Hill Country Morning at Pedernales Falls

I don’t know if anyone reads these blog entries, but I write them for Google search engine optimization (SEO) and as a way to share a little about my experiences. This past month, I haven’t had much time to shoot for myself, but a few days ago, I finally had a chance to visit one of my favorite places in the Texas Hill CountryPedernales Falls State Park.

I live fairly close to this state park, and I feel I know parts of the river basin like my own back yard. I’ve photographed this stretch of limestone canyon too many times, but I still return here because it always seems to look a bit different based on water flow and lighting. And in this blog entry, I’d like to take you through my morning in a chronological order, sharing both actions and thoughts. Should you choose to read this, I apologize ahead of time for the flip-flopping back and forth between present and past tense. So here goes:

4:45am – I never used an alarm clock. I look over at the digital readout and contemplate whether I’m getting out of bed now or in three hours.

4:50am – I roll out from underneath warm covers, walk to the large windows in the bedroom, and look out at the clouds. If it is clear, I’m staying home. If it is cloudy, I’m back in the sack, too. I look up. The sky is a patchwork of white clouds. It has the potential to be a nice sunrise. So I crawl back in bed, knowing my eventual fate.

5:01am – Back out of bed – clothes on – and into the kitchen

5:17am – Out the door – Moonshine Mango Tea and a peanut butter cream protein bar in hand, along with a tripod, lens, several flashlights and an L bracket (for vertical oriented shots) in my backpack.

In the dark of the car, I turn on the radio and put on Coast to Coast AM (590AM), but the guest is Nancy Sinatra, and I don’t care. I’d rather hear some good conspiracy talk about bigfoot or UFOs. So I turn on a Nancy Griffith CD to keep me company.

5:51am – Arrive at the park headquarters for Pedernales Falls State Park. I stop and fill out the form using my parks pass. I can barely read the small print on my parks’ pass. I hold the card at arm’s length and this helps bring the small numbers barely into focus. They should give me a permanent pass since I’m here so much, but rarely when anyone is actually manning the shop. My visiting hours are before sunrise or at sunset. I know they need the form, along with my parks’ pass number, filled out because this helps keep track of visitors as well as helps with funding.

5:58am – Arrive the parking lot. Surprise! I’m the only car in the parking lot. Just the usual, I think. Out of the car, and the coolness of the air hits me. This is glorious – I’ll need long sleeves! First time this season. I put on my headlamp, my military grade flashlight in my pocket, turn on the GPS, and with my backpack strapped on, head down the path to the overlook. From the overlook, if it was daylight, I’d have a commanding view of the landscape and the falls as the river flows west to east. As it is, the moonlight illuminates the valley below in a soft light – enough light where I could probably make it down to the river without a flashlight.

6:10am – I start the trek upstream – going over boulders and across small sand bars. The river is low, so I’m not anywhere near the water. I know this place well, I think to myself. Up and down a few larger gulleys, with sand slipping into my shoes, and I’m close to one of my favorite spots.

6:22am – I realize I’ve gone too far upstream. Everything always looks a bit different in the dark. I double back and head towards the water. As I approach the river, I can hear the rush of small cascades. I also realize the river is lower than usual, so I won’t have to wade across the stream to reach the rock from which I want to shoot.

6:30am – There is a dim glow on the eastern horizon. I want to shoot with a moonlit landscape, so I know I’d better hurry. Jump across a few small washes, walk along a sandbar, then some Class 3 rock climbing/scrambling takes place as I go up and over a limestone wall. I’m pretty good at this, I think, and drop onto a large layered rock where I can look both west and east and see the river in both directions.

6:36am -The sky in the east is a beautiful dark orange shade and its beginning to glow, but I’m shooting west at one of my favorite bends in the river. Using the L-Bracket, I quickly take a few long exposure test shots using an 11-24mm L lens. I get the lighting right, then proceed to take 6 vertical images that I’ll stitch into a large and wide panorama to show the beautiful curve in the river. I shoot this scene several more times, each with a different focal length, to ensure I don’t have any regrets in post processing.

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Pedernales Morning Moonset Panorama 1 : Prints Available

Shooting west at sunrise in Pedernales Falls State Park, the sun turns the clouds a beautiful pastel shades of orange and blue against a brightening morning sky. This September panorama shows one of my favorite places to photograph the Texas Hill Country. In the sky, the nearly full moon can be seen setting as the sun begins to rise on the opposite horizon.

Comprised of 9 images, this photograph can be printed large – at least 9 feet wide – and will show plenty of detail. For larger and custom sizes, please do not hesitate to contact me.

6:59am -Then I turn and shoot to the east to capture the perfectly calm water and high clouds that are beginning to show orange and blue color. I’m always amazed at the beauty of this place – and the sky – and how fleeting these colors are.

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September Sunrise at Pedernales Falls Panorama 174 : Prints Available

One of those perfect moments between night and the break of day, this panorama comes from the rocky limestone banks of the Pedernales River in the Texas Hill Country. The water was calm, and I could see Guadalupe Bass gliding in and out of the rock below. In the distance, coyotes were howling. All in all, it was a pretty nice morning.

7:03am – I return to shooting towards the west. The clouds this direction are pink and blue and have a nice reflection in the water. I can also see large fish swimming about ten feet beneath me (I’m on a rock overhang with my tripod feet at the very edge of the ledge.)

7:13am – I finish here and know that this is the official moment of sunrise. But I also know I have time to shoot the actual sunrise because it’ll be at least 20 more minutes before the sun rises over the cliffs. So with more scrambling, I’m up, over, and back down large rocks to a different location and shoot again towards the west.

7:21am – While I’m setting up, I can hear the howls of coyotes in the distance. First, one lone coyote cries out, but is soon joined by the yips of several more. It is a distinct call in the country that I’m very familiar with. The sounds remind me of growing up in the country, as well as time spent more recently at my parents’ ranch on cool autumn nights.

7:42am – I find myself on the top of a very large boulder – probably about 10-12 feet off the ground and I scramble up the side of this large limestone rock. On top, the surface runs off at an angle, so I adjust the legs of my tripod to steady the camera. I’m set up, focusing on rocks, an oak tree, and the river behind it. In the distance, the sun will soon rise over the cliff. I want to capture the moment the first light descends into the valley. I know with the lens I have, that first light will create a beautiful starburst for the final image. So I wait – and I wait and wait. Sunrise always seems to take longer when you are waiting for it. Finally, the moment arrives. Got the shot. Time to climb down and follow the light. So I’m back in shadows – a little closer to the cliff – and wait for the sun to again reach over the cliff and light the area I’m at.

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September Sunrise at Pedernales Falls 173 : Prints Available

As one of my last images taken on this perfect Texas Hill Country morning in September, this photo shows the sun peeking over the cliff as high clouds begin to fade overhead, giving way to a deep blue sky. Beneath my perch, the cool, clean waters of the Pedernales River wind their way through the limestone canyons in this sanctuary not far from my home.

8:19am – After three moves and capturing three different perspectives of sunrise, my time here is finished. Walking back – across sandy areas, over rock formations, and finally up to the parking lot. I see a mother and baby wild pig. I wonder what a baby wild pig is called. A wild piglet? Just don’t want to get between mother and piglet. What’s great is I didn’t see any people at all until my walk back to the car – and I appreciate the solitude.

8:42am – Back at the car. I think about how cool it was then I reminisce about my summer shooting for my Colorado Gallery. But now is home time. Time to play with my little girls.

It was a nice morning – rejuvenating for the soul and for my mental health. I always feel closer to God out here, too – certainly closer than inside the 4 walls of a church while a preacher talks at me. And I know I’ve been blessed with this 4 hour escape. It was a peaceful time, beautiful sunrise, and a moment I’ll take with me.

Vaya con dios, friends,

~ Rob
Texas Images
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Bluebonnet Hunting and More…

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

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

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Wildflower Highway Sunrise 3 : Prints Available

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

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

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Bluebonnets in Marble Falls Panorama 1 : Prints Available

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

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

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

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Bluebonnets under Starry Skies 1 : Prints Available

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

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

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

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A Dance Among the Bluebonnets 1 : Prints Available

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

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

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Bluebonnets under the Milky Way 2 : Prints Available

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

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

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Longhorns on a Lazy Afternoon 1 : Prints Available

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

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

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

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