over Mariscal Canyon was already fading, but as we walked east, the setting sun provide one last explosion of light. In the distance, you can even see the orange light reflected in the winding Rio Grande as it divides Texas and Mexico.

Using a powerful flashlight and headlamps, we methodically followed the cairns, picking our way through dark terrain. At one point, we even surprised a family of Javilinas which was a little unnerving. Nearly two hours later we arrived back at the Jeep. Next came that horrid road, then paved road back to Terlingua to drop off the Jeep, pick up my car, then drive back to the Lodge… all in all more than 3 hours of driving before arriving at our room just before midnight.

The next morning, I coerced my wife from her slumber in an attempt to leave early in hopes of finding a good sunrise. On the eastern slope of the park, I was rewarded (and lucky). As my wife slept in the car, the sky above turned orange and purple before we started home:

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November Sunrise at Big Bend 2 : Prints Available

Glorious morning light greeted me on this final day of a November excursion to Big Bend National Park. In the foreground, a golden Ocotillo in the Chihuahuan Desert stood still in the cool Autum air and overhead the sky exploded in an array of orange, red, and blue.

If you are ever at Big Bend and have the desire to see one of the most amazing and remote parts of Texas, I highly recommend Mariscal Canyon. Otherwise, I hope you can enjoy the images I captured that memorable evening in early November.

Vaya con Dios, my friends,

Rob

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My Happy Place

As a husband and father of two little girls, I don’t have much quiet time. And apart from spending time with my wife and kids or a select few close friends, I generally prefer time by myself. I get asked occasionally to meet up with a photographer to go shoot somewhere, and while it sounds ok, I’d mostly just rather enjoy a quiet morning by myself and shoot whatever comes my way. I stay away from photography clubs and meet-ups. Shooting with 5-10 other people sounds like torture. My wife says I’m just anti-social. I embrace that 🙂

With that said, I often find retreat at sunrise along the Pedernales River. I live only about 25 minutes away, and this little oasis of a state park is one of my favorites in the Texas Hill Country. I know most bends of this river as if I was raised along its banks. I generally know where the sun will be rising and setting depending on the time of year; I know when and where the autumn leaves will be the most brilliant; I know where I can shoot for the best effect – even in the middle of the rapids.

As fall approaches, the leaves of the cypress will be turning colors in about a month, and at this point the trees look full and healthy. I have high hopes that this year’s color change will be beautiful, especially after the last few disappointing years. This past week I was out one morning before sunrise and even found a few new perspectives that I look forward to trying in mid-November.

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Pedernales October Sunrise 1014-3 : Prints Available

Glorious morning light welcomed me on this October sunrise along the Pedernales River in the Texas Hill Country. The soft light added a tint of orange to the cypress, making them appear ready for their Autumn colors. I had to get a little wet in this image. Standing in the middle of the river will do that!

I’ve added an underwater, waterproof case for my camera to my photographic options, which makes from some interesting perspectives. I’ve got a ways to go before mastering this technique of showing both underwater and above ground views, but it shows promise and is certainly unique. When the nearby fish cooperate, it makes for pretty amazing results:

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Pedernales River – Sunrise with the Fish 1 : Prints Available

This split image was captured just after sunrise along the Pedernales River. Captured with an underwater filter, small fish swim beneath the surface of the calm, cool water in this pool. Overhead, a beautiful sky welcomes the last day of September on a perfect morning.

Regardless of when or what I shoot, I do enjoy my time along this river. I’ve seen it at raging and destructive flood levels, and I’ve seen it as it is now – as a trickle. Some of the cypress that I photographed last week still had debris 15 feet up in their branches from the flood a few years ago. In the quiet and as I attempt to tread lightly on these cool mornings, I am sometimes privy to wildlife sightings. I’ve seen raccoons, armadillos, wild hogs, countless lizards and frogs, buzzards, goats, and even a few rattlesnakes. I’ve seen a lot of fish in the pools along the river, too. I’ve only brought along my fly rod one time, but one of these days I’ll bring it again and try my luck at angling.

For now, I’ll enjoy my quiet time out there, from the time before sunrise to climbing some class three boulders to get the perfect angle. Pedernales Falls is one of my happy places.

Vaya con Dios, my friends,

~ Rob

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The Big Crash

I remember sitting underneath the kitchen counter talking on a phone attached to the wall with a cord. This was a long time ago – before wireless, before emails, before internet. My kids have no idea what I’m talking about.

Nowadays, I run a photography business through the internet. It is a love-hate relationship. I see the good the internet can bring – research, communication, planning, etc. I also see the damage it can do with time-consuming distractions, psychological damage of social media, and stunting the people/communication skills of our youth.

But I depend on the internet for my business. Without Google, I couldn’t support a family and I could not make decent money with my photography. So a few weeks ago when my hard drive on my IMac failed after only 2 years, it was not a good moment in our house. Finally, after 11 days of having my computer at the Apple-doctor (and much gnashing of teeth), it was returned in working condition. However, the damage was done. I’d lost all of 2016 and 2017’s financial records, as well as about two months of commissioned work and fun outings. While I regularly backup my files, I had failed to do so since our return from Colorado in August. On that fateful Saturday morning, I was finishing up a project. I’d saved my work on my IMac hard drive, but not backed it up. We headed out with the kids for a lunch break. When I returned, my computer had a blinking file with a question mark flashing across the screen. And so it was done.

Now I’m back up and running. I’ve got Time Machine saving everything in a timely manner. And I’ve learned my lesson.

But the experience again brought to the forefront my feelings about technology. I battle with my kids on a daily basis about too much screen time, and how research shows it can have a negative effect on the brain (We limit them to 30 minutes per day). At the same time, the internet and technology has made it possible for me to make a name for myself and craft a good family business.

We live in strange times.

Back up everything that is important, as well! That’s what I’ve learned here. I’ve even had a few photographer friends start doing this as well thanks to my experience.

In the meantime, here is one recent image taken at one of my favorite places in the Texas Hill Country:

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Morning Pool Panorama along the Pedernales 1 : Prints Available

This Texas Hill Country Panorama shows a favorite location of mine along the Pedernales River. Taken at sunrise, the scene shows the sky as it turns pastel colors of orange, pink, and blue. The winds were calm, and this beautiful landscape enjoyed a quiet morning.

This Panorama from Pedernales Falls is available in larger and custom sized. Please contact me for specific needs.

I’ll stop rambling now.

Vaya con dios, my friends.

Rob
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Hill Country Morning at Pedernales Falls

I don’t know if anyone reads these blog entries, but I write them for Google search engine optimization (SEO) and as a way to share a little about my experiences. This past month, I haven’t had much time to shoot for myself, but a few days ago, I finally had a chance to visit one of my favorite places in the Texas Hill CountryPedernales Falls State Park.

I live fairly close to this state park, and I feel I know parts of the river basin like my own back yard. I’ve photographed this stretch of limestone canyon too many times, but I still return here because it always seems to look a bit different based on water flow and lighting. And in this blog entry, I’d like to take you through my morning in a chronological order, sharing both actions and thoughts. Should you choose to read this, I apologize ahead of time for the flip-flopping back and forth between present and past tense. So here goes:

4:45am – I never used an alarm clock. I look over at the digital readout and contemplate whether I’m getting out of bed now or in three hours.

4:50am – I roll out from underneath warm covers, walk to the large windows in the bedroom, and look out at the clouds. If it is clear, I’m staying home. If it is cloudy, I’m back in the sack, too. I look up. The sky is a patchwork of white clouds. It has the potential to be a nice sunrise. So I crawl back in bed, knowing my eventual fate.

5:01am – Back out of bed – clothes on – and into the kitchen

5:17am – Out the door – Moonshine Mango Tea and a peanut butter cream protein bar in hand, along with a tripod, lens, several flashlights and an L bracket (for vertical oriented shots) in my backpack.

In the dark of the car, I turn on the radio and put on Coast to Coast AM (590AM), but the guest is Nancy Sinatra, and I don’t care. I’d rather hear some good conspiracy talk about bigfoot or UFOs. So I turn on a Nancy Griffith CD to keep me company.

5:51am – Arrive at the park headquarters for Pedernales Falls State Park. I stop and fill out the form using my parks pass. I can barely read the small print on my parks’ pass. I hold the card at arm’s length and this helps bring the small numbers barely into focus. They should give me a permanent pass since I’m here so much, but rarely when anyone is actually manning the shop. My visiting hours are before sunrise or at sunset. I know they need the form, along with my parks’ pass number, filled out because this helps keep track of visitors as well as helps with funding.

5:58am – Arrive the parking lot. Surprise! I’m the only car in the parking lot. Just the usual, I think. Out of the car, and the coolness of the air hits me. This is glorious – I’ll need long sleeves! First time this season. I put on my headlamp, my military grade flashlight in my pocket, turn on the GPS, and with my backpack strapped on, head down the path to the overlook. From the overlook, if it was daylight, I’d have a commanding view of the landscape and the falls as the river flows west to east. As it is, the moonlight illuminates the valley below in a soft light – enough light where I could probably make it down to the river without a flashlight.

6:10am – I start the trek upstream – going over boulders and across small sand bars. The river is low, so I’m not anywhere near the water. I know this place well, I think to myself. Up and down a few larger gulleys, with sand slipping into my shoes, and I’m close to one of my favorite spots.

6:22am – I realize I’ve gone too far upstream. Everything always looks a bit different in the dark. I double back and head towards the water. As I approach the river, I can hear the rush of small cascades. I also realize the river is lower than usual, so I won’t have to wade across the stream to reach the rock from which I want to shoot.

6:30am – There is a dim glow on the eastern horizon. I want to shoot with a moonlit landscape, so I know I’d better hurry. Jump across a few small washes, walk along a sandbar, then some Class 3 rock climbing/scrambling takes place as I go up and over a limestone wall. I’m pretty good at this, I think, and drop onto a large layered rock where I can look both west and east and see the river in both directions.

6:36am -The sky in the east is a beautiful dark orange shade and its beginning to glow, but I’m shooting west at one of my favorite bends in the river. Using the L-Bracket, I quickly take a few long exposure test shots using an 11-24mm L lens. I get the lighting right, then proceed to take 6 vertical images that I’ll stitch into a large and wide panorama to show the beautiful curve in the river. I shoot this scene several more times, each with a different focal length, to ensure I don’t have any regrets in post processing.

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Pedernales Morning Moonset Panorama 1 : Prints Available

Shooting west at sunrise in Pedernales Falls State Park, the sun turns the clouds a beautiful pastel shades of orange and blue against a brightening morning sky. This September panorama shows one of my favorite places to photograph the Texas Hill Country. In the sky, the nearly full moon can be seen setting as the sun begins to rise on the opposite horizon.

Comprised of 9 images, this photograph can be printed large – at least 9 feet wide – and will show plenty of detail. For larger and custom sizes, please do not hesitate to contact me.

6:59am -Then I turn and shoot to the east to capture the perfectly calm water and high clouds that are beginning to show orange and blue color. I’m always amazed at the beauty of this place – and the sky – and how fleeting these colors are.

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September Sunrise at Pedernales Falls Panorama 174 : Prints Available

One of those perfect moments between night and the break of day, this panorama comes from the rocky limestone banks of the Pedernales River in the Texas Hill Country. The water was calm, and I could see Guadalupe Bass gliding in and out of the rock below. In the distance, coyotes were howling. All in all, it was a pretty nice morning.

7:03am – I return to shooting towards the west. The clouds this direction are pink and blue and have a nice reflection in the water. I can also see large fish swimming about ten feet beneath me (I’m on a rock overhang with my tripod feet at the very edge of the ledge.)

7:13am – I finish here and know that this is the official moment of sunrise. But I also know I have time to shoot the actual sunrise because it’ll be at least 20 more minutes before the sun rises over the cliffs. So with more scrambling, I’m up, over, and back down large rocks to a different location and shoot again towards the west.

7:21am – While I’m setting up, I can hear the howls of coyotes in the distance. First, one lone coyote cries out, but is soon joined by the yips of several more. It is a distinct call in the country that I’m very familiar with. The sounds remind me of growing up in the country, as well as time spent more recently at my parents’ ranch on cool autumn nights.

7:42am – I find myself on the top of a very large boulder – probably about 10-12 feet off the ground and I scramble up the side of this large limestone rock. On top, the surface runs off at an angle, so I adjust the legs of my tripod to steady the camera. I’m set up, focusing on rocks, an oak tree, and the river behind it. In the distance, the sun will soon rise over the cliff. I want to capture the moment the first light descends into the valley. I know with the lens I have, that first light will create a beautiful starburst for the final image. So I wait – and I wait and wait. Sunrise always seems to take longer when you are waiting for it. Finally, the moment arrives. Got the shot. Time to climb down and follow the light. So I’m back in shadows – a little closer to the cliff – and wait for the sun to again reach over the cliff and light the area I’m at.

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September Sunrise at Pedernales Falls 173 : Prints Available

As one of my last images taken on this perfect Texas Hill Country morning in September, this photo shows the sun peeking over the cliff as high clouds begin to fade overhead, giving way to a deep blue sky. Beneath my perch, the cool, clean waters of the Pedernales River wind their way through the limestone canyons in this sanctuary not far from my home.

8:19am – After three moves and capturing three different perspectives of sunrise, my time here is finished. Walking back – across sandy areas, over rock formations, and finally up to the parking lot. I see a mother and baby wild pig. I wonder what a baby wild pig is called. A wild piglet? Just don’t want to get between mother and piglet. What’s great is I didn’t see any people at all until my walk back to the car – and I appreciate the solitude.

8:42am – Back at the car. I think about how cool it was then I reminisce about my summer shooting for my Colorado Gallery. But now is home time. Time to play with my little girls.

It was a nice morning – rejuvenating for the soul and for my mental health. I always feel closer to God out here, too – certainly closer than inside the 4 walls of a church while a preacher talks at me. And I know I’ve been blessed with this 4 hour escape. It was a peaceful time, beautiful sunrise, and a moment I’ll take with me.

Vaya con dios, friends,

~ Rob
Texas Images
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Odds and Ends – Ramblings of a Texas Photographer

A few weekends ago, I was invited to participate in the Enchanted Rock Star Festival where I gave a talk and showed images about photographing the night sky. I don’t make too many public appearances, and I prefer no crowds and being out in nature to a crowded room. Still, I appreciate the folks at Enchanted Rock thinking enough of my work to invite me to share my craft.

I’ve already written a blog about how I go about shooting at night, the setup I use, and the self-taught methods I use. I also admit I still get a little creeped out at night, too. Whether shooting in Big Bend National Park or the Texas Hill Country, dark is still dark, and things always seem different without sunlight. All that said, I still shoot 98% of my work in the light – with most of that coming at sunrise or sunset (or in those general hours).

Also, a few weeks ago I attempted to photograph the eclipse here in Texas. I did not want the standard shots – those just showing the sun and moon. I wanted a foreground, as well. I’m still working on the images and haven’t come to terms yet whether I like the almost-finished product. We’ll see. But I did gain some experience and will be more prepared for the total eclipse we’ll see in April, 2024!

After shooting in Colorado for 6 weeks this past summer, returning to Texas in August isn’t much fun. I get used to the 70 degree afternoons of the Rocky Mountains. On my last day there, I was shooting at 530am at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, adding images to my Colorado website, and the temperature was in the 40s. I left from there and headed back through New Mexico and down through the Texas panhandle. By the time I passed through Childress, it was 108 degrees. Just yuk!

In the month I’ve been back, I’ve only been out a few times to shoot – Pennybacker Bridge and the Oasis Restaurant in Austin – and all of those except the eclipse outing were paid jobs.

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The Oasis – Austin, Texas Panorama 1 : Prints Available

Sunset at The Oasis in Austin, Texas, is a ritual for many locals, as well as a popular place for tourists to visit and eat. The restaurant offers decent Tex-Mex food but stunning sunsets of Lake Travis and the distant Hill Country. This panorama of The Oasis at Sunset was taken on a late July evening.

This panorama from the Oasis in Austin, Texas, is available in larger and custom sizes.


Now, with the temperatures cooling off, I hope to start exploring more. This fall I have trips planned for Big Bend, Lost Maples, and several unique areas around the Texas Hill Country.

Vaya con Dios,

Rob

Images from Texas
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Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains

I’d never been to Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains, but I’d had several requests for images from that area. I know how much I loved exploring Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, so I was curious to see what this little state park and national historic site had to offer. In early June, I loaded up the car and with a wife and two little girls in tow (school was out) headed west on I-10 from my home in the Hill Country, branched south in Fort Stockton, and soon found myself in Alpine.

On trips like this, my wife knows my working hours are at sunrise and sunset. The rest of the time is family time – and since it was so hot, much of that time was spent at the hotel pool.
Fort Davis National Historic Site was interesting, especially if you are a native Texan or history buff. The restored grounds near the town of Fort Davis offer visitors a chance to see how life was like more than 100 years ago. From 1854 to 1891, this remote military outpost protected the interests of both Texans and the United States, primarily from marauding Indians such as the Apache and Comanche. Fort Davis was designated as a national landmark in 1960.

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Fort Davis Barracks 3 : Prints Available

Officers’ quarters at Fort Davis provide an opportunity to learn about life here on this military outpost from the mid to late 1800s. Officers and Enlisted Men served and protected the frontier at this remote station nestled in the Davis Mountains.

Connected to Fort Davis is the Davis Mountains State Park. While not large, this little park offers. The elevation of this area is between 5,000 and 6000 feet, high for Texas standards. The mountains provide nice vistas, and several trails wind through the 2700+ acres. One trail, the Skyline Drive Trail, connects with the old CCC trail and leads to the Fort Davis Historic site.
And with the wife and kids still sleeping, I made my way to several prominent views at sunrise each morning, shooting the wonderful first light of each day. The west Texas skies also provided nice sunsets with clouds full of color.

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Davis Mountains Sunset 2 : Prints Available

I returned to this location in the Davis Mountains several times on my most recent visit. Each time, the sky offered something different. Pinks and purples lit up the sky, turning the Texas landscape into a palette of soft pastels in contrast to the prickly pear, yucca, and thorny bushes that lined my path to this point.

All in all, this was a nice excursion. We found a good pizza joint in Alpine that we visited a few times (Guzzi Up) and we tried the ritzy and famous Reata in Alpine, as well. Unfortunately, despite good reviews and recommendations, the more expensive meal (by a lot) was a big disappointment for all of us. It was certainly not up to the standards of its Fort Worth cousin.
More to come…

Via con dios, Texas.
~ Rob
Images from Texas

Catching up in June

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to add to the blog. Wildflower season in Texas has come and gone. Unfortunately, it departed the same way it arrived – with more of a whimper than anything else. The rains were sparse this spring. Bluebonnet fields were few and far between – only a small patch of blue near Marble Falls and another out a dirt road south of Mason were the prizes of the year. Vast fields of Indian Blankets (aka Firewheels) never materialized, though there was some inconsistent coverage here and there. So maybe next year will be better? We’ll see.

In good news, my second book was published by Far Country Press, hitting the internet shelves of Amazon as well as stores around the state. I have to admit it feels surreal to see my book on sale at an airport kiosk at ABIA. Now there is talk for a third book, but my publisher isn’t sure of the details just yet. Still, it is nice that Far Country Press keeps coming back for more of my work.

An image book showcasing Texas Wildflowers from across the state.
My second book – Texas Wildflowers – published by Far Country Press

I’ve recently taken several trips to photograph the San Antonio area, as well as exploring the area around Alpine and Fort Davis for week in early June. The Davis Mountains are pretty nice this time of year, though it does get hot in the middle of the day. More about these treks in my next writing.

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Davis Mountains Sunrise 6 : Prints Available

The trails through the Davis Mountains offer stunning views of the Texas landscape. The Skyline Drive Trail wanders through the state park and connect with the CCC Trail, which eventually leads down into Fort Davis National Historic Site. This is a view along the path before sunrise on a warm June morning.

In the meantime, I’ll be rolling around Colorado while shooting up there for a portion of the summer.

Thanks for reading!
Via con dios, Texas.
~ Rob
Images from Texas

Bluebonnet Hunting and More…

Before I start in on bluebonnet season, I’m pleased to make a few announcements. First, for the third year in a row I have several photographs featured in Texas Highways magazine. Next, over the winter I have been working on launching a new website – Images from Colorado. While it is far from complete, it is up and running. I’ll be working at adding a lot of images over the next six months. The descriptions and keywording each image just takes a long time. And that process will slow down as wildflower season gets into full swing.

As we turn the page and head into April, bluebonnets should be nearing peak. However, thus far this wildflower season has been less than stellar. This past week I drove over 500 miles through the hill country looking for a few colorful fields. Many of the roadsides were nice, especially on Highway 29 between Mason and Llano. The spaces between the road and fence lines were full of bluebonnets sprinkled with red Indian paintbrush. Still, the fields were relatively barren of colors.

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Wildflower Highway Sunrise 3 : Prints Available

Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush, two of Texas’ favorite wildflowers, filled this roadside between Mason and Llano. The sun lit up some low clouds and brought another gorgeous day to the Texas Hill Country on this late March morning.

All my driving yielded little except a few nice sunrises taken along 29 and some morning photographs from the famous “bluebonnet house” in Marble Falls. The pasture in front of this 100 year-old stone house had the most bluebonnets in over five years. Because I live pretty close to this location, I waited for a really good sunset. Despite some of the photographs that have been posted on popular hill country Facebook pages, I can assure you there have not been any spectacular sunrises in Marble Falls since the bluebonnets have bloomed. For some, photoshop is a best friend, and non-disclosure is obvious. But that is a topic for another blog! And even more crazy… one afternoon when I drove by this old house surrounded by bluebonnets, a family had evidently crawled over or through the barbed-wire fence in order to take their family photo – this despite the “No Trespassing” signs posted prominently about every 15 feet Anton the fence! Anyway, on a few nights there were some high soft clouds that made for pleasing pastel colors of pink and blue.

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Bluebonnets in Marble Falls Panorama 1 : Prints Available

Bluebonnets surround and old stone building in Marble Falls, Texas, in this morning panorama. The high clouds were soft and gave a pastel feel to this calm and peaceful sunrise. These favorite Texas wildflowers were the best in many years at this site.

This panorama of bluebonnets is available in larger and custom sizes. Please contact me for more information.

With little clouds to speak of, I decided to use what God had provided. I stayed late and shot the night sky over the bluebonnet house,p. To make the stars really shine in a photograph, I useda star tracker to take long exposures of the stars without any trailing. While the Milky Way doesn’t appear in the north, the stars at night are big and bright and still magnificent.

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Bluebonnets under Starry Skies 1 : Prints Available

Under starry skies of a clear spring night, this field of bluebonnets in Marble Falls slept in the still air. I arrived early to shoot this iconic location – commonly known simply as the “Bluebonnet House” at both sunset and after dark. The winds were calm and the skies were nice. When I arrived, many photographers lined the fence to capture this Texas landmark surrounded by Texas wildflowers. As the sun faded and night crept across the Hill Country one by one those folks left, leaving only my camera and me.

Using a star tracker, I took long exposures of the sky facing north. At this time of year, you won’t find any dazzling Milky Way images to the north, but you can see the North Star as well as the Little Dipper. This classic bluebonnet landscape was taken about an hour after dark. I hope it conveys the sense of history, beauty, and nostalgia that I felt that quiet evening.

Thanks to a new friend, I received a tip about some healthy bluebonnets not far from Marble Falls. Immediately, I headed out before this location became public knowledge and before the bluebonnets were trampled by family-portrait folks. The winds were calm, clouds easy and soft, and for an hour we enjoyed our time photographing what so far is a rare scene this year. In one particular spot, a single firewheel (also known as an Indian blanket) rose above the bluebonnets. I photographed this little red wildflower from all directions before settling on one particularly nice angle. I don’t think I could have planned it any better.

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A Dance Among the Bluebonnets 1 : Prints Available

I love this lone red-orange firewheel among a sea of bluebonnets. I took several different angles of this field, but this was my favorite with the splash of red rising up from the blue. These Texas wildflowers were found just south of Marble Falls. The air was still and the evening was just about perfect. I stayed later and photographed the Milky Way in the early morning hours over this same area

That night, I lingered in the bluebonnets and decided to shoot into the early morning hours and capture the Milky Way as it crawled across this beautiful field. The sky was taken with a star tracker and the results can make for a large print! In one of the Milky Way photographs I even had the good fortune of capturing a meteor. I did not recognize this until working on these the next day.

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Bluebonnets under the Milky Way 2 : Prints Available

In the early hours of the morning and well before sunrise, the Milky Way appears over this beautiful field of bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country. To achieve maximum sharpness, this image is a composite photograph. The foreground was taken about 45 minutes after sunset when just enough light allowed some depth and clarity to show in the bluebonnet landscape. A little after 3am when the Milky Way was in position, I used a star tracker to take a long exposure of the night sky. Back at home, and after some sleep, I used photogshop to blend the two images together to show what they eye could see but the camera could not capture. I had not noticed the meteor in the Milky Way photograph until I got home. Sometimes you just get lucky!

Near this same location in Marble Falls there is a small herd of longhorns. In one of the fields where they graze, patches of bluebonnets are scattered across the pasture. More than several times I drove by this location but the longhorns were never in good position. Finally this past Saturday just before a major storm, I found them sitting among the blooms (and any Texan knows that if cattle are laying down, that means rain is on the way!) With this nice surprise I was at last able to photograph a few of these regal and rugged creatures within the bluebonnets.

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Longhorns on a Lazy Afternoon 1 : Prints Available

A longhorn and a calf rest easy in a green pasture surrounded by patches of spring blueobonnets. I’d been to this field numerous times but the longhorns were always too far away to be photographed. Finally, they arrived and allowed me to get in a few shots before standing and sauntering off.

When shooting these or any fields of Texas wildflowers, I usually take several images of the same scene with variying depths of field. Back home, I’ll align and merge these images into one photograph in order to achieve maximum sharpness throughout the image. Most of the bluebonnet photographs from this year consist of at least four separate images blended together. The panoramas are made of eight or more photos stacked and merged. This process is tedious but allows me to provide my clients with the highest quality. And being obsessed with details myself, this is the only way I’d do it!

With the recent rains these last few days, I’m hopeful the wet weather will stimulate a future bloom. The hill country still has reds and golds to offer, and perhaps even a few bluebonnet surprises. Time will tell.

Thanks for reading!
Via con dios.
~ Rob
Images from Texas

Big Bend and Bluebonnets

It seems we are again experiencing a disappointing bluebonnet season. What looked like a promising beginning to a wildflower spring has again been thwarted by lack of rain and higher than normal temperatures. I’ve driven across the hill country the last few week, and I’ve received location report from other trusted photographers, and the outlook is grim.
However, there are some stellar displays of bluebonnets and paintbrush along the roadsides, especially on 29 between Llano and Mason, and on 16 north of Llano.

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Wildflower Highway Sunrise 2 : Prints Available

On my first visit to this particular bend in the road along Highway 29 between Mason and Llano, this is the sunset I found. The bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country were not great in 2017, but roadside displays of these wildflowers and indian paintbrush were quite colorful on this little stretch of highway.


Another nice location is in Marble Falls on 281 heading north out of town. The iconic old stone building has a field of bluebonnets in the front which makes for a great photograph. I was there one morning last week surrounded by many other folks out enjoying the display – and this was at sunrise! Later that morning as I drove by the number of people taking photos had grown by 3 or 4 times.
This week, the Hill Country is forecast to receive some much needed rain. If this comes to pass, there may be a boost in bluebonnet and other wildflower coverage in fields. We’ll wait and see what happens!

Last week, I traveled to one of my favorite locations – Big Bend National Park. I had gone in hopes of capturing bluebonnets with the Chisos Mountains in the distance. However, the only blooms to be found were along the road, and these were pretty sparse. Still, I worked with what I found:

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Bluebonnet Sunrise at Big Bend 1 : Prints Available

Big Bend National Park has its own bluebonnet, and here the lupines rest silently in the glow of a March sunrise. In the distance, the Chisos Mountains rise in the cool morning air. The colors and cold air didn’t last long, though. Clouds quickly gave way to clear skies and the temperatures soared into the upper 80s… just a typical day in the Chihuahuan Desert.


Some of my go-to locations like drainages around Tuff Canyon and River Road East were barren of any blooms. I did enjoy a night hike under the full moon to the top of the Lost Mine Trail. I enjoy long exposures when the moonlight illuminates the foreground and brings to life an otherwise hidden valley.
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Lost Mine under Moonlight, Big Bend : Prints Available

Under the light of the full moon, Big Bend National Parks glows softly. In the distance is Juniper Canyon and the Chisos Mountains, and further is Mexico.

I had made the trek up to this point, a relatively easy 2.4 miles (one way) to photograph this location at sunset, then await the full moon as it rose in the east. The lighting was surreal and the hike back to the car was just a bit eerie and mystical.

In the lower elevations west of the Chisos, the prickly pear cacti were just beginning to bloom.

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Cerro Castellan at Sunset 1 : Prints Available

The last light of sunset lights up the rocky ledges high atop Cerro Castellan on the western slope of the Chisos Mountains. This view of Big Bend National Park shows one of the many Prickly Pear Cacti – this one blooming with beautiful floweres – on the desert floor. But don’t get too close – those prickly pear are well armed with long and sharp thorns!


While not technically considered a wildflower, these blooms can still be stunning.
If I find any wildflowers, I’ll be sure to add some information here. In the meantime, enjoy those colorful roadside displays of flowers – they are still very pretty!
Via Con Dios and safe travels!
~ Rob