Guadalupe Mountains, Roswell, Carlsbad, and the Sand Dunes – and bad food – Part 2

After last week’s trip to the Big Bend area, this week, being spring break for my two girls, found me heading west again, this time with the whole family in tow, to the Guadalupe Mountains. These ancient mountains are a long way from my Texas Hill Country home -~ 8 hours – and if you’ve ever visited the Salt Basin on the southwest side of the park, you know what a remote area it is. After a forty mile drive from Hwy 54 around the south and west sides of the basin, including a 7 mile finish on a white clay road that is impassable when it rains we finally arrived… and saw nary another person en route. After this hour drive off the main road, we still had to cover another mile on foot (according to the park map). However, our total round trip was ~3.5 miles in a trail comprised primarily of very loose sand.

At first the dunes don’t seem like much, but if you head to the right – up and over the steep scrub-filled sand slope -you’ll find a sea of white amazing sand. As you traverse the dunes, avoid any vegetation as this is an ecologically sensitive area.

From the tops of the dunes, the views of the Guadalupe Mountains, including the iconic El Capitan and the tallest peak in Texas – Guadalupe Peak -were amazing.

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Guadalupe Mountains – Salt Basin Dunes at Sunset 1 : Prints Available

Like saves of sand, the textures and curves of the salt basin dunes on the southeast side of the Guadalupe Mountains make a stunning foreground for these ancient mountains. In this image, the mountains rise in the spring air as the sun sets in the opposite sky. Guadalupe Peak, the tallest point in Texas, rises 8,751’, and the iconic El Capitan is just south of the summit.
To reach these dunes requires a bit of an effort. A 50 mile drive around the park from the Pine Spring Visitor Center, including 7.5 miles on a caliche road that is impassable after a rain, brings you to the trailhead. After that, a dirt and sandy path leads another 1.5 miles to the dunes (the park maps says 1 mile, but it is longer). The round trip hike on this evening was just under 3.5 miles – all worth the amazing scenery in this national park.

After some time exploring the dunes and having the sand all to ourselves, the sun settled in the east behind us and we raced the 1.5 miles back to the car to avoid being locked in the park overnight (the gates are locked 30 minutes after sunset). I’m not sure how strict the park service is on this rule, but I did not want to take a chance on sleeping in the car – in the remote Chihuahuan Desert – with three angry females. We made it out safely, then drove the 2.5 hours to Artesia, New Mexico, for the night.

The next day we drove another 45 minutes hours north and visited the UFO museum in Roswell, New Mexico. Before the museum visit, we had lunch at the Cowboy Cafe. This dive was ranked highly on Yelp and TripAdvisor, bit I’m assuming the competition wasn’t great. Still, little did we realize at the time we should be happy with “average.”

Later, at the International UFO Museum, we enjoyed life sized aliens and plenty of affidavits from important people concerning the reality of aliens and the alleged government coverup. The small presentation was surprisingly well done, and my girls were sufficiently freaked out by the aliens but still had a good time.

Heading back south and just north of the the Texas border is Carlsbad Caverns, our next stop on the trip. The caverns were amazing and the rock formations nothing like I’ve seen before. We took the self-guided tour that led us through the dark underground and along the 1.25 mile trail and the Big Room. If I was a spelunker or geologist, I imagine I’d have been in heaven.

Carlsbad Caverns
Fairyland in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
But I prefer above ground landscapes. As we left, we noticed the large crowds and lines already gathered for entrance. We had arrived early and were glad we did. The crowds were thick as we left, which would have detracted from the quiet spaces of our walk.

Next, we headed south through Van Horn and onto Fort Stockton. First, though, we stopped at a place to eat. Many years ago I watched Chet Garner, host of the DayTripper, eat at Chuys, a Tex-mex joint in Van Horn – NOT affiliated with the well-known Tex-mex chain. I’d wanted to eat here for a while, so we stopped in. I’m sad to say our experience was not good. So be warned… the service was terrible. The guy serving us seemed uninterested in working. Please know we are very low-maintenance. After a 20 minute wait just to take our order, we waited another 30 for the meals. My wife and two girls finally received their food, then the waiter asked if I had ordered the fajitas. Yes… and 20 minutes later my wife and kids had finished their food before mine arrived! But no explanation nor apologies were offered. To top off the experience, the beef was full of fat and very chewy -the worst fajitas I’ve ever had. We paid and got the heck out of there…never again.

But the sand dunes of Monahans Sandhills State Park awaited, and our mood quickly improved. I’d photographed this small sandy park at sunrise just a week before, but now was returning because I knew my kids would love the sand… and I could shoot at sunset. This image was converted to black and white for the contrast in curves and shadows:

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Sand Dunes Evening 1 black and white : Prints Available

The lines in the sand at Monahans Sandhills State Park can be mesmorizing. Here in the late afternoon, soft shadows enhance the curves and texture as the winds create ever changing patterns.


We arrived a few hours before dusk, and my girls immediately took off, heading to the tallest dune, then sliding down and laughing the entire time. It was a good way to end our trip – sunset was beautiful, everyone was happy at the same time (which is rare), and laughter filled the still air as we traversed the sand back to the parking lot. It was hometime the next morning, and I always become a bit sentimental when family time ends. I know my kids won’t stay young, and I value each day I have with them.

Vaya con Dios, my friends,

Rob
Images from Texas

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

Images from Texas
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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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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
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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

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

Too Early for Spring Bluebonnet Blog

As we drift closer to spring, I find myself looking more forward to wildflower season with each passing day. The hope for a colorful crop of flowers this year is alive, especially with the winter rains we’ve had here in central Texas. Our property is once again showing large amounts of bluebonnet rosettes hugging the damp ground.

With that said, I have to temper my expectations. Just last year, we’d had copious amounts of rain, were in the middle of an El Nino, and the future looked colorful. And then we went 60 days without a drop of rain. The bluebonnet season was basically a bust, and even the usual wildflowers such as bluebonnets, bitterweed, Indian blankets (firewheels), poppies, and others never realized their full potential.

I am looking forward to an early Spring trip to Big Bend where the Big Bend Bluebonnets bloom much earlier than their Hill Country cousins. Flowers or not, that is always one of my favorite places to explore and photograph.

So we wait, hope for rain and colder weather until March and April.

In the meantime, feel free to peruse photos and pictures of past wildflower seasons in my online galleries here:

Bluebonnets

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Colors of a Bluebonnet Sunset 2 : Prints Available

This bluebonnet photograph was the last image taken on this quiet evening in the Hill Country. This favorite Texas wildflower was scattered across the rolling hills, and the sky showed a bit of color as day transitioned to night. If I had not sat on a cactus while trying to get low to shoot from ground level, this would have been a perfect evening!

Texas Wildflowers

I’ll update this blog as we draw closer to Spring and nature’s return to life!

~ Rob

The South Rim at Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is home to some of the most amazing views in Texas. I’ve had the opportunity to photograph this remote Texas landscape along the Rio Grande several times, and at the end of each visit I’m left wanting more time, more sunrises and sunsets, and another day to explore the trails and vistas offered here.

The hike to the South Rim of Big Bend is often referred to as the best hike in Texas. Depending on your route or your curiosity, the round trip can often exceed 13 or more miles. While I’ve explored the Chisos Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert, I’d never visited the South Rim until recently. I’d planned to make this hike on other occasions, but poor weather made conditions to photograph the Rim not worth the effort of lugging camera equipment that far. But over the course of a four day visit to Big Bend and using a sunset-conditions predictor program, I finally found a good night to go.

To shoot sunset or sunrise at the South Rim, you either have to camp or hike one direction in the dark. Lugging a camera, several lenses, a tripod, and a star-tracking mount (for Milky Way photographs) took precedence over a tent, so I was left with the only option of hiking back in the dark. So I set out about 4pm on an April afternoon layered in wispy clouds and climbed the 2,000+ vertical feet up to Laguna Meadow. The hike itself isn’t hard. The trail is easy to follow and the uphill isn’t anything daunting. It’s just a long grind with a backpack full of equipment and gatorade. By the time I reached the edge of a 1,500 cliff of the South Rim, I’d only seen hikers going north in the direction of the trailhead. With the remnant of the Chisos stretching out before me and the Rio Grande winding through the desert far below, the landscape that rewarded my efforts inspired a sense of awe and reminded me of how small we are. (I would soon be reminded of this again while shooting the night sky). Finally able to take off the backpack, I set about trying to find the optimal locations for shooting at sunset. Agave, Prickly Pear, Claret Cups, and a view into the desert all clamored for my attention, and choosing was difficult only because of so many options. Ultimately, I decided on four areas – one while the sky was still blue, one for the moment the sun hits the horizon (for the star burst), another to capture the colors of the clouds at sunset, and a last take for the Milky Way finale.

When I shoot at sunset, I usually take 3, 5, or 7 exposures of the same image in order to adjust the foreground and sky accordingly. Some folks do this to create an HDR effect, but I try to bring out the colors while leaving the scene more realistic. I’ll also shoot different focus points in order to make sure the entire image is sharp and consistent. With that said, I was fortunate with the clouds and sunset, as the combination of light and color made the long hike worth it.

This first image is a panorama looking west at the moment the sun fell below the horizon. A path winds along this southwest rim where you can find some amazing panoramic views – even to Santa Elena Canyon on the western edge of the park boundary. This photo is comprised of at least 12 different images, then blended and stitched together to show the true colors of sunset high on this mountain.

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Big Bend South Rim Sunset 1 : Prints Available

From the southwest rim of Big Bend National Park, this panorama was taken in late spring as the sun set behind the distant mountains. High above the Chihuahuan Desert, you’ll have this amazing view of the Texas landscape from the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains. The hike to this point is over 6 miles – often longer depending which route you choose – making the round trip 13 or more miles in most cases. But the view is well worth the effort in this remote part of the Lone Star State. This panorama can be printed in custom sizes. Please contact me for more information.

The next image comes from the South rim looking south over a portion of ancient remains of the Chisos Mountains. Beyond those peaks, the Rio Grande runs east, serving as a boundary between the Lone Star State and Mexico. Taken about 15-20 minutes after true sunset, this photograph shows a cactus as it hangs onto a cliff 1,500 feet above the desert floor. The foreground was taken as a separate image, then blended with a photograph of the distant mountains to create sharpness throughout. The sky was yet another image in order to bring out the colors of a beautiful Texas sunset.

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Big Bend South Rim at Sunset 2 : Prints Available

This view of the southern Chisos Mountain Range in Big Bend National Park comes from the South Rim. As one of the best hikes in Texas, the trek to reach this point is a little over 6 miles, and to capture an image at sunset or sunrise at this location means you either camp or hike in the dark. But the effort is worth it as the landscape that stretches from Texas into Mexico is well worth the effort. Here, a prickly pear blooms in late spring as clouds light up with another beautiful Texas sunset.

After this series of photographs, I pulled out the IOptron StarTracker, a device I use to track and shoot the night sky. After aligning the machine with the north star and mounting my camera on top, I set about capturing long exposures of the Milky Way at a relatively low ISO to show points of light as sharp and crisp, just as you’d see if you were standing there. I should note the foreground of this image was taken about 30 minutes after sunset while it was nearly dark, but with still enough light to bring out the definition of the distant peaks. With the foreground and the Milky Way taken at separate times, I then blend the two together back at home and do my best to give it a realistic feel. I feel strongly that a good Milky Way image should contain a strong foreground element. It is a fine line when combining the two (foreground and night sky). I want the viewer to feel the sense of awe with the vastness of the Milky Way while also having a foreground that stabilized the scene. Having the foreground just the right brightness – not too light or to dark – is the conundrum. For these prickly pear cacti, I also used a soft light to slightly increase their illumination.

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Big Bend Milky Way over the South Rim 1 : Prints Available

It is a long hike to the South Rim of Big Bend National Park. On this trip, the round trip was over 13.5 miles. But when you stand on the edge of a thousand foot cliff and look over the ancient mountains and into northen Mexico, you are rewarded with a magnificent view. If you linger a little longer and are willing to either camp or hike back in the dark, you can enjoy one of the more amazing night skies found anywhere in the world. In this image, a prickly pear cactus hangs on the edge of a rocky cliff as the Milky Way begins its ascent and stroll across the sky. To the west, the inklings of sunset can still be seen glowing along the horizon.

I used a small low light flashlight to slightly illuminate the prickly pear blooms in front of me. My left foot was about 6 inches from a vertical cliff while shooting this scene. Sometimes its better when you can’t see everything!

This image is a square, but can be cropped and printed up to 40 inches high.

When you are photographing the Milky Way at Big Bend, you are witness to one of the darkest skies in North America. The stars are truly amazing in this isolated corner of Texas and sparkle with a clarity rarely seen in other places of not only in our state, but the U.S. in general. Underneath a canopy of shimmering light, I embrace that sense of wonder at what the heavens hold and find myself full of ponderings and possibilities.

But then a 7 mile trek in the dark still awaited. The walk back in the wee hours of the morning was uneventful except for the dive-bombing birds and the UFO above a distant ridge. I felt fortunate to have witnessed a beautiful sunset at such a remote and truly Texas landscape. While my time here was brief, I hope to return again one of these days.

If you read this far, thanks!
Happy and Safe Travels.
Vaya con Dios
~ Rob

Bluebonnet Report # 3

Bluebonnet Report #3

After several unproductive wildflower hunting trips around central Texas, including east and west of the San Antonio areas, as well as the Texas Hill Country from Fredericksburg to Mason to Llano, I finally discovered some nice fields of bluebonnets. Thanks to a tip from a fellow wildflower chaser, I checked out the areas from Round Mountain, including 962 and 3347 along with connecting side roads.

On one portion of this drive, bluebonnets along the roadsides make for a beautiful and very serene drive (not much traffic at all). I’ve driven this area many times in the past, and admittedly this is not my favorite stretch. But bluebonnet season is quickly coming to a close and times are desperate, so I figured I’d take a chance.

Upon arriving in the general location with about an hour to go before sunset, I was initially disappointed. The bluebonnets were nice, but there were not sweeping vistas nor great landscapes. Both sides of this road were higher than the road itself, making nice views nonexistent. Frustrated, I drove up and down the road, searching for at least some serviceable stops for sunset. I had passed a guy in a truck several times and was getting a little self-conscious. I finally stopped and said Howdy so he wouldn’t think I was a stalker. I explained what I was doing after some small talk. He turned out to be a ranch manager for much of the surrounding land. He went on to say the bluebonnets were beautiful on his land and that I could explore some of the hills if I wanted. Suddenly given hope to salvage the trip, I said thanks and headed for the hills – literally.

Upon rising over the first hill, my effort and good fortune was again rewarded because before me bluebonnets rose and stretched across gentle slopes filled with yucca and cacti. I changed lenses and quickly went to work, opting for my medium wide angle, the 16-35L. I worked the area, then quickly trekked to another location to shoot the moment of sunset. More bluebonnets, more images. (I should note here I shoot between 5 and 7 exposures of each image along with 3 or 4 sets of these exposures at varying depths-of-field, so each image would often be made of anywhere from 15-28 individual photos in order to align all the details. )

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Colors of a Bluebonnet Sunset 1 : Prints Available

Bluebonnets adorn the gentle slopes of the Texas Hill Country in this sunset image taken in early April. Thanks for a local rancher and land manager, I was allowed to visit a few areas of private land that were covered in these favorite wildflowers. The sunset helped the landscape come alive, as well.

With the sun having already fallen below the horizon, I saw one more hill I wanted to shoot, so I ran up and over the terrain and settled at the edge of the blue wildflowers, all the while enjoying the distinct aroma of bluebonnet pollen. I set the tripod low and sat down in order to get a better view. In my haste, I sat squarely on a cactus. I guess I should note it was better sitting on a cactus than a rattlesnake, one of which I’d seen the previous day. Nevertheless, I impaled my posterior with cactus quills that were at least an inch long. In my pain, and with the sky turning all sorts of orange, red, and pink, I consciously thought to myself that I just had to endure the pain for a few minutes, and then I could figure out what to do. With thorns in my backside, I managed to capture the fleeting moment. Then I had to remove the longer thorns. Those were easy. It was the small, barely visible prickles that were the long term pain. I’ll end the story here and just say the ride home was difficult… as was sitting the next day.

A few days later, I made my way to Kingsland and photographed the bluebonnets that sprang up through and within train track rails. As this is private property and I do not cross private property unless invited, I stayed on the boundary and enjoyed a nice sunrise over train tracks and colorful bluebonnets.

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Bluebonnets along Train Tracks 1 : Prints Available

Old train tracks are covered with bluebonnets in Llano County. This little area is often filled with bluebonnets. The land past this point is private, though, you can’t get much farther. Old train tracks are covered with bluebonnets in Llano County. This little area is often filled with bluebonnets. The land past this point is private, though, you can’t get much farther.

I’ve heard there are some fields on 281 north of Burnett and near Lampasas, though I haven’t seen them for myself. While there may be more fields of blue that pop up, I’m beginning to think this season was a bit of a dud based on earlier expectations. I have heard speculation that we could enjoy a nice season of other Texas wildflowers including firewheels, coreopsis, and mexican hats.

In the meantime, watch out for rattlesnakes and aggressive cacti.

Happy Travels,

Rob
www.ImagesfromTexas.com