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Monthly Archives: June 2011

I’ve already admitted to being a train buff, and there’s no way a train buff can go to Colorado and not ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  I’ve taken train trips in America, Mexico, Peru, China, Spain, France, Poland and Australia, to name a few countries.  This is one of the most scenic train trips I’ve ever been on.

As with my (mis)adventure on the Heber Valley Railroad a few days ago, this day dawned overcast and grey, and threatening to rain.  So while waiting for the boarding call, I decided to do as I had done at Capitol Reef a couple of days prior, and take advantage of the reflective puddles at the station.

I’ll be the first to admit that I can get a little carried away shooting reflections.  But I hear there are worse addictions.

OK, one more, and we’ll continue with the train tomorrow….


Continuing with my 2006 road trip, after a long visit to Capitol Reef, Utah I have finally made it to Mesa Verde, Colorado.  Mesa Verde has some of the best-preserved cliff dwelling sites in the entire Southwest.  This is just one of over 600 cliff dwellings there.  When I look at ruins like this, I can’t help but imagine what life must have been like there hundreds of years ago.

This is the land above the cliff dwelling.  As you can see, a fire came through pretty recently.

It’s kind of a surreal landscape.  Some might call it ugly, but I see a stark beauty in it.  Already the land is recovering and grasses and small bushes are beginning to grow.  But the dead trees will linger for many more years before they are blown over and begin to decompose.  I would like to see how this area has changed in the five years since I last visited.

Ah, a ship of the desert!  No, wait, that refers to a camel.  In any case, it’s how some people choose to see the world.  Usually very slowly in front of me on a winding two-lane road with no passing lane for the next 17 miles.

As you may have already guessed from the title, the first four images are actually crops of the image directly above.  And I love the contrasts to be found in this image.  The sublime beauty of the cliff dwelling harmonizes with the landscape, following the curves and arches in the towering cliff that continues to shelter it long after its builders are gone.  The burned trees tell a story of a fire that passed by the cliff dwellings, thankfully not damaging the ancient site.  The land is recovering, but it will be many years before all of the scars are gone.  The camper on the road above contrasts the old way of life with the new.  The people in the camper can travel farther in one hour than most of the cliff dwellers ever likely traveled in their entire lives!  I find it all remarkable.

One thing I love about the desert is that the geology is front and center.  It’s not hidden by a bunch of grass or trees or water.  It’s out in plain sight for anyone to see and interpret.

Most of the desert is sedimentary rock, and most of that is sandstone and shale.  Sandstone is pretty much made out of sand (and sometimes gravel), and shale is made out of mud and clay.  It’s pretty basic.

What shapes the sandstone and shale into such interesting formations is wind and water.  Primarily water, which I find ironic in this arid environment.  While wind will pick up loose sand and “sandblast” the sandstone rock, the sand is usually not picked up very high.  A geology teacher I once had told us that 6′ is usually the limit.

But rain and rivers can do amazing things, as the Grand Canyon proves.

This formation looks a bit like The Sphinx.  Okay, maybe a cat wearing a fez.  Perhaps I was in the sun a bit too long without a hat….

This one looks to me like a massive Frostie cone, or perhaps as if a giant had been playing with Silly Sand.  Anyone remember that?  Whoops, I may be dating myself again here….

The variety of shapes, colors and textures is almost endless, and if the light is good I feel like a kid in a candy store.  Sidelighting brings out the texture of the rock, and long shadows can add drama.  Some afternoon clouds are good too.

Recipe to create a pleasing desert rock formation:  Take a lot of sand and mud.  Bury with more sand and mud.  Compress for a few millions years, give or take.  Return sand and mud (now called sandstone and shale, respectively) to surface of earth.  Tilt if desired.  Add liberal doses of water and wind.  Erode for a few million more years.  And…voila!

So the other cool thing about rain in the desert, besides instant rivers and reflective puddles, is what happens when the rivers and the puddles dry up:  mud cracks!

I can play around with shooting mud cracks for quite a while.  I find the variations in patterns and textures fascinating.

To me, the mud in the above image looks like milk chocolate!

I’d love to know why different types of mud dry into different sizes and patterns of cracks.  I imagine it depends on how much clay or sand is in the mud….

What I love about the image below is that you can see the imprints of the individual raindrops in the mud!  How cool is that?

The orchards of Capitol Reef are the remains of an old settlement called Fruita.  Fruita, Utah.  Yes, really, I couldn’t make that up.  Well, okay, I could, but I didn’t.

I was fooling around with the above image in a photo-editing software program, and couldn’t find a look I liked.  I remember one of my photo instructors admonishing the students to never, NEVER increase the saturation of an image.  Therefore, I had never fooled with the saturation of an image.  Indeed, if you over-saturate an image, you get a look I like to call “Velvia on acid.”  Not a pretty picture, so to speak.

It dawned on me, a full year later (sometimes I’m slow on the uptake, I admit) that the photo instructor had never told us to not UNDER-saturate an image.  I had simply taken it upon myself to never mess with the saturation at all, period.

I decided to find out what would happen if I under-saturated an image, and decided that for the above image, I liked it a lot.  It lends an old-timey, faded photo look, but you still get a hint of color.

For more about the orchards of Fruita, check out:

I also happen to like the mountain lurking at the end of the row of trees like Godzilla.  Here’s a more “normal” view of those cliffs.

Tomorrow:  from Utah to Colorado.

I continued to have fun shooting reflections someplace they’re not often found:  in rain puddles in the desert.  While the massive rainstorms of the past several days caused me to alter some plans on this road trip, and messed up some photo ops that I have planned, they also gave me photo-ops I hadn’t planned on.  And often these turn out to be the best, or at least the most fun to shoot.

When I arrived at this large gravel parking lot early in the morning, I was the only person there for quite a while.  But eventually, the later-rising campers began to trickle in.  As I was shooting the puddles, I had the camera on a tripod, tipped down towards the earth.  I noticed a few other people staring at the crazy person photographing the parking lot.  If you’re not standing in exactly the right place, you don’t see the reflection in the puddle, or all you see reflected is sky.

Some people’s curiosity got the better of them, and they wandered over to see what the heck I was shooting.  And several who noticed the reflections took some shots of their own with their point-and-shoot cameras.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Hey, I’ll take it.  I was just being in the right place at the right time.  And having fun.

One of my favorite things to shoot is reflections.  I love looking at things in a new way.  That new way often happens to be upside-down or backwards.

When the backcountry drive  and photo shoot I had planned in Capitol Reef had to be aborted due to road washouts, I looked for “Plan B”,  and I found it, in, of all places, a dirt parking lot.

It was still early enough in the day that the far cliffs were bathed in early morning light, making them glow orange.

It’s worth pointing out that the best reflection images (I think) come when the subject (that is, the thing BEING reflected, in this case the cliffs) are in sunlight, and the reflecting surface (a puddle, lake, mirror, window, etc.) is in shadow.

I have fun playing with different compositions and seeing how artfully I can frame my subject within the confines of the puddle.  You only need to move the camera and/or your body a little bit to change the reflection a lot.

I think it’s also fun to shoot only the reflected subject, so that the viewer has to wonder why on earth the image is upside-down.  This reflection is so clear, it’s hard to tell that it’s a reflection.  To me it looks almost like stalactites hanging from the roof of a cave.

Tomorrow:  More reflecting on reflections…

I’m continuing with the saga of my 2006 road trip, now arriving in Capitol Reef.  I mentioned that there were three days of massive rain storms while I was in Salt Lake City.  These storms affected the next week of my trip, for better and for worse.

One of the better affects was that there was water in places it normally isn’t.  And one of the worse affects was that there was water in places it normally isn’t.

In the “better” column was the fact that the water brought out wildlife not normally seen in the desert, like this frog.

In the “worse” column was what it did to the roads.  I mentioned in a previous post how much I love driving the back roads, and especially dirt back roads, because of the unique photo ops to be found there.  Note this road sign:

“4 Wheel Drive” was an understatement.  The sign should’ve read “Amphibious Vehicle Required.”

I had dutifully gotten up at zero-dark-thirty and taken off in search of early morning photo ops in the backcountry when I stopped here.  It’s hard to tell from this image, but I’m standing in the middle of the road, and the road continues on the other side of the…river?  Who put this river in the middle of my road?  I’ve got places to go, things to see, stuff to shoot…well, I guess this IS the photo-op for the day.

This image shows how high the river crested at maximum flood stage.  The water had actually receded quite a bit during the last day or two.  Can you make out the tire tracks where the road continues on the far bank?

These images prove that one needs to be both cautious and flexible when driving off the beaten track.  While I do have a high-clearance, 4WD SUV, I did not feel comfortable fording this river with the huge rocks on both banks and who-knows-what under the water.

Well, there are worse places to get “stuck” during beautiful morning light, so I decided to take advantage of the scenery.  Tomorrow:  “Plan B.”

The 2006 road trip continues.  I’m still in Utah.  I had just survived three days of torrential rain.  I had seen every museum in Salt Lake City worth seeing.  It was time to move on, and with an uncharacteristically clean car in the midst of a desert road trip, thanks to all the rain.

So when I stopped at a pullout for a photo-op, I spotted this reflection on the side of my unusually clean car.

There’s something about traveling alone through the desert that makes me little punchy…the wide-open vistas, the sun, the wind, the solitude…there’s some magic formula that serves to make the most mundane thing fascinating.

I love the strange, two-dimensional feel of this image.  To me the massive profile of the cliff looks like a piece of stage scenery, and the sky a painted backdrop.

Then I spotted this cryptic sign.  What on earth are “Frequlnt Deer?”  This must be a species unique to the Utah high desert.

And who’s job is it to train the deer to cross the highway in between the yellow signs?

Ah, this must be one of those “Frequlnt Deer.”  Or perhaps the deer taught the cows to cross the road between the yellow signs just like they do….

I just love it when cows pose to get their picture taken.  I guess they get lonely out here in the desert.

And even thought these aren’t dairy cows, is it still okay to use the expression “Say cheese?”

Tomorrow:  on to Capitol Reef!

Still on the 2006 road trip, still in Utah, driving a two-lane highway that curves alongside a gorgeous stream through a cottonwood-strewn valley, said cottonwoods almost obscenely yellow at the peak of their Fall foliage show, totally groovin’ on the eye candy, and then this…

Bad enough to plunk whatever this is (A power plant?  Signage was lacking!) in the midst of this beautiful valley, on the “Scenic Byway,” but that’s not all:  the highway department has thoughtfully provided us with a “Scenic Turnout” from which to admire it in all its steam-belching glory.

I can’t remember if I ever made it to said turnout, but I did have to pull over to the side of the highway to get this sign juxtaposed with the buildings, smokestacks and crane behind it.

While I love taking pretty pictures, another obsession is taking ironic ones.  It’s almost a compulsion.  And this one was a “gimme.”

Enjoy the scenery!