I was asked yesterday (and on many occasions in the past) which lenses I use for my photography. Most questions are related to my landscapes which make up 99% of my work. When I travel, such as my recent trek to Iceland, I took three lenses:
I used the latter two lenses about 85% of the time in that trip. For wide-angle landscapes, the 11-24 is hard to beat. I absolutely love the way it captures and adds drama to skies.
The Fjarðará is a river that flows down from a mountain pass into the east Iceland town of Seydisfjördur. From this vantage point, views of the valley below and the distant fjord are beautiful on clear sunlit days.
This lens has a pretty wide sweet spot as long as I avoid the 11-12mm and 23-24mm range. At those ends of the lens, the edges become a bit blurry. (The same can be said for the 16-35L – I just avoid the extreme ranges.) Because I like everything in focus for my images, I’ve found that f/16 offers the best opportunity for sharp details in one image, especially when shooting a tight/close foreground of flowers or rocks. That said, I will still usually take the same image with different focal lengths and blend the two together to ensure the overall image comes out clear and sharp.
For the 16-35L, I do the same thing – take multiple images with different focal lengths and focus-stack the group. Even if I don’t use all the focal lengths, I at least have insurance that I have everything covered.
Another thing I consider with these lenses is the sort of starburst they produce. I do like to shoot at the moment the sun hits the horizon – either at sunrise or sunset. The way that light presents itself is influenced by the lens.
First, the 24-105 is out if you want a starburst. This lens will only produce a bright blur. It is a no-go for these critical moments of first light.
The other two lenses, the 16-35 and 11-24, both produce pleasing sun rays if timed correctly. (For these, I’ll bracket 7 exposures and blend them together to balance the light. More about this in a future blog).
After all the tourists have gone, Kirkjufellfoss flows clean and cold and the regal mountain stands silently in the cool west Iceland air. The long summer nights make these falls a wonderful place to spend some quiet time appreciating the beauty and history of this ancient land.
Nearing the last light of evening, the sun peeks through the clouds just above the horizon, creating a sunburst over the Pedernales River at Pedernales Falls State Park. This area is one of my favorites in the hill country, and I love exploring the winding river’s path.
And that’s what’s in my bag when I travel. When I’m hiking, I’ll usually only bring one lens – either the 11-24 or 16-35 – just depends on where I’m going.
As always, please ask if you have any questions. You can contact me through my website (see below).
In the meantime, have fun, stay safe, and be kind.
Rob Images from Texas
Do you need a tripod? In my humble opinion, if your focus is truly on landscape photography and you want to produce clear, sharp prints, the answer is yes. I shoot with a tripod nearly 99% of the time – even in daylight. The only times I do not use a tripod are when I’m on a boat or know that particular image will not be going on my business site. Tripods add stability, and in my case, allow me to produce larger prints that are crisp with no vibration nor blur.
In low light – before sunrise or after sunset – tripods help with longer exposures. They also allow the camera produce nice, smooth water in waterfall or river images. Below is a longer exposure from a tripod taken along the Pedernales River.
I loved the pastel colors on this evening along the edge of the Pedernales River. The water was a bit higher than usual after Spring rains, and this long exposure attempted to capture the beauty of the evening.
I also take a lot of bracketed images (groups of 3, 5, or 7 images of the same scene with different exposure times.) Using a tripod, I’m later able to align these groups of images and tinker with the lighting – what is too dark or too light – to create a photograph more pleasing to the eye. The use of a tripod during bracketing is especially helpful during sunrise or sunset when one of my goals is obtaining a sunburst. Below is an image made up of 7 different images with different exposure times. I later merged these together in photoshop, creating a nice, balanced image. This scene would not have been possible without the use of both a tripod and bracketing.
High up on the eastern ridge of Palo Duro Canyon, an arch rests close against the cliff. I’ve heard locals call it the Alter of Palo Duro. I was fortunate to have a friend familiar with the area guide me up to this unmarked location for an opportunity to photograph this remarkable rock formation at sunset. The hike up wasn’t easy. Nearly half of hte trek was off the trail, up loose rock and unforgiving scree. The prickly pear and other plants that stick were more than willing to impede our progress, as well. Finally, at the top of the ridge,, and after a short walk to find the exact location, the arch and landscape spread out before us. As the sunlight neared the horizon, the inner portion of the arch seemed to glow orange. We were the only ones around, and the evening was memorable in that we saw what few visitors to this park witness.
So, in short, use a tripod if your goal is crisp landscape images. I have at least five tripods laying around and each has its purpose. One is lightweight and small – perfect for long hikes. Another is bigger, heavier, and sturdy. And another weights about 50 pounds and is used for astrophotography (I don’t haul it around much!).These tripods are some of many helpful tools that produce high quality photography.
Happy travels, Texas. Images from Texas
I was asked recently to write a bio of myself for a client who wanted to display that information next to the prints they purchased for an office. I’m more or less an introvert, and talking about topics such as “me” bring on some unease. But I thought I’d try here on a blog – about this Images from Texas photographer (me).
I imagine if you are reading this, you appreciate the work I do and how I see the world – and at the least, we share an common interest in outdoor adventures! So let’s get started – and I’ll try to make this brief.
While I grew up and went to college in Texas, a long time ago I was an avid fly-fisher, even taking folks on guided trips in Colorado. One Christmas just after college graduation, my parents gave me a musical keyboard. Not having any musical talent whatsoever, I returned it and bought my first camera, a 2mp digital wonder (did I mention this was a long time ago?). And thus, I fell in love with photography. My fly-fishing adventures evolved into fishing a little, then spending most of my time taking photos of the mountains, streams, forests, and whatever else was at the end of long hikes in the Rocky Mountains. I can still remember telling my young bride so many years ago, “I think we can make some money with this photography thing.”
Now, many years later, this is my job – traveling, scouting, shooting, and providing clients with the best images available in Texas and Colorado. I’ve had some great experiences along the way – meet some nice folks, received a few honors, had five books published by various companies, and look forward to more memorable times. And I juggle all my trips with keeping two pre-teen girls and a wife happy. Sometimes, my family even gets to tag along with me. This summer, we spent two weeks in Iceland so I could shoot there, then flew from Reykjavik, Iceland’s capitol, to Denver so I could photograph the wildflowers in the mountains. We were gone for about 8 weeks – all in much colder climates – and that makes it tough sometimes to adjust to the heat and humidity of a Texas August. Am I complaining? Heck no.
We don’t watch the news much, but when I do, and in my travels, I see a lot of anger and division in our world – especially here in my home state of Texas (I’m a 4th generation Texas raising 5th generation Texas girls). I don’t remember this conflict being an issue 10 years ago, but it seems to have rooted itself into society now. However, this is not a political post. I’d just like people to be kind to each other. And I cannot fathom why some folks can’t do that. I worry about the future for my daughters.
So I work with my photography. I try to find the beauty in our land and the other locations I’m fortunate enough to visit and shoot. The escape into nature keeps me sane and balanced. My favorite time outdoors is the peaceful moments I find at sunrise.
From a precariouis ledge to the west of the iconic Capitol Peak, this panorama shows off the colors of sunrise in Palo Duro Canyon. Even a small boquet of broom weed, the golden flowers in the foreground, add a splash of yellow to the orange and red landscape. The scramble up the scree-filled slope to this location was not fun nor easy – and I probably won’t do it again. But the view was incredible.
Most folks are still asleep and no one has worked up their anger for the day. Ya, I’d rather sleep some, but if I’m able to pull myself out of bed well before first light, I’m usually happier for it!
Some of my favorite sunrise locations include Pedernales Falls (close to my house), Palo Duro Canyon (a long way, but amazing), Big Bend (see Palo Duro) and down on the South Padre beaches. I’ll usually scout locations the day before. That initial survey saves a lot of frustration when I’m trying to find a specific spot in the dark the next morning.
I’m often asked about what equipment and camera I use. I shoot with a Canon 5DSr, but I don’t think the camera matters as much as the perspective and skill held by the photographer. Sure, higher end cameras allow me to produce larger prints for clients. But a lot more goes into it. I have five tripods, none of which I’m completely happy with. But together, they provide adequate stability. My favorite lenses are the 11-24L and my 16-35L. That may change when I eventually make the inevitable change to a mirrorless camera. I’m just waiting for a high megapixel mirrorless Canon to arrive. We’ll see.
And I think that’s about it for now. I need to work on more RAW images, change the laundry and go move dirt on the back 40!
Safe travels, Texas, and be kind out there.
~ Rob Images from Texas
Howdy from 30,000 feet in the blue sky on a Southwest Airlines flight from Orlando to Austin.
I know this is supposed to be a photography blog, and Texas wildflowers are (hopefully) coming soon, but I’m going to deviate from that formula for this installment. Instead of writing about recent photographic adventures or tips, I’m going to share my review of my family’s holiday at Disney World. If you don’t want to read further, I understand. My next blog will be, most likely, a bluebonnet and wildflower update for the hill county.
I’ll start with an overall assessment. After that, if you’re bored or curious, I’ll recount the details of the adventure… Keep in mind I’m writing with the perspective of having 2 girls, ages 11 and 9.
A few general thoughts…
* Four years ago when we first visited Disney World in Orlando, I did not have high expectations, but I really did enjoy my time there. Yes, then and now, the crowds begin to wear on me, and we’ve never been when it is really crowded (only in February all three times). Part of the appeal is how much fun my girls have. That, and I’m basically responsibility-free for the time we’re there. No car, no worry about food, the entertainment is provided, and a lot of unique experiences can be had by all.
* If you don’t have a good time at Disney (apart from the crowds), that’s on you. There is something for everyone. And some planning goes a long way. It seems each time we go, we uncover layers of the park we hadn’t discovered in a previous trip.
* Customer service is better than anywhere I’ve experienced. The employees of Disney go out of their way to help with any need. The parks are clean, too. Maybe we should have the Disney Corp. take over the government. I imagine things would run smoother, be much more efficient, and not so wasteful or dishonest.
* Disney is extremely efficient at moving people. With the mass of folks that visit, even during the slow time of February, the entrances, security, lines, etc., all move along pretty smoothly.
* There are still jerks that visit the park, too. Folks try to cut in line and not wait their turn. I can’t worry about them.
* The Mouse is really good at taking your money. He’ll have his hand in your pockets wherever you go. The whole system makes it easy to spend money without too much thought.
* My family had a great time. Yes, it is expensive, but you really do get what you pay for. We visited Sea World in San Antonio a few years ago and spent nearly a thousand dollars for one day (passes, food, hotel, and a meet-the-dolphins behind the scenes tour that really wasn’t as advertised.) Sea World and Disney can’t even be compared when talking about customer service, cleanliness, ease of getting around, friendliness, efficiency, and the overall experience. We’d never return to Sea World, but we’ll probably go back to Disney again when our girls are older.
This holiday found my two girls, ages 11 and 9, and my wife flying from Austin to Orlando on SWA, landing in MCO, and taking the Disney bus from the airport to our on-site hotel, the Coronado Springs Resort. This is, admittedly, our third trip to the Magic Mouse’s headquarters, and he’s better than ever at finding ways to take your money. For this stay, we splurged a little and had a room with “Club Access.” I didn’t really know what to expect, but when we arrived about 11:00pm at the hotel’s front desk and the attendant noticed we were “club level,” she immediately said she’d get the manager who would give us a tour of the 15th floor amenities. However, it was late and we were exhausted, so we made our way to our 14th floor room, found our television had a nice, personalized greeting for our family, and noticed our window looked across at Hollywood Studios and Galaxy’s Edge – “Star Wars Land” (our destination for the next morning).
I should note here we had purchased a meal plan with two quick-service meals and two snacks per person per day. This plan also came with a “complementary” Disney refillable mug (those mugs are $20 each). Did I mention the Mouse knows how to take your money? We did obtain our mugs that first night and filled them up with lemonade and made our way to the room. That would be the last time we’d use these mugs during the trip. Club Level, we soon found out, had its privileges.
Our alarm that first morning went off at 6am. Everyone rolled out of bed, excited for the day’s prospects. The concierge had told us to meet the bus at 7:00am in order to be at Hollywood Studios (one of the Disney Theme Parks) and, most importantly, inside the park, by 8:00am. At precisely 8:00am, we’d learned, the boarding passes are doled out via online registration for the current most popular ride – Rise of the Resistance (the newest 18 minute “experience” in Star Wars land).
At 6:55am, my clan waited at the bus stop. Looking around, we sized up the few other early risers and the competition to snag a coveted boarding pass. But with only 4 other folks waiting, the plan was falling into place. Twenty-minutes passed. Busses came and went, transporting folks to Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and the Magic Kingdom. But not for Hollywood. Finally, around 7:30am, a bus pulled up – no sign nor notification – but the driver announced “Hollywood.” By this time, the crowd had grown considerably. I was getting a little nervous because we still had to go through security, wait in the line to enter, and then, after our party of four was accounted for inside the park, we could press the buttons on our phone fanatically along with everyone else hoping to snag a coveted boarding pass for Rise of the Resistance.
And that’s when everything halted. A poor soul in a wheel chair needed to enter the bus, as well, so we waiting at least 5 more excruciating minutes for the bus ramp to lower, allow the mobile-challenged person to enter, then raise the ramp. By the time everyone loaded the bus after this, it was standing room only. We were dumped off at the park about 7:49am, ran to the security line like a heard of lemmings heading towards a cliff, waited for admissions, and at last entered the park at 7:59. Amazing. As soon as my youngest had magic-banded her way inside, both my wife and I started pushing the boarding pass button. Shockingly, I accessed the system within 30 seconds and we secured Boarding Pass 29. Whew. Stand down! We’d accomplished task #1 for the day.
The other ride in Galaxy’s Edge is called Smuggler’s Run, a recreation of the Millennium Falcon where each rider is assigned a task. We waited in line for slightly under an hour (the longest we’d wait during our time at Disney). I won’t go into details here because if you haven’t ridden this ride but plan to, I don’t want to take away from the experience. I will say all four of us were disappointed. I have friends that really loved it, but we came way not wanting to return to this particular attraction.
We had some time to do other things before our Boarding Pass for RotR was called, and we had Fastpassed Star Tours, another Star Wars 3D experience. So off we went to enjoy this simulation of Star Wars action. But not before a visit to Starbucks. One thing I learned before our trip is that out meal plan included two snacks per person per night, so that meant we each had eight snacks to use. And those snacks could be used at Starbucks – for pastries or drinks -even the largest sizes! My girls were in heaven. I’m usually a naysayer about spending so much money for a drink, and they are told no for Starbucks more times than I can count. However, here, these indulgences were already paid for, so drink up!
Ok… back to the ride… We’d last ridden Star Tours two years ago, and at the time this ride had six different experiences. This year’s ride had been updated to show the latest movies, in particular The Rise of Skywalker. The five-minute simulation did not disappoint, but we were to find out after two more rides on the same attraction that there was only one experience (not six like last time). Still, it was good.
After this, we had time to grab lunch with the use of our meal plan We settled for burgers at The Backlot in Hollywood Studios. The burgers were ok, but by the end of our trip, and taking into account past trips, the food at Disney just isn’t outstanding. Serviceable, yes, but not great. However, some of the pricier sit-down restaurants offer some good selections. One of the nice things about this burger place was that you could refill your drinks. That’s always a plus.
And soon after we finished, my phone vibrated that our boarding pass for Rise of the Resistance was up and we hurried to the long-awaited adventure. Again, I’ll not share details, but this was an experience that lasted 18 minutes. Some parts we stood, some we rode. We oo’d and awed and had a great time.
We explored Galaxy’s Edge a little more, then zipped around on the kid-friendly “Alien Saucers” then made our way back to the hotel. After dropping our backpacks in the room, we decided to check out our Club Access. We’d heard there were snacks. So we rode up to the 15th floor, magic-banded our way through the golden doors, and found ourselves living the good life at the Chronos Club. All sorts of goodies awaited, from prosciutto and cheese to artichoke quesadillas and fruit to several kinds of fresh, hot cookies. Alongside these offerings were an endless supply of drinks – juice, carbonated drinks, coffee, tea, and a lot of alcohol. And my daughters were pleased with the goldfish, pretzels, and more kid-centered snacks (even crustless PBJs.)
We had planned on going out again, but swimming at the pool and enjoying the waterslide took longer than expected. So what to do? We went back to our hood in the Club and ate a little more. We then discovered, thanks to two of the amazingly nice hospitality folks, Mary Kay and Daniel, that the Club could hook us up with extra Fastpasses – and we did not need reservations for the rides… just show up and go! We also learned that desserts were served nightly, along with beer and wine, at 8:00pm. This coincided with the 8:00pm fireworks show at Hollywood Studios which could be seen outside the Club’s vast bay windows. Yes, we could get used to this!
After falling asleep back in our room – exhausted and with bellies full – we awoke the next morning and enjoyed some of our favorites at Epcot Center – Frozen and Soarin. But I need to tell a story that will stay with us for a while. My little family of four was sitting on the bus riding to Epcot that morning. Across the aisle and slight to my left sat a family of three – a mother with a child on her lap and the father to her left (my right). The mom was directly across from the bus doors (the bus had two entrances and exits – one in the front and one in the middle). Anyway, the baby girl on the mom’s lap was playing with the mom’s phone. Suddenly, the toddler chunked the phone towards the bus exit. It landed against the door. Immediately, the mom yelled in a very harsh tone, “Get it, Kyle!” Everyone around us gasped and waited to see what the husband (obviously Kyle) would do. He’d been given a direct and forceful order. And it was clear he did not appreciate being called out so loudly in public. He hesitated. We all waited to see his next move. He never made eye-contact with his wife, but did mumble something about the phone not going anywhere. Reluctantly, slowly, he rose, stooped down, grabbed the phone and handed it back to the wife all the while avoiding eye contact. The impatient wife snatched it from his hands with nary a thank you. Carl, I imagine, was embarrassed. So, from this point on in our trip, whenever one of my clan needed something, we’d say “Get it, Kyle!” and laughed. Poor Kyle. Hey Buddy, if you’re reading this, we feel for you. I hope your trip was ok.
Now, back to Epcot… One ride we hadn’t been on – Spaceship Earth – was somewhat entertaining, if only to sit down and rest our feet a bit, and made for some good filler until lunch. For food that day, we dined in Morocco (in Epcot) on lamb and chicken. Good, but not great.
Back at the hotel, we met our new friend and hospitality worker again at the Club, Daniel, who was nice as could be. He asked us about our morning, and then hooked us up with more Fastpasses – this time for the Magic Kingdom. I’d already made Fastpasses for the afternoon at MK – securing short waits for Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and The Seven Dwarfs Runaway Mine Train. With the extra passes, we walked into the Haunted Mansion (not great), flew with Peter Pan (my girls liked it – especially after the Haunted Mansion), and rode the Runaway Mine Train twice back to back.
We were feeling pretty special being able to walk up to any line and go right into the Fastpass lane – even without reservations.
We finished that night getting fat and happy at the dessert bar while watching fireworks again. Life was good.
Our last morning was spent riding the familiar Na’vi River Journey, Kili Safaris, and Dinosaur, all crowd favorites. During our float along the Na’vi River, my 24-hour check-in window for the next morning’s flight came up, and I ended up having to do the online check-in during the middle of our ride. Not ideal, but we got “A” boarding passes, so all was not lost. Later, while riding on the Safari through the Savannah, we had a Masai Giraffe walking along the road in front of the truck and stop. So we waited for at least 10 minutes while the tour trucks behind us stacked up. Finally, it took a park staff truck to come by and offer the giraffe some treats before he/she decided to move. Our last ride at Animal Kingdom was our favorite – Flight of the Avatar – a 3D simulation ride on the back of a banshee This experience was our favorite during the last trip and this one as well. When we entered the Fastpass line, the wait for the commoners was 3 hours 45 minutes. Just wow. We were riding the banshee within 10 minutes. We were fortunate.
One funny thing happened that day as we were walking through Africa in the Animal Kingdom. There was a cultural street dance going on. One of the entertainers was an African man on stilts. He was reaching out to the crowd for volunteers to come dance. He saw my wife, who is extremely shy, and motioned to her. She back-peddled faster than Michael Jackson doing his moonwalk. The African man on stilts did not acquiesce easily, and my wife ended up trying to blend into the crowd. He made some sad faces at her, but not before we all had a good laugh, yes, at her expense.
Lunch at the Animal Kingdom was spent at the Yak and Yeti. My teriyaki beef bowl was good, and I’d get it again.
Departing the Animal Kingdom, we rode the bus over to Hollywood again for one last activity: the Droid Depot. My girls had been looking forward to this activity for a month. The inconspicuous door in Galaxy’s Edge leads to a hub of noise, machinery, parts, and lots of people building droids. As usual, the workers are outfitted as real Star Wars folks. My girls picked their droids, grabbed the necessities for the droid construction from the revolving carousel of parts, and commenced building a BB8 and an R2D2. Of course, you still need to purchase a “personality chip” ($13) so your droid will make noises, and the R2D2 unit needed colorful stickers (another $7). Even in a galaxy far, far away, the Mouse still knows how to take your money. But my girls had a great experience, and we walked out after spending just short of $250. Ouch. Thank goodness the grandparents had frontloaded my girls with some extra spending money.
Back to the hotel for one last dessert hour and fireworks, then it was time to pack our bags for our flight out the next morning.
Finally, here are a few of our personal ratings of the rides we’ve done:
Best – Flight of the Avatar – and it isn’t really close
Upper Tier – Rise of the Resistance, Runaway Mine Train, Space Mountain
Middle Upper Tier – Star Tours, Thunder Mountain Railroad
Fun for little ones – Alien Saucers, Barnstormer
Probably overrated – Smugglers Run
Wouldn’t do again – Haunted Mansion, Mission Mars, Living with the Land, Journey into the Imagination with Figment, Frozen Sing-along (we love Frozen, but did not like this sarcastic show).
Next up, Texas bluebonnet and wildflowers season is just around the corner – only a month or so away. I’m not sure how great the bluebonnets will be. Our lack of rain in the fall may diminish the returns for bluebonnets. But we’ve had more rain this January and February, so maybe the wildflowers such as Indian blankets, coreopsis, and other varieties will put on a show.
Sometimes everything works out – the bluebonnets were beautiful, the winds calm, and the sky eased into night with pastel shades of pink and orange and blue. This evening along a quiet backroad in the Texas Hill Country was just about perfect. Somewhere around four miles off a paved road, several miles of bluebonnets and white prickly poppies covered the fields and stretched to the rolling hills in the distance. For three hours, a friend and I explored the incredibly colorful views this dirt road offered, and we did not see another car nor person for the duration of the trip. In the distance, the sounds of cattle mooing could be heard, as well as the call of wild turkeys as they roamed the area.
It was a long drive back to my home and family in the hill country, but the nearly 2-hour commute each way was worth it for the beauty we found on this night.
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!
Looking out the window on this early Sunday morning, I’m seeing fog and drizzle. The weather forecast says to expect the same on and off for the next week. I hope this wet weather bodes well for bluebonnet season. Right now, the spring crop of bluebonnets has the potential to be only average or below. Maybe this rain will boost our chances just a bit for a more colorful spring. I do have a fair amount of bluebonnet rosettes on our land, but from what I’ve heard from other friends who seek out Texas’ favorite wildflower, some of our go-to places are sparse. But you never know with wildflowers… so here’s hoping! In the meantime, I’ve spent some time revisiting old RAW files from 2010, redoing some and even discovering some images I had never finished. I can say 2010 was a really good year for bluebonnets:
In a few weeks, I’m heading to Big Bend again… hoping for some bluebonnets out there. I talked to a contact yesterday who works in the park and he said, unfortunately, bluebonnets are not very thick yet, but there could be a few more blooms in the next few weeks. In the Big Bend, bluebonnets tend to bloom from mid-February to mid-March, depending on the weather. Stay tuned on that.
I haven’t taken a landscape photograph, besides shooting the blood moon a few weeks ago, since Thanksgiving. That’s probably the longest I’ve gone in 20 years without doing any photography. I feel it, too. I can tell you (as can my wife and kids) that I’m always happier when I get outside to shoot and explore. And that is why Big Bend is calling my name! In this downtime, I have taken a turn at photographing a few birds on our property. We have bird feeders set up and some beautiful feathered friends, as well as a squirrel and rabbit, visit the feeding area. So I stalked the birds one day and rather enjoyed the quiet time outside. Here is one image of a female Cardinal I came away with, though I don’t see myself becoming a birder anytime soon:
In February, I had one of my daffodil images used in Texas Highways. I had shot in east Texas near Gladwater on assignment for them last February. It’s always nice to see my work in print.
Last week, in the middle of a gloomy February, I took my wife and two young girls to Disney World in Orlando for 4 days of sun and entertainment. First, I can assure you that the Mouse knows how to take your money. But he knows how to insulate you from the big bad world and show you a good time, as well. One of our new favorite places at the park is Pandora (from the movie Avatar) in the Animal Kingdom. If you are a fan of this sci-fi movie, you’ll love this area. The Avatar – Flight of Passage simulates riding on the back of a banshee and is incredible. Fortunately, we fast-passed this ride and skipped the 3-hour wait. The Na’vi River Journey was beautiful, as well, and full of stunning visual effects. My girls also loved Space Mountain as well as the Frozen rides.
We did have several meals worthy of note, too. First, we enjoyed a buffet in the Animal Kingdom at Boma – a Taste of Africa. In several different areas, there was just about everything you could want for a brunch. I wasn’t hungry for the rest of the day! We also loved another buffet for dinner – this time at our hotel’s restaurant – Cape May. I had three plates of crab legs and shrimp, great clam chowder, tasty desserts, and a good Mai Tai, as well. My girls said the pizza was the best they’d ever had (but they are not great judges on food just yet!) We were sad to see our time end at the Magic Kingdom, but hopefully we can return in a few years when the Star Wars land opens. For now, I have had enough of crowded places to last a while.
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.