Archive for December 2013

Single-image Sunday: Surfing in Winter   4 comments

The great thing about surfing in winter is you have some elbow room.  Or so it seems to me.  I’m not a surfer.  I’ve tried, believe me.  I even took a couple classes in El Salvador.  I found it to be a great way to drink seawater…most of it through my nose!  There were other problems, but for me that was the major one.  I can see the attraction however.

This is a beach near San Diego at the foot of some nice bluffs turned golden by the setting sun.  There were certainly other surfers around.  But when I saw this guy walking down the beach alone, I could see (even at this distance) that he was having a great time.  It was the way he was walking, barefoot and alone in the late-afternoon sun down a beautiful stretch of coast.  He had apparently finished for the day, enjoying the post-surfing glow after some good rides.

I had to use my 200 mm. lens to capture him from atop the bluff where I was walking.  I just hand-held the shot even though I had my tripod.  For one thing, I had to be quick about it.  Also, since he was moving along at a good pace, I needed a faster shutter speed anyway to keep him sharp.

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A lone surfer on the California Coast.

Posted December 29, 2013 by MJF Images in People, Photography, Travel photography

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Friday Foto Talk: Shooting in Winter, Part II   6 comments

Easy Zion, Utah.  Many of this post's images are not too wintry looking, being from recent travels in the desert southwest.

Easy Zion, Utah. Many of this post’s images are not too wintry looking, being from recent travels in the desert southwest.

This is the second of three parts on photography in winter.  Part I highlighted some of the great reasons for keeping your photography going through the winter months.  This post will focus on some of the challenges and how to deal with them.  Next Friday, Part III will continue with even more challenges and opportunities presented by wintertime image-making.

I appreciate your interest in my blog and images.  Note that the images are all copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Just click on them to go to the gallery part of my website.  You can purchase prints or rights to the images from there.  But I also welcome personal requests.  Just contact me and I’ll get right back to you.  Thanks a bunch!

A rainbow this bright is rarely possible without getting wet!

A rainbow this bright is rarely possible without getting wet!

Challenges (and Solutions) to Shooting in Winter

      • EXPOSURE:  First off I want to highlight a rather obvious benefit to shooting in winter, one I didn’t include in last Friday’s post.  Maybe it’s too obvious to mention, but the ability in winter to capture scenes with snow and ice in them presents real opportunity.  The white stuff lends a special mood to your pictures and enables you to tell stories you are not able to tell with your pictures at other times of year.

Of course there is a challenge involved in shooting snow and ice.  It can easily mess with your camera’s metering system.  If most of the frame is white or very light colored, your image can end up underexposed by as much as two stops!  This will render snow a dull grey – not good.  Ice, which is usually more of a light grey, doesn’t fool your camera quite as much as snow.

Solutions:

This is an easy one.  All you need to do is over-expose by a stop or two.  A lot depends on how much of the frame is occupied by white snow/ice.  If only half of the scene or less is white and depending on how good your meter is, you might find a half to one stop over is all you need.  Maybe even none at all.

For example, say you have snow in the lower part of the frame and green trees plus blue sky in the upper part.  Here you might not need to overexpose at all, or to be safe perhaps 1/2 stop.  But if it is all snow and bright cloudy sky, you will probably need to go over by one to two stops.

Use your camera’s automatic feature and dial in positive exposure compensation.  If you’re shooting in manual mode, just open up your aperture, slow your shutter speed, or lower ISO by the correct amount of stops.  Although you can certainly brighten things up later on the computer, that is a bad habit to get into.  Get exposure as close as you can at time of capture.

This scene after snowfall in Zion's Kolob Canyons required only 2/3 stop positive exposure compensation.

This snowy scene in Zion’s Kolob Canyons required only 2/3 stop positive exposure compensation.

Hiking through a gap in Valley of Fire where winds deposit sand dunes.

Hiking through a gap in Valley of Fire where winds funnel through, depositing sand dunes.

 

      • WET:  In my home area of the Pacific Northwest, rain is a given during winter.  It can fall each day for weeks at a time.  In many temperate latitudes, cold rain and wet snow are the rule in winter.  This can cause real damage to your camera equipment, damage that will cost hundreds to fix; to say nothing of the damage to your spirits.

Solutions:  

This is probably the toughest challenge to deal with.  There are many “raincoats” made for your camera and lens.  My experience is that very few of them are worth much.  As with a disturbing number of photo accessories, this is one where it’s definitely “buyer beware”.

Don’t buy off the internet without checking it out personally.  If you belong to a camera club, push for a meeting where everyone brings in their favorite camera rain-gear and explains pluses and minuses.  Check them out using your camera, looking for ease of use and coverage, along with overall quality.

Another shot that is difficult to get in comfortable conditions.  Water from a spray bottle just isn't the same.

Another shot that is difficult to get in comfortable conditions. Water from a spray bottle just isn’t the same.

MY METHOD

To keep my camera well protected from rain or wet snow I normally keep it inside my pack with the rain cover on.  Does your pack or bag have a rain cover?  Sometimes I just sling the camera around my neck inside my waterproof parka, only taking it out when I need to shoot.  If you find a very good raincoat for your camera, you could mount camera and lens onto your tripod and put the raincoat on before you even go out into the deluge.

I have a towel thingie that I bought at Walgreens.  (I like that word “thingie”.)  It’s made of thick terry cloth material, is quite absorbent, and takes quite awhile to get wet.  I use it not only to protect the camera from the rain but to mop up droplets on all non-glass surfaces.  Its best feature is a sort of pocket on one end, which curls right around the back of my camera, helping it to stay put.  The long end gets draped over my lens.

You could also fashion a towel/camera cover of your own with a simple sewing job.  Or you could always use the old standby, a shower cap.  But go a step further and try to find a shower cap with a soft terry-cloth interior.  I found one at Walgreens.

My towel cover is over the camera inside my pack, so I have protection from the moment I take the camera out.  I also have ready in my pocket a large microfiber cloth (or two).  You will constantly be drying your lens surfaces, though this is minimized if you use a lens hood.  You don’t want water drops in your photos.  They’re a hassle to remove on the computer.

You can also use an umbrella.  I find it’s just one thing too many to mess with, but I can see the value (especially if you have an assistant!).  My method above is only really useful in drizzle or moderate rainfall.  A heavy downpour and things just get wet no matter what you do.  My camera gear is inside my pack during these times unless I can find some overhang to shoot under.

If you have a pro-style camera such as a Canon 1Dx or Nikon D4, you are one step ahead of everyone else, since your camera is sealed well enough to handle all but heavy downpours.  Sadly, even expensive second tier cameras like my Canon 5D Mark III are not sealed well enough to be safe in direct rainfall.

Winter's heavy flows are a great time to shoot waterfalls in Oregon's Columbia Gorge, but it also presents a challenge dealing with moisture.

Winter’s heavy flows are a great time to shoot waterfalls in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, but it also presents a challenge dealing with moisture, whether it’s raining or not.

Winter-blooming plants bring pollinators in the desert of Anza Borrego State Park, California.

Winter-blooming plants bring pollinators in the desert of Anza Borrego State Park, California.

      • COLD:  Though nearly all cameras have a temperature below which the manufacturer does not guarantee correct operation (check your manual), most of the time the problem you’ll have is with condensation.  When you bring your camera from the cold back into the warmth of your home or vehicle, and to a certain extent vice-versa as well, there is a good chance of moisture building up even on interior components.  Wet electronics mean large repair bills.

Solutions:

Buy a large plastic bag that seals out moisture, big enough to put camera and lens in.  You can find heavy duty ziplock-style bags in various sizes. Aloksak is one brand.  They work wonderfully for DSLRs.  You can also use a larger dry bag like white-water rafters use.  You can put your whole camera backpack into the larger models, though you wouldn’t want to hike around with one.  Check out your local outdoor sporting goods store, like REI.  If you have a small mirrorless or point and shoot camera, gallon-sized Ziplock bags will work just fine.

Here is the procedure:  Before you take your equipment out into the cold, and especially before you come in from the cold into a warm place, place your camera and lens into the bag(s) and seal them well.  Let them cool down (or warm up) to the ambient temperature before you take them out of the bag(s).

To save time with this, I often turn off the heat in the car about a half hour before I get to the shooting locale.  Then I don’t have to worry about it.  I crack the windows to make sure the interior is nice and cold when I get back in.  A bonus is it doesn’t feel as cold when you get out!

Stay tuned next Friday for the final part of this series: more challenges that winter throws at the unsuspecting photographer; more tips on how to deal with them.  In the meantime, I sincerely wish you a happy and safe New Year!

Shadow and winter light play games in the sand dunes of Death Valley National Park, California.

Shadow and winter light play games in the sand dunes of Death Valley National Park, California.

Merry Christmas!!   10 comments

It’s Christmas Eve and I’d like to wish all of you a very merry Christmas:  excitement and good cheer early in the day; that magical peace mixed with anticipation that seems to descend late on the night before Christmas;  fun times with family and friends on Christmas day!  Enjoy this picture from my current wanderings.  I may have included it in a previous post, but it’s the most “Christmasy” of my recent images.

Snow-dusted aspens & spruce of the Colorado Rockies.  Click on image for more info.

Snow-dusted aspens & spruce of the Colorado Rockies. Click on image for more info.

Single-image Sunday: Nevada Roadside Attractions   1 comment

Three miles from a small Nevada town.  I only took a picture!

Three miles from a small Nevada town. I only took a picture!

Far from the glitz and glamour of Vegas, in the desert a few miles from the dusty old mining town of Beatty, there is something you can only see in Nevada, the only state with legalized prostitution.  I just had to have a picture, but no, I did not pay a visit!

It was actually the old bomber that first drew my eye, and that is obviously not accidental.  You won’t find obvious signs like this anywhere near where tourists congregate in Nevada.  It’s kept very much under the surface in those places.  But out here in small-town Nevada, in the open desert, where you can also still find a few locally-owned small casinos with oddball characters holding up the bar, a little-talked about part of the old west survives.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting in Winter, Part I   2 comments

From a previous trip to Nepal, this is the roof of the world.  Going up in elevation like this makes every day of the year a winter day!

From a previous trip to Nepal, this is the roof of the world – Everest & Lhotse. Going up to high altitudes in high mountains makes every day of the year a winter day!

Winter is upon us and it’s tempting to put your photography on hiatus.  The cold and wet is not only uncomfortable to shoot in, it can also be hazardous to your camera equipment.  Avoiding wintertime photography, however, means missing some beautiful pictures.  In this first part I’ll do my best to convince you to keep shooting through the winter months.  In Part II, I’ll pass on some tips and other ways to help you protect your gear and get some great shots.

Enjoy a grab-bag of images both recent and older while you’re at it!  Remember that all of them are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Just click on the images to go to my main gallery page or contact me for requests on specific recent images.  I’m happy to hear from you!

A recent image, this is a snowy morning spent on the canyon rim of the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

A recent image, this is a snowy morning spent on the canyon rim of the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

Click image to purchase.  Late winter blends into spring in Oregon with a gorgeous rainbow.

Click image to purchase. Late winter blends into spring in rural Oregon with a gorgeous rainbow.

Benefits of Shooting in Winter

      • Scenes with snow and ice have a special feel to them.  There is no other time in which to get those atmospheric shots of snow and ice but during the winter months.
      • For those who live outside the tropics, the sun is lower this time of year.  That means you get nicer light for longer periods of time.  With winter solstice, the shortest days of the year are right now.  Depending on how far north you are and the quality of light, you may even be able to shoot in beautiful light from dawn to dusk.
      • The air is most clear and pristine at this time of year, giving the light a special character.  The atmosphere is often cold from top to bottom and the days are short.  This means the ground and the air near it doesn’t warm up appreciably during the day.  The rising heat waves that tend to distort things to one degree or another in summer are almost absent.  Even distant mountains can take on a startling clarity in wintertime.
      • For most areas, wintertime brings stormy weather.  This means it’s your best chance to capture dramatic skies and misty atmospheric light.
      • Similar to the above point, winter is when you’ll find fog in the mornings.  As you drive or walk around, try to imagine what a scene might look like shrouded in fog.  A scene you wouldn’t think of capturing at other times can yield gorgeous shots in fog.
The pastels in this dusk image near Mammoth Lakes, California only appear in winter's frigid and pristine air.

The pastels in this dusk image near Mammoth Lakes, California only appear in winter’s frigid and pristine air.

      • There are fewer other photographers around in winter.  So shooting at popular spots is easier.  If you’re willing to bundle up and go out on freezing mornings, you are unlikely to find your favorite shooting positions already occupied.
      • Speaking of shooting at sunrise, if you’re not exactly a morning person (like me), it’s easier to drag yourself out of bed for the later sunrises during winter.  With the earlier sunset, you might find it easier to shoot and still make dinner afterwards at this time of year.
      • Lastly, winter is a perfect time to experiment with shooting still lifes or portraits at home.  Experiment with using window light or various types of artificial lighting (including flash).  Buy fresh flowers and photograph them.  Even try your hand at product photography.  Use your imagination, but don’t stay inside.  Winter light is waiting!

Reading the above, it seems like a no-brainer to keep going full steam ahead with your photography during winter.  Of course nothing comes for free, and one can easily think of reasons to make your shooting less frequent.  The cold and wet can really put a damper on both your spirits and your equipment.  Days are short and light is often low.  But are these reasons or excuses?  Stay tuned next Friday Foto Talk for ways to avoid some of the pitfalls of wintertime photography, how to make it rewarding and even enjoyable.

A winter storm moves through the interior of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, far from the beaches of Cabo.

A winter storm moves through the interior of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, far from the beaches of Cabo.

Sunset in the desert of Anza Borrego State Park, California, the light has that winter clarity.

Sunset in the desert of Anza Borrego State Park, California, the light has that winter clarity in this recent image.

Wordless Wednesday: Panamint Dunes   4 comments

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Single-image Sunday: Scotty’s Castle   1 comment

This incongruous place is located in a remote area of the California (Mojave) desert, in the northern part of Death Valley National Park.  Though officially it was called the Death Valley Ranch, it’s better known as Scotty’s Castle.  This post is about a friendship between two men as improbable as a castle in the desert.  I think when you really consider unlikely pairings real truths are often revealed.  These pairings can tell larger stories and illuminate the motivations behind the often-strange behavior of  human beings.

Despite the name, Scotty’s Castle never belonged to Scotty.  Walter Scott (aka Death Valley Scotty) was a colorful character who lived from 1872 to 1954.  He worked for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show for some time, then tried gold mining near Cripple Creek Colorado.  That would be the extent of his working life, as he spent most of the rest of it convincing rich easterners to invest money in fictitious gold mines out west.

Scotty’s last and best benefactor was a Chigagoan named Albert Johnson.  When Johnson was a young man he was fascinated with the west.  While young he made a lot of money investing in a mine in Missouri, and he planned to invest in mines out west.  He wanted a life there.   But a broken back from a bad train accident (which killed his father) changed his life.  He was temporarily paralyzed and made a miraculous recovery.  But his health was never the same and he was forced to settle on a career in the insurance industry.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Johnson would fall in the sights of Walter Scott.  After Johnson had invested some thousands of money into Scott’s secret (and fictitious) Death Valley gold mine with no return, he became suspicious.  It was soon apparent that Scott was lying.  Strangely, despite all the evidence he was being conned, Johnson remained convinced of the mine.

It took quite a number of years and several visits before Johnson finally gave up on the secret mine’s existence.  Through all of this Scott tried to deceive him with several elaborate schemes.  This included (of course) the salting of various fake mines, but Scott was not one to stop there.  He once planted a group of friends in a canyon masquerading as outlaws. They surprised Johnson, Scott and their companions and a fake gunfight (but with real bullets!) ensued.  The ruse was meant to scare away Johnson and his associates in hopes they might forget about seeing the mine with their own eyes.  But the plan quickly went awry when one man was shot and seriously injured.

Scott had learned the art of Wild West theater from the best (Buffalo Bill) and he used that flair for the dramatic in his long career as a con man.  He had a certain boldness. His colorful personality made him a media star in fact.  He made it into newspapers nationwide on several occasions.  And he parlayed that fame into a number of gigs (including a play about himself, starring himself).

Albert Johnson, though a genuinely rich insurance executive, was enchanted with Scotty in the same way he was enchanted with the mythical wild west.  Perhaps Johnson saw his alter ego, the embodiment of a life he wished he had lived.  Of course it was all based on false premises.  The era when the Wild West was real overlaps with the succeeding (longer) era when the concept of the wild west was parodied and used to fire the imaginations of sedate city-goers from “civilized” America – for profit.

Incredibly, Johnson eventually forgave Scott for defrauding him and the two became good friends. You would not expect a man to befriend a man who had conned him out of money, but that’s exactly what happened.  Johnson and Scott genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.  Scott was known as an entertaining storyteller.  All of this might explain why Johnson believed in Scotty’s secret mine for so long, and why he later forgave him.

His early dreams of an adventurous life out west ruined by his devastating injury, Johnson made repeated trips back, particularly to Death Valley.  Trains made some places in the west at least as accessible (in some cases more so) than they are now.  In 1915 Johnson bought and developed an old ranch in Grapevine Canyon.  Though Johnson was content to rough it on his visits, his wife Bessie convinced him to build a vacation home.  And Johnson did not go halfway!  Both he and Bessie loved the peace and quiet of the desert.  As for Scotty, he lived his later years five miles from the the Castle in a cabin built for him by Johnson.

Though Scotty’s Castle was never quite finished, it remains a stunning place.  It was originally run on direct current electricity from a Pelton water wheel powered from the same spring that supplied water.  Johnson did much of the original engineering himself.  The National Park Service purchased the place years after Johnson’s died.  It is nicely preserved and rangers dressed in period costume lead daily tours.

In the picture you can see a cross on the hill overlooking Scotty’s Castle.  This is the grave site of Walter Scott.  He is buried right alongside a beloved dog.  I think this little fact alone might explain why I have a charitable opinion of a man who lied and cheated for most of his life.

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Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley National Park, California.

Friday Foto Talk: Are Photography Workshops Worthwhile?   10 comments

The desert greets the morning sun at Valley of Fire, Nevada.

The desert greets the morning sun at Valley of Fire, Nevada.

This post is a day late; no internet is a mixed blessing!  It’s really a continuation of the larger topic of guided vs. unguided nature & landscape photography.  Check out last Friday’s Foto Talk for some introductory thoughts on the topic.  In the title of this post you may think I’m asking if workshops are worthwhile for a learning photographer to sign up for.

And you’re right.  But I’m also asking if it is worthwhile for an experienced photographer to organize and run a series of workshops.  I would love to hear your opinions on both parts of this question.

I hope you enjoy the images, which are from the desert where I am now.  Most are from Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.  As always, they are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  But let me know if you’re interested in any of them.  Click on the images to go to the main gallery part of my website. Thanks for your interest.

Sandy hiking at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

Sandy hiking at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

The fascinating textures and patterns in the sandstone of Valley of Fire are highlighted by a low sun.

The fascinating textures and patterns in the sandstone of Valley of Fire are highlighted by a low sun.

 

Photography Workshop Pros & Cons

I’ve been assuming that the plethora of guided photography trips is merely a result of the difficulty photographers have making  money from selling nature photography.  But that’s just half the story.  There must be some demand as well.  How could there possibly be that many people signing up for field workshops?  My mistake was I assumed most people are like me.  While I still have my doubts, I’m definitely coming around to the belief that there is a large group of folks out there who could use a workshop or two.  As is usually the case, supply is simply there to meet demand.

One of Valley of Fire's more popular photographic subjects, the "fire wave".

One of Valley of Fire’s more popular photographic subjects, the “fire wave”.

PROS

      • Participants might feel (rightly) that they couldn’t visit that beautiful destination and find all those great photo spots on their own.  Even if they could find the spots, they might not feel comfortable driving or hiking to them alone.
      • With respect to nature & landscape photography itself, folks in a workshop expect to learn the “tricks of the trade”.  Obviously they want to improve their own photography.
      • Putting these two things together, I think there is a somewhat deeper and more compelling reason to take a workshop.  It can serve as a bridge toward participants doing more innovative nature photography on their own.  They might learn that it’s not so intimidating going off and finding unique and wonderful images all by themselves.  But this last benefit only comes with awareness, an over-arching goal of empowerment, on the part of both instructor and participant.

A sculpture of a wild Kiger mustang is actually in my home state, Oregon's eastern desert.

CONS

      • The number of “photographers” out there running workshops, just for the money, is only increasing.  There is a real danger, if you’re not careful, of ending up in a workshop run by someone who picked up photography last June, attended a workshop, maybe two, then began marketing their own workshops.  They may be good at the computer end of photography but that does you little good in a field workshop.
      • The lower-quality (cheaper) offerings tend to maximize numbers.  Even if the ratio of instructor to participant is kept within reason, too many people comes with an inevitable decrease in the quality of experience.
      • The cheaper workshops tend to visit only the popular spots.  They let their hordes loose with little direction, and there’s often trampling of vegetation and other nonsense going on.  There’s also the virtual certainty of annoying those unfortunate souls who just happen to be visiting the place at the same time.

 

Beavertail cactus catches the late afternoon light at Valley of Fire Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

Beavertail cactus catches the late afternoon light at Valley of Fire Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

How to Choose a Workshop

It may be apparent from the above that it’s worth doing two things.  First you should think carefully about whether a workshop would be to your benefit. When I say benefit I mean not only learning and improving your photography, but having an enriching and fun experience.  Fun is always important!

The second thing to do is shop carefully, get references from people you know if at all possible, and avoid the “lowest bidder”.  Try talking with your photographer friends: your local club, online contacts, etc.  But as always filter all advice through your own sense of what you want, your personality, common sense, etc.

Resist the temptation to consider the destination in your decision.  The truth is that many places are beautiful.  Even more places can serve to teach you how to take better photos.  It is the people (instructors & co-participants both), along with the structure and atmosphere of the workshop that will determine what impression you come away with.  If the place is beautiful and interesting, that’s a bonus!

All of this said, it’s probably not necessary to go for a workshop run by a “name”.  If you take a workshop from Art Wolf or John Shaw, you’ll undoubtedly have a great experience and learn much.  But you’ll also spend a pile of money.  And you could come away thinking some of that money was spent so you could say you took a workshop from a “master”.

Near sunset on the sandstone at Valley of Fire.

Near sunset on the sandstone at Valley of Fire.

Is it Worth Running a Workshop?

Now to the second part of the question, are photography workshops worthwhile.  I definitely think I could help improve, as much as one person can, the overall quality of photography workshops.  I’ve almost convinced myself to dive into it.  But not quite.  Again I encourage you all to weight in on this.

I have experience with outdoor education along with traditional (classroom) education in the sciences.  I have plenty of photography experience and a wealth of expertise and comfort in the outdoors.  I can offer the kind of enrichment that nearly no other photo workshops don’t offer:  ecology, geology, history and other aspects of many regions in the U.S. and internationally.  I believe in getting to know places intimately for my own benefit.  I would never consider leading folks into areas I had not explored in depth.

Banded sandstone layers lie on edge at Valley of Fire, Nevada.

Banded sandstone layers lie on edge at Valley of Fire, Nevada.

What I lack, of course, is name recognition.  I haven’t exactly been a marketing star with respect to my photography, and as a result, I am anything but well known.  I love blogging for the sake of blogging, and with all modesty I think my posts are above average, substantive not fluffy.  But unlike others, blogging hasn’t to date been a marketing tool for me.  So I have few (but highly valued!) followers.  Perhaps some of you loyal few can do small things to change that.  If the mood strikes you, I would consider it the best holiday gift I could get if you would share or link to my work, as I mentioned in a recent post.

What I didn’t mention last week was good old word of mouth.  I still think that is the best way to spread any word, and it would be so awesome if you felt the urge to bring my images or blog up in a conversation over coffee.  I would so much appreciate simple gestures like these, especially since I know my fellow bloggers, those people I’ve met on here who only follow and like posts because they actually want to, are as sincere as it gets.

A frozen water-pocket reflects the dusk sky in the red-rock country of southeastern Utah.

A frozen water-pocket reflects the dusk sky in the red-rock country of southeastern Utah.

Wordless Wednesday: Empty   2 comments

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Single-image Sunday: Vermilion Cliffs   2 comments

The Vermilion Cliffs, which straddle the Utah-Arizona border, are part of the Grand Staircase.  This is a huge feature on the Colorado Plateau, a series of long, east-west trending cliff bands separated by plateaus.  The “staircase” steps down to the south, ending on a very large step – the Grand Canyon.

Much of the Grand Staircase is covered by a National Monument of the same name.  This means it is largely protected.  Not as much protection as a national park, but off-limits to activities like oil drilling and mining.  Cattle ranching still takes place.

By the way I did a 4-part series on the Grand Staircase last year.  Check out Part I (overview), Part II (geology), Part III (travel tips), and Part IV (highlights, including tips for slot canyon hiking).

The Grand Staircase occupies geographic center of some of the American southwest’s most beautiful and famous scenery.  For example, the topmost step is made up of the Pink Cliffs.  These form the colorful rocks of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.  Zion National Park is on the west side of the Staircase and Capital Reef National Park is on the east.  Lake Powell toward the SE occupies Glen Canyon.  As the Vermilion Cliffs drop down toward Page, Arizona, the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs National Monument covers a fairyland of strange rock formations and slot canyons.

The picture below captures a scene found along the western end of the Vermilion Cliffs, well away from the more popular parks.  The snow-covered pasture in the foreground is part of the ranch land surrounding Colorado City, Arizona.  The temperature was quickly dropping as the sun went down here. It was clear and cold!

Colorado City is one of America’s last havens for polygamy (multiple wives).  Many hard-core Mormons live here in the so-called Arizona Strip (the land between Grand Canyon and the Utah border).  It’s a quiet community.  They like to be left alone with their lovely view of the Vermilion Cliffs.

The Vermilion Cliffs near Colorado City, Arizona take on a russet color at sunset.

The Vermilion Cliffs near Colorado City, Arizona take on a russet color at sunset.

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