Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Petrified Forest

I have to thank Arizona Highways for their issue on the Petrified Forest National park. Having lived in Arizona, and only an hour and a half away, I have not until now visited the National Park. I have driven by it a number of times, but this last spring break I made the decision to stop for the evening and following morning to see what it is all about. We arrived just before closing, and sunset which is typically the best time to do landscape photography. They close at sunset and as there is no camping within the park we couldn't dally. From the main entrance and visitor's center you don't get a glimpse of any petrified wood right away. Instead you follow the road along a rim with pull-outs and wide views of the Painted Desert.

Painted Desert Sunset

Petrified Forest is one of the few parks where you can take your pets off the road and onto their trails. We did just that as we circled one of the Ancient Puebloan ruin sites. Not much to see there except some remnants of a few foundations. Anxious to keep moving before the sun is completely down we made our way to a relic of Old Route 66, a 1932 Studebaker. The exhibit was installed in 2006, which includes the donated antique vehicle positioned along the old Route 66 road bed. From the pull-out you can see remnants of some telephone poles and make out where the road once carried cars from Chicago to LA.

1932 Studebaker

Not much to see after dark, so we headed out of the park, and slept in a free campground adjacent to one of the rock shops. Free also means no facilities. If you go be prepared to "hold it" until the park opens the next morning at 7. The visitor's center is always a treat, and full of interesting fossils, petrified wood samples and information on the creation of the petrified wood from the Pliocene era. Basically the forest pre-dates the ancient dinosaurs at about 200 million years old.

Petrified Trees Fractured

The area was once a large rain forest on the ancient land mass Pangaea, at that time located approximately along the equator. Volcanic ash layered on top of the fallen trees, then covered by an ancient river system and its sediment preserved the wood by turning it into a quartz like substance. Erosion eventually uncovered the trees. Shifting sand and earth cracked the trees much like a broken piece of chalk would if dropped. This enables you to see a cross-section of the crystalline wood.

Petrified Wood Cross Section

The variety of colors are produced by impurities in the quartz, such as iron, carbon, and manganese. Large cracks in the wood developed and encased large jewel-like crystals of clear quartz, purple amethyst, yellow citrine, and smoky quartz. If you have any interest in history, geology, or dinosaurs, then this park is a jewel in and of itself. As far as I know it is one of the most unique and geologically interesting parks on earth. If you ever find yourself around Holbrook, Arizona take the time to discover Petrified Forest National Park.

Ancient Araucaroid Petrified Tree

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Farewell 2016. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Twenty-sixteen was a bittersweet year for me. I experienced the absolute worst day of my life, seeing my father pass away from lung cancer. The image of his last breath is forever burned into my consciousness, and will be something I will have to carry with me the rest of my days. Another disappointment is shared with the entire country. The events that transpired on November 8th will no doubt change forever the environment and landscape as we know it. These recent events really make one look deep and focus on what really matters. Like it or not the job of a landscape photographer is to document the beautiful world we live in, and to serve as a reminder that nothing is forever. The landscape image is one that can increase awareness of the necessity to preserve and conserve. I set out on my journey in photography to not only remember the good times and adventures, but to document for posterity the disappearing and fragile universe. The melting glaciers, the collapsed arches, the vandalized ancient ruins, and fallen stars. Twenty-sixteen has further strengthened my resolve.

My year wasn't all bad though. I experienced some of my favorite epic trips from Maine to the Grand Canyon. Times spent with friends and family will be remembered and cherished. Here are some of my favorite images from the last year, and sharing them is my pleasure.

Solon Falls on the Kennebec River, Maine

Bass Harbor Head Light House, Acadia NP

Lone Pine at White Pocket

White Pocket Wildflowers

Take out Beach, Colorado River UT

Castle Valley, Colorado River UT

Heart Prairie Aspen Sunburst

Ribbon Falls, Grand Canyon

View from Horn Creek, Grand Canyon
Toward Monument Creek, Grand Canyon

Snow on Yaki Point

Toward the Within

Of course there are many more images worthy of sharing, so check out my New Additions gallery on my website. Thanks for looking, and commenting. Here's to looking forward....cheers.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Alpine Images at Vora Financial

I am pleased to announce that 20 of my images are on display at Vora Financial again this year. If you are looking for last minute gifts, or happen to be in the neighborhood, stop by 14 E Birch Monday - Friday 9-5 to check them out.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


It always amazes me that even against insurmountable odds life finds a way to live. Located atop of Dance Hall Rock down the Hole in the Rock Road in Escalante National Monument, this area supports about a half dozen trees like this. The great photographer Guy Tal made this locale famous in his book Intimate Portraits of the Colorado Plateau. I made this image on an overcast day in early spring. Many of the dirt roads were still closed and impassable this time of year, and indeed some of the higher elevations still had a foot or more of snow. Dance Hall Rock is an interesting formation that makes a natural amphitheater.  The rock got its name from the 19th century Mormon Settlers that used it to hold square dances.  You can sit there and just imagine the sound of fiddles, guitars and banjos echoing throughout the canyon.  Petticoats spinning, and girls giggling at young men courting their hearts out.  Just as the Mormon settlers did, this tree ekes out a living in this high desert environment, persistent against the odds.

Lady in a Tub

Lady in a Tub

The last leg of our Escalante loop found us in the Valley of the Gods, just outside of Mexican Hat, Utah.  It's a great place to get the feel of Monument Valley, without the crowds.  It's a sixteen mile loop that winds through red sand stone monoliths.  You can take a self guided tour and drive the loop in about an hour, or stay in one of the few campsites overnight. Since we were coming from the Burr Trail up north we had to progress down the perilous switchbacks called the Moqui Dugway. Just at the bottom of the hill is the road to Valley of the Gods.  Of course the sign only faces the opposite direction so we soon discovered that we past the turn off.  We realized after consulting the GPS and map that we had to turn around. We were running out of time,  the sun was going down,  already making the most beautiful glow on the rocks. It wasn't long until we found a great campsite at the edge of a mesa.  I took the opportunity to capture some sunset images.  After a little dinner and campfire, we settled in this gorgeous area.  Just as dusk had fallen I began to realize the 3/4 moon was beginning to become visible along with Venus.  It was a large orb floating in a beautiful gradient blue sky, perfectly aligned with one of the famous monoliths, the so-called Lady in a Tub.   I snapped images, as Kristi watched the moon slowly lower itself below the horizon.  The light was such that I was able to capture some detail in the moon's shadow.   The moon travels quickly and I had to find a shutter speed that froze the motion, and capture enough light to keep it from being blurry.  We left the next morning during the sunrise, but I captured some more images on the way out. Only having spent one night in the Valley of the Gods, I was blessed with a spectacular display of light for the duration. My only regret was that we didn't spend another night there.  We definitely will be back though.

Valley of the Gods

Notom Window

Sometimes a new feature comes along that really makes your work easier. This is the case with the latest update to Lightroom. Adobe just released a new version of Lightroom 6 or Lightroom CC 2015, depending on your subscription model. Along with adding the ability to access your graphics processor to speed the Develop module, the other features are what got me excited. They added a new HDR and Panoramic features, among others. I just had to try them out with images from my last trip to Escalante. The first image below was made by light painting the foreground rocks with a large Mag Lite. I like the incandescent warm color that this flashlight emits. I used my Nikon D800e on a high iso to capture the static stars at 20mm f2.8 iso1000 for 30 seconds. I also used a cooler colored headlamp behind the arch to illuminate the underside, to better accentuate the hole. Another image was made for the startrails. In this case my settings were 20mm f2.8 iso100 for 30 minutes. I had my camera set on dark frame subtraction or long exposure noise reduction. This is where the camera takes a photo of equal length to read the noise level from the sensor, then in camera subtracts this level from the previous image. This allows me to take a long exposure with relatively low noise. Now I could have spent some time blending the two exposures in Photoshop, something I had become adept at. But this time I thought I'd try the new HDR function in Lightroom 6. Typically this function would be for high dynamic range scenes, bracketed in camera for the different exposures; darks, midtones, and highlights. This time I got a wild hair, and thought why wouldn't it work for nightscapes.

Well it turns out it did work, and pretty well. The cool thing Adobe did with this feature was use the camera RAW data, and export it as another RAW format DNG, or digital negative. The algorithm used ALL the data from the two exposures. It recovered details in all but the darkest shadows, and seamlessly blended the startrails right over the static stars. How it knew to do that without complex masking, I may never know. What I do know is that I can take this new DNG file and more fully bring my vision to reality using the rest of the filters and brushes offered in Lightroom. When you preconceive an image you would like to make, it takes time and thought to bring it to fruition. It has often been said that making of an image is a two part process. The first being the creative process. This is the process where a photographer must understand his tools enough to realize what could be done to make a successful image. At that point the photographer can free himself to experiment, and to loose ones self in the moment. It can also be that point when you can have a vision. A vision of how this image could look by the end of the second part of the process. The second part of this process is the developing process. This is done in software and it is used to finalize that vision into a polished piece of art. This new version of Lightroom is making steps to really aid photographers by saving them time and letting them focus on the vision and not on the software or time consuming processes. Nice.

Alstrom Point

My first introduction to Alstrom Point was from a photograph I had seen at an art fair in Flagstaff. The artist had a gorgeous triptych of Gunsight Butte at dusk printed on large clear coated aluminum panels. It left such an impression on me that I decided I had to go there and create my own version. After doing some research I realized that the trip wasn't just a short hike from a parking lot off the road, like the infamous Horseshoe Bend. It was a full blown adventure, much like Toroweap or Point Sublime in the Grand Canyon. Such adventures require some research and careful planning for both weather and road conditions. Travel too early in the season and you run the risk of road closures due to mud & snow, too late in the season and it's well, hot. Hot and no access to the water. I decided to take the trip in mid-March during Spring Break, so it could coincide with my girlfriend Kristi's time off from teaching school. It was also the inaugural official maiden voyage for the completion of a dream project.  I just completed a camper van build.  Its a four -wheeled drive Ford Econoline van that I installed a pop top from a VW Eruovan Westfalia. You can find the build out detailed in my blog: Topographic Escapades- Meet Jupiter After a year of painting, welding and cabinet building it was time to go on our first adventure. For fifteen years Kristi and I have been camper-vanning in a 76 Vw Campmobile. It was great, but this new van will let us go even further off the beaten track, in more comfort and with more convenience than before.  It wasn't the shake down cruise, that was back in October to the North Rim. No, this was the full on sink or swim Atlantic crossing. Alstrom Point was the first night's destination on a loop trip through the Escalante -Grand Staircase and Capitol Reef areas in southern Utah.  For more detail on this trip see my trip report here: To: Alstom Point