Favorite Texas Images from 2017

As 2017 prepares to make its exit deep in December, the photography opportunities around central Texas take a bit of a hiatus. On these cold rainy days, I’m left to take inventory of the year, clean up some files, and reflect on where I’ve been. This past year has been a good one, photographically speaking, and I’ve seen some beautiful places and made new friends along the way. Of course, there are always more locations I’d like to shoot, but for now I’ll focus on where I’ve been and appreciate those moments. So in no particular order, here are my favorite images of the past year.

Probably the most unique location I visited, thanks to my new friends – Barry and Todd – were some slot canyons hidden deep in Pal Duro Canyon State Park. A long hike without a hint of a trail, up a canyon rim and across a vast, featureless mesa, down into a box canyon, and into a sliver of a crack in the rock lead us to Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon, one of the most amazing slot canyons in Texas

palo duro canyon, slot canyon, central utah slot canyon, secret canyon, texas canyons, texas state parks, central utah slot, slot canyons, texas slot canyons, texas hiking, hiking texas, texas secrets
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 stratiations 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.

This canyon is remote and pristine, and thankfully not many folks know its location. Along the hike, Todd and Barry shared a few locations closer to the road that were defaced with graffiti, carvings, and other shameful acts from people with no regard to the landscape or its history.

****

This past spring offered the promise of a good wildflower season, but a lack of rain for 60 straight days ended those hopes. Still, there were a few locations where our favorite Texas wildflower, the bluebonnet, made an appearance. The photograph below was taken one evening in a location that had not yet been discovered by photo enthusiasts. (How did I know this? – The bluebonnets had not yet been trampled by folks plopping down their kids in the middle of the wildflowers). I liked this little scene because a single red firewheel (a red wildflower) stood alone in a sea of blue on a perfect evening.

bluebonnets; bluebonnet photos; texas wildflowers; indian blankets; texas wildflower prints; texas hill country; marble falls; texas spring; spring landscape; texas landscapes
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

****

In early January, I received a call from Westcave Preserve. I live only about 5 miles from this relatively unknown sanctuary, and they said we would be experiencing a deep freeze and wanted to know if I’d be willing to shoot the icicles hanging from the grotto the next morning. Usually this area is off limits unless you are on a guided tour, but I was allowed to visit this area and shoot and rare winter Texas scene.

westcave preserve, texas hill country, texas snow, texas ice, hamilton pool, grotto, icicles, sunburst, texas sunrise, melting water
Westcave Icicles in the Hill Country 2 : Prints Available

The sun peeks over the limestone rock from the Grotto in Westcave Preserve. It was cold this morning in the Texas Hill Country – 18 degres while I was photographing this private preserve. Icicles hung from the top of this sanctuary but were quickly melting in the morning sunlight.

* Shot with permission from the folks at Westcave Preserve. I’m happy to work with and capture the beauty of this hidden gem just 2 miles from the more well known Hamilton Pool.

****

One of my favorite adventures this year was a trip out to Big Bend to photograph Mariscal Canyon. I wrote a blog about this trip a while back. Feel free to read my Mariscal Canyon trek. This drive and hike weekend provided a chance to visit one of the most remote and beautiful places in Texas – Big Bend National Park’s Mariscal Canyon.

Mariscal Canyon, Big Bend national park, Big bend canyon, canyon, big bend, national park, hiking, hiking texas, texas outdoors, texas national parks, rio grande, mexico, talley, river road east, rive
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.

We encountered aoudad sheep, javilinas, tarantulas, and endured 95 degree heat (in November!) to reach this canyon rim. The view was worth it.

****

One of my new toys I bought this year was an underwater case for my camera (a Canon 5DSr). This contraption isn’t easy to work with, and getting a decent shot underwater is a matter of trial and error. Still, with persistence, a good image can be had. Here, after laying still on a rock as I held my camera partially submerged beneath the surface, a few fish wandered in to the scene and I let it roll… Fifty or so shots later, I had a few I could work with. This photograph showing sunrise as well as the clear water of the Pedernales River was the end result.

Pedernales River, Texas Hill Country, hill country, pedernales falls, fish, underwater, underwater photography, sunrise, texas sunrise, september, october
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.

****

Back in June, we made a quick trip out to the Davis Mountains. I’d never been to this part of Texas, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. The weather cooperated, offering nice skies and sunrise and sunset. This image was taken at sunrise from one of the highest point in Davis Mountains State Park and looks down at the CCC as it traverses these ancient mountains.

davis mountains images; davis mountains state park; fort davis; texas landscapes; texas sunrise; davis mountains prints
Davis Mountains Sunrise 7 : Prints Available

From  high on the Skyline Drive Trail in Davis Mountains State Park, the summer sunrise can be beautiful and serene. Several mornings while out between 6am and 7am, I never saw another person – just the deer, javalinas, rabbits, and tarantulas!

****

This past spring, I started a new website for Colorado images. While photographer in the Rockies this summer, a friend of mine and I hiked 15 miles to reach Lone Eagle Peak. This location isolated and beautiful, and I was pleased we made it out and back in one piece! So I’ll include this last image as one of my favorites, even though it is not from Texas.

Colorado's Lone Eagle Peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Lone Eagle Peak stands along in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area in Grand County. Its jagged peak rises nearly 12,000’ into the cool Rocky Mountain air. In the foreground, Mirror Lake offers a nearly perfect reflection of this remote and stunning location.
To reach this area, the trail begins at Monarch Lake and takes you past Cascade Falls – not a single waterfall – but a slow cascade of flowing, ice-cold water over several miles. The round trip is nearly 16 miles, but well worth the sore feet you’ll have later. This pristine area of Colorado is not seen my many, and you’ll likely have the sanctuary all to yourself.

Thanks for looking and reading. I hope 2018 will be even more productive than 2017. For now, have a good end of the year, safe travels during the holidays, and a smooth start to the near year!

Via con Dios, my friends.
~ Rob
www.ImagesfromTexas.com
www.facebook.com/ImagesfromTexas

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.

palo duro canyon, texas canyons, texas state parks, exas hiking, hiking texas, texas secrets, texas landscapes, canyon, amarillo, sunrise, texas sunrise, panorama
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.

palo duro canyon, texas canyons, texas state parks, exas hiking, hiking texas, texas secrets, texas landscapes, canyon, amarillo, sunrise, texas sunrise, canyon rim
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.

palo duro canyon, slot canyon, central utah slot canyon, secret canyon, texas canyons, texas state parks, central utah slot, slot canyons, texas slot canyons, texas hiking, hiking texas, texas secrets
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.

palo duro canyon, slot canyon, central utah slot canyon, secret canyon, texas canyons, texas state parks, central utah slot, slot canyons, texas slot canyons, texas hiking, hiking texas, texas secrets
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.

palo duro canyon, slot canyon, central utah slot canyon, secret canyon, texas canyons, texas state parks, central utah slot, slot canyons, texas slot canyons, texas hiking, hiking texas, texas secrets
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.

palo duro canyon, slot canyon, central utah slot canyon, secret canyon, texas canyons, texas state parks, central utah slot, slot canyons, texas slot canyons, texas hiking, hiking texas, texas secrets
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.

palo duro canyon, slot canyon, central utah slot canyon, secret canyon, texas canyons, texas state parks, central utah slot, slot canyons, texas slot canyons, texas hiking, hiking texas, texas secrets
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.

palo duro canyon, texas canyons, texas state parks, exas hiking, hiking texas, texas secrets, texas landscapes, canyon, amarillo, sunrise, texas sunrise, canyon rim, slot canyons
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
Images from Texas
Follow me on Facebook

Exploring Palo Duro Canyon and the Texas Panhandle

This past week, I had the opportunity to spend time in the Texas Panhandle, primarily Palo Duro Canyon State Park, as well as a few side trips around Amarillo, Texas. The late November weather turned out to be superb, and I was fortunate to enjoy some amazing sunrises and sunsets while exploring the canyon.

My family came with me on this trip, and that meant no camping. Instead, we stayed in Canyon, just ~ 12 miles from the park entrance. For my gear, I was shooting with the newish Canon 5DSr. I brought a few lenses, as well – the 11-24L, 16-35IIL, 24-105L, and the 70-200ISL. For a majority of the trip, I only used the 11-24 and the 24-105. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express – 4 adults, 2 kiddos. It was not bad at all, though I’m not a fan of their breakfast. However, I was usually gone when breakfast started at 6am and by the time I returned to the hotel, I caught the tail-end of the morning service. So I stuck to my Apricot Kind bars for early morning food.

One thing to know about Palo Duro is that the entrance gates are closed overnight and don’t open until 8:00am. Having done some work for Texas Parks and Wildlife in the past, I was able to obtain permission to enter the park early in order to photograph sunrise. This made a huge difference, allowing me to photograph during the morning magic hour when light is soft and beautiful.

palo duro canyon,palo duro canyon state park,palo duro panorama,panorama,texas panhandle images,palo duro canyon prints,texas landscapes,texas prints
Palo Duro Canyon Sunrise Panorama 1 : Prints Available

From the rim of the Visitor Center, this is Palo Duro Canyon at Sunrise on a cold November morning. The temperature was in the 20s, and my hands were freezing as I waited for this moment. Finally, the sun peeked over the distant canyon wall. After several images, it was time to go exploring.

* I should add here that I stopped by the Visitor Center to ask a few questions about hikes and such when we first arrived at the park. An older woman who was working seemed to not particularly enjoy her job that much. She questioned all my plans, and even said she didn’t understand why I wanted to come into the park before 8am – the gates were closed for a reason! She went on to add that there was nothing to photograph before sunrise. “Why would you want to get here so early. There’s nothing here worth seeing that early!” I don’t think she should have been a front-person for Palo Duro, as she obviously didn’t appreciate the wonders this place has to offer.

Anyway, the flexibility of the park rangers with allowing me an early entrance each morning made the trip worthwhile. Otherwise, it would been not nearly as productive. The sunrise from the Visitor Center that overlooks the Canyon was colorful – a nice gradient from orange to blue about 40 minutes before sunrise, then transitioning to some nice clouds by the time the sun showed itself for the first time. But during this in-between, my hands were nearly frozen. The temperature was in the upper 20s at this location, and later as I drove through the valley floor, the thermometer read 21 degrees. Yikes!

After finishing up the sunrise shoot, I returned to the hotel to pick up the wife and kids, then came back to take them hiking. We explored the Big Cave (an easy walk for young kids that the Visitor Center Welcome Woman poo-pooed – and my kids loved it), and some other trails. I also came away with some late morning light on Capitol Peak, one of the well-known points in the park. Evening found my wife and me hiking to the Lighthouse. This famous landmark is by far the most popular trail it the park, and for good reason. It provides you a 6-mile round-trip walk on an orange clay path through magnificent and colorful canyon walls and rock formations. You finish the last .3 miles going uphill, scrambling part of the way, to reach the base of the iconic structure. From this vantage point, the views stretch for miles through the distant canyon. And sunset did not disappoint, either. Behind me, to the east, clouds lit up in pink pastels. In front of us, to the west, the sun turned the sky brilliant orange, complementing the orange rock of the Lighthouse itself. We lingered until nearly dark, enjoying the scene and solitude. And I should note that while we passed folks on our walk (all of whom were heading back to the start of the trailhead), we did not encounter another person for the last mile of our walk to the Lighthouse, nor did we see anyone the remainder of the evening. That peace and quiet was pretty special, for sure. Having a place like that all to oneself, even for a few hours, is hard to top.

palo duro canyon,the lighthouse,texas landscapes,texas panhandle. texas images,texas prints
Lighthouse Panorama from Palo Duro Canyon 2 : Prints Available

With a nearly-full moon rising in east, the iconic rock formation the Lighthouse at Palo Duro Canyon stands tall in the crisp Autumn air.

But time moves us along, and eventually we were back on the trail, walking in the dark. I paused to shoot the Lighthouse from a distance with the Milky Way behind it, then again at Capitol Peak to take a long exposure of the mountain as the nearly-full moon had risen and was illuminating the red and orange rock in a wonderful soft glow.

Palo Duro Canyon,Capitol peak,Texas at night,Texas night images,Palo Duro Canyon at night,Palo Duro Canyon photos,Texas landscapes
Capitol Peak under a Full Moon : Prints Available

Under the light of a full moon, Capitol Peak at Palo Duro Canyon is lit up in this long exposure. To the naked eye, there was a little light on this evening, but with the camera, the colors came to life.

The next morning found me back at sunrise again, but this time the temperatures rose into the high 20s and low 30s, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. Another glorious sunrise welcomed the day, and soon we were off exploring.

I would like to come back here again in the spring when the flowers are blooming, and perhaps in the fall when the trees are changing colors as they head into winter.

After leaving the Palo Duro Canyon area, we made side trips to the ecclectic Cadillac Ranch just west of Amarillo. This field that is on the old Route 66 has ten old Cadillacs that have been buried nose first into the dirt. Funded by an eccentric millionaire and created by a San Francisco art hippy group called the Ant Farm, this “exhibit” is free and open to the public – and spray-painting the old cars is welcome and even encouraged.

cadillac ranch,cadillac ranch images,cadillac ranch amarillo,amarillo art,amarillo cars,texas art
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo Texas 2 : Prints Available

From a different angle, this is the Cadillac Ranch, a permanent art exhibit outside of Amarillo, Texas, on Route 66. A group of art hippies from San Francisco created the display at the request of an eccentric Texas millionaire, Stanley Marsh.

Heading east of Amarillo, I paused to photograph a few cotton fields. From the highway, the area looked like snow had fallen, but in reality the cotton was white and ready for harvesting. I met a rancher who welcomed me onto his land, so I spent a little time photographing this uniquely Texas landscape.

texas cotton field,texas cotton images,texas cotton harvest,cotton images,cotton prints,texas cotton landscapes,texas images
Texas Cotton Field at Harvest 1 : Prints Available

While exploring the Texas Panhandle and Palo Duro Canyon, I came across several large fields that looked like snow had fallen on them. Instead, the fields were full of cotton and ready for harvesting.

From here, another sunset found me shooting bales of hay under some wonderful skies lit up by the half-light of evening.

All in all, it was a fun, relaxing, and successful trip. What’s next?

Safe travels, everyone,

Rob

Images from Texas
Images from Texas on Facebook