Palo Duro’s Slot Canyons

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.

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Palo Duro Canyon Panorama November Morning 1 : Prints Available

Morning light shines across the Palo Duro Canyon area, turning the rock a pink-ish orange and the sky pink and blue hues. Far below, our car sat, and we’d made the first part of our climb to explore the hidden Llano Slot Canyons.

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.

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Palo Duro Canyon Rim Sunrise 1 : Prints Available

On a hike to Palo Duro’s secret slot canyons, we paused at the top of the canyon rim to take in the cool November sunrise. The valley of this amazing state park stretched out below us, but we had miles to go before the real payoff – the Central Utah Slot Canyons.

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.

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Morning at Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon 2 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

Sunlight streams over the cliff’s edge and we are on the edge of Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon. From a tiny crack in the ground, we made our way down from this point into the most beautiful section of these pristine slots.

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Morning at Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon 3 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

Pink and blue sandstone shows its colors as sunlight begins to fill the beginning section of the Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

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.

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Llano Slot Canyons – the Upper Slot 3 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

Formed from the rare but repeating rainfalls in the Palo Duro Canyon area, these Llano Estacado slot canyons present a beautiful experience for those fortunate enough to explore them. I was gifted the opportunity by two friends who knew the area well. In this particular slot – known locally as the Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon – the morning sunlight of a cool November day turns the sandstone shades of orange and pink and purple. This area is virtually untouched by humans, and there are no signs of human interference in this pristine portion of the Texas panhandle.

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Llano Slot Canyons – the Upper Slot 2 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

Texas slot canyons are rare and beautiful. While most folks may be familiar with those in Arizona and Utah, they are not aware of these creations in their own Texas backyard. This image shows Central Utah’s Upper Slot Canyon, one of the hidden secrets of Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Formed by infrequent rainfall but rainfall that occurs and causes flooding in the same locations over a long period of time. The sandstone, usually found between 3100 and 3200 feet in elevation, gradually erodes and forms delicate striations and curves. This slot is one of the Llano Slots and resides in the Llano Estacado.
The hike to reach this location covered 9 miles by the time we’d gone out and back, and we were able to explore three different slot canyons. Each slot had its own unique look, and when the morning light of this November day was overhead, the indirect light turned the sandstone walls of the canyon hues of orange and purple.

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.

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Central Utah Lower Slot 3 – Palo Duro : Prints Available

The Central Utah Slot Canyons are located in a remote and seldom seen portion of Palo Duro Canyon. The beautiful rock structures are found in a series of three slot canyons – Upper, Middle, and Lower Slots. This is a view of the Lower Slot Canyon as warm morning sunlight filters in through the sandstone walls. Over the course of an hour, the walls seemed to change from a purple glow to an orange glow as the indirect sunlight progressed through the canyon.

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.

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The Subway – Palo Duro Canyon : Prints Available

This rock formation – unknown to most visitors to Palo Duro Canyon, and even to many of the park rangers – is called ‘the Subway’ by some of the locals who have visited this location many times. Located just above the Central Utah Slot Canyons in a remote region of the park, this beautiful rock structure has been cut by erosion from wind and rain.

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.

Vaya con Dios, my friends,

Rob
Images from Texas
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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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Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains

I’d never been to Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains, but I’d had several requests for images from that area. I know how much I loved exploring Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, so I was curious to see what this little state park and national historic site had to offer. In early June, I loaded up the car and with a wife and two little girls in tow (school was out) headed west on I-10 from my home in the Hill Country, branched south in Fort Stockton, and soon found myself in Alpine.

On trips like this, my wife knows my working hours are at sunrise and sunset. The rest of the time is family time – and since it was so hot, much of that time was spent at the hotel pool.
Fort Davis National Historic Site was interesting, especially if you are a native Texan or history buff. The restored grounds near the town of Fort Davis offer visitors a chance to see how life was like more than 100 years ago. From 1854 to 1891, this remote military outpost protected the interests of both Texans and the United States, primarily from marauding Indians such as the Apache and Comanche. Fort Davis was designated as a national landmark in 1960.

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Fort Davis Barracks 3 : Prints Available

Officers’ quarters at Fort Davis provide an opportunity to learn about life here on this military outpost from the mid to late 1800s. Officers and Enlisted Men served and protected the frontier at this remote station nestled in the Davis Mountains.

Connected to Fort Davis is the Davis Mountains State Park. While not large, this little park offers. The elevation of this area is between 5,000 and 6000 feet, high for Texas standards. The mountains provide nice vistas, and several trails wind through the 2700+ acres. One trail, the Skyline Drive Trail, connects with the old CCC trail and leads to the Fort Davis Historic site.
And with the wife and kids still sleeping, I made my way to several prominent views at sunrise each morning, shooting the wonderful first light of each day. The west Texas skies also provided nice sunsets with clouds full of color.

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Davis Mountains Sunset 2 : Prints Available

I returned to this location in the Davis Mountains several times on my most recent visit. Each time, the sky offered something different. Pinks and purples lit up the sky, turning the Texas landscape into a palette of soft pastels in contrast to the prickly pear, yucca, and thorny bushes that lined my path to this point.

All in all, this was a nice excursion. We found a good pizza joint in Alpine that we visited a few times (Guzzi Up) and we tried the ritzy and famous Reata in Alpine, as well. Unfortunately, despite good reviews and recommendations, the more expensive meal (by a lot) was a big disappointment for all of us. It was certainly not up to the standards of its Fort Worth cousin.
More to come…

Via con dios, Texas.
~ Rob
Images from Texas

Fall in the Guadalupe Mountains

The Guadalupe Mountains are a long way from my home in the central Texas hill country. But in those remote and ancient mountains is a location I’ve wanted to experience and photograph in the fall – McKittrick Canyon – a winding path through rugged peaks that holds a remnant collection of bigtooth maple trees. Each Autumn, this canyon comes alive with fiery color of the changing maple leaves, a stark contrast to the surrounding desert landscape. I also wanted to hike up to Guadalupe Peak, the tallest point in Texas, and shoot both the sunset and the Milky Way from its lofty summit. I’d made this walk-up before, but this time I wanted to capture the landscape in evening light.

Over the course of four days, I was able to photograph some incredible landscapes, and I’m not sure if an image on a website can really do justice to the rugged beauty of this west Texas area. First, the Butterfield Overland Stage Route provides some great vistas of El Capitan. You have to obtain a key from the National Park to access two gates, but the views are worth it. You will need a four-wheel drive, for sure, as the road is treacherous at times.

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El Capitan Sunrise, Guadalupe Mountains 3 : Prints Available

This panorama from Guadalupe Mountains National Park shows the famous west Texas landmark, El Capitan. This limestone peak is Texas’ 8th highest point at 8,064 feet high. It rests in the shadow of Guadalupe Peak, the tallest peak in the Lone Star State. I have to say thank you to the National Park folks at the Pine Springs Visitor Center for allowing me access during “closed” hours along this dirt road in order to photograph this amazing landscape at sunrise.

This panorama is available in large custom sizes. Please contact me for more information.

I photographed from this location on several occasions and was fortunate to have some great light.

One of my points of emphasis this trip was McKittrick Canyon, the bigtooth maple trees, and “The Notch” that gives a great view of both McKittrick Canyon and South McKittrick Canyon. The maples were beginning to turn, and there were sections of brilliant reds and oranges, yet other areas were still quite green. The weather was beautiful, and with calm winds, photographing the scenery along this trail was a pleasure.

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McKittrick Canyon Glory, Guadalupe Mountains 1 : Prints Available

Following the trail through McKittrick Canyon, there are places of dense maple trees. At one point, you are nearly surrounded by the beautiful leaves, and in Autumn the forest can turn orange and red with some of the most beautiful fall colors in Texas. The main hike is around 4 miles each way, but you can continue up to ‘the Notch,” a climb of about 1500 vertical feet over another mile or so at which point you can look down into a canyon on each side of you. The hike up is a grunt, but the views are incredible. You can look back down and see the colorful maples as they follow the path of the river.

The grunt up to “The Notch” was steep and rocky, but the landscape showcased those granite mountains and jagged peaks both to the north and south. Looking back in the direction I came, the winding flow of red and orange leaves of the bigtooth maples in the distance followed the winding creek as it snaked through the canyon. While resting at the top, I even sat about three feet from a rattlesnake. That was quite the surprise. The round trip to this point and back to the trailhead turned out to be a little over 10 miles and actually wasn’t too bad. I’m glad, because the next evening I’d be trekking up a different trail – this time to Guadalupe Peak and the highest point in Texas.

At 8,751 feet, Guadalupe Peak is the tallest mountain in Texas. The trail to the top is relatively easy – just a gradual walk up gaining ~ 3,000 feet in altitude over 4 miles. The views at the top offer a unique perspective that looks across the Chihuahuan Desert to the east, south, and west. Below the peak is the famous El Capitan, the 8th tallest summit in Texas and one that I’d photographed both that morning and the night before from other locations. I arrived at the top of Guadalupe Peak a little before sunset, enjoying the quiet solitude. While there, I took in a wonderful sunset, and later witnessed the Milky Way at it rolled across the sky in the southwest. The walk down passed quickly, but I was glad to arrive back at the trail head. Trails at night always seem a bit creepier and unknown. I have good flashlights, but I’m always happy to be finished with long hikes at night. The thought of mountain lions is always in the back of my mind.

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El Capitan from Guadalupe Peak after Sunset 2 : Prints Available

This panorama taken on Guadalupe Peak, the tallest summit in Texas at 8,751 feet, shows the southwest sky at sunset on a fall evening. The hike is nearly 9 miles round trip, especially if you spend time exploring around the summit, and you’ll gain 3,000 vertical feet. If you stay for sunset, you’ll likely have the entire mountaintop to yourself. This hike is one of the gems not only in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but in all of Texas.

This panorama from Guadalupe Peak is available in large and custom sizes. Please contact me for more information.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the less well known of Texas’ two national parks, will reward you if you are willing and able to get out and explore. Those age-old mountains – once part of the Delaware Sea 30 million years ago – hide valleys of lush green trees and crystal clear streams. Trout even survive in some of the pools tucked away in the canyons. Outside those canyon walls is a rugged and unforgiving desert. Both provide opportunities for exploration and contemplation. I hope to return again soon!

Happy Travels, Texas.
~ Rob

The South Rim at Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is home to some of the most amazing views in Texas. I’ve had the opportunity to photograph this remote Texas landscape along the Rio Grande several times, and at the end of each visit I’m left wanting more time, more sunrises and sunsets, and another day to explore the trails and vistas offered here.

The hike to the South Rim of Big Bend is often referred to as the best hike in Texas. Depending on your route or your curiosity, the round trip can often exceed 13 or more miles. While I’ve explored the Chisos Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert, I’d never visited the South Rim until recently. I’d planned to make this hike on other occasions, but poor weather made conditions to photograph the Rim not worth the effort of lugging camera equipment that far. But over the course of a four day visit to Big Bend and using a sunset-conditions predictor program, I finally found a good night to go.

To shoot sunset or sunrise at the South Rim, you either have to camp or hike one direction in the dark. Lugging a camera, several lenses, a tripod, and a star-tracking mount (for Milky Way photographs) took precedence over a tent, so I was left with the only option of hiking back in the dark. So I set out about 4pm on an April afternoon layered in wispy clouds and climbed the 2,000+ vertical feet up to Laguna Meadow. The hike itself isn’t hard. The trail is easy to follow and the uphill isn’t anything daunting. It’s just a long grind with a backpack full of equipment and gatorade. By the time I reached the edge of a 1,500 cliff of the South Rim, I’d only seen hikers going north in the direction of the trailhead. With the remnant of the Chisos stretching out before me and the Rio Grande winding through the desert far below, the landscape that rewarded my efforts inspired a sense of awe and reminded me of how small we are. (I would soon be reminded of this again while shooting the night sky). Finally able to take off the backpack, I set about trying to find the optimal locations for shooting at sunset. Agave, Prickly Pear, Claret Cups, and a view into the desert all clamored for my attention, and choosing was difficult only because of so many options. Ultimately, I decided on four areas – one while the sky was still blue, one for the moment the sun hits the horizon (for the star burst), another to capture the colors of the clouds at sunset, and a last take for the Milky Way finale.

When I shoot at sunset, I usually take 3, 5, or 7 exposures of the same image in order to adjust the foreground and sky accordingly. Some folks do this to create an HDR effect, but I try to bring out the colors while leaving the scene more realistic. I’ll also shoot different focus points in order to make sure the entire image is sharp and consistent. With that said, I was fortunate with the clouds and sunset, as the combination of light and color made the long hike worth it.

This first image is a panorama looking west at the moment the sun fell below the horizon. A path winds along this southwest rim where you can find some amazing panoramic views – even to Santa Elena Canyon on the western edge of the park boundary. This photo is comprised of at least 12 different images, then blended and stitched together to show the true colors of sunset high on this mountain.

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Big Bend South Rim Sunset 1 : Prints Available

From the southwest rim of Big Bend National Park, this panorama was taken in late spring as the sun set behind the distant mountains. High above the Chihuahuan Desert, you’ll have this amazing view of the Texas landscape from the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains. The hike to this point is over 6 miles – often longer depending which route you choose – making the round trip 13 or more miles in most cases. But the view is well worth the effort in this remote part of the Lone Star State. This panorama can be printed in custom sizes. Please contact me for more information.

The next image comes from the South rim looking south over a portion of ancient remains of the Chisos Mountains. Beyond those peaks, the Rio Grande runs east, serving as a boundary between the Lone Star State and Mexico. Taken about 15-20 minutes after true sunset, this photograph shows a cactus as it hangs onto a cliff 1,500 feet above the desert floor. The foreground was taken as a separate image, then blended with a photograph of the distant mountains to create sharpness throughout. The sky was yet another image in order to bring out the colors of a beautiful Texas sunset.

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Big Bend South Rim at Sunset 2 : Prints Available

This view of the southern Chisos Mountain Range in Big Bend National Park comes from the South Rim. As one of the best hikes in Texas, the trek to reach this point is a little over 6 miles, and to capture an image at sunset or sunrise at this location means you either camp or hike in the dark. But the effort is worth it as the landscape that stretches from Texas into Mexico is well worth the effort. Here, a prickly pear blooms in late spring as clouds light up with another beautiful Texas sunset.

After this series of photographs, I pulled out the IOptron StarTracker, a device I use to track and shoot the night sky. After aligning the machine with the north star and mounting my camera on top, I set about capturing long exposures of the Milky Way at a relatively low ISO to show points of light as sharp and crisp, just as you’d see if you were standing there. I should note the foreground of this image was taken about 30 minutes after sunset while it was nearly dark, but with still enough light to bring out the definition of the distant peaks. With the foreground and the Milky Way taken at separate times, I then blend the two together back at home and do my best to give it a realistic feel. I feel strongly that a good Milky Way image should contain a strong foreground element. It is a fine line when combining the two (foreground and night sky). I want the viewer to feel the sense of awe with the vastness of the Milky Way while also having a foreground that stabilized the scene. Having the foreground just the right brightness – not too light or to dark – is the conundrum. For these prickly pear cacti, I also used a soft light to slightly increase their illumination.

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Big Bend Milky Way over the South Rim 1 : Prints Available

It is a long hike to the South Rim of Big Bend National Park. On this trip, the round trip was over 13.5 miles. But when you stand on the edge of a thousand foot cliff and look over the ancient mountains and into northen Mexico, you are rewarded with a magnificent view. If you linger a little longer and are willing to either camp or hike back in the dark, you can enjoy one of the more amazing night skies found anywhere in the world. In this image, a prickly pear cactus hangs on the edge of a rocky cliff as the Milky Way begins its ascent and stroll across the sky. To the west, the inklings of sunset can still be seen glowing along the horizon.

I used a small low light flashlight to slightly illuminate the prickly pear blooms in front of me. My left foot was about 6 inches from a vertical cliff while shooting this scene. Sometimes its better when you can’t see everything!

This image is a square, but can be cropped and printed up to 40 inches high.

When you are photographing the Milky Way at Big Bend, you are witness to one of the darkest skies in North America. The stars are truly amazing in this isolated corner of Texas and sparkle with a clarity rarely seen in other places of not only in our state, but the U.S. in general. Underneath a canopy of shimmering light, I embrace that sense of wonder at what the heavens hold and find myself full of ponderings and possibilities.

But then a 7 mile trek in the dark still awaited. The walk back in the wee hours of the morning was uneventful except for the dive-bombing birds and the UFO above a distant ridge. I felt fortunate to have witnessed a beautiful sunset at such a remote and truly Texas landscape. While my time here was brief, I hope to return again one of these days.

If you read this far, thanks!
Happy and Safe Travels.
Vaya con Dios
~ Rob

Bluebonnet Report # 3

Bluebonnet Report #3

After several unproductive wildflower hunting trips around central Texas, including east and west of the San Antonio areas, as well as the Texas Hill Country from Fredericksburg to Mason to Llano, I finally discovered some nice fields of bluebonnets. Thanks to a tip from a fellow wildflower chaser, I checked out the areas from Round Mountain, including 962 and 3347 along with connecting side roads.

On one portion of this drive, bluebonnets along the roadsides make for a beautiful and very serene drive (not much traffic at all). I’ve driven this area many times in the past, and admittedly this is not my favorite stretch. But bluebonnet season is quickly coming to a close and times are desperate, so I figured I’d take a chance.

Upon arriving in the general location with about an hour to go before sunset, I was initially disappointed. The bluebonnets were nice, but there were not sweeping vistas nor great landscapes. Both sides of this road were higher than the road itself, making nice views nonexistent. Frustrated, I drove up and down the road, searching for at least some serviceable stops for sunset. I had passed a guy in a truck several times and was getting a little self-conscious. I finally stopped and said Howdy so he wouldn’t think I was a stalker. I explained what I was doing after some small talk. He turned out to be a ranch manager for much of the surrounding land. He went on to say the bluebonnets were beautiful on his land and that I could explore some of the hills if I wanted. Suddenly given hope to salvage the trip, I said thanks and headed for the hills – literally.

Upon rising over the first hill, my effort and good fortune was again rewarded because before me bluebonnets rose and stretched across gentle slopes filled with yucca and cacti. I changed lenses and quickly went to work, opting for my medium wide angle, the 16-35L. I worked the area, then quickly trekked to another location to shoot the moment of sunset. More bluebonnets, more images. (I should note here I shoot between 5 and 7 exposures of each image along with 3 or 4 sets of these exposures at varying depths-of-field, so each image would often be made of anywhere from 15-28 individual photos in order to align all the details. )

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Colors of a Bluebonnet Sunset 1 : Prints Available

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.

With the sun having already fallen below the horizon, I saw one more hill I wanted to shoot, so I ran up and over the terrain and settled at the edge of the blue wildflowers, all the while enjoying the distinct aroma of bluebonnet pollen. I set the tripod low and sat down in order to get a better view. In my haste, I sat squarely on a cactus. I guess I should note it was better sitting on a cactus than a rattlesnake, one of which I’d seen the previous day. Nevertheless, I impaled my posterior with cactus quills that were at least an inch long. In my pain, and with the sky turning all sorts of orange, red, and pink, I consciously thought to myself that I just had to endure the pain for a few minutes, and then I could figure out what to do. With thorns in my backside, I managed to capture the fleeting moment. Then I had to remove the longer thorns. Those were easy. It was the small, barely visible prickles that were the long term pain. I’ll end the story here and just say the ride home was difficult… as was sitting the next day.

A few days later, I made my way to Kingsland and photographed the bluebonnets that sprang up through and within train track rails. As this is private property and I do not cross private property unless invited, I stayed on the boundary and enjoyed a nice sunrise over train tracks and colorful bluebonnets.

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Bluebonnets along Train Tracks 1 : Prints Available

Old train tracks are covered with bluebonnets in Llano County. This little area is often filled with bluebonnets. The land past this point is private, though, you can’t get much farther. Old train tracks are covered with bluebonnets in Llano County. This little area is often filled with bluebonnets. The land past this point is private, though, you can’t get much farther.

I’ve heard there are some fields on 281 north of Burnett and near Lampasas, though I haven’t seen them for myself. While there may be more fields of blue that pop up, I’m beginning to think this season was a bit of a dud based on earlier expectations. I have heard speculation that we could enjoy a nice season of other Texas wildflowers including firewheels, coreopsis, and mexican hats.

In the meantime, watch out for rattlesnakes and aggressive cacti.

Happy Travels,

Rob
www.ImagesfromTexas.com

Big Bend National Park in Spring

While it seems most folks are eagerly anticipating the advent of wildflower season here in the Texas Hill Country, my wife and I sneaked out of town for a few days and found ourselves cruising at nearly light speed (exactly 80mph in case any officers are reading this) west on I-10, then south through Alpine to Terlingua and eventually the Chisos Mountains. If you’ve made the drive from the Hill Country to this area, or heck, anywhere for that matter, you know it is a long one.

I had planned on making the hike to the South Rim of Big Bend National Park on my first afternoon to photograph sunset, but because of inefficiency from certain folks the area, my start time was delayed, and with a 6+ mile hike in front of me, that meant I’d be arriving at the South Rim after dark. No good. So instead, I made the short trek up the Lost Mines Trial and enjoyed one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen in a long time. I was happy to be there, but also had some angst and a little irritation about not being out at the South Rim for such a colorful event.

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Lost Mine Trail Sunset Panorama 1 Big Bend : Prints Available

The hike up the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park is a relatively easy 5 mile round trip. The first mile is a gradual climb to a nice overlook that surveys the valley below. For the next 1.5 miles of trail, you’ll find yourself navigating switchbacks and a slightly steeper portion of the rocky path, but the view at the end is worth the effort. From the southeastern most portion of the trail, you’ll enjoy views of Juniper Canyon and the South Rim. And on evenings like this image shows, the sunsets can be spectacular. Even the wonderful light seemed to last longer than that to which I’m accustomed. The return trip to the trailhead goes quickly, but bring a flashlight if you stay out past dark. The hike up the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park is a relatively easy 5 mile round trip. The first mile is a gradual climb to a nice overlook that surveys the valley below. For the next 1.5 miles of trail, you’ll find yourself navigating switchbacks and a slightly steeper portion of the rocky path, but the view at the end is worth the effort. From the southeastern most portion of the trail, you’ll enjoy views of Juniper Canyon and the South Rim. And on evenings like this image shows, the sunsets can be spectacular. Even the wonderful light seemed to last longer than that to which I’m accustomed. The return trip to the trailhead goes quickly, but bring a flashlight if you stay out past dark.

This Big Bend Panorama is available in custom sizes. Please contact me for more information.

Big Bend has a lot to offer – great hikes to unusual rock formations, a variety of ecosystems ranging from desert landscapes to small forests with even a few remnant aspen groves still clinging to the cliff in the upper elevations, and unique wildlife such as mountain lions, black bears, javalinas and an plethora of birds including roadrunners at every twist and turn of the trail. I love this park and it keeps me coming back for more. But if the weather doesn’t cooperate, it can be pretty harsh. While I was fortunate to enjoy a few good sunsets and sunrises, I also encountered 35-50mph winds and near freezing temperatures. That made outdoor activities slightly less enjoyable, and at times photography proved virtually impossible.

Last year I ventured out to Big Bend around this same time and found wonderful areas of bluebonnets. This year, the bluebonnets were sparse. However, the prickly pear cacti were beginning to bloom, so I tried to take advantage of that at sunset (You can’t shoot prickly pear blooms at sunrise because they close at night!). In the lower elevations of the surrounding Chihuahuan desert between the Chisos and Santa Elena Canyon, several areas showed off yellow and orange blooms from Texas most prominent cactus.

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Prickly Pear Sunset at Big Bend 1 : Prints Available

The bluebonnets at Big Bend may not have been prolific at Big Bend during this spring, but the prickly pear cacti were beautiful. Here on the western slope of the Chisos Mountains in the Chihuahuan Desert, the yellows and orange of these blooms seemed to glow in the crazy light of a colorful sunset. To my right, lightening was going off like firecrackers, but straight west the sun had just enough opening to light up the sky in oranges and blues. I must have looked funny running through this desert with a triped and camera, but you do what you have to do to capture light like this!

For prints larger than 40 inches wide, please contact me.

With the winds often gusting, these little blooms seemed the best thing to add to the foreground because they are much sturdier than most flowers, and that worked in my favor. Nevertheless, photography was challenging as I tried to make the most of a difficult situation.

While the return home seemed much longer than the drive out there and with the disappointment of not making it to the South Rim, I am already hoping to return in late April or May- just depends on the weather.

Now, though, I turn my attention to Texas wildflowers. I’ve heard there are already Easter colored fields south of San Antonio. So I need to charge up the batteries and hit the road.

Safe Travels! Via Con Dios, Amigos

~ Rob
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Texas Sunrise along the River

About 25 minutes before sunrise, if high clouds linger across the sky and an unfettered path for sunlight appears in the east, colors of red, pink, orange and blue can fill the sky. And just after that is about a 10 to 15 minute period when the once vibrant sky’s colors fade and it appears almost washed out until the sun finally rises over the horizon. It is during this fleeting time of quiet that my mind is set free from my daily obligations that often clutter my thoughts.

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Magical Light over the Pedernales River 1 : Prints Available

Sometimes you just get lucky. On this February morning along the Pedernales River in the Texas Hill Country, the light was magical and lit up the flowing water a little before sunrise. I had to wade through the cold water to reach this point, but it was well worth it. At one point, I just had to step back and take it all in… one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve experienced in many years of working at photography. I didn’t notice my feet were absolutely freezing until the walk back along the trail! Sometimes you just get lucky. On this February morning along the Pedernales River in the Texas Hill Country, the light was magical and lit up the flowing water a little before sunrise. I had to wade through the cold water to reach this point, but it was well worth it. At one point, I just had to step back and take it all in… one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve experienced in many years of working at photography. I didn’t notice my feet were absolutely freezing until the walk back along the trail!

Moments like this are special. In much of my adult life some of my fondest memories are times spent outdoors. Looking back at the days of my youth, I would spent all the daylight hours playing outside – searching for craw-dads, playing sports, and walking creekbeds. I never noticed how hot it got in Texas in the summer. After college in Austin, I worked a summer job in a Colorado mountain town, escaping every afternoon with my best friends to explore rivers and fly fish high, remote streams in search of cutthroat and rainbow trout. One of those friends is no longer around, though I do miss him. Another has remained and we still spend some time each summer hiking our own bucket list of Rocky peaks, though other duties – my work and family responsibilities in Texas – have cut down that free time considerably.

So in mornings like this when my photographic treks find me alone along these scenic rivers that wind through the Texas Hill Country – in between the early morning colors and the sunrise – the sounds of water bring back memories of my life’s time. The words and conversations of those bygone days – and those times with friends – have faded. But sometimes I can hear the laughter. With a soft gurgling the swirls of the river flow around and over the rocks, and in those sounds I can almost follow behind the laughter and slide into the past. And just as quickly the light, the colors, and the faint emotions slip past my sitting spot and flow with the waters downstream and disappear.

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February Sunrise on the Pedernales River 2 : Prints Available

The waters of the Pedernales River turned gold and orange on this crisp February morning in the Texas Hill Country. The sun had just peeked over the distant ridge, finally bringing warmth to a beautiful beginning of the day. I think there must have been some moisture in the air, as well, because the area seemed to take on a golden hue right after the sun made an appearance.

In those quickly passing moments that seem to last both a few seconds and an hour, I’m reminded of the precious moments we share. But the river brings me round again and soon the brilliant glow on the horizon gives way to a light so bright I can’t look at it directly. After seven clicks of my camera’s shutter and with sunlight spreading across the canyon floor, I know my time in this moment is done and it is time to return home. This beautiful morning I’ll remember, though, and I’ve still a long way to go.

~ Rob

Exploring Palo Duro Canyon and the Texas Panhandle

This past week, I had the opportunity to spend time in the Texas Panhandle, primarily Palo Duro Canyon State Park, as well as a few side trips around Amarillo, Texas. The late November weather turned out to be superb, and I was fortunate to enjoy some amazing sunrises and sunsets while exploring the canyon.

My family came with me on this trip, and that meant no camping. Instead, we stayed in Canyon, just ~ 12 miles from the park entrance. For my gear, I was shooting with the newish Canon 5DSr. I brought a few lenses, as well – the 11-24L, 16-35IIL, 24-105L, and the 70-200ISL. For a majority of the trip, I only used the 11-24 and the 24-105. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express – 4 adults, 2 kiddos. It was not bad at all, though I’m not a fan of their breakfast. However, I was usually gone when breakfast started at 6am and by the time I returned to the hotel, I caught the tail-end of the morning service. So I stuck to my Apricot Kind bars for early morning food.

One thing to know about Palo Duro is that the entrance gates are closed overnight and don’t open until 8:00am. Having done some work for Texas Parks and Wildlife in the past, I was able to obtain permission to enter the park early in order to photograph sunrise. This made a huge difference, allowing me to photograph during the morning magic hour when light is soft and beautiful.

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Palo Duro Canyon Sunrise Panorama 1 : Prints Available

From the rim of the Visitor Center, this is Palo Duro Canyon at Sunrise on a cold November morning. The temperature was in the 20s, and my hands were freezing as I waited for this moment. Finally, the sun peeked over the distant canyon wall. After several images, it was time to go exploring.

* I should add here that I stopped by the Visitor Center to ask a few questions about hikes and such when we first arrived at the park. An older woman who was working seemed to not particularly enjoy her job that much. She questioned all my plans, and even said she didn’t understand why I wanted to come into the park before 8am – the gates were closed for a reason! She went on to add that there was nothing to photograph before sunrise. “Why would you want to get here so early. There’s nothing here worth seeing that early!” I don’t think she should have been a front-person for Palo Duro, as she obviously didn’t appreciate the wonders this place has to offer.

Anyway, the flexibility of the park rangers with allowing me an early entrance each morning made the trip worthwhile. Otherwise, it would been not nearly as productive. The sunrise from the Visitor Center that overlooks the Canyon was colorful – a nice gradient from orange to blue about 40 minutes before sunrise, then transitioning to some nice clouds by the time the sun showed itself for the first time. But during this in-between, my hands were nearly frozen. The temperature was in the upper 20s at this location, and later as I drove through the valley floor, the thermometer read 21 degrees. Yikes!

After finishing up the sunrise shoot, I returned to the hotel to pick up the wife and kids, then came back to take them hiking. We explored the Big Cave (an easy walk for young kids that the Visitor Center Welcome Woman poo-pooed – and my kids loved it), and some other trails. I also came away with some late morning light on Capitol Peak, one of the well-known points in the park. Evening found my wife and me hiking to the Lighthouse. This famous landmark is by far the most popular trail it the park, and for good reason. It provides you a 6-mile round-trip walk on an orange clay path through magnificent and colorful canyon walls and rock formations. You finish the last .3 miles going uphill, scrambling part of the way, to reach the base of the iconic structure. From this vantage point, the views stretch for miles through the distant canyon. And sunset did not disappoint, either. Behind me, to the east, clouds lit up in pink pastels. In front of us, to the west, the sun turned the sky brilliant orange, complementing the orange rock of the Lighthouse itself. We lingered until nearly dark, enjoying the scene and solitude. And I should note that while we passed folks on our walk (all of whom were heading back to the start of the trailhead), we did not encounter another person for the last mile of our walk to the Lighthouse, nor did we see anyone the remainder of the evening. That peace and quiet was pretty special, for sure. Having a place like that all to oneself, even for a few hours, is hard to top.

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Lighthouse Panorama from Palo Duro Canyon 2 : Prints Available

With a nearly-full moon rising in east, the iconic rock formation the Lighthouse at Palo Duro Canyon stands tall in the crisp Autumn air.

But time moves us along, and eventually we were back on the trail, walking in the dark. I paused to shoot the Lighthouse from a distance with the Milky Way behind it, then again at Capitol Peak to take a long exposure of the mountain as the nearly-full moon had risen and was illuminating the red and orange rock in a wonderful soft glow.

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Capitol Peak under a Full Moon : Prints Available

Under the light of a full moon, Capitol Peak at Palo Duro Canyon is lit up in this long exposure. To the naked eye, there was a little light on this evening, but with the camera, the colors came to life.

The next morning found me back at sunrise again, but this time the temperatures rose into the high 20s and low 30s, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. Another glorious sunrise welcomed the day, and soon we were off exploring.

I would like to come back here again in the spring when the flowers are blooming, and perhaps in the fall when the trees are changing colors as they head into winter.

After leaving the Palo Duro Canyon area, we made side trips to the ecclectic Cadillac Ranch just west of Amarillo. This field that is on the old Route 66 has ten old Cadillacs that have been buried nose first into the dirt. Funded by an eccentric millionaire and created by a San Francisco art hippy group called the Ant Farm, this “exhibit” is free and open to the public – and spray-painting the old cars is welcome and even encouraged.

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Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo Texas 2 : Prints Available

From a different angle, this is the Cadillac Ranch, a permanent art exhibit outside of Amarillo, Texas, on Route 66. A group of art hippies from San Francisco created the display at the request of an eccentric Texas millionaire, Stanley Marsh.

Heading east of Amarillo, I paused to photograph a few cotton fields. From the highway, the area looked like snow had fallen, but in reality the cotton was white and ready for harvesting. I met a rancher who welcomed me onto his land, so I spent a little time photographing this uniquely Texas landscape.

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Texas Cotton Field at Harvest 1 : Prints Available

While exploring the Texas Panhandle and Palo Duro Canyon, I came across several large fields that looked like snow had fallen on them. Instead, the fields were full of cotton and ready for harvesting.

From here, another sunset found me shooting bales of hay under some wonderful skies lit up by the half-light of evening.

All in all, it was a fun, relaxing, and successful trip. What’s next?

Safe travels, everyone,

Rob

Images from Texas
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Photographing the Milky Way in Texas

I am occasionally asked the process I use to photograph the Milky Way over different Texas landscapes, so I thought I’d take a few minutes in an attempt to explain my thinking process.
First and foremost, I’m a planner. And I also like my sleep. So when I do give up sleep and head out to capture the night sky, I want to leave few things to chance.

If at all possible, I always scout the area I plan on visiting. I like to take a few shots from the location during the day just to see how different compositions look. I don’t want to get home after all-night shooting event and be disappointed at lay of the land on my computer.
Next, a downloadable app called Stellarium really comes in handy. This free program lets you know where and when the Milky Way will appear at any given location and time. It also shows the moon, so you’ll know if the moon could be a hindrance to a dark sky. It has proven invaluable in my nightscapes, and I always reference it before heading out.

As a sidenote, the moon will not necessarily interfere with your night sky shooting, but you need to know what phase and what location it is in. If the moon is more than a quarter showing, I’d wait. If the moon (in any phase) is in the same half of the sky as the Milky Way, I’d again put off shooting until better conditions are available. Personally, I will not shoot the Milky Way if the moon is anywhere in the sky, but I have friends that do.

So with the preliminary work done, I head out. If I’m shooting after sunset (as opposed to early morning), I’ll often arrive at my chosen location just before the sun sets in order to photograph the location during magic hour. About 45 minutes after the sun sets I’ll take some foreground images using the bracketing function (taking several exposures of the same image to use later).

And then transition into night shooting mode. For this, I do a few things:

* switch the camera into bulb mode

* set the ISO initially to 2500 (this will move down to 800 when I’m ready to take the “real” shots”)

* hook up my IOptron Startracker (this entails knowing setting the latitude, aligning the machine with a scope to the North Star, leveling everything with the level-bubbles on both my tripod and Startracker.)

* plug in my remote that allows me to take long exposures

* calibrate my GPS/compass

After everything seems ready, I wait for the stars to appear. When I start seeing stars, I try to manually focus my camera on a star using the “LiveView Mode.” This is the most tedious portion of the evening. Sometimes even finding a star is difficult because you have to have the focus just right, as well as have your camera zoomed onto a bright star. Have patience, and keep plugging away until you finally find a star in your screen. (Make sure autofocus is turned off! I’ve located the star before but forgot to turn off Autofocus. When you press the shutter button, the camera then continues in vain to attempt to find stars. Then you have to repeat the process again.)

Using the compass, I know where the North Star appears, so when I finally do see it, I align the scope. Once finished, I point my camera (on manual focus) towards the Milky Way. With the ISO set to 2500 and the aperture to ~ f/2.8-4 (depending on which lens I use), I take a 20-30 second exposure, check the screen to view my orientation of the Milky Way, and adjust accordingly. At this point in the shoot, I don’t care about the foreground. I try to have a small portion of the horizon showing in my image, but that is strictly for reference. With the Startracker on, I reset the ISO to 800, then start shooting longer exposures. I’ll check the focus again after a longer exposure to make sure there are no star trails or tails, then gradually increase the exposure time up to 3-4 minutes, depending on the ambient light and how much it is lighting up your image.

During these long exposures, I’ll use my phone to time the shot. One very important thing here… while your camera is rolling, please take the time to look up and marvel at the night sky before above you. Sometimes I can get caught up in the technical aspects of this and forget why I’m really out there – to appreciate the beauty of the heavens and share this wonder with others.

One other thing I like to do that helps increase final size is take several images of the Milky Way in a horizontal orientation. I’ll take three images, moving my lens upwards after each shot. Back at home, I’ll stitch these images together producing a large and detailed photograph of the Milky Way.

From here, I’ll go back and blend the Milky Way with the foreground shot taken before dark. I’ll use masks, layers, refine mask, some lightening and darkening as needed, and work on the details until I have my final image. I usually like to leave the foreground pretty bright so the viewer can see the details of the landscape as well as the amazingness of the night sky. This is just a personal preference. Adjust the exposure to your liking.

Here is a finished image from Enchanted Rock State Park in the Texas Hill Country. It is comprised of several shots before dark, along with a vertical stitched panorama of the Milky Way.

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Milky Way over Enchanted Rock 915 : Prints Available

On a perfect September evening in the Texas Hill Country, the Milky Way rolls across the heavens over the inconic Enchanted Rock. This image was fun to make. It first required a walk to the opposite side of this granite rock in the Llano Uplift. The area from which I was shooting is a little off the trail, so just arriving here required some tip-toes through the cacti. After shooting several locations to use for the foreground – different angles of the Rock – I settled in and waited for the stars to appear. With soft clouds lingering on the horizon, the Milky Way did not disappoint. The distant clouds almost seemed like an soft orange version of the Arora Borealis. The exposure for the Milky Way was over 3 minutes, and it seemed you could reach out and touch each star. This image from the Hill Country was taken with a wide angle lense to show the grandness of the night sky across the Texas landscape. On a perfect September evening in the Texas Hill Country, the Milky Way rolls across the heavens over the inconic Enchanted Rock. This image was fun to make. It first required a walk to the opposite side of this granite rock in the Llano Uplift. The area from which I was shooting is a little off the trail, so just arriving here required some tip-toes through the cacti. After shooting several locations to use for the foreground – different angles of the Rock – I settled in and waited for the stars to appear. With soft clouds lingering on the horizon, the Milky Way did not disappoint. The distant clouds almost seemed like an soft orange version of the Arora Borealis. The exposure for the Milky Way was over 3 minutes, and it seemed you could reach out and touch each star. This image from the Hill Country was taken with a wide angle lense to show the grandness of the night sky across the Texas landscape.

And that’s it. There are details aplenty, but you’ll figure those out soon enough – it just takes time, trial, and error. And how you handle many of those finer points is dictated by your likes and preferences.

Enjoy your time outdoors!

~ Rob

Texas Images

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