If you’ve been following my work, you probably know my business keeps me busy photographing great landscapes and even some skylines across our great state. But each summer for the last 20+ years, I’ve spent a few months in Colorado with a home base in Winter Park. Last year, because my Texas photography business was going so well, and since I had a plethora of Colorado images, I decided to branch out to Colorado. With my kids in school, it is harder for me to trek to the mountains in the non-summer months, but I’ve been trying. But for now, summers are my time to roam, explore, and shoot. This past June and July have been no exception. So in this blog I wanted to share some of the highlights from outside of Texas.
First, I spent about a week total shooting a place that reminded me very much of west Texas and one of my favorite places, Big Bend National Park. Colorado National Monument is just west of Grand Junction. It is a hidden gem and not very visited by tourists, but the canyons are mesmerizing, especially in the morning and evening light. Rim Rock Road runs along the rim of several canyons, offering access to amazing hiking trails and beautiful vistas.
Further west, with Black Ridge Road connecting the two, McInnis Canyons, and especially Rattlesnake Canyon and Arches, are just a few miles away. The catch is, to access the arches requires a heavy-duty 4WD, high clearance vehicle. Fortunately, I have a friend and a Grand Junction native offer his services, so we drove approximately 8 miles in about an hour over absolutely terrible roads to shoot at the Rattlesnake Arches for a sunset and sunrise. The light was spectacular and provided both images and memories that will last a long time.
Each summer, I spend some time hunting Colorado Wildflowers. Despite the drought conditions in much of Colorado, some colorful blooms were still out there. Probably my favorite place this year was on a hike to Lost Man Lake near Independence Pass. I had to drop about 10 feet down into a ravine, then cross a very cold stream, but a cluster of Columbine caught my attention and provided a beautiful foreground for a fast-flowing cascade near Aspen, Colorado.
Another location with good wildflowers was a hike along the Upper Piney Lake Trail. About five miles up the trail, the last three providing some class three scrambles, a friend of mine and I finally made it into a large cirque. Here, golden sunflower and purple aster flowed down from the steep slopes.
Closer to home, I took advantage of the full moon to photograph a Fraser Valley icon, Byers peak.
Each summer, a friend of mine and I climb a few mountains. This summer, we hiked up a repeat – Grays and Torreys Peak. We’ve climbed 31 of Colorado’s 54 14,000’ peaks, but summited nothing new this year. Still, here is an image from the top of Grays
The wildflowers along the trail were pretty amazing, as well.
One of my favorite places in all of Colorado to spend time is the Maroon Bells. A lot of other folks feel the same way, as it is the most photographed place in the state. The two peaks, North Maroon and Maroon Peak, both rise over 14,000 feet high. With Maroon Lake in the foreground, the photographic options are seemingly limitless. As a bonus, each June the Milky Way rises over the peaks for a few days between 3:30am-4:00am. The whole scene is beautiful, and the only folks out at that time are making their way along the lake and heading for an ascent of one of the Maroon Bells peaks.
One of the most spectacular sunsets I witnessed this summer came from Rocky Mountain National Park. I had driven over to Grand Lake one evening and into the west side of the park. Up the road a ways is an old barn – locally known as the Little Buckaroo Barn. Despite the whimsical name, this barn is part of a homestead from the early 1900s and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The sunset on this particular night was amazing.
I still have a week or so until I have to take my girls back to Texas and get them ready for school, but it won’t be long until I can spend more time up here in the fall.
Until then, I hope you enjoyed this escape from the Texas heat!
Over the years, and as my photography business has grown, I’ve had opportunities to photograph unique landscapes across the Lone Star State. And as the years have passed, I find myself returning again and again to one of my favorites – Big Bend National Park. So while I’m stuck inside on what looks like several days of gray, rainy, and gloomy winter weather, I decided to take some time and reflect on my trips to this unique and remote area of Texas. In no particular order, the hikes and locations below are some of my favorite places to explore along the Big Bend. Also, this blog is not meant to be a detailed description of each hike, nor act as a guide. I just want to share some of my favorite places.
Mariscal Canyon – Where to even start with Mariscal Canyon? I wrote a recent blog about this trip. While researching and preparing for the hike out to this remote canyon, information was difficult to come by, and the canyon proved to be as beautiful as it is unknown. This hike is not for the casual hiker. The road to the trailhead is 30 miles of an unforgiving 4WD grind. I’ll just say it sucked – and took almost 2 hours to cover that 30 miles. Starting the hike (about 7 miles round trip), the heat became a factor. I’ve only done this trip one time (at sunset, though I do want to return for sunrise), and I had planned it for the month of November to avoid high temperatures. When we arrived at the trailhead, it was 95 degrees! And then there was the matter of the trail – there isn’t one! You’ll need a reliable GPS and good vision as you follow cairns (stacks of rocks) every 20-50 feet to guide your way. At times, the rock piles were easy enough to follow; other times not so much. The first portion of the hike was relatively flat – up and down some small washes and along a few ridges, but nothing difficult. The last mile was uphill as the trail gained about 1000 feet (well, there was no trail, but we nevertheless switchbacked up the ridge anyway!). At the top, and to the left, we made our way to the rim of the canyon. Following the rim eastward, we found a place to rest and enjoy the view and sunset. The views were unparalleled, and we never saw another soul during the entire trip. If you want adventure, this is a great hike… but it does require some preparation. The return hike to the rented jeep (in the dark) was a challenge, especially in finding the cairns. More than a few times, we had to backtrack, stop, and search for our next target. All that while avoiding the packs of Javilinas.
South Rim- The South Rim is arguably the classic hike of Texas. The trek from the Chisos Lodge Visitor Center covers around 13 miles round trip and can be done as a day trip (very long) or an overnight adventure. Along the way, the hike affords views of the Chisos Mountains that create lifetime memories. While not difficult, the trail is long and gains about 2000 vertical feet, and being in good shape is a necessity. The route via the Laguna Meadows trail is the easiest, while another path (the Pinnacles and Boot Canyon Trail) that takes you by Emory Peak is also an option. The trek to the South Rim can be done in a loop, as well, though portions of the trail are closed in the spring to accommodate peregrine falcon nesting, so be mindful of that when you are making plans. There are few scenes in Texas I’ve enjoyed more than sitting on the edge of the rim as the sun fell in the western sky. Before me, the Rio Grande curved through the Chihuahuan Desert, dividing Texas from Mexico. As we lingered there several more hours, the Milky Way made an appearance – so clear and crisp it seemed every star in the sky was at our fingertips.
Lost Mine Trail – I read on another website/blog that the author of that blog thought the Lost Mine Trail was not worth the time. I’ve hiked quite a bit in the Big Bend, and I can say with certainty I whole-heartedly disagree. I’ve stood on the edge and end of the Lost Mine rim three times, each at sunset, and this short trail (~ 5 miles round trip) packs more bang for your buck than any other in the park. The views of Juniper Canyon are stunning, and the sunsets can provide an amazing light show as evening falls across the Chisos. The trailhead begins only a few miles from the Chisos Lodge, but arrive early – the tiny parking lot will fill up quickly. If you hike in the evening, parking should be fine. Just bring a flashlight or two for the return trip! The hike up is not difficult, though you will gain about 1100 feet in elevation. And don’t be fooled by the false peak when you think you are at the top. Keep going across a ridge until you cannot travel further. You’ll know it when you arrive. The views are amazing.
Santa Elena Canyon – This hike is quite short – only about .8 miles each way. The trail gains nearly 1000 feet in elevation, but the path up is made of easy switchbacks. Near the highest portion of the path, be mindful of your steps. A slip at this height would end your trip in a few seconds. Because of the ease and brevity of this hike, it is one of the most popular and crowded in the park. The views are stunning in both directions – east towards the Chisos and west into the canyon. I prefer hiking (and shooting) here at sunrise when the sun first lights up the clouds above the mountains. I’ve rarely seen anyone here in the early morning hours. You can also stand below the mouth of the canyon and watch the light turn the cliffs a brilliant orange as it illuminates the entrance to Santa Elena Canyon.
Boquillas Canyon – This easy hike runs about 1.5 miles round trip and leads to the mouth of Boquillas Canyon before petering out at the end of high rocky cliffs. Mexico is just across the clear flowing water, and It makes for a pleasant few hours. It is easy enough for children, too, though the trail can become crowded. This area also has temperatures in the warmer months exceeding 100 degrees on a regular basis.
Emory Peak – The trailhead for Emory Peak starts at the Chisos Lodge and is the same as one of the South Rim options. Follow the Pinnacles Trail for ~ 3.5 miles until the Emory Peak Spur is reached. Another 1.2 miles leads to the base of the highest point in Big Bend. The last portion is a bit of a scramble, and sheer cliffs fall away on each side, so use caution. The view from the summit provides 360 degree views in all directions. I’ve never reached the summit when it wasn’t cloudy or foggy, but this hike is still one of my favorites. I’ll be back for better sunrises and sunsets, too!
The Chimneys – These rock outcroppings have served as a waypoint for hundreds of years. On one of the walls, Indian petroglyphs remind the hiker of a distant past. This hike covers 7.6 miles one way from the trailhead to Old Maverick Road. The trailhead starts on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Road about 1.3 miles southwest of the turnoff for Burro Mesa Pouroff. There is a trailhead marker on the road. The hike can also be done as an out-and-back walk to the Chimneys. This option would cover just under 5 miles round trip. The walk, in all honesty, is uneventful. After undertaking many of the other hikes mentioned here, it was disappointing. It was flat, it didn’t offer any outstanding views, and it was hot even in March. The Chimneys themselves were mildly interesting. For this short hike, I’d even taken my two young girls. They made it easily out and back (though they were hot) but were less than enthused with the surrounding environment. I’ve heard the bluebonnets along this trail are nice in the spring, but I saw no signs of that during this particular outing.
The Window – This trail begins at the Chisos Lodge, as do many of the best hikes, and offers what could be considered the iconic view of Big Bend National Park – a distant “V” in the cliffs that offers a view west into the distant Chihuahuan Desert. The hike can be done as a very short loop (about .25 miles – all paved) or as a longer hike down into the heart of the Window (just under 3 miles one-way). Both hikes provide amazing views. The longer hike travels down, so upon reaching the dropoff and turn-around spot, the return trip is all uphill. It is a beautiful walk, and the path can be fairly crowded as this is one of the most popular destinations in Big Bend.
Rio Grande Village Nature Trail – One last hike I’d like to mention briefly is the Rigo Grande Village Trail. This shot path (.75 miles) is a loop that allows you to reach the top of a small ridge. From this vantage point, the Rio Grande and distant Chisos Mountains rise in the distance, and the sunsets from here can be pretty amazing. The trail is easy and a good place for families wishing to end the day with a beautiful sunset.
Big Bend National Park has so much to offer in terms of hiking. Each time I visit, I feel I’m only scratching the surface, and park still holds so many hidden gems. But I’ll be back soon, and can hopefully add to my favorite hikes with new experiences and images.
In my opinion, Texas has one of the most diverse landscapes anywhere in the United States. As my photography business has grown and reached more people across our great state, I’ve had several unique opportunities pop up, and the latest happened this past week – and only reinforced my opinion about the amazing and varied terrain that exists across the Lone Star State.
I was contacted last spring by Todd who runs an incredibly informative blog (with amazing images) called the Caprock Canyoneer. Todd grew up in the Texas panhandle and knows that area and its history better than nearly anyone I’ve met. After months of going back and forth, he arranged for use to meet up with another of his friends, Barry, and explore what they called the Central Utah Slot Canyons – a part of the Llano Slots – located in the remote parts of Palo Duro Canyon.
I rolled into the parking lot before sunrise on the Friday after Thanksgiving – probably around 6:45am. We were supposed to meet up at 7am, and I am never late, especially when afforded an opportunity to shoot in a special location such as this. Not one minute after my arrival, my two new friends pulled up in a black Silverado. They are early, too, and I like that! Having never met in person, I was wondering how we’d work together while covering land without trails. But upon the first handshake and greeting, it was clear these were two genuinely nice and down-to-earth guys. No pretenses; nothing to hide. It was almost as if I’d known them for a long time already.
Back in our cars, I followed them to pullout where we’d leave our cars and begin our hike. Because of the pristine condition of the slots, I cannot divulge the location of our adventure. These slot canyons do not appear on the park map, nor many other maps that I know of for that matter. At one point on our return, Todd and Barry took me by a small canyon closer to the road they called the “Hall of Shame.” This small canyon was filled with graffiti, names carved into stone, and even a monkey face etched into the rock. It was, in a word, deplorable. And it showed why you can’t trust everyone with such natural beauty. I realize that not every person would deface the land, but some will. And I’ve encountered this both in Texas and in Colorado, and it only takes one selfish person to ruin a rock formation that took a million years to form.
After parking along the canyon floor, we readied our gear – cameras, tripods, and lots of water and Gatorade – and began our first challenge – a 600+ foot ascent of the nearest canyon wall. At one point about ¾ of the way up, the clouds turned an amazing pink and blue as the first light of daylight spread across the valley below.
They had warned me there were no trails we’d follow, and they were right. So up we went, hiking the easy parts and scrambling up the more sketchy inclines. But within 45 minutes we were atop the canyon rim, and it seemed all of Palo Duro Canyon spread out beneath our feet. The views were amazing, and through the trees on the canyon’s edge, the first rays of sun filtered through.
And with that, we were off again – heading across a mesa covered in mesquite and tall, dried grasses just high enough to hide the cacti and fallen tree branches and whatever else slithered underneath our feet. Finding my way across this nondescript landscape where everything looked the same in all directions would have been nearly impossible without a GPS or an expert tracker. But still we walked – for many 45 minutes or an hour. I really don’t know as time seemed to stand still and we dodged and weaved our way through the trees and across the grassy land. After more twists and turns, suddenly we stood on the edge of a box canyon.
Peering down into this unnamed box canyon, I wondered how we’d descend further, but slowly and methodically, Barry followed a series of natural steps and loose dirt. There were a few slips and skids on the way down, but eventually we made it to the wash and begin following that path for another portion of the trip. Maybe twenty minutes later, we came to a small fissure, an opening in the ground no wider than a few feet. We had arrived at the Central Utah Slot Canyons. The sun was just rising over the nearby rocky ridge, and I peered excitedly into the dark pink and purple rock that waited below.
Here, my friends explained, the first slot – the Upper slot – started. It was followed by a Middle Slot and Lower Slot. We’d shoot the first portion as sunlight penetrated the sandstone walls, then work our way down to the Lower slot for best sunlight in that location. Down inside the slots, the color was amazing. The indirect sunlight turned the Trujillo sandstone pink and purple and orange only for a few moments before the direct sunlight disarmed the vibrant and smooth colors. Here, I’ll let the images speak for themselves.
Then we were onto the Lower Llano Slot Canyon – and one particular curve seemed to glow with warm light just before exploding in direct sunlight.
Throughout our work-adventure, Todd explained the history of this amazing place. The pride of his Texas heritage, understanding of historical events, and detailed knowledge of the landscape and its features were captivating, and I only wish I could remember half the information he offered.
I could understand now why they both wanted to keep this place under the radar. We saw now signs of humans – no plastic water bottles, no discarded snack bar wrappers, and no names etched in the wall – something these days that seems quite rare.
After several hours of exploring and shooting, we decided it was time to begin the journey back. Aside from a few scratches and prickly pear thorns in my shin, the hike back was uneventful – even sliding down the canyon rim to reach the road wasn’t too bad. It was one of those trips I hated to see end. But I hope to return and hike and explore again with my friends. Until then, I’ll enjoy the fact that we live in one of the most beautiful and diverse areas in all of the United States. And for that I’m thankful.
I remember sitting underneath the kitchen counter talking on a phone attached to the wall with a cord. This was a long time ago – before wireless, before emails, before internet. My kids have no idea what I’m talking about.
Nowadays, I run a photography business through the internet. It is a love-hate relationship. I see the good the internet can bring – research, communication, planning, etc. I also see the damage it can do with time-consuming distractions, psychological damage of social media, and stunting the people/communication skills of our youth.
But I depend on the internet for my business. Without Google, I couldn’t support a family and I could not make decent money with my photography. So a few weeks ago when my hard drive on my IMac failed after only 2 years, it was not a good moment in our house. Finally, after 11 days of having my computer at the Apple-doctor (and much gnashing of teeth), it was returned in working condition. However, the damage was done. I’d lost all of 2016 and 2017’s financial records, as well as about two months of commissioned work and fun outings. While I regularly backup my files, I had failed to do so since our return from Colorado in August. On that fateful Saturday morning, I was finishing up a project. I’d saved my work on my IMac hard drive, but not backed it up. We headed out with the kids for a lunch break. When I returned, my computer had a blinking file with a question mark flashing across the screen. And so it was done.
Now I’m back up and running. I’ve got Time Machine saving everything in a timely manner. And I’ve learned my lesson.
But the experience again brought to the forefront my feelings about technology. I battle with my kids on a daily basis about too much screen time, and how research shows it can have a negative effect on the brain (We limit them to 30 minutes per day). At the same time, the internet and technology has made it possible for me to make a name for myself and craft a good family business.
We live in strange times.
Back up everything that is important, as well! That’s what I’ve learned here. I’ve even had a few photographer friends start doing this as well thanks to my experience.
In the meantime, here is one recent image taken at one of my favorite places in the Texas Hill Country:
While waiting for the advent of bluebonnet and wildflower season here in central Texas, my family and I took advantage of a few down days and visited Disney World. I knew my two girls, ages 8 and 6, would love it, but I wasn’t sure how much my wife and I would appreciate the trip. We started the trip at the Austin airport with me having a hunting knife confiscated at security. Doh! I completely forgot it was in my backpack. I asked if I could take it back to my car. No. I even asked the security guy if he could use it… just don’t throw it away! No. That was a bummer. Nevertheless, that wasn’t going to ruin this trip.
As we strolled through the airport looking for food, I noticed in one of the tourist shops – on a stand in the front – my book of Austin photos! Pretty cool stuff for me. My girls were unphased and just wanted food.
The two hour-twenty minute flight was uneventful, and after landing in Orlando and gathering our luggage (it all arrived safely!), we caught the Disney Express to the Caribbean Beach Resort. I’ll spare you all the details, but suffice it to say to we had a really good time. I’d read where 75% of first time visitors return to Disney. I feel pretty good about saying we’ll be back – sooner rather than later, if possible. Here are a few thoughts:
1 – We stayed on site. No car. Transportation was extremely efficient.
2 – We had a meal plan. I know we could probably save money by paying individually, but it was liberating not having to give a second thought to prices throughout the entire trip. I’m pretty frugal and seeing those prices would have made me tighten up a bit. With the meal plan, I was like “Hey, let’s eat!). All of our meals were good, not great, but nothing was bad.
3 – We had two character lunches – one at the Cinderella Castle (most expensive meal of my life if it wasn’t prepaid), and another at the Akershaus in Norway (Epcot Center). On both occasions, my girls were memorized by the princesses and seeing them (my girls) so amazed and excited was well worth the cost.
4 – I’m captivated by how efficient the entire system at Disney runs. They move people like nobody’s business. Maybe the city planners in Dallas, Houston, and Austin should visit and learn about traffic flow.
5 – Every park employee we engaged with was super nice and helpful. I’d read about this, and it really showed. I think that is a big reason folks come back.
6 – It is a great place to bring kids, and I think my girls were about the perfect age. We probably walked over 25 miles during 4 days, visiting each of the parks, and they never complained. As a parent, my girls were constantly entertained and I only had to herd them in the right direction. That makes everyone happy.
7 – Disney does a good job of insulating you from the world. No talk of Trump’s craziness or Hillary’s shenanigans… just good clean fun.
Two other items… Fast passes work great, as do the magic bands. However, on our last day there (a Saturday) after we used up our 3 morning Fast passes, the fast pass was pretty useless because everything was booked by that point. The first several days, we could use our fast passes, then re-up and schedule more rides/shows with it. I guess weekends really bring in more crowds.
Next, on our first morning in the park – at the Magic Kingdom – as we headed to our first ride to use first fast passes, we found my wife’s magic band had fallen off her wrist. Uggh. Not a good start. We headed back to “City Hall” at the front of the park. Literally 2 minutes later, we were walking out and headed to the rides, a new magic band ready to go. Anywhere else, we would have had forms to fill out and a week of waiting. Not at Disney. They are good. We’ll be back!
And then back to reality…
While business the last few months has been brisk, I’ve been out to shoot exactly twice since December 1st. One excursion involved photographing the icicles hanging from the grotto at Westcave Preserve, located near Hamilton Pool Preserve in the Texas Hill Country. When the temperatures drop into the teens and twenties, rare for these parts, water seeps out of the overhanging ledge and gradually forms long daggers of ice. This is one image from that very cold morning:
Thanks to the folks at Westcave for allowing me access to shoot a beautiful and rare event.
My second trip out for photography was taking four images of town lake for the Four Seasons. I was contacted by an art consultant interested in some work for the hotel rooms, so I obliged and took what they wanted. I look forward to seeing the final product!
I’ll be heading to Big Bend in a few weeks… one of my favorite places to hike and explore. After that, I’ll be exploring the backroads looking for bluebonnets and other Texas wildflowers.
Well, here we are at the end of 2016. While I look forward to more good things in 2017, I wanted to take a minute or two and reflect on the past year.
In superficial matters, I was able to take some good trips that helped grow my business: Big Bend several times, the Guadalupe Mountains, the Texas coast, Dallas and Fort Worth, and many beautiful locations throughout the hill country. From these little treks, I’ll share my five favorite photographs in just a bit.
First, I’d like to share a few things I learned, personally, this year.
1 – I still prefer to be somewhere outdoors and mostly left alone to my thoughts rather than around a group of people (my family and a few close friends are the exception.) I’ve never been a part of a photography group or club. That just isn’t for me. I don’t like “talking shop” as some do, either. I’d rather enjoy a good hike, do my work, and hike back. If someone is with me, we can talk about other topics – just not photography.
2 – There are two kinds of people – those without kids and those with kids. If you have kids, you know what I mean.
3 – You’ll never love anything or anyone more than your own kids. It wasn’t until I had two girls that I understood how much my own parents loved me.
4 – Photographers are not good at sharing. This seems to be an unfortunate generalization. I’ve interacted with a few established photographers this year, and when it comes down to it, they were not forthcoming (actually quite evasive and selfish) in sharing any sort of locations to shoot (and one did this even after I helped him secure a great location earlier in the year through one of my contacts). I certainly won’t name them here, but I think it is sad how they behaved. Maybe they felt threatened? I know one in Austin who does, and he really shouldn’t. While I won’t put locations online, I don’t mind sharing. I figure if you help out someone, that good will eventually will circle back around.
5 – Drones are not for me – at least just yet. I bought a high end model for work, then sold it several months later. It just couldn’t produce the high quality images that can be made large that I needed. Plus, I just didn’t have enough time to do both standard landscape photography and drone work. Maybe someday… I do have a friend that is quite good at drone work, though, and produces amazing skylines of Austin. They just cannot be printed very large.
6 – Positive affirmations work; a positive attitude and mental mindset do make a difference.
7 – Sometimes people are going to do what they do, and it is fruitless to attempt to understand them. Even logic often fails.
8 – Despite the naysayers, you can support a family of four shooting landscape photography and do quite nicely. Everything you read seems to indicate this is quite difficult. And yes, it does take some perseverance and attention to tedious detail. Yes, I’ve worked hard to get where I am, especially with the behind-the-scenes portion of the business (marketing and getting my name out there). But it can be done.
9 – I have a supportive family.
10 – I really like what I do.
OK… with those random thoughts done, here are some of my favorite images of the year in no particular order:
1 – Amazing light from Big Bend… this has turned out to be one of my best sellers:
The first mile of the Lost Mine Hike in Big Bend National Park is a gradual uphill walk to a nice vantage point overlooking the basin below. Go another 1.5 miles up some relatively easy switchbacks and you reach this point that looks over Juniper Canyon toward the South Rim. I had hoped for a nice sunset, but the amazing light that spread forth from the western horizon suprassed my expecations. The beautiful colors did not last long, but they offered a lingering memory of a magical place amid this rugged Texas landscape.
2 – Bluebonnets at Sunset – I met a local rancher who allowed me access to his land. As I tromped across cacti-filled fields, I found this unforgettable landscape:
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.
3 – Bluebonnets at Sunrise – another bluebonnet image – this time taken at sunrise as the sun dissipated the fog and clouds:
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.
4 -Texas Hill Country Waterfall – You couldn’t ask for a better sunset on this perfect evening. I also appreciate a friend and fellow photographer not keeping this beautiful location a secret.
Sometimes you just get lucky. A friend had shown me this location in the Texas Hill Country, but we’d waited to visit until the flow of water was just right. After heavy rains from weeks prior, the river had risen, then dropped. On this night, all elements of the image came together – water, color, wind, and sky. With turquoise falls below me and an amazing sunset peeking through the trees and spreading light rays into the fading thunderheads, I knew this landscape of the Texas landscape of cascading water would be special.
This image is available in sizes larger than 36×24. Please contact me for more information.
5 – South Rim, Big Bend National Park – A 13 mile round trip allowed me access to this amazing view in south Texas:
This view of the southern Chisos Mountain Range in Big Bend National Park comes from the South Rim. As one of the best hikes in Texas, the trek to reach this point is a little over 6 miles, and to capture an image at sunset or sunrise at this location means you either camp or hike in the dark. But the effort is worth it as the landscape that stretches from Texas into Mexico is well worth the effort. Here, a prickly pear blooms in late spring as clouds light up with another beautiful Texas sunset.
6 – Sunset at Port Aransas This one is special not only because of the morning light, but one of my little girls had rolled out of bed to accompany me on a pre-dawn stroll along the beach. I photographed the pier and ocean while she chased sand crabs and even found a starfish:
It was a glorious sunrise along the beach at Port Aransas. This is one of Texas’ favorite beach destinations, and this sunrise shows why. In the foreground, Caldwell Pier stretches more than 1000 feet into the warm gulf waters on this October morning. The only company I had this morning were the gulls and sand crabs and my youngest daughter (who shockingly rolled out of bed to accompany on this morning of work. Behind me, chased sand crabs and even found a star fish.) Doesn’t get much better than this!
7 – Two from the Guadalupe Mountains – The first shows the Autumn colors of McKittrick Canyon; the second shows the inconic El Capitan beneath beautiful light:
Following the trail through McKittrick Canyon, there are places of dense maple trees. At one point, you are nearly surrounded by the beautiful leaves, and in Autumn the forest can turn orange and red with some of the most beautiful fall colors in Texas. The main hike is around 4 miles each way, but you can continue up to ‘the Notch,” a climb of about 1500 vertical feet over another mile or so at which point you can look down into a canyon on each side of you. The hike up is a grunt, but the views are incredible. You can look back down and see the colorful maples as they follow the path of the river.
If you actually read this, thanks! I’d love it if you left a message just to say hi and share any thoughts you might have. The year 2016 was a good one for my family and my business. I look forward to growing even more in 2017. Thanks for your support, Texas!
The Guadalupe Mountains are a long way from my home in the central Texas hill country. But in those remote and ancient mountains is a location I’ve wanted to experience and photograph in the fall – McKittrick Canyon – a winding path through rugged peaks that holds a remnant collection of bigtooth maple trees. Each Autumn, this canyon comes alive with fiery color of the changing maple leaves, a stark contrast to the surrounding desert landscape. I also wanted to hike up to Guadalupe Peak, the tallest point in Texas, and shoot both the sunset and the Milky Way from its lofty summit. I’d made this walk-up before, but this time I wanted to capture the landscape in evening light.
Over the course of four days, I was able to photograph some incredible landscapes, and I’m not sure if an image on a website can really do justice to the rugged beauty of this west Texas area. First, the Butterfield Overland Stage Route provides some great vistas of El Capitan. You have to obtain a key from the National Park to access two gates, but the views are worth it. You will need a four-wheel drive, for sure, as the road is treacherous at times.
I photographed from this location on several occasions and was fortunate to have some great light.
One of my points of emphasis this trip was McKittrick Canyon, the bigtooth maple trees, and “The Notch” that gives a great view of both McKittrick Canyon and South McKittrick Canyon. The maples were beginning to turn, and there were sections of brilliant reds and oranges, yet other areas were still quite green. The weather was beautiful, and with calm winds, photographing the scenery along this trail was a pleasure.
The grunt up to “The Notch” was steep and rocky, but the landscape showcased those granite mountains and jagged peaks both to the north and south. Looking back in the direction I came, the winding flow of red and orange leaves of the bigtooth maples in the distance followed the winding creek as it snaked through the canyon. While resting at the top, I even sat about three feet from a rattlesnake. That was quite the surprise. The round trip to this point and back to the trailhead turned out to be a little over 10 miles and actually wasn’t too bad. I’m glad, because the next evening I’d be trekking up a different trail – this time to Guadalupe Peak and the highest point in Texas.
At 8,751 feet, Guadalupe Peak is the tallest mountain in Texas. The trail to the top is relatively easy – just a gradual walk up gaining ~ 3,000 feet in altitude over 4 miles. The views at the top offer a unique perspective that looks across the Chihuahuan Desert to the east, south, and west. Below the peak is the famous El Capitan, the 8th tallest summit in Texas and one that I’d photographed both that morning and the night before from other locations. I arrived at the top of Guadalupe Peak a little before sunset, enjoying the quiet solitude. While there, I took in a wonderful sunset, and later witnessed the Milky Way at it rolled across the sky in the southwest. The walk down passed quickly, but I was glad to arrive back at the trail head. Trails at night always seem a bit creepier and unknown. I have good flashlights, but I’m always happy to be finished with long hikes at night. The thought of mountain lions is always in the back of my mind.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the less well known of Texas’ two national parks, will reward you if you are willing and able to get out and explore. Those age-old mountains – once part of the Delaware Sea 30 million years ago – hide valleys of lush green trees and crystal clear streams. Trout even survive in some of the pools tucked away in the canyons. Outside those canyon walls is a rugged and unforgiving desert. Both provide opportunities for exploration and contemplation. I hope to return again soon!
I’m often asked to make recommendations for which images I think would work with this or that, and I’m never sure quite how to respond. It seems some photographs really inspire folks while others leave them feeling ho-hum. My favorites are often not others’ favorites, and vice versa. You just never know.
So to start out the New Year, I thought I’d share my personal favorites of 2015.
In no particular order, here are some of my most memorable images from our great Lone Star State.
It was a crazy night of severe storms, high winds, hail turning the fields white, followed by amazing sunset colors. Then rainbows showed while lightening could still be seen in the distance. The few images I snapped on a highway between Llano and Mason as the storm passed showed amazing mammatus clouds lingering over a field of colorful wildflowers. One photograph from this trek was selected by the Texas Hill Country Alliance as the Grand Prize Winner for their annual photography contest. The Wildflowers at the End of the Storm now appears on the cover of the 2016 calendar.
In March, I had the chance to spend some time in Big Bend National Park photographing the bluebonnets. The weather was unpredictable, but the flowers were colorful and plentiful. One morning while out shooting at sunrise, I was blessed with bluebonnets, wonderful light, and great background that included the Chisos Mountains. This bluebonnet image has also become one of my best sellers (and that always helps!).
Another of my favorite images came from the beginning of the year. I was photographing the downtown Austin skyline from the hike and bike trail that extends out onto Lady Bird Lake near Joe’s Crabshack. It was early in the morning, cold, and fog was rising off the water. The sun had just risen behind me in the east. Just before packing up, I noticed several birds in the area. I waited for the right moment and captured this images of an egret (I think) as it came in for a landing.
The Texas Hill Country is my home. And I shoot a lot out here, especially in the state parks. Pedernales Falls is only 25 minutes from my house, so I’m out at this wonderful area several times a month – mostly at sunrise. In May, the area, especially Wimberley, was devastated by heavy rains and flooding. Pedernales Falls State Park was closed for several days. After the gates finally opened, I was one of the first folks down there, and the photographs taken at sunrise were nearly unbelievable. The river ran as high as I’ve ever seen it. The scary part was you could see debris 15 feet higher than where I was shooting – up in the trees along the banks – indicating how high the water had actually risen. This images comes at sunrise as clouds began to break up over the Pedernales River.
In the photograph above, I’m often able to walk across this stretch of river to the opposite shore without my feet getting wet at all!
Of course, I have to include a bluebonnet image as one of my favorites. I’ve already put in one from Big Bend, but here is one from the Texas Hill Country. This wildflower photograph comes from the shores of the Colorado River and Lake Travis. With the lack of rains, much of this area is usually under water. However, this past spring it was dry and covered with bluebonnets. I ventured over here one evening and did not see another person the entire night. The irony is that nearby – at another park along this same stretch of river, the bluebonnets were completely overrun with people trampling them until there was very little left to enjoy.
There are so many other Texas images I really like from 2015, but for now these are some that stand out. I took a lot of Milky Way images, and I do love the night sky over a Texas landscape. And as we close the books on 2015, I look forward to what 2016 brings. With El Nino in full force right now, I expect we’ll have one of the better wildflower springs in the last 50 years. I’m already planning on a lot of driving in late March, and all of April and May to search for colorful Texas fields. I also have trips planned to Big Bend, Palo Duro, Dallas, Fort Worth, and many other fun locations.
In the meantime, feel free to follow my work on facebook.
This past week, I had the opportunity to spend time in the Texas Panhandle, primarily Palo Duro Canyon State Park, as well as a few side trips around Amarillo, Texas. The late November weather turned out to be superb, and I was fortunate to enjoy some amazing sunrises and sunsets while exploring the canyon.
My family came with me on this trip, and that meant no camping. Instead, we stayed in Canyon, just ~ 12 miles from the park entrance. For my gear, I was shooting with the newish Canon 5DSr. I brought a few lenses, as well – the 11-24L, 16-35IIL, 24-105L, and the 70-200ISL. For a majority of the trip, I only used the 11-24 and the 24-105. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express – 4 adults, 2 kiddos. It was not bad at all, though I’m not a fan of their breakfast. However, I was usually gone when breakfast started at 6am and by the time I returned to the hotel, I caught the tail-end of the morning service. So I stuck to my Apricot Kind bars for early morning food.
One thing to know about Palo Duro is that the entrance gates are closed overnight and don’t open until 8:00am. Having done some work for Texas Parks and Wildlife in the past, I was able to obtain permission to enter the park early in order to photograph sunrise. This made a huge difference, allowing me to photograph during the morning magic hour when light is soft and beautiful.
* I should add here that I stopped by the Visitor Center to ask a few questions about hikes and such when we first arrived at the park. An older woman who was working seemed to not particularly enjoy her job that much. She questioned all my plans, and even said she didn’t understand why I wanted to come into the park before 8am – the gates were closed for a reason! She went on to add that there was nothing to photograph before sunrise. “Why would you want to get here so early. There’s nothing here worth seeing that early!” I don’t think she should have been a front-person for Palo Duro, as she obviously didn’t appreciate the wonders this place has to offer.
Anyway, the flexibility of the park rangers with allowing me an early entrance each morning made the trip worthwhile. Otherwise, it would been not nearly as productive. The sunrise from the Visitor Center that overlooks the Canyon was colorful – a nice gradient from orange to blue about 40 minutes before sunrise, then transitioning to some nice clouds by the time the sun showed itself for the first time. But during this in-between, my hands were nearly frozen. The temperature was in the upper 20s at this location, and later as I drove through the valley floor, the thermometer read 21 degrees. Yikes!
After finishing up the sunrise shoot, I returned to the hotel to pick up the wife and kids, then came back to take them hiking. We explored the Big Cave (an easy walk for young kids that the Visitor Center Welcome Woman poo-pooed – and my kids loved it), and some other trails. I also came away with some late morning light on Capitol Peak, one of the well-known points in the park. Evening found my wife and me hiking to the Lighthouse. This famous landmark is by far the most popular trail it the park, and for good reason. It provides you a 6-mile round-trip walk on an orange clay path through magnificent and colorful canyon walls and rock formations. You finish the last .3 miles going uphill, scrambling part of the way, to reach the base of the iconic structure. From this vantage point, the views stretch for miles through the distant canyon. And sunset did not disappoint, either. Behind me, to the east, clouds lit up in pink pastels. In front of us, to the west, the sun turned the sky brilliant orange, complementing the orange rock of the Lighthouse itself. We lingered until nearly dark, enjoying the scene and solitude. And I should note that while we passed folks on our walk (all of whom were heading back to the start of the trailhead), we did not encounter another person for the last mile of our walk to the Lighthouse, nor did we see anyone the remainder of the evening. That peace and quiet was pretty special, for sure. Having a place like that all to oneself, even for a few hours, is hard to top.
But time moves us along, and eventually we were back on the trail, walking in the dark. I paused to shoot the Lighthouse from a distance with the Milky Way behind it, then again at Capitol Peak to take a long exposure of the mountain as the nearly-full moon had risen and was illuminating the red and orange rock in a wonderful soft glow.
The next morning found me back at sunrise again, but this time the temperatures rose into the high 20s and low 30s, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. Another glorious sunrise welcomed the day, and soon we were off exploring.
I would like to come back here again in the spring when the flowers are blooming, and perhaps in the fall when the trees are changing colors as they head into winter.
After leaving the Palo Duro Canyon area, we made side trips to the ecclectic Cadillac Ranch just west of Amarillo. This field that is on the old Route 66 has ten old Cadillacs that have been buried nose first into the dirt. Funded by an eccentric millionaire and created by a San Francisco art hippy group called the Ant Farm, this “exhibit” is free and open to the public – and spray-painting the old cars is welcome and even encouraged.
Heading east of Amarillo, I paused to photograph a few cotton fields. From the highway, the area looked like snow had fallen, but in reality the cotton was white and ready for harvesting. I met a rancher who welcomed me onto his land, so I spent a little time photographing this uniquely Texas landscape.
From here, another sunset found me shooting bales of hay under some wonderful skies lit up by the half-light of evening.
All in all, it was a fun, relaxing, and successful trip. What’s next?
The second week in August each year is one of the weeks I usually am wanting for more sleep. I love the Perseid Meteor shower and look forward to the challenge of trying to capture this unique annual event. The Perseids of 2015 presented a great opportunity – relatively clear skies and a new moon – meaning no light pollution from the moon so the meteors would show up even brighter. My goal was to bring this amazing event to my audience, and here is the back story to my nighttime adventure…
I ventured out two times this past week to photograph the Perseids – once to Pedernales Falls State Park in the Texas Hill Country and once to the iconic 360 Bridge outside of Austin, Texas. For this short blog, I’ll focus on the Pedernales location. I know Pedernales Falls like the back of my hand. I live close by and am over there for sunrise or sunset several times each month. Still, I wanted to scout out a perfect location that had an interesting foreground and offered a chance to include much of the night sky, as well. Last weekend, I spent sunrise and sunset at the state park with a camera and my gps. The Perseids radiate from the northeast section of the sky – generally from the middle of the Milky Way. After several miles of walking around, I found what I wanted – a portion of a small canyon into which the river flowed that faced northeast. I also took several test images with different lenses to see what look I wanted. After scrutinizing the test images, I decided to go with my super-wide angle – the 11-24L to give me more of the rugged landscape and more of the night sky.
On Thursday morning, I awoke about 1:00am, dragged myself out of bed, drove to the park, and walked to the river and upstream about 20 minutes to my chosen location. The camera was ready to go by 2:00am. I would like to note here a few observations. First, I’ve never seen anyone in the parking lot when I go out before sunrise, but there were 6 or 7 cars there, so it was nice to see other folks out enjoying the light show. To the two college girls trying to find their way down to the river without a flashlight in the complete dark…. hope you made it! I was happy to help guide you if you hadn’t had to go back to your car for your contraband! But I wasn’t waiting for around. Second, I saw more animals here this night than I’ve ever seen at one time before. They included a wild hog, a racoon, an opossum, a jackrabbit, an armadillo that I almost tripped over on the trail, a fox, several deer, and what I think was a porcupine (are there porcupines out there? sure looked like one). I might have even seen a chupacabra, but can’t be 100% sure. It was dark!
Moving along… I aligned my star-tracker to the north star, set up the camera, took a few base images of the milky way, then set everything to run on auto-pilot for the next several hours. For those interested in the technical aspects… the base Milky Way images were shot at f/5.6 ISO 800 for about 3 1/2 minutes. The meteors were shot on f/4, ISO 4000, on a continuous 30 second interval – all using the new Canon 5DS-R. The foreground was shot later in the morning as the sun’s light was just beginning to light up the landscape. I believe that image was a 30 second image at ~ f/16.
After I set up the automatic timer, I laid back on the rock and watched the fireworks, which were quite amazing. Also, my 5-hour energy drink was my friend this night!
Upon returning home, I reviewed the 180+ images, pulling out the ones that contained meteors, then aligned and stacked them in photoshop. After I was happy with that look, I aligned and merged the meteors into the base Milky Way image, then merged that with the foreground, creating what you see below. A lot more went into the final photograph – color balance, some noise reduction, etc., but this was basically my work flow.
I think when you are alone in the middle of the night under the Milky Way images, you can’t help but question our place in the Universe. We are so small and it is unimaginably big. I won’t soon forget the beauty I experienced that night – time to reflect and time to look ahead, but mostly time to just be in the moment and enjoy God’s creation not seen by many.
And that was my night.
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