Sometimes I have these grand visions for how things should work – whether it is my own kids’ birthday parties, a Disney family vacation, or a nighttime landscape with the comet NEOWISE hanging over the canyons of Palo Duro.
On one occasion, a colorful birthday cake for my then 7-year-old daughter ended up face down on the floor of a local pizza joint. When we flipped it over, the mix of colors would have made Monet blush. Five little girls looked on in horror while the one I loved cried. But it was a birthday party they won’t forget! On another occasion, our family was at Disney World when my five-year-old had a meltdown on a boat and actually laid down in the middle of the aisle. Folks coming on board had to step over her. My wife just put her head down to hide. It was later on that we realized my youngest daughter had a phobia about being on the water and on a boat. But we cemented those issues!
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I spent most of the summer photographing the Rocky Mountains and even a few days on the more arid western slope near Grand Junction. The time in the mountains allows me to escape the summer heat of Texas and the raging Covid pandemic in the south while enjoying the beauty of cooler mountain climates at elevations above 9,000 feet.
And this leads me back to my vision for the comet. I’d planned on leaving Colorado for my trek back to Texas and stop over at one of my favorite places, Palo Duro Canyon. I wanted to see the Comet NEOWISE in the dark skies of the panhandle and photograph this rare event from somewhere in the red rocks of this state park. I’d already photographed NEOWISE from Berthoud Pass, Colorado, in the early morning hours, and now wanted to see it from my home state.
That was as far as my vision would take me. Shortly before I departed on the 16 hour drive back home to the Texas Hill Country, I found out Palo Duro Canyon was not allowing visitors in the park after 10pm. It was July 22, and NEOWISE was only visible in the evening and best seen around 10pm. Ironically, about the same time as my planned departure from Colorado, I had a client contact me wanting an image of NEOWISE over the canyon. Bummer.
So I got creative.
First, on the evening of July 23, I stopped in west Texas and shot the night sky using my star tracker. This instrument allows the camera to track the stars and photograph the night sky using a long exposure. Using this device results in stunning, sharp pinpoints of light for the stars and little noise in longer exposures. The comet was clearly visible, hanging just beneath the Big Dipper. Setting in the western sky, the crescent moon added a surprise element in this photograph taken on July 23.
But I couldn’t get into Palo Duro Canyon State Park. So I did the next best thing. I’ve visited this area many times in the past, and I had a RAW file image that showed the canyon facing northwest, that was exactly what I was planning on shooting. With full disclosure to the client, I used this as the base image and the star-tracked night sky to show the comet. An hour of Photoshop magic later, this was my creation straight from the canvas of God…
From the night of July 23, 2020, this is a composite image of the Comet NEOWISE over the beautiful red rocks of Palo Duro Canyon. The foreground was taken from the summit of Capitol Peak after the sun had faded. The comet fanned out beneath the Big Dipper. Just a little after sunset, and the crescent moon fell behind the western horizon.
I know some photographers are purists, and I am most of the time, as well. But I have no issues with dabbling in the creative universe when a client asks. After all, I have two young mouths to feed and a wife to keep happy. I don’t want to be a starving artist. So far so good.
My grand vision of this particular scene didn’t play out exactly how I’d intended, but the end result was pretty similar to what I had in mind. No one cried nor threw a fit, and no birthday cakes were overturned. While a few obstacles presented themselves, I’m still pretty happy with the final image in all of its creative glory. The purists may throw stones, but I’m not hungry here
Stay safe, Friends.
~ Rob Images from Texas
Bluebonnet season is just a month away. The rosettes on our land are not as plentiful as in other years, but we’ll still have a decent showing of blue by late March. While reading up on this year’s wildflower predictions, I’ve found that rainfall was hit and miss in the fall, which means some locations have potential while others will be barren. So on this cold, rainy February morning, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on some of my favorite bluebonnet images from the last ten or so years. These are not necessarily my bestsellers, but the photographs below are special to me for one reason or another.
Just Over the Mountain
Between Round Mountain and Johnson City, some of the smaller roads north of these towns can produce some nice blooms every few years. On an April evening in 2016 as I drove up and down Althaus-Davis Road, I found some nice blooms along old fence lines, but nothing that really jumped out. I was hoping that, like life, when you see things from a different perspective, the situation will appear more positive, so I turned around several times, scanning the roadsides and the rolling hills. Unfortunately, the change in perspective didn’t result in a glory field of blue.
I had passed a rancher feeding his cattle just off the dirt road a few times, and finally just slowed down to say hi. He asked what I was doing and I explained I was l searching for bluebonnets. He introduced himself and said he was the ranch manager for this land. Continuing, he told me that just over the hill (heading overland and away from the road), the bluebonnets were full, and that I was welcome to explore. Just watch out for rattlesnakes! We chatted a bit more, but as the sun was close to setting, I didn’t linger long. I thanked him profusely, grabbed my tripod and backpack, and set out for the hills. After about a 10-minute walk through scrub and cacti, I topped the first hill and found a palette of bluebonnets rolling down the hill. The sky was showing pastel shades of orange and blue, and I scrambled to find the optimal composition to remember this beautiful scene.
Bluebonnets adorn the gentle slopes of the Texas Hill Country in this sunset image taken in early April. Thanks for a local rancher and land manager, I was allowed to visit a few areas of private land that were covered in these favorite wildflowers. The sunset helped the landscape come alive, as well.
At one point, I squatted down and inadvertently sat on a prickly pear cactus. I can’t write here was I said, but I can tell you the drive home was painful, and I often tried to prop up my buttocks so as not to put any weight on it when driving. To finish off the evening when I returned home, I had my wife perform the unenviable task of plucking out tiny needles and thorns from my backside. She didn’t get them all, and the twitches of pain from being poked lasted for a week. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Big Bend Bluebonnets: A Once-in-a-lifetime-bloom
In late February and early March, 2019, the slopes of the Chisos Mountains along East and West River Roads came alive with seas of bluebonnets. I have a few friends that spend much of the year in Terlingua, and, just as the park rangers said, they’d never seen a bloom like this. I was fortunate enough to spend a week in the Big Bend on two separate occasions last spring, and it is challenging to pick just one favorite from those trips. The rugged landscape of rock and cacti and yucca stood in such sharp contrast to the unique species of the taller, tougher Big Bend Bluebonnet, and petals of blue had filled in all the empty spaces. And so I’m going to offer two images here. One shows bluebonnets at sunrise looking east towards Cerro Castellan, one of the iconic features of the western slope. The other shows a sunrise, bluebonnets, an ocotillo, and Cerro Castellan as the moon slides in the western horizon.
I knew the sky was going to light up when the. high clouds became visible well before sunrise. I also knew the bluebonnets were full and healthy after scouting locations the previous day. The winds were calm and the landscape of Big Bend National Park came alive with color about 15 minutes before sunrise. Bluebonnets – the best bloom in memory – filled the slopes and washes with color and the beauty of this remote area came alive on a very cold February morning. in the distance, the iconic Cerro Castellan rises over 3000’ into the orange sky.
With the sun rising in the east, the three-quarters moon began to fade in the west. Under a tranquil west Texxas sky, bluebonnets of Big Bend awaited the warming light on this mesa on the western slope of the Chisos Mountains. In the distance, the well known Cerro Castellan rises over 3,000 feet above the Chihuahuan Desert, making for a grand landmark in this beautiful and remote area of Texas.
I love my time in the Big Bend, and look forward to returning there again and again.
A Most Amazing Evening
My dad used to accompany me on some of my wildflower hunts. These days, he’s older, can’t hear well at all, and doesn’t get around much anymore. Still, on April 3, 2012, he was with me for one of the most beautiful Texas Hill Country scenes I’ve ever photographed. We’d left my home in Dripping Springs while storms unleashed rain across the area. Driving up 71 towards Llano, the clouds started to break, and eventually we made our way out of the rain, through Llano, and on towards San Saba. I had a friend who’d tipped me off about some nice bluebonnet patches on some off-the-beaten-path dirt roads. After 30 minutes of searching, we came across this field.
Evenings on the edge of the Texas Hill Country don’t get much better than this. I had driven 2 hours in search of bluebonnets and finally arrived on a little country road near San Saba. The setting sun turned the sky into a palette of color, and the only company I had were the cows in a distant field. In my trips to photograph Texas wildflowers, this was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had the pleasure to experience.
The storms had passed, leaving the winds completely and absolutely motionless. The clouds caught the last rays of evening and put on a colorful display of orange and blue, and the strong and unforgettable scent of bluebonnets floated in the still air. For nearly two hours we hung around this one location, never seeing another car, and the only sounds were the distant mooing of cattle. And to show the utter calm of the atmosphere, my last image from this evening – taken well after sunset – was a 20 second exposure of bluebonnets, with the result being a tack-sharp photograph. I’ve never experienced anything like that night. I’m glad my dad was with me. This was a good memory.
The Wooden Fence
Between Llano and Burnett, an old wooden fence stands unnoticed for most of the year. In the Spring of 2010, bluebonnets surrounded this fence and created a sort of mini-landscape perfect for photography. My oldest daughter was nearly two years old, and, along with my wife, had come along with me to search for bluebonnets. We ended up spending most of our time at this little location – my wife and daughter waiting patiently while I worked my craft and photographed the bluebonnet-laden fence from all angles.
One of my favorite places for close-ups of bluebonnets is an old fence row near Llano, Texas. If you passed by it in wildflower season, you might not even notice because it hides a bit behind a hill. One side is private property, so you have to be respectful of that land, too. In a rainy spring, the bluebonnets start along side of the road and spill into the distant field. In this particular season, the area was a sea of blue, perfect for intimate shots of the flowers and fence.
I even took few photographs with my daughter, though we were careful to avoid stepping on any bluebonnets. Unfortunately, thanks to social media and moreso to folks who are careless with where they step (or just don’t care), word spread about this little fence. In the last 5+ years, the bluebonnets do not last long as folks trample them for their own selfies and family photos. The last time I saw this area look really good was 2012. On one particular evening early in the wildflower season, I was able to shoot several nice shots of bluebonnets with the old wooden posts. I returned just two days later to find more than 50% of the bluebonnets mashed to the ground. I’ve tried to return to this location a few times in the last five years, but it has never been the same.
One of the roads I drive quite often has an old windmill off to the side. You’d barely notice it, and I’d never thought about stopping to photograph it. But one afternoon as I drove home from the San Antonio area, I notice a large patch of bluebonnets in front of the structure. I thought about stopping, but then decided against it, as the scene just wasn’t worth it. Back at home, I couldn’t shake the idea that maybe I shouldn’t have dismissed this little scene so easily. Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I rose early one morning and drove back to the windmill, arriving well before sunrise. The clouds were thick and the sky gray. Why did I roll out of bed for this? I decided to wait and, as good fortune would have it, the skies began to break up and the morning light filtered through the gray, creating an amazing and unusual sky for a few brief moments.
When I set off from my house to photograph this windmill with a foreground of bluebonnets, the sky was overcast and fog made visibility quite limited. I arrived with the sky pretty dark but still had 15 minutes until sunrise. I had just about given up hope when I noticed a little break in some low drifting clouds. Five minutes passed, and suddenly the sky begain to light up in oranges and pinks, and I was escatic with my good fortune. I only had time to capture a few images from that morning. This is my favorite.
And this is what a little patience can offer. I can’t count how many times I’ve just about given up on nice colors at sunrise or sunset, only to start packing up to find the sky lighting up. (And I should note I’ve packed up many times but had no regrets, either). But not this time. It was beautiful. And if you drove down this road today, you’d barely recognize this location. I’ve never seen bluebonnets there again.
Thanks for perusing this blog. If you’d like to see more, please feel free to visit my online bluebonnet gallery.
For now, we’ll wait and see what the season holds. I fear the warmer temperatures will stimulate the growth of tall grasses before the bluebonnets appear. But hope springs eternal, and we’ll know shortly how the Wildflower season of 2020 looks.
I’ve been asked several times where my favorite places are to photograph the Texas landscapes. Folks also want to know my secret places. So what follows are my thoughts on those most preferred locales, in no particular order.
Caddo Lake is a sprawling swampland created by the New Madrid earthquake of 1812. This shallow lake is home to the largest cypress forest in the world. Draped in moody Spanish moss, these giant trees brood over the lake like watchmen. A boat is a must-have for this area. The ability to skirt through small channels and cross wide areas of water only three feet deep opens up a plethora of opportunities. Sure, I guess you could try wading, and I’m sure the resident alligators would like that, too!
The Gulf Coast
I love the coast, especially the harbors. Yes, the beaches are nice, but I enjoy photographing the life the fishing boats bring at dawn as the chug in with their nightly catch. I follow the seagulls around and try to include their activity in unison with the shrimp boats arrival. My favorite little harbor is the Rockport-Fulton boat docks. If you can catch a colorful sunrise with no wind, you’ll be in coastal photography nirvana.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
An hour from the nearby town of Van Horn, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is remote and rugged. It’s iconic mountain is El Capitan, though El Cap rests in the shadow of the tallest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak. Rising from the Chihuahuan Desert, El Capitan has served as a landmark for travelers for hundreds of years. If you have the time or motivation, hit the trail and make the easy hike up to the summit of Guadalupe Peak. Other trails await, as well, hold canyon,s, lost maple groves, and even sand dunes.
Big Bend National Park
Even more remote than the Guadalupe Mountains, Big Bend rises from the desert and might be my favorite Texas landscape to capture. This national park offers just about everything – springtime bluebonnets, slot canyons, hidden rock formations, a beautiful river, and a diversity of climates ranging from desert Eco systems to lofty, high altitude forests. Big Bend is also known as the dark sky capitol of the country. If you are willing to stay out late or rise early, the Milky Way is yours to both enjoy and photograph. Another appealing aspect of this park, at least to me, is the lack of tourists. I’ve photographed this heart of this park, the Chisos Mountains, from the desert floor with a tripod in the middle of the road and not seen another person for my entire time there. I’ve also been on a dirt road shooting the landscape with rivers of bluebonnets in the foreground for hours. Over several hours, I never saw another soul.
Texas Hill Country State Parks
I could lump these last two areas into one topic, but the are vastly different. I’m fortunate to live in the Texas Hill Country with easy access to several state parks. each has its own unique personality. Enchanted Rock offers a short climb to its well known granite slab. But most tourists don’t have a chance to explore other parts of the park. Moss Lake, just behind the dome, can yield wonderful reflections at sunrise and sunset. From nearby Turkey Peak you’ll have great views of the distant rolling hills. And in May and June you’ll find the prickly pear cacti’s colorful blooms of red, orange, and gold.
Along with Enchanted Rock, Lost Maples State Park blazes with reds and gold each fall, but also has great hiking trails open all year.
Closest to home is Pedernales Falls State Park. The river, canyons, and cypress allow me to always find something new to explore and photograph. Even with varying rises and drops in the river’s level, new compositions and angles continuously emerge.
Texas Hill Country Wildflowers
There is no shortage of information for springtime in the Texas Hill Country. In years when the rainy weather has been generous, especially in April and May, the roadsides and fields come alive with bluebonnets, firewheels, coreopsis, and dozens of other wildflowers. The best locations vary according to local rainfall amounts, as does the best time of month to witness the wildflower explosion, but a few of my favorite areas are the off-the-beaten paths and county roads near Fredericksburg, Mason, and Llano.
If you’ve read this far, thanks! Feel free to peruse my Texas galleries.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll help if I can.
I’ve spent the last few weeks hunting bluebonnets. While not as prolific a display as 2010, there were still some gems to be found (and still are, hopefully).
One of my favorite roads is FM 152 between Llano and Castell. This winding road often has roadside displays of bluebonnets, phlox, poppies, and other colorful blooms each spring, and this year was no different.
Another of my favorite roads in the Hill Country is 3347 just west of Marble Falls. This road has a few dirt roads that connect to it that can be quite colorful in good years.
A few dirt roads run between Highway 16 and Highway 71. If you time it right, you’ll have these little sanctuaries all to yourself. With bluebonnets, longhorns, windmills, white prickly poppies, and much more to take in, this can be a Texas wildflower nirvana. (I have to add here… please be respectful to the landowners. Many of these roads are free range for cattle, but not for folks like us!)
In any case, these wildflowers are here and I’d better get back on the road in search of more beautiful Texas landscapes! Feel free to check out my latest bluebonnet images or see my updates on my Texas facebook page.
Welcome to a new blog that will compliment my new Images from Texas website! The new site has been in the works since back in November 2014 and is finally up and running.
The timing for the new website is just about perfect. Here in Texas, Winter is fading and springtime wildflowers are just around the corner. The rains, thanks to a mild El Nino weather pattern, have been good to us over the last several months and I have high hopes for one of the more colorful spring seasons in many years. We’re already seeing spring blooms south of San Antonio. On my property in the hill country, bluebonnet plants are abundant – more so than any year previous – and the purple and blue blooms are starting to appear.
In addition to anticipating wildflowers around the hill country, I also just returned from some time at Big Bend National Park where the bluebonnets in that part of the Lone Star State are just past peak. I’ve had the opportunity to visit and trek around this amazing area in the past and, as always, thoroughly enjoyed my stay and look forward to returning again soon.
Closer to home, the Austin skyline is growing like crazy. I’ve you’ve been near downtown at all over the last year, you’ve surely noticed there seem to be more cranes than highrises! All the construction makes it difficult to produce nice cityscape photography, so I’ve focused more on the bridges and architecture this winter. Austin often has warm days and cold nights, and this can lead to fog rolling off the water in the early morning. With this in mind, many mornings were spent photographing these unique conditions while trying to capture some of the buildings of downtown in the background – all the while attempting to avoid the parts of town still under construction.
Thanks for visiting this blog. This spring has a lot of promise, and I’ll keep updates coming here, on my website, and on my facebook page.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at Rob@ImagesfromTexas.com