Looking out the window on this early Sunday morning, I’m seeing fog and drizzle. The weather forecast says to expect the same on and off for the next week. I hope this wet weather bodes well for bluebonnet season. Right now, the spring crop of bluebonnets has the potential to be only average or below. Maybe this rain will boost our chances just a bit for a more colorful spring. I do have a fair amount of bluebonnet rosettes on our land, but from what I’ve heard from other friends who seek out Texas’ favorite wildflower, some of our go-to places are sparse. But you never know with wildflowers… so here’s hoping! In the meantime, I’ve spent some time revisiting old RAW files from 2010, redoing some and even discovering some images I had never finished. I can say 2010 was a really good year for bluebonnets:
In a few weeks, I’m heading to Big Bend again… hoping for some bluebonnets out there. I talked to a contact yesterday who works in the park and he said, unfortunately, bluebonnets are not very thick yet, but there could be a few more blooms in the next few weeks. In the Big Bend, bluebonnets tend to bloom from mid-February to mid-March, depending on the weather. Stay tuned on that.
I haven’t taken a landscape photograph, besides shooting the blood moon a few weeks ago, since Thanksgiving. That’s probably the longest I’ve gone in 20 years without doing any photography. I feel it, too. I can tell you (as can my wife and kids) that I’m always happier when I get outside to shoot and explore. And that is why Big Bend is calling my name! In this downtime, I have taken a turn at photographing a few birds on our property. We have bird feeders set up and some beautiful feathered friends, as well as a squirrel and rabbit, visit the feeding area. So I stalked the birds one day and rather enjoyed the quiet time outside. Here is one image of a female Cardinal I came away with, though I don’t see myself becoming a birder anytime soon:
In February, I had one of my daffodil images used in Texas Highways. I had shot in east Texas near Gladwater on assignment for them last February. It’s always nice to see my work in print.
Last week, in the middle of a gloomy February, I took my wife and two young girls to Disney World in Orlando for 4 days of sun and entertainment. First, I can assure you that the Mouse knows how to take your money. But he knows how to insulate you from the big bad world and show you a good time, as well. One of our new favorite places at the park is Pandora (from the movie Avatar) in the Animal Kingdom. If you are a fan of this sci-fi movie, you’ll love this area. The Avatar – Flight of Passage simulates riding on the back of a banshee and is incredible. Fortunately, we fast-passed this ride and skipped the 3-hour wait. The Na’vi River Journey was beautiful, as well, and full of stunning visual effects. My girls also loved Space Mountain as well as the Frozen rides.
We did have several meals worthy of note, too. First, we enjoyed a buffet in the Animal Kingdom at Boma – a Taste of Africa. In several different areas, there was just about everything you could want for a brunch. I wasn’t hungry for the rest of the day! We also loved another buffet for dinner – this time at our hotel’s restaurant – Cape May. I had three plates of crab legs and shrimp, great clam chowder, tasty desserts, and a good Mai Tai, as well. My girls said the pizza was the best they’d ever had (but they are not great judges on food just yet!) We were sad to see our time end at the Magic Kingdom, but hopefully we can return in a few years when the Star Wars land opens. For now, I have had enough of crowded places to last a while.
As 2017 prepares to make its exit deep in December, the photography opportunities around central Texas take a bit of a hiatus. On these cold rainy days, I’m left to take inventory of the year, clean up some files, and reflect on where I’ve been. This past year has been a good one, photographically speaking, and I’ve seen some beautiful places and made new friends along the way. Of course, there are always more locations I’d like to shoot, but for now I’ll focus on where I’ve been and appreciate those moments. So in no particular order, here are my favorite images of the past year.
Probably the most unique location I visited, thanks to my new friends – Barry and Todd – were some slot canyons hidden deep in Pal Duro Canyon State Park. A long hike without a hint of a trail, up a canyon rim and across a vast, featureless mesa, down into a box canyon, and into a sliver of a crack in the rock lead us to Upper Central Utah Slot Canyon, one of the most amazing slot canyons in Texas
This canyon is remote and pristine, and thankfully not many folks know its location. Along the hike, Todd and Barry shared a few locations closer to the road that were defaced with graffiti, carvings, and other shameful acts from people with no regard to the landscape or its history.
This past spring offered the promise of a good wildflower season, but a lack of rain for 60 straight days ended those hopes. Still, there were a few locations where our favorite Texas wildflower, the bluebonnet, made an appearance. The photograph below was taken one evening in a location that had not yet been discovered by photo enthusiasts. (How did I know this? – The bluebonnets had not yet been trampled by folks plopping down their kids in the middle of the wildflowers). I liked this little scene because a single red firewheel (a red wildflower) stood alone in a sea of blue on a perfect evening.
In early January, I received a call from Westcave Preserve. I live only about 5 miles from this relatively unknown sanctuary, and they said we would be experiencing a deep freeze and wanted to know if I’d be willing to shoot the icicles hanging from the grotto the next morning. Usually this area is off limits unless you are on a guided tour, but I was allowed to visit this area and shoot and rare winter Texas scene.
One of my favorite adventures this year was a trip out to Big Bend to photograph Mariscal Canyon. I wrote a blog about this trip a while back. Feel free to read my Mariscal Canyon trek. This drive and hike weekend provided a chance to visit one of the most remote and beautiful places in Texas – Big Bend National Park’s Mariscal Canyon.
We encountered aoudad sheep, javilinas, tarantulas, and endured 95 degree heat (in November!) to reach this canyon rim. The view was worth it.
One of my new toys I bought this year was an underwater case for my camera (a Canon 5DSr). This contraption isn’t easy to work with, and getting a decent shot underwater is a matter of trial and error. Still, with persistence, a good image can be had. Here, after laying still on a rock as I held my camera partially submerged beneath the surface, a few fish wandered in to the scene and I let it roll… Fifty or so shots later, I had a few I could work with. This photograph showing sunrise as well as the clear water of the Pedernales River was the end result.
Back in June, we made a quick trip out to the Davis Mountains. I’d never been to this part of Texas, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. The weather cooperated, offering nice skies and sunrise and sunset. This image was taken at sunrise from one of the highest point in Davis Mountains State Park and looks down at the CCC as it traverses these ancient mountains.
This past spring, I started a new website for Colorado images. While photographer in the Rockies this summer, a friend of mine and I hiked 15 miles to reach Lone Eagle Peak. This location isolated and beautiful, and I was pleased we made it out and back in one piece! So I’ll include this last image as one of my favorites, even though it is not from Texas.
Thanks for looking and reading. I hope 2018 will be even more productive than 2017. For now, have a good end of the year, safe travels during the holidays, and a smooth start to the near year!
Via con Dios, my friends.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Images from Texas
It seems we are again experiencing a disappointing bluebonnet season. What looked like a promising beginning to a wildflower spring has again been thwarted by lack of rain and higher than normal temperatures. I’ve driven across the hill country the last few week, and I’ve received location report from other trusted photographers, and the outlook is grim.
However, there are some stellar displays of bluebonnets and paintbrush along the roadsides, especially on 29 between Llano and Mason, and on 16 north of Llano.
On my first visit to this particular bend in the road along Highway 29 between Mason and Llano, this is the sunset I found. The bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country were not great in 2017, but roadside displays of these wildflowers and indian paintbrush were quite colorful on this little stretch of highway.
Another nice location is in Marble Falls on 281 heading north out of town. The iconic old stone building has a field of bluebonnets in the front which makes for a great photograph. I was there one morning last week surrounded by many other folks out enjoying the display – and this was at sunrise! Later that morning as I drove by the number of people taking photos had grown by 3 or 4 times.
This week, the Hill Country is forecast to receive some much needed rain. If this comes to pass, there may be a boost in bluebonnet and other wildflower coverage in fields. We’ll wait and see what happens!
Last week, I traveled to one of my favorite locations – Big Bend National Park. I had gone in hopes of capturing bluebonnets with the Chisos Mountains in the distance. However, the only blooms to be found were along the road, and these were pretty sparse. Still, I worked with what I found:
Big Bend National Park has its own bluebonnet, and here the lupines rest silently in the glow of a March sunrise. In the distance, the Chisos Mountains rise in the cool morning air. The colors and cold air didn’t last long, though. Clouds quickly gave way to clear skies and the temperatures soared into the upper 80s… just a typical day in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Some of my go-to locations like drainages around Tuff Canyon and River Road East were barren of any blooms. I did enjoy a night hike under the full moon to the top of the Lost Mine Trail. I enjoy long exposures when the moonlight illuminates the foreground and brings to life an otherwise hidden valley.
Under the light of the full moon, Big Bend National Parks glows softly. In the distance is Juniper Canyon and the Chisos Mountains, and further is Mexico.
I had made the trek up to this point, a relatively easy 2.4 miles (one way) to photograph this location at sunset, then await the full moon as it rose in the east. The lighting was surreal and the hike back to the car was just a bit eerie and mystical.
In the lower elevations west of the Chisos, the prickly pear cacti were just beginning to bloom.
The last light of sunset lights up the rocky ledges high atop Cerro Castellan on the western slope of the Chisos Mountains. This view of Big Bend National Park shows one of the many Prickly Pear Cacti – this one blooming with beautiful floweres – on the desert floor. But don’t get too close – those prickly pear are well armed with long and sharp thorns!
While not technically considered a wildflower, these blooms can still be stunning.
If I find any wildflowers, I’ll be sure to add some information here. In the meantime, enjoy those colorful roadside displays of flowers – they are still very pretty!
Via Con Dios and safe travels!
As we drift closer to spring, I find myself looking more forward to wildflower season with each passing day. The hope for a colorful crop of flowers this year is alive, especially with the winter rains we’ve had here in central Texas. Our property is once again showing large amounts of bluebonnet rosettes hugging the damp ground.
With that said, I have to temper my expectations. Just last year, we’d had copious amounts of rain, were in the middle of an El Nino, and the future looked colorful. And then we went 60 days without a drop of rain. The bluebonnet season was basically a bust, and even the usual wildflowers such as bluebonnets, bitterweed, Indian blankets (firewheels), poppies, and others never realized their full potential.
I am looking forward to an early Spring trip to Big Bend where the Big Bend Bluebonnets bloom much earlier than their Hill Country cousins. Flowers or not, that is always one of my favorite places to explore and photograph.
So we wait, hope for rain and colder weather until March and April.
In the meantime, feel free to peruse photos and pictures of past wildflower seasons in my online galleries here:
This bluebonnet photograph was the last image taken on this quiet evening in the Hill Country. This favorite Texas wildflower was scattered across the rolling hills, and the sky showed a bit of color as day transitioned to night. If I had not sat on a cactus while trying to get low to shoot from ground level, this would have been a perfect evening!
As I write this blog, My wife, two girls, and I just crossed the Texas-New Mexico border and passed the Happy State Bank in Texline. I just finished up six weeks in Colorado, but I’ll get to that in a moment. For these long drives we usually leave early. This morning was no exception as we departed a little before 3am for the 15 hour trip. And I’m tired but can’t sleep. So I’ll ramble a bit…
First, some good news… I found out yesterday I will have two images in the Texas Highways Magazine 2017 Wildflower Calendar, and one of those will also serve as the cover photo! But as of now I don’t know which image that will be. Still, that is a nice bit of news. Texas Highways also pays well ? . A few weeks before that, I received word my Perseid meteor shower image won 1st place in the Texas Hill Country Alliance annual photography contest.
This is nice, too, though I’ve been spoiled, having won the grand prize two of the past four years. And last, this past May I had my first book published by Far Country Press – a collection of images around Austin, Texas. I shared the photography work with another photographer, Jon Rogers – a real artist and super guy.
And now as we plow towards Dalhart (my wife is driving) I have time to reflect on the last month-and-a-half. I had high expectations – both for photography and for personal accomplishments. For at least the past ten years, my best guy friend and I have summited at least one 14,000 foot peak. Overall, we’ve climbed 31 of Colorado’s 54 14ers – all but one together. My home away from home is in Winter Park at about 9,000 feet in elevation. That first week while acclimating to my summer surroundings (my home in the Texas Hill Country rests at around 600 feet in elevation), I usually include one longer hike up to ~ 12 or 13,000 feet. On the first longer hike, I turned an ankle on the way down from an easy trek up to Herman Lake near Georgetown. It was an unremarkable hike and the slip didn’t appear to do noticeable damage. About five days later while trail running back in Winter Park, I did the same thing while cruising downhill and really buggered up my ankle. Something popped and my foot was purple a few days later. Fortunately, I had just started the five mile run! And I hopped back a half mile on my left foot.
I should add here I’m not patient when it comes to being sick or injured. I was forced to cancel a trip to the Elk Mountain Range to scale two 14ers. Several days of icing and elevating the ankle passed, and I was frustrated and ancy to get back out. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I wrapped my ankle, loaded up on painkillers, and met my friend to climb a nearby 13er (Square Top Peak at 13,758 feet). The meds worked and we enjoyed a nice view at the summit complete with mountain goats. But the next day I couldn’t put any weight on it. Now, two weeks later, I’m able to hobble around, but it hurts to even push on the accelerator of our SUV. I’ll give it some more time. Hopefully it will improve.
In the midst of all that, I was able to photograph some of Colorado’s most beautiful landscapes in Rocky Mountain National Park, including wildflowers, elk, and even the Milky Way. To peruse some of my favorites, check out my Colorado Images gallery.
In the meantime, we make our way home and I’m contemplating what I can photograph over the next few months. After six weeks of not seeing any temps above 80, I’m not keen on returning to the heat. Can we just fast forward to autumn?
Dalhart is in the rear view mirror and an early lunch in Dumas awaits.
Safe travels, Texas! 🙂
We’re on the cusp… of what, I do not know – maybe the biggest bust for wildflowers in the last 10 years? I’ve driven over 500 miles the past week looking for bluebonnets and other wildflowers but have been a bit disappointed at every turn. I’ve talked to fellow photographers and they are coming up empty, as well.
Thanks to El Nino, we had plenty of rain over the winter, but in January the jet stream split, sending rain either north or south of Texas. The Hill Country received nary a drop for nearly 60 days. That, combined with warmer temperatures, seems to have produced a less than stellar wildflower display.
I’ve driven the roads west, south, and east of San Antonio. Some of my favorite places just didn’t produce any color. I only found one field worth stopping for – this Easter-colored field near Poteet.
In the Hill Country, I’ve driven up and down 87 from Fredericksburg, north to Mason and Cherokee, traveled some of my favorite dirt roads in that area, then over to Llano and Gillispie County. The best displays of bluebonnets I’ve found were on the roadsides along Highway 29 just west of Llano and on Highway 16 north of Llano. This image was taken near sunset on Highway 16 and shows a mix of bluebonnets and paintbrush.
Some areas along 71 near Llano show signs of the bluebonnets spreading into the fields, but whether the coverage is thick or not remains to be seen. The next few weeks will be critical in determining if the wildflower season here in the Texas Hill Country will be a flop or average. Considering the potential this year had with all the winter rain, anything short of stellar will be a bit of a letdown. Still, there are a few weeks left in the bluebonnet window. After that, we can hope for firewheels (also known as Indian blankets) and a few other late April/May wildflowers.
February 29, 2016 – I’ll start posting wildflower updates here as the season progresses. I spotted my first bluebonnet bloom on our land yesterday. I’ve never seen one show up in February, so this is a first. I’m thinking now that our bluebonnets will arrive earlier than usual. I’ve read reports there are some patches of blue along the road near Burnet, Texas, and I’ve seen some scattered fields of phlox in areas south of the Hill Country near San Antonio. With the recent rain, it seems to have started the season. No bluebonnet images in this post, but they’ll be here soon!
It has been 40 days since the Texas Hill Country enjoyed any discernible rain. This past October, November, and December, the rains were plentiful. Many area lakes were again above average after years of drought. And the wildflowers season of 2016 looked very promising.
Right now on my small piece of land, bluebonnet rosettes are everywhere. They’ve been that way for a few months – sitting and waiting for spring to arrive. But they also need water. To quote one of our central Texas weathermen, “for us, El Nino has been a real dud so far.” From a photographer’s perspective, this statement is true in many ways.
Don’t lose hope, though, for a prominent and colorful season Texas wildflowers. The long range forecast by the Climate Prediction Center still shows the hill country with “above average” rainfall predicted for the next several months, especially in March, April, and May. Looking at the long range forecasts on accuweather and weather underground, we begin to see rain show up again about 9 days. Let’s hope this holds up.
In the meantime, I’ll spend some mornings poking around downtown Austin, maybe spend some time near my home in the hill country, or out flying my drone and taking aerial images from a bird’s eye view. I also have a trip planned for Big Bend – and I’m hoping the bluebonnets will be nice out there. But really, I’m looking forward to (and hoping for) a very colorful spring season not just for bluebonnets, but for the Indian paintbrush, firewheels, coreopsis, and even the prickly pear blooms that appear in late May and early June.
Between now and then, happy travels, Texas (or wherever your life leads you)!
As we approach February, I’m already looking forward to March. As those around me know, my least favorite month is February. It is usually cold, gloomy, windy, and lacking in any color. These past few weeks I’ve gone out to shoot around Lady Bird Lake, but the lack of green on many of the trees leave the images feeling drab and lifeless. Here is an aerial view of downtown shot with my drone. While the Austin skyline looks nice, notice the lack of green along the banks.
And I haven’t much bothered with shooting out in the Hill Country, though that time is coming soon with the advent of spring in just about 6 weeks or so.
With all my disgruntledness (is this a word?) about this time of year, one location that does produce for a few weeks at this time of year is Zilker Park’s Lou Neff Point. While the trees lining this portion of the Colorado River are without leaves, at sunrise the sun shows itself straight down the river. This can lead to spectacular sunrises over the water and the Austin skyline. On very cold and calm mornings, you might be lucky and find a mist rising up from the warmer water. This image comes from one of those mornings:
I shot from this same location for over an hour one morning. The change in lighting was dramatic – from 45 minutes before sunrise when Austin glowed beneath the fading darkness to a few minutes after sunrise when light streamed through the mist.
Other than that, I’m just biding time until spring begins to show up again. With trips planned to photograph bluebonnets in Big Bend in March, and all sorts of wildflowers across central throughout the Spring, I should probably just enjoy the down time for a while!
In other news, I’m pleased to say one of my Texas wildflower images will be in a new Austin hotel opening in the fall of 2016. This field of flowers will be 116 feet long and accentuated with textured glass. I look forward to seeing the final product.
I hope everyone fares well in the dog days of February. We should have a very colorful spring as long as El Nino doesn’t turn off the water faucet. If so, I’ll be posting wildflower updates on my facebook page as well as on here, so feel free to follow along.