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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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

Wildflowers and the Changing Seasons

My cousin’s wife of 30 years, Elaine, has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Fortunately, their two girls are young adults and self-reliant. Three-hundred miles away, spring wildflowers are colorful and vibrant in south central Texas. Many fields are glowing with bluebonnets, paintbrush, groundsel, and phlox.

I don’t know Elaine that well. I know she worked in one of the most difficult of professions – a special education teacher in a public school – only to face this quiet ending before she was able to really enjoy the good life of retirement. I know at holiday gatherings where we made small talk and no one was really comfortable, she’d often stay out of sight, probably because she was mild-mannered and shy.
These days, I only see my cousin, Darrell – Elaine’s husband, every few years at a Thanksgiving or Christmas get-together. Distance and time have taken their toll. Several years my elder, Darrell lived about a half-mile away as we were growing up, and our houses were separated by pastures of green grass and open skies. I remember when I was young, Darrell would take me on his horse and, with fishing poles in tow, we’d ride through the trees to a hidden pond in search of aggressive perch and hungry bass. We’d sit in the summertime shade and eat our gooey peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches from brown paper sacks, all the time watching our bobbers and listening to the sounds of a breeze rustling through willow trees. At the time, it seemed like we were kings of the earth, and this sanctuary was ours alone. Looking back, we were just kids in the country enjoying a life with little worry nor responsibility. But we grew older; life brought change.

Though I think she was born in Texas, Elaine went to college in Utah. I’m not sure how they met, but I know Darrell visited her, traveling back and forth from Texas to visit his love. I remember their wedding, too. He wore a late 70s baby blue suit that still makes me chuckle.

Years later, with childhood far in the rear-view mirror, I have two young girls of my own, and I struggle with being a good dad. I love my girls as best I can yet always feel like I’m inadequate at this one big task in life. Darrell is just trying to keep his life together while facing an inevitable loss. I don’t know how he’ll fare. I don’t know how I’d get along, nor how anyone really handles this.

Yet in all this darkness, wildflowers are blooming. Beauty remains outside the cold window of a hospital room.

I drove around areas south of San Antonio last week chasing wildflowers, and I tried to make sense of this situation. I’ve been trying to make sense of things going on 40 years now, but I haven’t come across any burning bushes yet.

Seasons of colorful wildflowers – really vibrant spring times – don’t come around often – maybe once every five or so years. When the delicate petals of blue, purple, gold and red show up, I try to make the most of the weeks we have with wildflowers and am on the road photographing their ephemeral beauty. And sometimes I don’t pull out the camera. Rather, I just enjoy the moment. It seems that’s how life is – made up of single moments we try to hold onto – or let go of – in our memory. And as sure as the slanting last light of sunset fades, the seasons of spring and color I search for turn to summer, then are lost to cold and darkness, but eventually they find the way back.

I’ll try to linger in my spring – with my family – as long as life allows.

I hope Darrell and Elaine can find their spring again, though it will likely soon be in spirit only. These seasons are short, but I know Spring ultimately prevails.

Wildflowers are blooming somewhere.

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Bluebonnet 32219-1 : Prints Available

Lupinus texensis, or Texas bluebonnet, is a Texas favorite among wildflowers. It is also the official state flower of the Lone Star State. Once known as buffalo clover, these blue wildflowers seem to put everyone into a state of wanderlust when springtime comes. This portrait of a single bloom was taken on a calm evening in the Texas Hill Country.


Happy Travels, my Friends,

Rob

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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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…
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Bluebonnets in Big Bend – A Spring to Remember

Bluebonnets in Big Bend National Park don’t come around very often. In the last 15 years of my visiting the park in search of this west Texas version of the state wildflower, I haven’t seen too many blooms. I’m not an old-timer just yet, though I am approaching that status more quickly than I’d like. But in my time visiting this destination park, I’ve never seen a bloom that could equal the 2019 bluebonnet spring. I visited with locals, park rangers, and a few photographers I met on location and we all agreed this was potentially a once-in-a-lifetime bloom.

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Big Bend Bluebonnets at Sunrise 223-1 : Prints Available

The early spring of 2019 saw one of the most spectacular bluebonnet blooms of Big Bend National Park in recent memory. Park Rangers and old-timers could not recall a more prolific display of Big Bend’s version of the Texas state wildflower. Seen here on a frigid morning, the iconic Cerro Castellan rises 3,293’ above the Chihuahuan Desert floor. In the foreground, bluebonnets fill in the cascading slopes just west of this well-known landmark. The sun was just able to break through the clouds to offer a small starburst to this amazing landscape. The distant slopes can be seen, as well, with bluebonnets slipping into the crevices and down the hillsides.

Big Bend has its own unique species of bluebonnet,Lupinus havardii, and it is slightly different than the more familiar blue flower known in the Hill Country and central Texas. It can grow up to three feet in height and is a bit sturdier, as well. In the past years when bluebonnets were present, I’ve found these blooms along the roadsides and occassionally in a few of the washes just off the main roads. They usually appear in mid-February in the lower desert elevations. In good years, a few weeks later the blooms often appear along the roads skirting the Chisos Mountains, higher in elevation, and sometimes linger until early March.

I was fortunate to spend several days in Big Bend during the third week of February, 2019, free to explore, scout, and photograph whatever I came across. The reports of the desert bloom appeared to be pretty positive, and when I arrived, I was really at a loss to describe the patterns of blue that stretched up the washes and tumbled down the slopes on the east and west sides of the park. Many miles down East River Road, small hillsides were full of bluebonnets. On the west side near Tuff Canyon, bluebonnets held to the edges of the canyon. Further below the iconic Cerro Castellon, desert waves of blue stretched a mile to the south.

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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.

After spending one full day scouting for sunrise and sunset locations, trekking across the desert and climbing plateaus that offered amazing views (and logging 10+ miles of off-trail hiking and exploring), opportunities for unique vantage points became apparent, and in this particular spring, bluebonnets at the peak of their bloom anchored the foreground.

My nemesis in the golden hours of my trip became the wind. In the soft light, the bluebonnet stems and petals waved gently in the breeze, but in longer exposures appeared blurry. I’ll avoid getting technical here, but the constant breeze forced me to take several layers of each image with different focal points, moving from immediate foreground to distant peaks. Sometimes, I’d shoot 6 or 7 different images in an attempt to have the entire photograph sharp from front to back. While this works, it is a long and tedious process. Still, a few beautiful sunrises and sunsets made the process worthwhile, and I’m pleased with the results. Of course, I’m always left wanting a few more days.

The bluebonnet bloom in February of 2019 in Big Bend National Park was spectacular, and I imagine (hopefully) that one day I will be an old-timer reminiscing about the waves of blue that covered the desert. I don’t know if I’ll see another spring like it in the Chihuahuan Desert surrounding the Chisos, but I can hope. And that, along with some photographs and memories, is good enough for me.

Catching up in June

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

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

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

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

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Davis Mountains Sunrise 6 : Prints Available

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

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

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

Bluebonnet Hunting and More…

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

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

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Wildflower Highway Sunrise 3 : Prints Available

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

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

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Bluebonnets in Marble Falls Panorama 1 : Prints Available

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

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

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

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Bluebonnets under Starry Skies 1 : Prints Available

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

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

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

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A Dance Among the Bluebonnets 1 : Prints Available

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

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

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Bluebonnets under the Milky Way 2 : Prints Available

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

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

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Longhorns on a Lazy Afternoon 1 : Prints Available

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

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

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

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

Big Bend and Bluebonnets

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

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Wildflower Highway Sunrise 2 : Prints Available

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


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

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

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Bluebonnet Sunrise at Big Bend 1 : Prints Available

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


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

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

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

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

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Cerro Castellan at Sunset 1 : Prints Available

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


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

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

Texas – Home Sweet Home

As I write this blog, My wife, two girls, and I just crossed the Texas-New Mexico border and passed the Happy State Bank in Texline. I just finished up six weeks in Colorado, but I’ll get to that in a moment. For these long drives we usually leave early. This morning was no exception as we departed a little before 3am for the 15 hour trip. And I’m tired but can’t sleep. So I’ll ramble a bit…

First, some good news… I found out yesterday I will have two images in the Texas Highways Magazine 2017 Wildflower Calendar, and one of those will also serve as the cover photo! But as of now I don’t know which image that will be. Still, that is a nice bit of news. Texas Highways also pays well ? . A few weeks before that, I received word my Perseid meteor shower image won 1st place in the Texas Hill Country Alliance annual photography contest.

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Perseids over the Texas Hill Country : Prints Available

Starting at about 2:00am, I let the camera roll, taking 3 hours of time-lapse images of the Perseid meteor shower over Pedernales Falls in the Texas Hill Country. This final photograph is a compilation of the brightest meteors from this amazing scene. The sky photographs were taken using an astro-tracker, then stacked together using photoshop. The foreground was taken just as first light was beginning to show across the landscape – again a long exposure – and blended into the final scene.

This is nice, too, though I’ve been spoiled, having won the grand prize two of the past four years. And last, this past May I had my first book published by Far Country Press – a collection of images around Austin, Texas. I shared the photography work with another photographer, Jon Rogers – a real artist and super guy.

And now as we plow towards Dalhart (my wife is driving) I have time to reflect on the last month-and-a-half. I had high expectations – both for photography and for personal accomplishments. For at least the past ten years, my best guy friend and I have summited at least one 14,000 foot peak. Overall, we’ve climbed 31 of Colorado’s 54 14ers – all but one together. My home away from home is in Winter Park at about 9,000 feet in elevation. That first week while acclimating to my summer surroundings (my home in the Texas Hill Country rests at around 600 feet in elevation), I usually include one longer hike up to ~ 12 or 13,000 feet. On the first longer hike, I turned an ankle on the way down from an easy trek up to Herman Lake near Georgetown. It was an unremarkable hike and the slip didn’t appear to do noticeable damage. About five days later while trail running back in Winter Park, I did the same thing while cruising downhill and really buggered up my ankle. Something popped and my foot was purple a few days later. Fortunately, I had just started the five mile run! And I hopped back a half mile on my left foot.

I should add here I’m not patient when it comes to being sick or injured. I was forced to cancel a trip to the Elk Mountain Range to scale two 14ers. Several days of icing and elevating the ankle passed, and I was frustrated and ancy to get back out. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I wrapped my ankle, loaded up on painkillers, and met my friend to climb a nearby 13er (Square Top Peak at 13,758 feet). The meds worked and we enjoyed a nice view at the summit complete with mountain goats. But the next day I couldn’t put any weight on it. Now, two weeks later, I’m able to hobble around, but it hurts to even push on the accelerator of our SUV. I’ll give it some more time. Hopefully it will improve.

In the midst of all that, I was able to photograph some of Colorado’s most beautiful landscapes in Rocky Mountain National Park, including wildflowers, elk, and even the Milky Way. To peruse some of my favorites, check out my Colorado Images gallery.

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Colorado Sunflower Sunset 2 : Prints Available

From 12,000 feet and high in the Rocky Mountains, these sunflowers, known as ‘Old Man of the Mountain,’ enjoy the cold air and a beautiful July sunset. These wildflowers of Colorado were taken in Rocky Mountain National Park as the last light of day peeked over the distant summits.

In the meantime, we make our way home and I’m contemplating what I can photograph over the next few months. After six weeks of not seeing any temps above 80, I’m not keen on returning to the heat. Can we just fast forward to autumn?

Dalhart is in the rear view mirror and an early lunch in Dumas awaits.

Safe travels, Texas! 🙂
~ Rob
www.ImagesfromTexas.com