Lost Maples in November

When I’m out searching for the best fall colors in Texas, I often have time to contemplate life while driving and exploring. One of my favorite writers is Robert Frost, and when I hike in the among the changing leaves of Autumn I am sometimes reminded of his poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. In the Hill Country where I reside, green leaves and long summer days are passed, and the memories of hot afternoons and warm evening walks with my girls are quickly fading.

On one of my November treks for Autumn color a few weeks ago, I drove to the Utopia and Vanderpool areas and spent a few days at Lost Maples State Natural Area. I remember visiting this little state park many years ago and enjoyed the solitude, but in more recent years, the rest of Texas has discovered what a gem this place is, as well. These days, I only visit during the week, and even then the trails are filled with leaf-peepers. This influx of folks strolling the paths can be pretty frustrating for a photographer, I assure you.

I arrived in the morning after a short drive from Garner State Park – after a lousy night of sleep in the back of my 4Runner. I had waited around that morning at Garner for low clouds and fog to clear, but I finally gave up and made the hour drive to Lost Maples. There, I had hopes the sun would burn off the clouds and blue skies would again appear. Normally, I prefer to shoot at sunrise or sunset, but for the reds and oranges of maples and cypress, my personal preference these days is for blue skies dotted with nice white clouds. I find the contrast between red and orange and blue and white to be like Nature’s gold in Autumn. And I know the brilliant colors won’t last long, and in some years don’t appear at all.

If you’ve ever hiked at Lost Maples, you probably know it isn’t that big. The main loop takes you north from the big parking lot, through the short Maple Trail, then up along the East-West Trail, then back down a steep rocky path, by the ponds area, then back to the parking lot (sort of). The loop is about 5 miles long and offers some pretty decent views from up high. However, ironically, the overlook listed on the trail map has probably the poorest view of anywhere on the rim of that walk. Don’t waste your time on the 1/3 mile trek to the scenic overlook (labeled #3 on the state park map). And as you head west on the trail, you reach another overlook on the map. It, too, is pretty poor. However, if you continue west and are willing to cut over to the edge of the cliff – maybe a 50-100 foot walk, you’ll continue to see better and better vistas.

lost maples, autumn colors, Fall, red maples, texas state park, texas hill country prints, lost maples prints
Lost Maples in Autumn from the East Trail 111-1 : Prints Available

From high up on the edge of the East Trail in Lost Maples, this view shows the the colorful trees lining the lower portion of the trail as it winds its way back to the Sabinal River.


OK… back to my morning. I arrived under overcast, spitting gray skies. As I started north on the Maple Trail, usually the highlight of the fall trip, I discovered I was sharing the path with a group of perhaps 25 middle school students on a field trip. I have to admit, I grew frustrated waiting for views to open up without kids hanging from branches or climbing on rocks. But I tried to choose a different response and reminded myself they had as much right to enjoy this area as I did. So I talked myself from a “Get off my lawn” old man attitude to an “everybody have fun” perspective. I even chatted up some of the kids, heard how they found a tarantula, and how they were excited to find Monkey Rock. Eventually, I pulled ahead of them when the steeper portion of the hike slowed them down, and thought to myself “this old father of two girls still has it!” HeHe.

Along the trail, I met several nice folks – a couple from Houston; a family from Kerrville, and a couple from just up the road from me in Austin. As I arrived at the previously mentioned overlooks, the clouds final began to break up, showing patches of beautiful blue sky. So I lingered here for a while, enjoyed a caffeine-laden Cliff protein bar and some lime Gatorade, and waited for a better sky. It finally arrive.

lost maples, colors, fall colors, autumn, november, lost maples prints, beauty, maples
Lost Maples Splendor 1113-1 : Prints Available

From high up on a trail, this view looks down at a small pond surrounding by the changing leaves of Autumn. This area in Lost Maples State Natural Area is one of my favorites to photograph, and the fall of 2020 was one of the best in many years.


Down the steep rocky path and back to the ponds area, I took in the views and appreciated the smaller crowds.
lost maples, east trail, west trail, ponds, fall, autumn, fall colors, texas state parks, maples trees red maple, lost maples prints, autumn prints, fall colors prints
Autumn Splendor at Lost Maples 1113-1 : Prints Available

One of my favorite places to photograph the Autumn colors at Lost Maples State Natural Area is this little pond with a backdrop of red and orange maples reflecting in the water. This image was taken on a cool mid-November afternoon.


Along the flat east trail I watched a mother taking pictures of her little girl playing in the leaves. Before arriving back in the parking lot, I paused in several areas to photograph the red maple trees.
lost maples, lost maples prints, east-west trail, fall, autumn, texas state parks, maples trees
Autumn Trail – Lost Maples 1112-1 : Prints Available

The red leaves of Lost Maples State Park Autumn show turn the path into a carpet of crunchy color. This path is along the East-West Trail and, each fall, it winds through groves of glorious maples trees with leaves of red and orange.


Eventually, I arrived back at the car, but realized I needed to walk a portion of the loop again and photograph the maples and red oak under better sky conditions. It is rare when a landscape photographer gets a redo! So on I went, revisiting the same areas I’d walked a few hours earlier.
autumn, fall colors, lost maples, november, texas state parks, texas hill country, maples, lost maples prints
Bridge to Autumn Colors – Lost Maples 1112-2 : Prints Available

A small bridge along a path in Lost Maples is surrounded by Autumn colors on a cool November afternoon.


Walking back to the car for a second time, I reminisced on Robert Frost’s poem. It seemed appropriate on this late afternoon. The words he wrote go much deeper than just a fading of reds and golds into winter. I suppose like these rolling hill country views and the changing of the seasons, there are layers of life waiting to be experienced, then contemplated on some future walk in the woods.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Be safe, everyone.
~ Rob

The Best Bluebonnet Images in Texas

Bluebonnet season is just a month away. The rosettes on our land are not as plentiful as in other years, but we’ll still have a decent showing of blue by late March. While reading up on this year’s wildflower predictions, I’ve found that rainfall was hit and miss in the fall, which means some locations have potential while others will be barren. So on this cold, rainy February morning, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on some of my favorite bluebonnet images from the last ten or so years. These are not necessarily my bestsellers, but the photographs below are special to me for one reason or another.

Just Over the Mountain

Between Round Mountain and Johnson City, some of the smaller roads north of these towns can produce some nice blooms every few years. On an April evening in 2016 as I drove up and down Althaus-Davis Road, I found some nice blooms along old fence lines, but nothing that really jumped out. I was hoping that, like life, when you see things from a different perspective, the situation will appear more positive, so I turned around several times, scanning the roadsides and the rolling hills. Unfortunately, the change in perspective didn’t result in a glory field of blue.
I had passed a rancher feeding his cattle just off the dirt road a few times, and finally just slowed down to say hi. He asked what I was doing and I explained I was l searching for bluebonnets. He introduced himself and said he was the ranch manager for this land. Continuing, he told me that just over the hill (heading overland and away from the road), the bluebonnets were full, and that I was welcome to explore. Just watch out for rattlesnakes! We chatted a bit more, but as the sun was close to setting, I didn’t linger long. I thanked him profusely, grabbed my tripod and backpack, and set out for the hills. After about a 10-minute walk through scrub and cacti, I topped the first hill and found a palette of bluebonnets rolling down the hill. The sky was showing pastel shades of orange and blue, and I scrambled to find the optimal composition to remember this beautiful scene.

bluebonnets,texas hill country,texas wildflowers,texas landscape,texas sunset,springtime in texas,wildflowers
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.


At one point, I squatted down and inadvertently sat on a prickly pear cactus. I can’t write here was I said, but I can tell you the drive home was painful, and I often tried to prop up my buttocks so as not to put any weight on it when driving. To finish off the evening when I returned home, I had my wife perform the unenviable task of plucking out tiny needles and thorns from my backside. She didn’t get them all, and the twitches of pain from being poked lasted for a week. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Big Bend Bluebonnets: A Once-in-a-lifetime-bloom

In late February and early March, 2019, the slopes of the Chisos Mountains along East and West River Roads came alive with seas of bluebonnets. I have a few friends that spend much of the year in Terlingua, and, just as the park rangers said, they’d never seen a bloom like this. I was fortunate enough to spend a week in the Big Bend on two separate occasions last spring, and it is challenging to pick just one favorite from those trips. The rugged landscape of rock and cacti and yucca stood in such sharp contrast to the unique species of the taller, tougher Big Bend Bluebonnet, and petals of blue had filled in all the empty spaces. And so I’m going to offer two images here. One shows bluebonnets at sunrise looking east towards Cerro Castellan, one of the iconic features of the western slope. The other shows a sunrise, bluebonnets, an ocotillo, and Cerro Castellan as the moon slides in the western horizon.
bluebonnets, big bend national park, chihuahuan desert, cerro castellan, sunrise, wildflowers, spring bloom, desert bloom
Bluebonnet Glory, Big Bend National Park 124 : Prints Available

I knew the sky was going to light up when the. high clouds became visible well before sunrise. I also knew the bluebonnets were full and healthy after scouting locations the previous day. The winds were calm and the landscape of Big Bend National Park came alive with color about 15 minutes before sunrise. Bluebonnets – the best bloom in memory – filled the slopes and washes with color and the beauty of this remote area came alive on a very cold February morning. in the distance, the iconic Cerro Castellan rises over 3000’ into the orange sky.

bluebonnets, big bend national park, cerro castellan, moon, moonset, chisos mountains, west river road, ross maxwell, west texas, sunrise
Moonset over Bluebonnets in Big Bend 1 : Prints Available

With the sun rising in the east, the three-quarters moon began to fade in the west. Under a tranquil west Texxas sky, bluebonnets of Big Bend awaited the warming light on this mesa on the western slope of the Chisos Mountains. In the distance, the well known Cerro Castellan rises over 3,000 feet above the Chihuahuan Desert, making for a grand landmark in this beautiful and remote area of Texas.


I love my time in the Big Bend, and look forward to returning there again and again.

A Most Amazing Evening
My dad used to accompany me on some of my wildflower hunts. These days, he’s older, can’t hear well at all, and doesn’t get around much anymore. Still, on April 3, 2012, he was with me for one of the most beautiful Texas Hill Country scenes I’ve ever photographed. We’d left my home in Dripping Springs while storms unleashed rain across the area. Driving up 71 towards Llano, the clouds started to break, and eventually we made our way out of the rain, through Llano, and on towards San Saba. I had a friend who’d tipped me off about some nice bluebonnet patches on some off-the-beaten-path dirt roads. After 30 minutes of searching, we came across this field.

bluebonnets,bluebonnet images,texas wildflower images,wildflower,hill country,texas landscapes,wildflower prints,bluebonnet prints
Bluebonnets at Sunset in San Saba 4 : Prints Available

Evenings on the edge of the Texas Hill Country don’t get much better than this. I had driven 2 hours in search of bluebonnets and finally arrived on a little country road near San Saba. The setting sun turned the sky into a palette of color, and the only company I had were the cows in a distant field. In my trips to photograph Texas wildflowers, this was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had the pleasure to experience.


The storms had passed, leaving the winds completely and absolutely motionless. The clouds caught the last rays of evening and put on a colorful display of orange and blue, and the strong and unforgettable scent of bluebonnets floated in the still air. For nearly two hours we hung around this one location, never seeing another car, and the only sounds were the distant mooing of cattle. And to show the utter calm of the atmosphere, my last image from this evening – taken well after sunset – was a 20 second exposure of bluebonnets, with the result being a tack-sharp photograph. I’ve never experienced anything like that night. I’m glad my dad was with me. This was a good memory.

The Wooden Fence
Between Llano and Burnett, an old wooden fence stands unnoticed for most of the year. In the Spring of 2010, bluebonnets surrounded this fence and created a sort of mini-landscape perfect for photography. My oldest daughter was nearly two years old, and, along with my wife, had come along with me to search for bluebonnets. We ended up spending most of our time at this little location – my wife and daughter waiting patiently while I worked my craft and photographed the bluebonnet-laden fence from all angles.

bluebonnet pictures,texas bluebonnets,texas wildflowers,llano,springtime in Texas,Texas Hill Country
Bluebonnets along a Fencepost 2 : Prints Available

One of my favorite places for close-ups of bluebonnets is an old fence row near Llano, Texas. If you passed by it in wildflower season, you might not even notice because it hides a bit behind a hill. One side is private property, so you have to be respectful of that land, too. In a rainy spring, the bluebonnets start along side of the road and spill into the distant field. In this particular season, the area was a sea of blue, perfect for intimate shots of the flowers and fence.


I even took few photographs with my daughter, though we were careful to avoid stepping on any bluebonnets. Unfortunately, thanks to social media and moreso to folks who are careless with where they step (or just don’t care), word spread about this little fence. In the last 5+ years, the bluebonnets do not last long as folks trample them for their own selfies and family photos. The last time I saw this area look really good was 2012. On one particular evening early in the wildflower season, I was able to shoot several nice shots of bluebonnets with the old wooden posts. I returned just two days later to find more than 50% of the bluebonnets mashed to the ground. I’ve tried to return to this location a few times in the last five years, but it has never been the same.

The Windmill
One of the roads I drive quite often has an old windmill off to the side. You’d barely notice it, and I’d never thought about stopping to photograph it. But one afternoon as I drove home from the San Antonio area, I notice a large patch of bluebonnets in front of the structure. I thought about stopping, but then decided against it, as the scene just wasn’t worth it. Back at home, I couldn’t shake the idea that maybe I shouldn’t have dismissed this little scene so easily. Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I rose early one morning and drove back to the windmill, arriving well before sunrise. The clouds were thick and the sky gray. Why did I roll out of bed for this? I decided to wait and, as good fortune would have it, the skies began to break up and the morning light filtered through the gray, creating an amazing and unusual sky for a few brief moments.

bluebonnets,windmill,texas hill country,texas sunrise,bluebonnets and windmill,texas landscapes,texas wildflowers
Windmill and Bluebonnets in the Morning 3 : Prints Available

When I set off from my house to photograph this windmill with a foreground of bluebonnets, the sky was overcast and fog made visibility quite limited. I arrived with the sky pretty dark but still had 15 minutes until sunrise. I had just about given up hope when I noticed a little break in some low drifting clouds. Five minutes passed, and suddenly the sky begain to light up in oranges and pinks, and I was escatic with my good fortune. I only had time to capture a few images from that morning. This is my favorite.


And this is what a little patience can offer. I can’t count how many times I’ve just about given up on nice colors at sunrise or sunset, only to start packing up to find the sky lighting up. (And I should note I’ve packed up many times but had no regrets, either). But not this time. It was beautiful. And if you drove down this road today, you’d barely recognize this location. I’ve never seen bluebonnets there again.

Thanks for perusing this blog. If you’d like to see more, please feel free to visit my online bluebonnet gallery.
For now, we’ll wait and see what the season holds. I fear the warmer temperatures will stimulate the growth of tall grasses before the bluebonnets appear. But hope springs eternal, and we’ll know shortly how the Wildflower season of 2020 looks.

In the meantime, safe travels to everyone!

~ Rob
Images from Texas

Texas Wildflowers 2019 – A Mix of Kindness and Color

Several years ago, I was shooting a pasture of colorful wildflowers through a barbed-wire fence east of San Antonio in a rural area. I never trespass, so I had my tripod and camera pointing through the barbed-wire surrounding the property. I had driven an hour and a half to photograph this beautiful scene at sunrise, and the sky was just beginning to show some color. About that time, a local sheriff pulled up and asked me what I was doing. He said a neighbor across the street had noticed my suspicious activity and called 911. That’s when I discovered in my sleepy state, I’d left my wallet, money, and driver’s license at my house back in Dripping Springs. I explained to the sheriff what I was doing – that I was a professional photographer here to take in this colorful landscape. He asked for ID, and thankfully he accepted that while I didn’t have my license, I did know the number. He continued to question me as I watched the sky begin to show some nice orange and pink color. Finally, I asked if we could pause and let me take some shots. I explained that I had no intention to go inside the fence, but the moment was passing quickly and I needed to get to work! He acquiesced, and even said something to the effect that yes, that is a really nice field of flowers. He eventually left me to my work, and I was left to enjoy the sunrise in peace. Whew!

The morning’s collection of photographs worked out well, and a few years later one of the panorama images became a 120×15 feet wall mural in the Archer Hotel in the Domain in north Austin.

texas wildflower panorama,texas wildflower images,wildflower prints,new berlin,church road
Church Road Sunrise Panorama : Prints Available

This panorama of Texas wildflowers comes from a little road near New Berlin, just east of San Antonio. The colors of 2014 were amazing, offering a rainbow of purples, reds, yellows, and blues.

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago… I received a contact through my business website from that land owner. I was initially thinking… oh no… what is going on? But the owner just expressed his enjoyment of my work. After exchanging a few email pleasantries, he invited me to shoot on his land, saying the flowers were at peak and it was the best he’d seen… and even gave me the gate code.

I can say that most of my best wildflower images – either a mix of flowers or simply bluebonnets – have come from private land owners inviting me to shoot inside the fence and on their land. This time would be no different. I visited the location two times this spring – once for sunset and another for sunrise. The field contained a mix of Indian paintbrush (red), bluebonnets (blue), phlox (violet and purple), gold (Missouri primrose, coreopsis, and tickseed), and even a few daisies (white). For the evening visit, I was fortunate to have beautiful clouds and, despite the forecast, a pretty nice sunset that had color for about five minutes.

Wildflowers, Texas, bluebonnets, phlox, groundsel, coreopsis, Missouri primrose, primrose, buttercups, paintbrush, new berlin, church road, san Antonio, spring, march
Texas Wildflower Sunset 328-2 : Prints Available

A sea of color seemed to stretch to the horizon in this wildflower photograph from New Berlin, Texas. I hadn’t visited or photographed this area in several years, mostly because the wildflower bloom had been disappointing. However, I was invited down from my home in the hill country by a land owner, saying the field was the best he’d seen in many years. So I made the trek down and enjoyed this marvelous sight for an evening. The sky offered fleeting yet amazing color overhead as wildflowers of several varieties, including bluebonnets, phlox, groundsel, coreopsis, paintbrush, and Missouri primrose filled this pasture. I spent an hour shooting this scene, and each direction I turned offered another amazing view.

Wildflower panorama, wildflowers, flowers, paintbrush, bluebonnets, groundsel, coreopsis, phlox, new berlin, san Antonio, rural, red, blue, purple, yellow, gold, pano, quiet, country road
Colors of Wildflowers in Evening 326-1 : Prints Available

This panorama shows the width and depth of an amazing wildflower landscape in New Berlin, Texas, just east of San Antonio. yellows (coreopsis, Missouri primrose, groundsel), blues (bluebonnets), reds (Indian paintbrush), and even purples (phlox) made up a beautiful scene in this quiet and rural area.

This wildflower panorama was taken on private land with permission from the owners. I appreciate their invitation to photograph such a vibrant and timeless landscape, and I hope I can bring even a smidge of justice to what this area looked like for a few weeks in March.

This image is available in large and customs sizes. It is comprised of 24 images aligned and stacked to ensure sharpness throughout the scene from front to back.

On my return a week later for sunrise, I awoke about 3:30am, loaded the car, and drove the 1.5 hours in the dark in order to photograph the Milky Way as it towered over the southeast horizon. An hour later, I’d enjoy the first light of day.

Milky way, wildflowers, rural, bluebonnets, paintbrush, primrose, phlox, stars, night sky, new berlin, night, cold, april, spring
Milky Way over Spring Wildflowers 402-1 : Prints Available

On a very cold early morning, the Milky Way rises in the southern horizon and a pasture of colorful, frozen wildflowers. Taken in the rural community of New Berlin, Texas, this image is a blend of several images and highlights the variety of wildflowers, including bluebonnets, coreopsis, tickseed, phlox, and Indian paintbrush. The Milky Way was taken about an hour before sunrise using a star tracker as a trace of orange began to appear in the east. The star tracker allows the camera to track the stars during a long exposure – usually three to five minutes, thus eliminating star trails and allowing for sharp, pinpoint stars. The foreground was taken using another long exposure about 25 minutes before sunrise in order to add color and definition to the landscape. The final image was created on photoshop to show what our eyes can see but what the camera cannot capture.

This night sky wildflower image was taken on private land with permission from the owner.

As I was shooting in the middle of the field, I did notice the across-the-street neighbor pull out of his long dirt driveway. It seemed he paused much longer than necessary. Great, I thought… Mr. Local Sheriff will be here soon. Fortunately, no constable showed up this time.

Later that morning, with temperatures in the low 30s, I witnessed a brilliant orange and red sunrise – as good as I could have hoped for. Frost covered the ground that morning, and many of the delicate petals were frozen together. Some of the more fragile flowers – the primrose and coreopsis – appeared droopy from the weight of the frost. Still, as the air began to warm, the flowers grew stronger – and my fingers began to work better, too!

Wildflowers, bluebonnets, tickseed, coreopsis, phlox, primrose, paintbrush, new berlin, church road, single oak road, rural, spring, sunrise, morning, frost, cold, calm, April
Texas Wildflower Sunrise 402-1 : Prints Available

A red patch of Indian paintbrush highlights this wildflower photograph taken near New Berlin, Texas. The sunrise was amazing on this morning, painting the sky in red and orange strokes. On the ground, a thin layer of frost covered the delicate petals of red, yellow, and purple as pre-dawn temperatures dropped into the low 30s. It was cold out there, but the landscape was covered with soft colors all the way to the tree line.

This wildflower photograph was taken on private land with permission from the owner.


Just a week before, another land owner invited a fellow photographer and me onto her land. About 60 miles away from the aforementioned area. Her land, too, was covered in a rainbow of color. She was kind and met us at 7:00am at the gate of her long and fairly hidden driveway – just in time for a 7:30am sunrise. Her field was colored with reds, blues, and golds and even had a windmill.
wildflowers, bluebonnets, paintbrush, sunrise, indian paintbrush, windmill, morning, blue, red, poteet, texas, cold, calm, beauty, Atascosa county
Texas Wildflowers Sunrise Glory 319-2 : Prints Available

A field of Texas wildflowers and a windmill at sunrise help created this amazing landscape. Taken on a cold morning in Atascosa County, the morning was painted with bluebonnets and Paintbrush with a sprinkling of gold mixed in. The sun had just cleared the horizon, forming a sunburst as light rays spread into the blue sky overhead. It was a memorable and colorful morning.

This wildflower photograph was taken on private land with the permission of the land owner.

The morning was a bit breezy, so I had to shoot at a lower f-stop and take several images focused at different depths. Without going into too much detail, aligning and blending these layers had to be manually done (Photoshop would help with flowers were in different locations in each image.) Still, despite the tedious work, I am pleased with the finished product. All of the images could be printed at 60×40, and the panoramas could go quite larger. The sunrise was nice, and I came away with a few keepers from from this visit.

Atascosa county, wildflowers, bluebonnets, paintbrush, windmill, morning, poteet, south texas, sunrise, peace, blue, red, spring, bloom
South Texas Wildflower Sunrise Panorama 319-1 : Prints Available

From Atoscosa County near Poteet, Texas, south of San Antonio, this panorama shows a field of colorful wildflowers at sunrise. With a windmill as the backdrop, red paintbrush, blue bluebonnets, and golden groundsel bring vibrance to a beautiful morning.

This image is available in larger and custom sizes.

I don’t take the kindness of these folks lightly. I appreciate their trust in me, and I always offer a print of their choice to show my gratitude. I try to capture the beauty of their land as well as the backroads of my home state as best I can.

I enjoy photographing wildflowers when the blooms are nice, and I don’t mind getting up early, staying out late, driving long distances, and plowing through laborious work in photoshop. And while I love bluebonnets and their unique aroma, I really prefer the variety of colors from fields containing a mix of many different wildflowers. Later this year, I’ll hunt wildflowers in Colorado, but I haven’t seen anything there yet that can compare to some of the fields I’ve witnessed in the last few weeks. And I know the fullness of these recent blooms east and south of San Antonio don’t happen in too many years.

wildflowers, poteet, bluebonnets, paintbrush, groundsel, phlox, windmill, san antonio, south texas, color, spring, blue, red, yellow, purple
South Texas Wildflower Afternoon 317-4 : Prints Available

Just north of Poteet, Texas, and south of San Antonio, wildflowers of red, blue, gold, and purple fill a field on a cool spring afternoon. This colorful landscape is made up of groundsel (gold), bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, and phlox (the small purple blooms). A windmill rises in the distance to complete a beautiful spread of vibrant color.

Now, though, it is time to turn my attention and my 4Runner towards the hill country around Llano, Mason, and San Saba – and to bluebonnets along the backroads that surround these little towns. Right now, bluebonnets are fading because of the lack of substantial rain. But with rain in the forecast in less than 48 hours (fingers crossed), the moisture may rejuvenate the bluebonnets season from its current rapid decline.

In the meantime, safe travels to everyone. Get out and smell the bluebonnets!

Rob
Texas Images

Texas Wildflowers – Spring 2019 Part 1

After making a few trips out to Big Bend to witness the stunning bluebonnet display in the desert, it is time to turn the camera toward the Texas wildflowers of central Texas and areas closer to home. My friend, Mike, and I, were still dragging from the early mornings and late nights and driving long distances in west Texas, but he’d already done some scouting in areas south of San Antonio, so I headed that direction to join him for a few days of wildflower hunting.

We really focused on areas around Poteet, though other locations are just as colorful as I write this.
The afternoon and evening found us shooting colorful fields along Eichman and Wheeler Roads. The clouds were nice and offered contrast in the blue sky, as well.

wildflowers, poteet, bluebonnets, paintbrush, groundsel, phlox, windmill, san antonio, south texas, color, spring, blue, red, yellow, purple
South Texas Wildflower Afternoon 317-4 : Prints Available

Just north of Poteet, Texas, and south of San Antonio, wildflowers of red, blue, gold, and purple fill a field on a cool spring afternoon. This colorful landscape is made up of groundsel (gold), bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, and phlox (the small purple blooms). A windmill rises in the distance to complete a beautiful spread of vibrant color.

Atascosa county, poteet, wildflowers, bluebonnets, paintbrush, afternoon, color, red, blue, yellow, texas wildflowers, south texas, san antonio, spring, spring flowers, wheeler road
South Texas Wildflower Afternoon 317-1 : Prints Available

The wildflowers south of San Antonio around Poteet in Atascosa County created a colorful palette in the fields this spring. Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, White Prickly Poppies, and other varieties seemed to be blooming at every corner. This wildflower photo is from the late afternoon in mid-March. The bllue sky with a few high clouds was just about the perfect complement to the colorful explosion of blooms going on in the field.


We were also searching for a nice sunset spot. Unfortunately, the best areas we found all faced east – good for sunrise, but not so much for sunset. Still, we settled for a field of bluebonnets around a large oak tree.
bluebonnets, sunset, poteet, atascosa county, wildflowers, poppies, phlox, paintbrush, san antonio
South Texas Bluebonnet Sunset 318-1 : Prints Available

Sunset south of San Antonio brough beautiful orange and blue to a bluebonnets landscape on this warm March evening. All was quiet as daylight waned. In this photograph taken near Poteet, hints of red paintbursh, violet phlox, and white prickly poppies can be seen mixing in with the carpet of bluebonnets.


The sunset did offer a little color, but nothing like we’d see the next morning.
And so when the sun arose a few hours later, we found ourselves in the middle of a beautiful wildflower field (with permission from the owner). Surrounded by reds (paintbrush), golds (groundsel) and blue (bluebonnets), the soft colors of the sky brought beautiful light. A windmill added a nice touch to the landscape as the sun peeked over the horizon.
bluebonnets, sunrise, paintbrush, poteet, Atascosa county, south texas, wildflowers, ranch, spring, march, morning, windmill
South Texas Bluebonnet Sunrise 318-1 : Prints Available

Morning light streams through an old oak tree as a vibrant field of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush awaken to a new spring morning. A windmill completes this beautfiul Texas wildflower landscape taken south of San Antonio near Poteet, Texas. In the distance, the calls of wild turkey and peacocks coudl be heard. It was a great morning to enjoy the wildflowers.

Atascosa county, wildflowers, bluebonnets, paintbrush, windmill, morning, poteet, south texas, sunrise, peace, blue, red, spring, bloom
Poteet Wildflowers at Sunrise 319-2 : Prints Available

A windmill reaches into the morning sky as a field of bluebonnets comes to life on a cold spring morning. This colorful landscape was taken south of San Antonio in Atascosa County. Sprinked in among the bluebonnets are red Indian Paintbrush and golden grounsel.

This photograph was taken on private land with permission from the owner.


A little later, I moved closer to an old oak tree. My goal was to photograph the tree, the bluebonnets in the foreground, and horses just behind the tree. This is what I brought home…
bluebonnets, oak tree, horses, sunlight, evening, poteet, atascosa county, san antonio, wildflowers
Bluebonnets and Horses at Sunrise 318-1 : Prints Available

Sunlight sparkles through an old oak tree as is spreads its warmth across a carpet of bluebonnets. Behind the tree and in the distances, horses graze and one watches me in this last orange light of a spring evening. Wildflowers were aplenty south of San Antonio.

This photograph was taken on private land with permission from the owner.


After spending a few days at home, I headed out to investigate the hill country. This area is still a few weeks away from any potential blooms. I have hopes that it will be nice in areas around Mason, Llano, and San Saba, but the bluebonnets I found were thirsty and needed rain in a bad way.
On one evening’s drive, I’d just about given up on shooting anything. But the sunrise turned out to be spectacular, so I pulled over and photographed bluebonnets along an old farm-to-market road.
bluebonnets, hill country, llano, castel, FM 152, sunset, texas hill country, backroads, orange, peace, blue
Farm to Market Bluebonnet Sunset 320-1 : Prints Available

On a lonely stretch of road between Llano and Castel, bluebonnets filled in the roadsides and ditches on a cool late March sunset. The sky lit up a in a beautiful orange glow as the the road carried my view down the hill and onto the next bend – always wondering what is next on these backroads of the Texas Hill Country.


This little section was about the best I’ve found so far. But bluebonnets always bloom closer to the road a few weeks earlier than blooms appear in fields. They just need rain.

So get out and enjoy the wildflowers. The colors are prolific south of San Antonio. I’m hoping we’ll see the same closer to home in the hill country. Fingers crossed!

Vaya con Dios, my friends.

Rob
Images from Texas

Return to Big Bend – Bluebonnets, Mesa de Anguila, and Hot Springs Canyon

Each trip I make to Big Bend National Park has a purpose, and my time out here always seems to pass quickly. Big Bend hides so many places to explore, experience, and photograph. The land of the Big Bend is one of my favorite places in Texas. These trips are for work, and often require the sacrifice of being away from my family. For me, this is usually the most difficult part. But this trip was planned several months ago – after the desert’s bluebonnet season was to close – and my trek out to west Texas had two specific goals. First, I wanted to hike the Mesa de Anguila and photograph an iconic bend in the Rio Grande from a vantage point that looks over the western and little-known portion of the river. Next, I wanted to shoot Hot Springs Canyon at sunset.

I had visited Big Bend only 10 days prior at the height of a once-in-a-lifetime bluebonnet bloom. I had expected the blooms to be fading or gone by the time I returned, but when my friend (we’ll call him Mike) and I drove into the park from the Study Butte side, we quickly found the Big Bend bluebonnets alive and well. So we had to adjust our plans.

We spent the first day exploring – driving Old Maverick Road, the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, and best of all, River Road West. To my surprise, the bluebonnets 8-14 miles down River Road West were spectacular. Some showed the signs of heat and age – colors fading and seed pods showing – but many were tall and deep blue. About eight miles in on this rough 4WD road, the rolling foothills of the Chisos Mountains showed waves and rivers of blue. We’d found our sunrise spot for the following morning.

After lingering too long on River Road West, we drove quickly back to Terlingua and then down to Lajitas for a hike to Mesa del Anguila. The trail starts on the south end of this little town, takes you through a wash, then three-quarters of a mile across the Chihuahuan Desert. Though it may lull a hiker into a sense of ease, the looming uphill portion of the hike to reach the saddle of the Mesa is clearly visible for the duration of this short, flat portion. At first sight, I didn’t think that winding white uphill zig-zag could be the trail – it was steep and long and rocky. As we neared, our fears were confirmed. But what was there to do? So we headed up. The trail wasn’t as bad as it first appeared, but parts were slick because of loose rock, and it was a nice grade of uphill slogging.

Mostly cloudy skies hung over us with only occasional streaks of blue, and I wondered if this trek would be worth the attempt to shoot at sunset. About halfway up to the saddle, Mike gave out. He’s a great photographer, but not so much a hiker. A large boulder lay uphill, maybe a hundred yards ahead. I told him I thought the trail would flatten out some there, and I’d check it out and holler down at him. I made my way up to the large rock, only to find the rocky path kept climbing. He’d said to keep going, so I did, eventually gaining the saddle. From the top, I looked down to the Rio Grande as it flowed west to east far below. The problem was that to photograph the landscape like I wanted, I’d have to down climb off trail another quarter mile or more in order to reach a high cliff that offered the best vantage point.

I probably say this in every blog I write about Big Bend, but everything in the desert is designed to poke, stick, or sting a person. If you go off trail, you’ll find this out rather quickly. And as I veered off-trail, I was again reminded of this fact in short order. After several pokes though my jeans and a little loss of blood later (from several scratches and cuts from cacti and ocotillo), I reached the overhang that offered a magnificent view of the big bend in the river. This view has often been mistaken for Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, but it is unique in that this bend divides Texas from Mexico. From where I stood, I could peer down into the western portion of where Santa Elena Canyon begins to form. Not soon after my arrival, a faint glow on the western horizon soon turned into a bright orange glow shining through the clouds. I was pleased, and a little surprised, that the sunset brought a brief splash of color, allowing me to reel off a few images with two different lenses – one using a zoom to create a panorama and another a wide angle to capture the entire horseshoe shaped bend in the river in one image.

Mesa de anguila, big bend national park, lajitas, trail, horseshoe bend, rio grande, sierra ponce, santa elena canyon, Mexico, border, sunset, west Texas, remote, desert, mesa
Mesa de Anguila, Big Bend National Park 307-1 : Prints Available

Mesa de Anguila rests in one of the most remote parts of Big Bend National Park. The trailhead starts just south of Lajitas, outside the park, and the path heads south towards the Rio Grande. The first .7 miles of the hike are relatively easy, but after that, a steep climb awaits to reach a saddle on the ridge. From here, a great view of the Rio Grande awaits. Similar to Arizona’s Horseshoe Bend, this stretch of the river creates a sharp bend in the river resembling a horseshoe. Across the river is Mexico and the Sierra Ponce. The deep canyon is actually part of Santa Elena Canyon, with head of Santa Elena miles downstream to the east.

This sunset image of the Rio Grande was taken well off the faint trail where the cliffs tumbles hundreds of feet to the river below. The view from here is amazing, but as Laurence Parent wrote in his Big Bend hiking guide, this is not a place for an inexperienced hiker.

Low clouds periodically moved across this landscape most of the day, and especially on the hike up, over, and down the saddle. And as I was about to give up hope of any color, the last light of this March evening spilled through an opening in the western horizon and lit up a sliver of the low clouds just long enough for me to take several images. The brilliant reds and gold lasted only a few minutes, but tinted the landscape an eerie orange color during that time, then darkness quickly fell across this desolate region of the Big Bend.

I wasn’t sure how they’d turn out, but my focus now turned to escaping back uphill to the saddle and down the other side to meet my friend.

Looking back up at the mesa, everything looked very nondescript. I started up the way I thought I’d come, but with light fading quickly my senses began playing tricks on me. I don’t often get spooked on evening or night hikes, but being out here near the border, in the dark, with no trail in sight made me a little nervous. Fortunately, I had my GPS. I re-calibrated my way up only to find I’d wandered too far east and found myself high on a ridge. I followed the GPS in the direction of the trail I’d come up, but ended up on a cliff overlooking the trail about 300 yards below. My fear of heights kicked in, as well as my fear of being stalked by a mountain lion at dusk. So with a tripod locked in one hand, a flashlight held in my mouth in order to free up one hand, and a GPS stuffed in my pocket, I began a precarious trip down the ledge – butt-scooting at times, holding onto small bushes with my free hand for balance at others. I don’t mind saying this was about the most freaked out I’ve been while hiking at night. (Well, maybe when returning from the South Rim in the dark a few years ago when my wife and I saw glowing orbs across a valley, that was a little more freaky…) But here, I was more worried about staying in one piece. By the time I reached the bottom about 45 minutes later, the backs of my hands were cut, I had thorns in the sides of my hiking boots, and my jeans were torn near my calves. But I found the trail, said a prayer of thanks, and scurried down to meet Mike. By this time, I think my friend was a little worried about me, as well. We made our way to the flat section on the desert floor, and an hour later we were at the Chisos Lodge – safe and sound.

The next morning, 4:30am came around pretty quickly. We were out of bed and made the long drive to River Road West. After turning from the paved road (Ross Maxwell) onto the dirt road (River Road West), eight miles and 30 minutes later, we were waiting for sunrise on the top of a bluff that overlooked the southern portion of the Chisos Mountains. Below, a sea of dark blue waited for first light. Bluebonnets ran down the slopes and into the distance – one of the most amazing sights I’ve seen in this park.

bluebonnets, big bend national park, big bend bluebonnets, west river road, river road west, sunrise, dirt road, desert bloom, chisos mountains
West River Road Bluebonnets,Big Bend 309-2 : Prints Available

The spring bloom of bluebonnets in Big Bend National Park was an unforgettable experience. On a less-traveled road, the hills of bluebonnets seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. To reach this location, we left our warm beds at 430am to make the drive down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, then onto the bumpy 4WD West River Road. Forty minutes later of slow, rough driving found us enjoying this amazing scene of endless bluebonnets. And with the sunlight streaming across the landscape, the colors seemed even more vibrant as the first light spread across the blue-petaled landscape of the southern Chisos Mountains.

With light spilling over the distant peaks, we began photographing these amazing wildflowers. A slight breeze forced me to adapt my strategy and I began taking images with different focus depths and faster shutter speeds (I’ll refrain from the technical aspects, but it makes post-processing much more tedious). I’d stack these later to create a sharp image front to back. Now, I was just trying to capture the moment and the light. From this glorious morning, we worked our way back to the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, stopping in a few spots to photograph more bluebonnets. Eventually, we ended up back at the lodge for an early lunch.

We spent a few hours in the room looking at the previous night’s and morning’s photos, then were off to the east side of the park to scout and hike the Hot Springs Canyon trail to a spot I’d wanted to visit for sunset. Our scouting trip did not last long, and we quickly found the bluebonnets were fading on this side of the park.

After a short drive down an easy dirt road, the Hot Springs Trail greeted us. The parking lot was full of cars, most presumably had occupants visiting the Langford Hot Springs. An ominous sign greets visitors, declaring that theft occurs frequently at this sight. That’s always reassuring when you have half your business in the car. We took the high trail that bypassed the springs and revelers, and we saw nary another person for the 1.5 miles it took to reach a beautiful cliff high above the Rio Grande. In the distance to the east, through the opening of the Hot Springs Canyon, the cliffs of the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico rose into the warm desert evening. The colors of sunset stretched overhead in both directions – pastel pinks and blues in the east to brilliant oranges and vibrant blues to the west. I don’t know if photographs can do justice to the colors and landscape we enjoyed on this night.

hot springs canyon, sierra del carmen, big bend national park, rio grande, eastern slope, border, evening, sunset, cacti, hike, hot springs trail, overlook
Hot Springs Canyon Evening, Big Bend 309-2 : Prints Available

The Hot Springs Trail in Big Bend National Park offers amazing views of both the Rio Grande far below and the distant mountains of the Sierra del Carmen. This image was taken in the evening as the last sunlight lit the distant rocky cliffs. For views like this, sometimes a little off-trail expoloring is necessary, but the rewards are pretty nice.

Our last morning came early, and we had to make a decision – drive back to an area of bluebonnets with the iconic mule ears in the distance or head for home. At 5am, the clouds were thick. At 530am, a few stars could be seen. Based on hope, we packed quickly and headed southwest, racing down the Ross Maxwell Drive (slightly) above the speed limit. But we made it before the sky offered us some nice pinks and blues as sunlight underlit a low cloud bank.

bluebonnets, wildflowers, big bend national park, mule ears, morning, sunrise, chisos mountains, spring, blue, orange
Bluebonnets and Mule Ears Morning, Big Bend 310-1 : Prints Available

With bluebonnets at peak bloom in Big Bend National Park, this view shows the iconic land formation – the Mule Ears – on a cool March morning. This photograph was a blend of several images taken with a telephoto lens, then stacked together to achieve maximum sharpness and clarity. The morning was calm, and low clouds would soon move across the Chisos Mountains, leaving a gray, overcast sky. But for a few moments, soft shades of orange and pink painted a sky overseeing a beautiful and rugged bluebonnet landscape.

And now, as I type this wordy blog while Mike drives us home, I’m closer to relief for having finished another trip. Now I can say I had a bad feeling about Friday night, so I’m glad that trek is finished. After Friday’s attempt to reach the Mesa de Anguila, I asked Mike, who speaks some Spanish, what that name means in Spanish. He responded, “Trail of the Damned.” I just about spit out my drink when he said that (he was joking). But sometimes you get the feeling that things just are as they should be. That was one of those nights. So however it happened, I am thankful for returning safely. Whether it was luck, my experience on all sorts of trails in the day or night, or divine guidance, I am appreciative we finished that hike safely. And I doubt I’ll be going off-trail alone again for a long time. When my wife reads this, I doubt she’ll let me, either.

But I am thankful, as always, for my time in the Big Bend region and Brewster County, and for experiencing new and amazing sights – both with landscapes and bluebonnets and friends. I’ll be back, but it may not be for several months – most likely in the late fall.

Now it is time to turn my attention to the upcoming wildflower bloom around central Texas – and a new photography book about Austin that, according to my publisher, needs the photography portion finished by August. In between will be several trips to Colorado for wildflowers and Autumn colors. After the last few weeks of hiking and travel, I need some time to rest. But time waits for no one. And my wife and kids are waiting for me to be home – and that is the best.

Vaya con Dios, my friends.

Rob
Images from Texas

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.

sand dunes, salt basin, salt dunes, guadalupe mountains, guadalupe peak, el capitan, national park, texas national park, highest point in texas, texas peaks, texas landscapes, texas sand
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:

monahans, sandhills, sandhills state park, sand dunes, texas dunes, sand, texture, west texas, monahans sandhills state park, state parks, texas state parks, texs parks
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.

Mariscal canyon, Mariscal canyon trailhead, jeep, big bend national park, big bend, big bend canyon, hiking texas, rio grande, chihuahuan desert, hiking
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.

Mariscal canyon, Mariscal canyon trailhead, jeep, big bend national park, big bend, big bend canyon, hiking texas, rio grande, chihuahuan desert, hiking, Mariscal canyon trail
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.

Mariscal trail, Mariscal canyon, rio grande, big bend national park, big bend images, chisos mountains, chihuahuan desert, big bend hikes, hiking big bend, texas hikes, texas adventures
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.

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.

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

Rio Grande, Mariscal Canyon, sunset, Big Bend sunset, Big Bend National Park, texas hikes, texas sunset, hiking texas, mariscal canyon trail
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:

big bend national park, sunset, texas sunset, ocotillo, texas landscapes, chihuahuan desert, chisos mountains
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
Follow My Photography on Facebook

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.

texas hill country, sunrise, pedernales river, texas sunrise, hill country, water, river, morning, state parks
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:

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.

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

Images from Texas

Images from Texas on Facebook

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.

pedernales falls, pedernales falls state park, texas hill country, texas state parks, texas sunrise, texas rivers, pederanales river, texas landscapes, texas panorama
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.

Pedernales Falls, Texas Hill Country, Pedernales River, sunrise, water, quiet, limestone, state park, texas sunrise, texas state park
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.

pedernales falls, texas hill country, pedernales river, sunrise, water, texas state parks, state park images, september
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
Texas on Facebook

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.

fort davis national, historic site, fort davis, davis mountains, west texas, alpine, fort davis images
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.

davis mountains, davis mountains state park, fort davis, CCC trail, west texas, texas images, texas sunsets
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