Archive for December 2015

Best of 2015: A Year in Three Images   17 comments

Have you noticed that pretty much every photographer publishes a “best-of” list at the end of each year?  Hmm…not sure if I want to continue to cooperate on this.  I never feel good about doing things that seem expected; just my personality.  So I’ll do my own variation on the theme.  I’ll post three of my favorites for the year.  Not 10, and certainly not 15.

But here’s the hitch:  if you have other ideas on the matter, images of mine that you’ve seen either here on the blog or on my website, by all means let me know and I’ll post them.  They will appear with your name in upcoming Single-image Sunday or Wordless Wednesday posts.  Just comment on this post with the link to the shot or describe it using its title/caption.

I love this first one for the exceedingly brief moment it represents, and the way it tells a story about the battle between storm and mountain range.  The placid pasture with grazing cattle is just the sort of contrast that a story-telling image is made stronger for.

Knocking on the Door: An April snowstorm breaks over the Sierra Nevada in California.

Knocking on the Door: An April snowstorm breaks over the Sierra Nevada in California.

I’m fond of this next one not only because I almost didn’t get up it was so windy and cold, but it’s one of my rare “planned shots”.  I have been wanting to get a well-balanced shot of this barn and homestead in nice light for quite a long time.  Also, the horse being outside on a very chilly dawn made me think it was meant to be.

The Old Gifford Place: An historic homestead lies beneath the cliffs of Capitol Reef in Utah.

The Old Gifford Place: An historic homestead lies beneath the cliffs of Capitol Reef in Utah.

I like last one a lot because while the sky is not overly colorful, it’s amazing the way sunlight can be aimed as a powerful beam when it is squeezed between cloud and landscape.  And when that light is collected on a simple hillside of quaking aspen, where I had just barely reached an opening in the forest, it can turn your whole world golden.

Happy New Year everyone!

Golden light floods into a grove of quaking aspen in Colorado's Cimarron Mountains. I love this one because while the sky is not overly colorful, simple sunlight collecting on a hillside of aspen can turn your whole world golden.

Golden light floods into a grove of quaking aspen in Colorado’s Cimarron Mountains.

 

 

Visiting Zion National Park: Part III   10 comments

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Morning light at chilly East Zion.

Let’s continue the series on Zion National Park in Utah by picking up the story of human presence in this southwestern corner of Utah.  For the history of the ancient ones, the American Indian at Zion, check out Part II, and for the geologic history and formation of Zion, see Part I.

EARLY EXPLORERS

During the time leading up to the mid-1800s, the Zion area was wild and populated thinly by the Southern Paiute.  They may have avoided Zion Canyon itself because they believed it was inhabited by capricious spirits.  Their names for features in the canyon indicate as much: Temple of Sinawava (Coyote the trickster), Mount Wynopits (god of evil), etc.  All this time the area was claimed by Spain, and then by Mexico once they had gained independence.

In the late 1700s Spanish explorers penetrated southern Utah, apparently missing the Zion region.  But the reports of Escalante, Dominguez and Rivera, and the beautiful maps of the artist-cartographer Bernardo Miera, greatly helped later white settlers.  In particular the Mormons were intrigued by the Spaniards’ tales of Utah, a fact that would determine the future for the Zion area.

Bernardo de Miera's map of the 1776 Dominguez-Escalante expedition. Click image to go to source website.

Bernardo de Miera’s map of the 1776 Dominguez-Escalante expedition. Click image to go to source website.

In the early 1800s, trappers and mountain men, while mostly staying to the north and east, did explore Utah.  They found (a word I use loosely) many of the old Indian trails like the Old Spanish Trail.  These would several decades later be used by white settlers.  John Fremont explored Utah in the mid 1840s but he too missed Zion.

It should be noted however that the quirky and tough mountain men befriended many natives that they met.  (They preferred Indian to white women as brides.)  Some of them took secrets of their travels to their graves.  So the odd mountain man could have walked up the Virgin River looking for beaver sign.  Or even wintered in the relatively mild climate of SW Utah.  We know Jedediah Smith, perhaps the widest-traveled mountain man (and my personal favorite), knew of the Virgin River.  We just don’t know if any of them stepped foot in Zion Canyon.

This is actually a replica not the real deal. But forts were required to subdue the native populations of the west.

This is actually a replica. But forts were certainly required to subdue the native populations of the west.

THE MORMONS

Led by their leader and prophet Brigham Young, in the summer of 1847 thousands of Mormons arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake.  This was after their persecution back east (their founder and original prophet Joseph Smith was murdered while in prison).  At the time the area was beyond the boundaries of the U.S.  A year later that changed as all of Utah (including Zion) was part of the huge area ceded to the U.S. by Mexico.  This was the result of Mexico’s defeat in the Mexican-American war.

That didn’t deter Brigham Young.  He later became territorial governor of Utah, but the relationship between the government and Mormons has always been a tempestuous one (it’s a great story of its own).  After being named president of the Mormons, Young sent parties to explore SW Utah in the 1850s.  A mission to convert the Southern Paiute was established near what is now St. George not far from Zion.  They took Indian lands in order to grow corn and other cash crops, including cotton.  It didn’t take long for many Paiute to die of disease and starvation.

Mormon leader Brigham Young.

Mormon leader Brigham Young.

Because cotton and tobacco could be grown in the mild climate of SW Utah, and also because many of the settlers were originally from the American South, the area was named Dixie.  The mission and settlement was largely unsuccessful and many fled.  But Young kept it alive, sending more settlers south.  He also sent Mormons to other places in the intermountain West.  Mormons discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in California and even founded Las Vegas (of all places).

Under the cottonwoods in Zion Canyon, Utah.

ZION & THE POLITICS OF PLACE-NAMES

John Wesley Powell (another favorite figure of mine) led an expedition to the Zion area in 1872, recording the canyon’s name as Mukuntuweap.  This is a Southern Paiute name meaning “straight canyon” or “arrow quiver” depending on who you believe.  Powell may have been using the actual Indian name for the canyon or he may have gotten it wrong.  But in 1909, when the area was given national monument status, it was called Mukuntuweap.

This is despite the fact that it was named Zion decades earlier.  In 1858, the Mormon Indian interpreter and explorer Nephi Johnson explored the canyon (he is recorded as the first white person to see it).  Despite the typical Mormon take on it that he was just exploring, he was very likely looking for a place to hide and lay low.

Johnson was directly involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, not far north of St. George.  About 120 California-bound emigrants from Arkansas, including women and children, were murdered by Mormon militia-men (disguised as American Indians).  A group of Southern Paiute, under direction of Johnson, also took part.

The town of Springdale at the entrance to Zion Canyon was founded by Mormon farmers in 1862.

The town of Springdale at the entrance to Zion Canyon was founded by Mormon farmers in 1862.

In 1861 another Mormon settler named Isaac Behunin, armed with information from Johnson, entered the canyon and built a one-room log cabin at the site now occupied by Zion Lodge.  Like anyone, Behunin needed a name for his spectacular new surroundings: “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church – this is Zion.”

Under great political pressure from Mormons, who had all along been calling the place Zion and who were angry about the Paiute name, the acting director of the Park Service bowed to pressure and renamed it Zion.  This was fortuitous for the Mormons, since the iconic director of the NPS Stephen Mather, who was dead-set against a name-change, was on leave at the time, suffering one of his long bouts of depression.

When the fantastic canyon, which by this time was well known thanks to the wonderful paintings of Frederick Dellenbaugh (see below), became a National Park in 1919, it was called Zion.  And so it remains today.

Zion is a biblical word meaning place of refuge and peace.  Considering their long migration to seek refuge from persecution, it’s a name near and dear to Mormons.  But Nephi Johnson and the Mountain Meadows Massacre in a way twists the ideal of Zion.

A Dellenbaugh painting of the Springdale farmland and Zion Canyon in springtime.

A Dellenbaugh painting of the Springdale farmland and Zion Canyon in springtime.

TOURISM ARRIVES

A road was completed up Zion Canyon in 1917 and Wylie Way Camp was established to house pioneering visitors.  Early tourists came to Zion in special convertible buses.  Using these buses, Zion became part of the “Great Circle”, which took in Bryce Canyon, Zion and the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.  When you take the shuttle bus or drive up Zion Canyon today, as you crane your neck trying to view the soaring canyon walls, you may wonder why that fantastic original idea of topless buses didn’t last.

Zion became Utah’s first National Park in 1919, and in that year about 3700 people visited.  William Wylie’s camp was purchased and Zion Lodge was completed in 1925.  Tourist access continued to increase when the road to Zion became a thru-route in 1930.

After three years of innovative but dangerous road engineering that cost one worker his life, a tunnel was completed through the high cliffs east of Zion Canyon, connecting the park to points east.  The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, with its charming skylight windows overlooking Pine Creek Canyon (its route is very close to the cliff wall), is still one of the country’s most marvelous road-works.

Eastern entrance of Zion - Mount Carmel Tunnel.

Eastern entrance of Zion – Mount Carmel Tunnel.

The same year the tunnels were finished (there are actually two), tourist numbers had increased to about 55,000.  Visitation hit one million annually by 1975 and two million in 1990.  In 1997, with visitor numbers exploding and the canyon becoming a veritable parking lot in summertime, the Park Service instituted a long-overdue mandatory shuttle system.  From mid-March to the end of October, and also Thanksgiving weekends, you must take the free shuttle to access Zion Canyon.

Annual visitor numbers are now in excess of 2.5 million.  So Zion can be quite a busy park.  Next post in the series will focus on ways to come away from Zion with a positive experience while avoiding the potential negatives of all those fellow visitors.

Autumn is a magical time at Zion: ranch not far from the west entrance at Springdale.

Visiting Zion National Park: Part II   7 comments

The area around Zion remains sparsely populated enough to get a feel for what ancient people saw as they passed through.

This continues the series on Zion National Park in Utah.  We’ll focus this time on the history of American Indians in this part of the desert southwest.  Check out Part I for Zion’s pre-human history – its geology.  If you plan on visiting Zion, or any other place, with photography being a big deal for you, I recommend learning about the place instead of perusing photo after photo of it.

In other words, find out what’s interesting about to you about the place.   Try to tailor your visit so you hit spots that feature those interesting aspects, even if they’re outside of your planned destination (in this case the park).  Resist the temptation to visit too many spots based merely on your admiration for the photos others have captured there.  Sorry, end of lecture!

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VISIT THE MUSEUM

If you’re interested in the natural and human history of Zion, you’d do well to visit an interesting little museum upon arrival.  The Zion Natural History Museum is located on the left not far past the west entrance.  Turn left just after passing the turnoff for the campground, which is on the right.  While worthwhile, by far most cultural artifacts are not on display here.  They are housed in Springdale at park headquarters in a large collection of more than 20,000 items.

If you have a keen interest, you can make an appointment to see this collection.  Just email the curator at miriam_watson@nps.gov.  You’re not guaranteed to get in, and it may help to have a group so they make the time for you.  Your goal is to find an NPS staff member with time to give you a personal (and free) tour of the collection.  You can learn some basics by reading in the Park Service’s website for Zion, along with other sites (go beyond Wikipedia!).  But if you can make time for the hands-on approach, you’ll get much more out of it.

View up Zion Canyon at dusk.

View of East Temple at dusk.

ANCIENT TRAVELERS

The first people in North America were hunters traveling with and hunting herds of wooly mammoths, gathering plants for food and medicine along the way.  Most of the evidence we have for these people comes from their spear points and other stone tools like scrapers.  The points, called Clovis and (slightly later) Folsom, are distinctively fluted and usually associated with mammoth remains at kill sites, tagging them as belonging to these ancient hunter/gatherers even where direct dating is impossible (which it usually is).

Although to my knowledge there have been no Clovis or Folsom sites documented for Zion itself, there have been points found north and west of the park.  So it’s reasonable to assume these wanderers walked the canyons and plateaus of what would thousands of years later become known as Zion National Park.  The fact that these canyons are subject to dramatic flash floods means that archaeological evidence tends to be swept away.

Somewhat more evidence ties later hunter/gatherers to the Zion area about 8000 years ago.  These hunter/gatherers, who hunted bison and smaller mammals (mammoths, sloths and other ice-age megafauna had been hunted to extinction), may have even set up seasonal camps.  But there are precious little remains to go off of.

Beaver-tail (or prickly pear) cactus with dried fruits growing in east Zion. A staple of American Indians for thousands of years, the fruits were eaten fresh and raw or made into a jelly. The nopales (cactus pads) were sliced and eaten, and also used to treat wounds and swelling.

Beaver-tail (or prickly pear) cactus with dried fruits growing in east Zion. A staple of American Indians for thousands of years, the fruits were eaten fresh and raw or made into a jelly. The nopales (cactus pads) were sliced and eaten, and also used to treat wounds and swelling.

BASKET-WEAVERS & ANCESTRAL PUEBLOANS

There is evidence of these ancient farmers at Zion.  Basket-weavers, known for their baskets woven of willow and other plants, lived here between about 300 B.C. and 500 A.D.  Since their artifacts degrade easily, they are very rare.  Not much evidence was left behind at Zion, but what there is points to early farming.  These people were succeeded by two groups in the so-called Formative Period from 500 to 1300 A.D.

PAROWAN FREMONT

These people lived in the north of the region up on the plateaus near springs.  Some farmed a cold-tolerant form of corn, some led a more mobile hunting/gathering lifestyle, and some were semi-nomadic.  These hunters did not use bows and arrows.  Rather they threw spears (or arrows) using an ingenious implement called an atlatl.  Atlatls extend the reach of your arm, increasing leverage and speed greatly.  I’ve tried them and they do indeed fling the arrow fast.  But I realized right away that to gain accuracy would require much practice.

Both of these groups, left behind rock art.  It’s very sad that much of this art has been vandalized by clueless visitors.  More remote sites like the Cave Valley petroglyphs off of Kolob Terrace Road are in much better shape.  But even these have been damaged.  As a result, good luck getting any ranger to tell you how to get to this rock art.  The Parowan Fremont sketched unique art characterized by anthropomorphs with triangular or trapezoidal bodies and limbs.

Fremont rock art is characterized by anthopomorphic figures with blocky triangular bodies.  The squiggly line at left represents a journey.

VIRGIN ANASAZI

Farming the southern canyon bottoms were an Ancestral Puebloan group known as the Virgin Anasazi.  As the name “puebloan” suggests, they were sedentary, occupying small settlements.  They were farmers who left behind food storage sites (see below) along with stones for grinding grains called manos and metates.  Later on the farmers began building stone and masonry structures alongside their partly underground dwellings and storage sites.

The two groups evidently had some contact, even though they lived in different environments. They traded tool-making stone and very likely food and medicinal plants as well.  There is no evidence for conflict between them, though some suggest the arrival of Southern Paiute and other tribes from the north may have had something to do with their leaving the area.

ARCHAEOLOGY TRAIL

There is an ancient grain-storage site you can hike to from Zion’s visitor center.  Ask a ranger for directions to the trailhead for the Archaeology Trail.  It’s short, steep and you get a good view of the canyon.  There is not much left of the 1000 year-old Virgin Anasazi site, so get the ranger to give you a few tips to see what there is to see.  But it’s definitely a great way to stretch your legs when you stop at the visitor center.  You can ponder the reasons why the Ancestral Puebloans left their dwellings so abruptly, almost as if they intended to return after visiting friends or relatives elsewhere.

Frozen dew at the end of autumn, Zion National Park.

Frozen dew at the end of autumn, Zion National Park.

RETURN OF THE WANDERING LIFESTYLE

The main tribe to enter the area from the north were the Southern Paiute.  Arriving around 1100 B.C., they obviously coexisted with the nearby farmers for some 200 years.  But their lifestyles were very different.  They hunted and gathered plants, occupying pit-houses and other semi-permanent structures only seasonally.  As such, these nomadic people were well equipped to handle the series of droughts interspersed with catastrophic flooding that began on the Colorado Plateau about 1300 A.D.  They remained while the Ancestral Puebloans and Fremont people left.

These tribes were the ones who greeted white Euro-Americans in the late 1700s.  And when I say greet I don’t necessarily mean warmly.  Many died from diseases brought west by the invaders; the rest were defeated and placed on reservations.  Such is the march of “progress”, but that’s the subject for next post.  We’ll continue with the story of Brigham Young and his flock of Mormons.  Have a great weekend!

The setting sun turns East Zion's cliffs orange above a vernal pool.

The setting sun turns East Zion’s cliffs orange above a vernal pool.

Single-image Sunday – Christmas Edition   5 comments

This was a sunset I was blessed with the other night.  It’s got all my favorite Christmas colors except for green.  But you can’t have everything (if you did then Christmas wouldn’t be so special).  So for everyone out in the world, Merry Christmas and (as the pope said today): May peace be within you.  And I’ll add may peace be within and without you for 2016.

A spring south of Badwater in Death Valley,  California reflects a vibrant dusk sky.

A spring south of Badwater in Death Valley, California reflects a vibrant dusk sky.

Single-image Sunday: Afterlife   11 comments

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This tree I found in a canyon not far from Zion National Park in Utah.  And since I’m doing a series on the park right now, I thought I’d post just this one image today, to show that the area around Zion is worth exploring too.

I called it afterlife because I think this ancient cottonwood may be dead.  But who knows, it is winter when many perfectly alive trees can look to be deceased, especially very old ones.  In any case, the old codger has obviously loved this rock for a long time.

And the tree continues to serve its ecosystem.  It has very likely served as home or shelter for many creatures, and it’s probably been a prime feeding spot for generations of insect-eating birds (like woodpeckers).  I’m also guessing many an owl has perched up there in the moonlight.  It’s a perfect height from which to swoop down on unsuspecting mice.

So if and when you come to Zion, at least on a second visit, make some time to explore the surrounding area as well as the park.  Hope your weekend and holiday preparations are going well.  But remember to enjoy the season and try not to stress out trying to make everything perfect.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday Foto Talk: Myths of Photography – The Tyranny of Light   24 comments

Beautiful light floods the Columbia River in Oregon at sunrise, and Beacon Rock (my subject) is almost lost as a result.

Beautiful light floods the Columbia River in Oregon at sunrise, and Beacon Rock (my subject) is almost lost as a result.

You hear all the time about the importance of light in photography.  And most often light is combined with rich color as being one and the same thing.  I believe there is a myth now being perpetuated among landscape photographers in particular.  It’s that light and natural color saturation are to be sought out and “obtained” in your photos, almost to the exclusion of all else.

I’ve said quite a number of times in this blog that light is important.  And it is!  Quality of light, specifically how rich and soft it is, is certainly worth seeking out, for any subject or type of photography.  But I think many of us have gone too far.

By the way, most of the photos in this post I’ve never posted (even on Facebook) and they don’t appear on my website.  Enjoy!

A tree with light on the Oklahoma prairies. Because it's in silhouette, the light & color behind it can be almost as fine as it wants to be.

A tree with light on the Oklahoma prairies. Because it’s in silhouette, the light & color behind it can be almost as fine as it wants to be.

Here are a few things about light that I think you should give some thought to:

  • Light will come.  This is the best thing about light on planet Earth.  It is so varied, so wonderful in its ability to reinvent itself every single day, that if you’re patient, the light you wish for will come.  It’s not just that, if you’re patient and persistent, you don’t need to settle for “sub-par” light.  The truth is that you can shoot that “knock your socks off” light one night, and then the next night get nice, subtle light that’s more appropriate for your subject.
  • Have you digested that last point?  Light, though very important, should in most cases not trump subject.  You can even add composition as being more important than light.  Composition and subject are so tightly tied together that it’s near impossible to think of them as being separate.  If you let it, light can be the subject.  Then you’ve succeeded in making a photo that, while it will invariably get plenty of wows and love on the internet, is just another photo (among millions) that is about light.
Light that was just too good. I decreased saturation for this sunset along the Cimarron River in western Oklahoma, but it's still a photo that is 'about the light'.

Light that was just too good. I decreased saturation for this sunset along the Cimarron River in western Oklahoma, but it’s still a photo that is ‘about the light’.

  • Do not shoot the light.  Now I’ll admit when I see great light I go like a madman looking for something to shoot.  It is part of what being a photographer is all about.  Don’t fight that, it’s fun!  All I’m saying is that if you regard your photography as an art form, your process should be much more about subject and composition first, then light.  If you put light first you’re setting yourself up for getting away from using photography as a way to express yourself, which is the point as far as I’m concerned.
The subject in this image from Snow Canyon, Utah is lichen. The light is good but I don't think it overwhelms the subject.

The subject in this image from Snow Canyon, Utah is lichen. The light is good but I don’t think it overwhelms the subject.  This is an exception, as it appears on my website because I liche it!

  • Think of light as just one more element in your photograph.  You have two choices with natural light.  Either make the best of what you’ve got in front of you or come back tomorrow, or the next day, or next week.  If you have a favorite spot near home that you return to time and time again, and then go on a trip where you have but one chance at a given location, you know what a tyrannical master light can be.  But think of it like a model who doesn’t show up one day.  Give her another chance and she’ll probably show the next day.
The sunstar (most call it a sunburst) is probably too prominent, but at least the subtle light/color doesn't take away from these ferric concretions eroding out of sandstone near Page, Arizona.

The sunstar (aka sunburst) is probably too prominent, but at least the subtle light & color doesn’t take away from these ferric concretions eroding out of sandstone near Page, Arizona.  I promise I didn’t place them, I don’t do that!

  • There is such a thing as light that is too good.  There is no photographer I know who will agree with that statement when I say it like that.  But now, after some years of chasing light, I know it to be true.  Everything depends on your subject and composition.  But sometimes, the light just seems to be so good that it swamps your subject.  Or, to put it another way, that stupendous light tends to overwhelm the intention of your photograph, whether you realize it at the time or not.  If you’re a typical photographer who’s in love with great light, I’m guessing you’re not aware of it when it happens.
Harsh and disagreeable light was what I had here at East Zion, but a cute bighorn lamb negotiating the terrain is the story.

Harsh and disagreeable light was what I had here at East Zion, but a cute bighorn lamb negotiating the terrain is the story.

  • As you mature as a photographer, you’ll come to desire different light for different subjects and compositions.  There is no such thing as light that is perfect for everything.  It all depends on what you want to do with that light.  Of course it doesn’t hurt to experiment, to try unconventional light for your subject.  But if you can figure that out you’re pretty far along in knowing both photography and your own style.

I do believe I’ve said all there is to say about this subject.  In fact I’ve never heard anyone in photography talk about this, and I think it may be the most important of my photo-related posts.  But if you know of some book or blog that talks about light this way, please enlighten me!  Hope your holiday preparations are coming along nicely.  Happy shooting, and use that light judiciously!

I'll end with a shot from a sunset that I've never posted anything from, in Montana's Flathead Valley. I couldn't do anything with this light because it suffused and overwhelmed the available subjects: subtle old cabins and grasslands in maybe my favorite valley draining the west side of the Rockies.

I’ll end with a shot from a sunset that I’ve never posted anything from, in Montana’s Flathead Valley. I couldn’t do anything with this light because it suffused and overwhelmed the available subjects, subtle old cabins and grasslands in probably my favorite valley in the northern Rockies.

Visiting Zion National Park: Part I   20 comments

Zion Canyon from Bridge Mountain.

Zion Canyon from Bridge Mountain.

I’m going to change pace and do a short travel series: an in-depth look at Zion National Park.  I’ve not done one of these for a long time.  As usual I’ll start with Zion’s natural history, including geology in this post.  Then I’ll go on to human history and life on display at Zion.  I’ll finish with travel logistics and recommendations for various visit lengths, focusing of course on photography.

If you haven’t yet visited Zion, this series will be an in-depth introduction with tips, but without presuming to tell you exactly where and how to photograph the park.  If you’ve been to Zion before, you will learn some interesting stuff about the park and probably find out about one or two out-of-the-way photo spots.

But mostly this is about background knowledge.  I strongly believe the more you know about a place the better your experience and photos will be.  Though my posts are always heavily illustrated, I hope you’ll try to forget the pictures when you go out yourself.  Do your own thing and get pictures that represent your own unique take on the park.

East Temple from just east of the tunnels.

East Temple from just east of the tunnels.

REGIONAL SETTING

Zion National Park lies in southwestern Utah, in an area called Dixie.  That term is normally associated with the southern states (Alabama, Georgia, etc.).  Utah’s Dixie is certainly where the climate is warmest in the Beehive State.  But it’s much drier than the humid South.  Zion is at the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau, that huge regional uplift of sedimentary rocks that covers parts of four states and defines much of the dramatic scenery of America’s desert southwest.

THE GRAND STAIRCASE

Zion is also on the western edge of a geologic feature called Grand Staircase.  This is a large series of cliff-forming sedimentary layers that steps downward from north to south.  Some of the area’s highest and youngest rocks are to the north near Bryce Canyon while some of the lowest and oldest rocks are exposed to the south in Grand Canyon.

But the rim of that last southern step (it’s a doozie!) tops out at 8800 feet in elevation on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  That’s very similar to the top of Bryce (the northern step) at 9100 feet.  So the Grand Staircase not so much steps downward in elevation but in geology.

BREAKS & CANYONS

Zion Canyon, centerpiece of the park, plus Cedar Breaks to the north, are located where the land “breaks” downward off the high eastern plateaus of south-central Utah to meet the lower deserts of SW Utah and southern Nevada.  These breaks are also known as the Hurricane Cliffs, which continue south into NW Arizona.

The towns in this part of Utah, largest of which is St. George, are situated near the foot of this dramatic sandstone escarpment, at a relatively low elevation compared with much smaller burgs up in the plateau country to the east.  The Virgin River and its tributaries have cut generally SW-facing canyons down through the escarpment.  The most dramatic of these is Zion Canyon.

The Hurricane Cliffs 'break' down off the Colorado Plateau here at Kolob Canyons, part of Zion National Park, Utah.

The Hurricane Cliffs ‘break’ down off the Colorado Plateau here at Kolob Canyons, part of Zion National Park, Utah.

The lower terrain near St. George, Utah is exemplified by Snow Canyon State Park, but the land continues to drop to the south and west.

The lower terrain near St. George, Utah is exemplified here at Snow Canyon State Park, but the land continues to drop to the south and west.

GEOLOGIC HISTORY

THE GREAT JURASSIC DESERT

The most prominent formation at Zion is Navajo Sandstone.  It forms most of the named dome-like features at Zion, such as the Patriarchs, the Sentinel, and White Throne.  The Navajo, which is generally a whitish sandstone, preserves record of an ancient desert.  This desert, which existed in the Jurassic age (dinosaur times), was dominated by enormous sand dune fields (ergs) similar to today’s Sahara Desert.

You can tell the rocks are ancient sand dunes because of cross-bedding.  Take a good look at the sandstone walls at Zion and notice the lines angled at about 35 degrees to the main rock layers, which are nearly horizontal.  A great place to see cross-bedding is at Checkerboard Mesa near the park’s east entrance, but you’ll see it everywhere in East Zion east of the tunnels.  The rocks behind the sheep below show cross-bedding.

Desert bighorn sheep at East Zion.

Desert bighorn sheep at East Zion.

The desert sands of the Navajo formed when plate tectonics, beginning a couple hundred million years ago, dragged this area north from equatorial to much drier latitudes in the vicinity of the Tropic of Cancer (30 degrees north).  This is the latitude, both north and south of the equator (Tropic of Capricorn), where the world’s major deserts are still found.

Also contributing to desertification in the Jurassic were the mountains building to the west of Zion in Nevada and California.  These ranges, which were the result of tectonic collision at the western edge of North America, are now gone, eroded away.  But in the Jurassic they formed an effective rain-shadow, blocking rains coming off the Pacific and helping to dry things even further.

A side-canyon in East Zion has a stream carrying sand eroded from the Navajo Sandstone, itself built from dune sands eroded from a long-gone ancient mountain range.

A side-canyon in East Zion has a stream carrying sand eroded from the Navajo Sandstone, itself built from dune sands eroded from a long-gone ancient mountain range.

PRE-DESERT TIMES

There is more than Navajo Sandstone at Zion, however.  The Virgin River has cut so deeply into the rocks that, despite the great thickness of the Navajo, other formations are visible beneath it.  These record shallow seas, meandering streams and floodplain environments.  For example, the Kayenta and Moenave Formations below the Navajo are reddish stream deposits formed in climates that changed from subtropical (for the older Moenave) to semi-arid (for the overlying Kayenta).

These older formations form the rubbly slopes and red cliff bands low on Zion’s canyon walls.  They’re also prominent above the town of Springdale, and up on Kolob Terrace Road.  Solid red cliffs of Kayenta, formed at the edge of that great encroaching desert, lie directly beneath the hard white sandstones of the Navajo.

If you gain a high vantage point you may notice the red “hats” or caps on top of the Navajo Formation’s highest white domes.  These belong to the Temple Cap and Carmel Formations, at 160 million years the youngest rocks at Zion.  Their reddish color is clue to wetter conditions returning in the late Jurassic.  A warm sea even invaded again, this signaled by limestones of the Carmel Formation.

The Navajo Sandstone is in places stained with iron oxide, where fractures have allowed fluids to penetrate the rock and move iron from other formations.

The Navajo Sandstone is in places stained with iron oxide, where fractures have allowed fluids to penetrate the rock and move iron from other formations.

UPLIFT & EROSION

Time didn’t stop after deposition of the Navajo and other Jurassic rocks at Zion.  Sedimentation continued into the Cretaceous and beyond; yet, save for an important exception (see below), younger rocks of the Zion region have been stripped away by erosion and transported down the Colorado River into the Pacific Ocean.

Erosion is a big deal at Zion.  The Colorado Plateau continues to be shoved upward by tectonic pressures (a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook Zion in 1995).  Over time, this uplift has increased river gradients dramatically, resulting in very active erosion by streams and rivers as well as landslides.  Wind has helped sculpt the landscape.

Basaltic lava flows form a stark contrast with iron-stained Navajo Sandstones.

Basaltic lava flows form a stark contrast with iron-stained and dune cross-bedded Navajo Sandstones.

YOUNG LAVA FLOWS

If you drive up to Lava Point on the Kolob Terrace Road, you will notice dark lava flows, which flowed out of vents that opened up as this area began to stretch (rift), starting about 2 million years ago.  This young age places the lava flows (which being basalt were quite fluid) in the Ice Ages, which were fairly wet times at Zion.  Think about the terrain at that time, which was dramatic canyon country as it is today.

This combination of climate, active basaltic volcanism and topography tells you something must have happened (and it did!):  lava-dammed lakes.  If you hike the Subway, a lake formed in that canyon when lava dammed the Left Fork; it extended all the way up to the Subway itself.  If you’re observant you’ll notice fine lake muds and silts laid down by this lake.  You pass right by them when you’re hiking back out of the canyon.

By the way, let’s put some numbers on this story.  Most of what you see at Zion is between about 200 and 160 million years old, placing it squarely in the Mesozoic Era, age of dinosaurs.  Less noticeable rocks beneath these are as old as 250 million years, while the young lavas are between 1.5 and 200,000 years old.

Dusk falls on the Kolob Terrace, with a large dome of Navajo Sandstone catching the glow above red Kayenta sandstones. Footprints of sauropods (huge plant-eating dinos) have been found in the red formation.

Dusk falls on Kolob Terrace, with a large dome of Navajo Sandstone catching the glow above steep red and mauve slopes of the Kayenta.  Beneath that in the foreground are brick-red rubbly cliffs of the Springdale Member of the Moenave Formation. Footprints of sauropods (huge plant-eating dinos) have been found here.

TROPICAL SEAS AT ZION?

The older pre-dinosaur strata is worth mentioning because it is prominent at nearby attractions, such as Grand Canyon to the south of Zion.  Most prominent of the area’s oldest rock formations is the Kaibab.  It dates back to Permian times about 260 million years ago.  In these ancient times, an embayment of the ocean we call Panthalassa lapped at the edge of the world’s only landmass, the supercontinent Pangaea.  At that time this region, later to become Utah and Arizona, was near the equator.

The Kaibab is mostly limestone, formed in warm, shallow seas.  It’s visible in places low along the Virgin River within the park and also dramatically in the Hurricane Cliffs near the town of Hurricane and north along the east side of I-15.  It’s interesting to realize that the Kaibab, which hides low in Zion’s deep canyons, forms the high rim of Grand Canyon to the south.  This tells you something about the layout of the Grand Staircase.

Thought I'd throw in a shot from the Grand Canyon, because the Kaibab Limestone is exposed so well here at Toroweap on the North Rim.

Thought I’d throw in a shot from the Grand Canyon, because the Kaibab Limestone is exposed so well here at Toroweap on the North Rim.

THE SENTINEL SLIDE

More recently during the Ice Ages, the climate at Zion was wetter than today’s.  The Virgin and other rivers carried more water, thus flash-flooding was more frequent and violent.  Four thousand years ago a huge landslide blocked the Virgin River and formed a 350 foot-deep lake in Zion Canyon.  This enormous slump block came off The Sentinel, so it’s called the Sentinel Slide.

The lake extended from Canyon Junction all the way to Angel’s Landing.  Sediments settled out on the canyon floor, partly filling its natural V-shape.  The river could not be stopped for long of course, and the natural dam was eventually breached.  The resulting flood drained the lake and formed the V-shaped inner canyon between Court of the Patriarchs and Canyon Junction.

So now you know why Zion Canyon is flat-bottomed; it’s the old lake-bed.  You can see the remains of the Sentinel Slide above you on the left as you drive up-canyon.  For a closer view hike or go on a horse-back ride on the Sand Bench Trail, which climbs up on top of the slump block itself.  By the way, the Sentinel Slide still acts up from time to time.  In 1995, part of the old slide slipped, briefly blocking the river.  The road was flooded for a time until the Virgin, never to be denied for long, re-established its channel.

Stay tuned for more from Zion National Park!

Looking down-canyon at sunset from atop Sand Bench, which is the huge slump block of the Sentinel Slide.

Looking down-canyon at sunset from atop Sand Bench, which is the huge slump block of the Sentinel Slide.  I’m on top of one of the huge blocks moved by the slide.

 

Winter Photography, Part VI: Cold Shooting   16 comments

Morning at East Zion, Utah

Morning at East Zion, Utah

I’m not happy right now.  I had to leave Facebook (time for a break anyhow).  Not that it’s a big deal, but still, I don’t like being sort of forced into things.  You don’t want the dirty details.  Suffice to say, much as I believe I was born at least 100 years too late, I don’t think I’m made for today’s photography, at least in the landscape arena.

I’m thinking of giving up landscape photography it’s got me so discouraged.  The way to become popular in LS photography is to follow a path that I don’t want to follow.  In fact, I’m including pictures in this post that, while I like them for a few reasons, I’m really not satisfied with.  Maybe I’m being hard on myself, and tomorrow morning I’ll probably be out shooting happily.  But I’m really ready to move onward and upward, and am frustrated with my lack of artistic progress.  I’m not into this for a hobby.

A frozen pond on 13,000-foot Independence Pass in the Colorado Rockies.

A frozen pond on 13,000-foot Independence Pass in the Colorado Rockies.

Is this fun? An image I got by wading through a cold waist-deep stream, pushing aside floating ice.

Is this fun? An image I got by wading through the cold waist-deep water of Oneonta Creek, Ore., pushing aside floating ice.  P.S. it wasn’t really difficult, just making it seem that way!

So back to winter photography.  Here are a few parting tips for successful winter shooting:

  • Don’t Stay in Bed.  This is the hardest thing, at least for me.  Let’s face it, the best light is usually in the early morning or late afternoon, or with today’s cameras even in the middle of the night!  You can do winter photography at any time of day, but since days are shorter your time is limited.  If you want to focus on the golden hours near dusk or dawn, you have two chances each day, and they are much more closely spaced than in the summer.  So get out early and shoot late; you’ll still get plenty of sleep!
  • Positive Exposure Compensation.  Use your exposure compensation feature and over-expose by about a stop when you’re shooting in bright snow.  The amount you need depends on how bright the sun on the snow is, and on how much snow is in the frame.  The old film rule of thumb was +2 stops, but with DSLRs I’ve gotten away with anywhere from +2/3 to a stop and a half in most circumstances.  If you’re shooting RAW you can always bump up the brightness of the snowy parts on the computer, but it’s always best to get it right in camera.  Just don’t actually over-expose anything.  The easiest way to check for this is to set your blinking over-exposure warning (available on most all DSLRs) and always review the image on the LCD.
The Goblins in snow, Utah.

The Goblins in snow, Utah.

  • Watch the Weather.  Yeah, I know it’s great advice any time of year.  But I’ve found that weather patterns will settle into an area and make it so that one time per day is best, and that these conditions could last for a week or more.  I’ve also noticed that this bias is more prevalent in winter, at least in North America.  (It’s one of those things I pass on in this blog that nobody really talks about.)  That preferential shooting time could be around sunset or it could be sunrise.  If it happens to be dawn that is better than sunset, you better get your butt out of bed!
  • Strive for simplicity.  While this is a good thing to come back to from time to time, no matter the season, in winter the opportunities for simple compositions (and simple themes!) seem to abound.  There’s the obvious fact that snow blankets a lot of chaos with a smooth white, but even without snow there tends to be more simple compositions available during the cold months.
  • Take your tripod.  Winter makes it even more important to consider the limitation of low light.  Even during daytime, take your tripod just in case.
An approaching winter storm at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah.

An approaching winter storm at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah.

Alpenglow lights up Mount Hood in Oregon. Snow-covered Mirror Lake is at bottom.

Alpenglow lights up Mount Hood in Oregon. Snow-covered Mirror Lake is at bottom.

  • Be Ready.  Unless you are in Alaska or somewhere in high latitudes during that hemisphere’s months of shorter days, you should be ever cognizant of the brevity of the light.  In temperate regions (which includes nearly all of North America & Europe), so-called golden hour is noticeably briefer during winter months.  Of course your style may dictate that you are set up and ready at all times.  That’s not me, I wander even during good light.  Just be willing, during winter especially, to decide on a composition and subject well before the light comes.
New-fallen snow along the skiing trail: La Sal Mtns., Utah.

New-fallen snow along the skiing trail: La Sal Mtns., Utah.

  • Look for Details.  In winter, often the light is very clear but also quite boring.  That’s the time to look for details and macro opportunities.  Ice is a world unto itself, and often snow or ice clings to the most improbable objects, creating unusual and beautiful photos.  That is, if you’re looking for it.  As you travel through the environment, keep looking near and far, close-up and wide-open.

Okay, that’ll do it for Winter Photography.  I don’t like to be too prescriptive about photography, so it’s up to you from here on out.  Just bundle up and do it!  I’ll try to maintain the blog, even during my pause on social media (talk about love-hate).  But maybe I don’t consider this blog as the typical social media platform.  Anyway, have a great holiday season everyone!

Yesterday morning, with dramatic skies heralding coming snow, a simple corral up an unnamed canyon, southern Utah.

Yesterday morning, with dramatic skies heralding coming snow, a simple corral up an unnamed canyon, southern Utah.

Winter Photography, Part V: Get Away from the Road   6 comments

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Let’s continue the series on photography in wintertime.  With the holiday season approaching, we all have more time off from work.  So don’t spend all of it inside baking cookies (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).  Get out and shoot some too.  We’ve covered the getting there part, plus how to dress for winter.  Now it’s time to hit the trail.

This morning I watched a few other photographers in Zion National Park.  They were, as usual, sticking to the roadside.  By far most pictures are captured from within a few yards of the road.  I don’t completely avoid it of course, having gotten some great shots even by standing on top of the car.  But although it’s even more tempting in winter to shoot near the car, getting away from the road is key to making the kinds of photos that are unique to your own vision.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The last post focused on winter clothes, but there are a few other things that can help greatly when you’re traveling in snowy or icy conditions.  So let’s look at how to stack the odds in your favor during a winter outing.

  • Camera Pack – Fit:  Though not unique to winter, it’s even more important to have a camera backpack that fits and carries well.  The typical blocky camera pack isn’t really good for hiking, but its shortcomings are even more pronounced in snow or ice where the simple act of walking is more challenging.  So find one that carries most of its weight closer to your back and doesn’t swing the weight around.  A sternum strap & waist belt are very helpful, for example.

 

  • Camera Pack – Size:  Since you’ll be carrying some extras beyond photo gear, it’s necessary to get a pack that has a roomy compartment for clothes and other non-camera stuff.  If you already have a pack that is fairly large and comfortable, but without a dedicated compartment for extras, try taking out a few velcro dividers meant for extra lenses and making a place for the extra stuff.

 

  • Filling that Pack:  In summer, typically short photo hikes can be done without a lot of the safety equipment that’s necessary both for longer hikes in summer and outings of all distances in winter.  So think carefully about which lenses to take and take out any extra camera gear that you may not need.  This makes room for extra clothes, some food plus the 10 essentials.
Now this isn't how I planned to fill my pack!

Now this isn’t how I planned to fill my pack!

  • Just in Case – Ten Essentials:  Google the 10 essentials, but realize in winter two of them are especially important:  light and fire.  Take a good headlamp with extra batteries (and don’t forget extra batteries for the camera).  Being able to easily make a fire is very important in wintertime.  Waterproof matches and a ziplock full of dry newspaper and other tinder (and perhaps some fire-starting compound) can save your butt!

Horsetail Falls, Oregon.

Feet – Extra Help    

Once you have good warm boots (see last post), consider where you’ll be hiking.  The snow and ice of winter often demands something more for your feet:

  • Traction Devices:      If you don’t plan on going through deep snow much, you don’t need snowshoes or skis (see below), but if you’ll be in icy conditions, consider the small traction devices that slip on over your boots.  Yak-Tracks are a popular brand.  True crampons are too much; they’re for mountaineering.

 

  • Snowshoes are popular with winter photographers for good reason.  They’re simple to use and sure beat wading through hip-deep powder snow.  Buy a pair that is appropriate for your size and weight.  I would avoid the super-small and light kind; they’re for the crazies who run races in them; they normally don’t float enough in soft snow.

 

 

  • Snowshoe Technique:  Practice walking in snowshoes before you carry your camera pack, then add the gear on the next hike.  While you do need to walk with a slightly wider stance and lift your feet more, most novices exaggerate this movement, wasting energy.  The idea is to sort of shuffle, lifting just enough to avoid getting tangled up and tripping.  If you never trip and fall, you probably aren’t learning to do it right.
  • The Ski Option:  I’m biased, but in my opinion skis are the best way to get around in snow.  Sure it takes a little more time to learn than snowshoes, but that time is paid many times over with more speed and more fun when you’re out.   In most terrain, I can leave snowshoers in the dust when I’m skiing.  With short days, trying to catch the light, snowshoes are too slow for some destinations.  And fun?  On downhills snowshoers are plodding while I’m whooping and hollering.
A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

  • Using Cross-Country Skis:  Modern cross-country skis are shorter, wider and much more stable/easy to use than the long skinny skis I learned on.  And this kind have been out long enough now to go used.  Just get a basic set of touring skis, boots and poles.  With the money you save I recommend taking lessons.  It probably goes without saying, but your camera needs to be stowed safely in your pack when skiing.  I wear a small bag for my camera (Lowepro Toploader) over my chest, clipped to the straps of my backpack.  Load distribution is even more important when you’re skiing, so make sure your backpack doesn’t swing around as you move.
An alternative way to get around in winter that isn't covered in this post.

An alternative way to get around in winter that isn’t covered in this post.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

Winter Photography, Part IV – Dressing for Success   11 comments

The first winter snows in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains often fall before autumn leaves.

I love winter.  Not as much as I used to; I blame the effects of aging.  For at least the first half of my life, winter was my favorite season.  And I still crave that clarity of air, that bracing atmosphere,  Winter has a pure and simple beauty.

The goal of this series is to both convince you to of the value of winter photography and to remove all excuses to avoid shooting in winter.  Check out the previous installments.  Today we’re covering winter safety in the form of the clothes you wear.  By the way, if you’re interested in any of the images you see here, be sure to contact me.

Dressing for Winter

You may have heard this expression:  “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”  It’s so true!  But you’ve probably also heard that clothing can mean the difference between life and death in winter.  This is not strictly true.  Humans of today are very used to being comfortable.  So we tend to equate our comfort with safety.  While the two are certainly related to each other, and I certainly don’t want to minimize the very real risks of hypothermia and frostbite, clothing in most cases simply means the difference between comfort and discomfort, not life and death.

A trail in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge passes several icy waterfalls.

But we’re talking photography.  It helps greatly to be comfortable when shooting.  Not like when you’re plopped in front of a fire in your favorite chair.  The goal is to be relatively comfortable.  There’s a couple reasons why this is important.  One is that no matter how much you want to go out in wintertime to shoot pictures, if when you do your body is sending signals that it’s cold and miserable, next time your mind will just make up excuses to stay inside.  The other reason is that it’s hard to focus on photography while you are wet or cold.

A very recent shot from a hike into a remote canyon in southern Utah.

A very recent shot from a hike into a remote canyon in southern Utah.

Here is what I’ve learned about dressing for winter in nearly 40 years (longer if you count mom bundling me up):

  • Layering:  We’re often told the most important thing in dressing for winter is layering.  Layering is a great concept, especially if your plans include exercise, but it’s a little like saying the most important thing about walking is putting one foot in front of the other.  Of course if you’re cold you will put something else on top of what you’ve already got.
  • What’s Really Important?  I focus on bottom-up and top-down, and also staying as dry as possible.  Bottom-up refers to your feet, and top-down refers to your head.  More than any other body part, when our feet are cold, we humans tend to object strongly.  More heat escapes through your head than anywhere else.  So if you have both of these bases covered you’re more than half-way there.  Lastly, getting wet, either from the outside or by sweating, can eventually lead to the often-deadly condition of hypothermia.

More of a fall shot, but it was chilly here along the Fremont River in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

  • Materials:  This is another thing that people harp too much on.  You may have heard the phrase “cotton kills”.  In wet and cold conditions it sure can.  But if you have three pairs of jeans on I’m guessing you’re bottom half is going to be okay in most circumstances.  Of course you shouldn’t go out in winter clothed in cotton.  The reason is that cotton is unable to insulate when wet.  Also it dries too slowly.  Down is the same way.  Other materials like synthetics and wool are much better because they don’t absorb water as readily as cotton, they dry more quickly, and (most important) they still insulate when wet.

Natural or Synthetic?  For me the answer is both.  Many people will try to steer you away from any natural material, and some even slam older synthetics like polypropylene.  They can become quite ideological about it.  Why?  As mentioned above, I think they conflate discomfort with true danger.  Many forms of clothing can keep you perfectly alive while leaving you very uncomfortable.

Wool:  Wool is time-tested and it works.  It can become a bit heavy when wet, and it doesn’t dry quite as quickly as most synthetics.  But wool doesn’t absorb water quickly and continues to insulate very well when wet.  It’s also pretty inexpensive and lasts a long time.

Down:  Down is superior to all else in keeping you warm.  Nearly every Sherpa I met in the Himalayas had a down jacket.  But it can be spendy, and you must keep it dry.  Down should be worn over at least one wicking layer.  If the temperatures are near freezing, you probably don’t need down.  But if you bring it make sure you have a good waterproof shell that fits over it.  Down is a good choice for photography because of the standing-around nature of many shooting situations.

Synthetics:  Nylon- and polyester-based blends make up most synthetic clothing.  Fleece of various types is most common for sweaters, jackets, hats and gloves.  Capilene tends to rule the long underwear world.  But there is an ever-expanding selection of fancy materials to spend your cash on.  One note: synthetics are overwhelmingly petroleum-based, so they’re not the best for the environment.  Most good manufacturers (Patagonia being the stand-out) offer recycled fleece and other clothing.

Ice over the Slickrock: one cold recent morning in East Zion National Park, Utah.

  • Your Head:  Take a good warm hat.  In cold where I know I’ll be hiking or skiing, I sometimes bring two hats.  One is a thin stretchy fleece or other material designed to wick away sweat, the kind runners and other athletes wear.  Running shops (in places with real winters) and stores like REI are good places to look.  The other hat is a thick, warm wool or fleece hat, which you can either layer over the thin one or wear by itself.  In truly frigid places a balaclava (which covers your face too) is in order.
  • Your Feet – Socks:  Good warm socks are a must.  Use nice, tall liner socks plus a thicker wool or wool-blend pair over those.  Stick an extra pair of wool socks in your camera pack and leave them there.  You never know when your feet might get wet, and that can be catastrophic if you don’t have a dry pair to put on.
  • Your Feet – Boots:  Boots made for winter are available.  They’re insulated and usually have built-in waterproofing of some kind.  Be careful though.  Some winter boots (Sorels for example), while amazingly warm and comfortable when you’re standing around, are not really made for hiking.  If you’re short on cash and already hike seriously in summer, good thick leather hiking boots, treated with waterproofing, do very well.  You don’t need special winter boots.
Mount Hood, Oregon sports a fresh coat of snow as it rises above its surrounding forest.

Mount Hood, Oregon sports a fresh coat of snow as it rises above its surrounding forest.

  • Your Hands:  The other important body part to protect is your hands.  One of the main reasons people get frustrated and avoid shooting in winter is cold hands on cold cameras (another is cold feet).  Nearly any glove can be used with a camera.  All it takes is practice.  When looking for the right glove combination for photography, realize you’re looking for the same thing as hunters.  Try shopping where they shop.

Layering for Hands:  Unless the cold is extreme, life will be easier if you get a thin pair of liner gloves for shooting in.  They’re often made of Capilene like long underwear, and they layer under thicker wool, fleece or ski gloves.  Mittens, worn over a pair of thin liners or other gloves, are a great way to keep hands warm between shooting.

Fingerless gloves:  These are obviously nice for operating the camera, but they expose the worst part of your hands to the cold, your fingertips.  Try thin liner gloves under fingerless gloves.  And have a pair of looser-fitting mittens or ski gloves to go over the fingerless gloves.  I have a pair of thick wool fingerless gloves that have an extra piece of thick wool that flips over my fingers, making a mitten.  That piece stays back with velcro when not in use.

  • Other Clothes:  Long underwear is a must.  Capilene is perfect, but so is silk when temperatures aren’t extreme.  Layer over with fleece or wool, then a good water-resistant parka.  Remember, no cotton.  A pair of goretex or other shell pants is important to at least have in your pack.  If it’s very cold, invest in a good down jacket or sweater (that can layer under the parka).
A full moon rises high up in the Oregon Cascade Range.

A full moon rises high up in the Oregon Cascade Range.

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