Archive for the ‘Architectural Photography’ Category

Single-Image Sunday: Cataldo Mission   2 comments

I’ve been away from the wonderful worldwide web for awhile.  Hope you all have been good!  It has also been quite a long time since I’ve traveled through this part of the country; namely the Idaho panhandle.  I really like the little town of Coeur d’Alene, sitting alongside a big beautiful lake.

Cataldo is a historic Jesuit mission, the oldest building in Idaho.  It dates from 1850.  Obviously it has been restored, and quite nicely!  Located not far east of Coeur d’Alene and now a state park, it lies just off the freeway.  Nevertheless, I’ve never noticed it before now.  I saw the sign and pulled off, just at nightfall.  But the park was closed.

I could see the photographic possibilities from the road.  The attractive building was lighted up and the timing (blue hour) couldn’t have been better.  So I quickly grabbed my tripod and snuck up past the gate.  I snatched a few shots and stole away into the night.

Cataldo Mission, Idaho

Single Image Sunday: Covered Bridge & Mill   2 comments

In last Friday’s post I included a photo of Bollinger Mill, Missouri, with its covered bridge.  Both date from before the Civil War, so they’re definitely historic.  This is a different view, from the other side of the bridge.

The storm was bearing down here, with wind, thunder and lightning.  In fact the dramatic lighting was in part due to the lightning.  The covered bridge was mighty handy when the rain came.

This is in the Ozarks of southern Missouri, a land of rolling farms and forests, with the occasional sinkhole and cave testifying to its karst-like nature.  Rivers are common but disappear underground in places.  All in all a pleasant way to put some distance between me and the Mississippi River on my trip back west.  I’ll take it over the Interstate any day!

The historic Bollinger covered bridge and mill, southern Missouri.

 

Broken Dreams   10 comments

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I’ve been working on the southern Great Plains lately away from my beloved Oregon.  I don’t know why I miss home more now.  After all, I’ve been here in Oklahoma  for no longer than I’ve been away on my long photo safaris of the recent past.  But I do miss home.

That’s why I”m writing this post at the airport waiting for my flight.  I have about a week and a half off so I decided on the spur of the moment to cash in frequent flyer miles and fly back to the Northwest.  I need a break from the monotony of treeless plains and fields, from a river-less place that gets its water from an enormous underground store created by rains of the distant past.

The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the largest of its kind in the world and has supported the American bread basket for generations.  Now of course it’s being “mined”.  We’re steadily depleting it, forcing us to continuously lengthen our straws, drilling deeper and deeper for precious water.

I’m posting a few photos from an old farm that I passed on the long highway that runs the length of the Oklahoma panhandle.  This stretch of loneliness juts westward between Kansas and Colorado on the north, the bulk of Texas to the south.  It seems as if it takes forever to drive far enough west to leave Oklahoma, either continuing west to New Mexico or north into Colorado.  The highway never strays.  It points west like an arrow.

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It’s inevitable that you pass or parallel a few historic pathways.  One is the old Santa Fe Trail.  Kit Carson and countless others rode horses over this trail in that golden time of westward expansion in America.  But this series of photos speaks to a more recent time.  Although the farm was abandoned sometime in the 1960s judging from the vehicles left behind, it very likely was used in the decades before that.  Maybe even during the wet years before  the dust bowl swept through in the 1930s.

John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath documents the lives of those hard-working souls who left Oklahoma during the dust bowl and traveled to California in search of work.  These are the kind of people who built this country.  The story of westward expansion has fascinated me for a long time.  It was the first historical writing that I devoured while still quite young.  At least by choice; I don’t count anything I was forced to read in school.

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It was a warm late afternoon with very sparse traffic on the two-lane highway.  A few flies buzzed around the old buildings and automobiles.  The old windmill had been stripped long ago by relentless winds.  On that day the wind was calm.

Heeding the warming someone had painted on a door (see picture), I didn’t go into any of the buildings.  I just walked around shooting pictures, stopping to picture children playing in the yard, a weather-beaten woman hanging laundry.  A man bouncing to a stop in one of those old pickups, drunk on moonshine.

I wonder why they left?  Was it one of the droughts that routinely plague this region?  Too many failed crops of corn?  Did they just up and move to California one day?  Did they start over from zero?  I look and wonder.  Did they miss home?   Now it’s time for me to go home!

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Friday Foto Talk: A Sense of Place   22 comments

The ranch country of southwestern Colorado in late autumn.

The ranch country of southwestern Colorado in late autumn.

This is a more subtle and difficult aspect of photography, a topic I’ve thought about off and on ever since I picked up a camera.  Until now I’ve avoided writing about it.  It’s one of those things you sort of feel when you see a picture.  It can be subtle, and perhaps you don’t notice when it’s missing.  But every image that has a sense of place is better for it, often much better.

I’m very subject-centered when it comes to photography.  I really only care about the subject.  It sometimes seems I only care about light, but that’s because any subject looks better in beautiful light.  While a lot of photographers look for a subject (like a person or interesting tree) to put into a scene, for me it’s mostly about the scene itself.  That’s because every scene is a place, and I think of places as subjects.  Any interesting things – people, animals, rocks or trees – that I can include in the scene are there because they make the place more interesting to look at.  For me, they’re smaller elements of the larger subject, the place.  But if they don’t really belong there, I don’t really like the picture.

Courthouse Towers in Arches National Park, Utah speaks strongly of the American Southwest.

Courthouse Towers in Arches National Park, Utah speaks strongly of the American Southwest.

Okay, so now that you know my biases on the topic, let’s see what we can do about laying out ways to insert a sense of place into your images.  By the way, even if you’re mostly a people photographer, or you do wildlife, these tips apply to you, maybe even more so than to landscape photographers.  And if you do travel photography, this is important stuff!

      • Learn as much as you can about the place:  the plants, animals, human and prehistory.  Of course you’re going to know more about areas close to home, but don’t get complacent.  We’ve all been surprised to learn something we didn’t know about our home-towns or states.  Use that knowledge in your photography.  The more you know, the better your pictures will be, so when traveling don’t just research places to photograph.  Start with the background information and let photo spots fall out from that.
      • Study the pictures in magazines like National Geographic.  The editors at Nat. Geo. nearly always choose images with a strong sense of place.
This farmstead in Nepal is complimented and also placed by virtue of the high mountain in the background.

This shot of a farmstead in Nepal has a stronger sense of place by virtue of the high Himalayan mountain in the background.

      • Photograph during “typical” weather conditions.  For example, I live in the Pacific Northwest.  This area is most famous for its rain and tall trees.  I know (more than many residents) how diverse it is here, with glaciers, deserts and canyons, sunny grasslands.  But when I can, and at least in western Oregon and Washington, I do landscape photography during rainy spells.  If you avoid the stormy weather here, you are not going to capture images with the strongest sense of place.
The rugged coast along the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington is often wrapped in fog.

The rugged coast along the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington is often wrapped in fog.

      • When you have a strong subject, by all means zoom in.  But also make images with a hint of background, perhaps out of focus.  Include shots that are dominated by landscape, with the subject much smaller.  Try putting the subject in the background with a ‘typical’ foreground.  In other words, mix it up and shoot at a variety of focal lengths and apertures.  When you view the pictures later, ask yourself which one has the best balance between impact/interest and a sense of place.
This house in Leadville, Colorado, registered as a historic landmark, is better placed with the foreground picket fence.

This house in Leadville, Colorado, registered as a historic landmark, is better placed with the foreground picket fence.

      • Speaking of strong subjects, when you’re looking for subjects to target, think about how strongly they will place themselves.  In other words, photographing waterfalls here in the Pacific Northwest is a no-brainer in terms of sense of place, even if a bit obvious.  Some things like lighthouses could be on any coastline.  So be on the lookout for elements that will zero in on the specific area.
A very recent image of Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge was captured during typical Oregon weather.

A very recent image of Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge was captured during typical Oregon weather.

Several subtle elements come together here to place this shot: palms, rice paddy, distinctive house.  Take a guess where it is.

Several subtle elements come together here to place this shot.  Look at the plant growth, the unique house, and take a guess where it is in a comment below.

      • Move around.  This is good general practice, but when combined with an open-minded focus, this can really open up compositions that add a sense of place.  Sometimes I’m not even aware of it, but the desire to shoot a composition that is unusual or different will often yield a picture with a strong sense of place.
      • While you’re moving around, try shots with very wide angles, focal lengths shorter than 17 mm.  Even consider getting a fisheye lens.  When combined with getting very close to things, this will help to put viewers into the image, which is part of giving them a sense of place.
      • Look for compositions that include the little things that will tell viewers where the place is.  This shouldn’t be subtle.  People might not know as much about the place as you do, and so need fairly obvious elements to place it.  For example, Spanish moss in the deep south, ferns here in the Pacific Northwest, red rocks in the Southwest, eucalyptus trees in Australia and baobabs or mopane trees in Africa.
The ferns and big trees give this image a strong sense of place, and many viewers would recognize the trees as redwoods, greatly narrowing  things down.

The ferns and big trees give this image a strong sense of place, and many viewers would recognize the trees as redwoods, greatly narrowing things down.

      • Include shots with plenty of depth.  I wrote a blog post with tips on adding a sense of depth to your images, so check that out.  Anytime your images have the illusion of depth, the viewer is drawn into the image as if they were there.  By itself this doesn’t do much for your goal of including a sense of place, but in combination with the other things, it can be powerful.
      • Shoot details and small scenes.  This allows you to focus on one aspect of a place.  It’s a great way to zero in on small elements that help to place the image, things that might get lost if they were part of a larger composition.
The adobe construction of this historic home in Taos, New Mexico is apparent in this image.

The adobe construction is apparent in this image of a historic home in Taos, New Mexico.

      • Also do the opposite of the above.  Step back and show the surroundings.  Sometimes you can be too close, or inside of a place, which robs the viewer of the ability to see its overall setting.  Sometimes this is called the “establishment shot”.  It establishes the setting.
The mountain town of Ouray, Colorado is closely surrounded by the spectacular San Juan Mountains.

The mountain town of Ouray, Colorado is closely surrounded by the spectacular San Juan Mountains.

 

      • Don’t forget a good caption.  I did a recent post on captions.  Although your photo should do most of the work of giving the viewer a sense of place, why not include a good subject-centered, educational caption to fill things out?
      • Don’t turn up your nose at shooting the occasional sign, if they’re interesting and can be used to place photos in a slide show.
Crossing into a remote part of Colorado on a lonely road.

Crossing into a remote part of Colorado on a lonely road.

      • Including some human elements in landscape photographs can help to give them a sense of place.  For example, a rail fence says ranch country; when combined with quaking aspens, the impression of a rural Rocky Mountain setting is strong.
Sometimes the residents of an area have done the work for you.  Shooting public art like this mural in Taos, New Mexico can add to your image the sense of place felt by the artist.

Sometimes the residents of an area have done the work for you. Shooting public art like this mural in Taos, New Mexico can add to your image the sense of place felt by the artist.  The adobe construction also helps place it.

Colorado in fall means the quaking aspen are in golden leaf.

Colorado in fall means the quaking aspen are in golden leaf.

      • One caveat:  Beware the cliche!  There is a balance between not being too subtle and overdoing things.  This is most common with travel photography.  If you’re including something like the Eiffel Tower, make it a small part of the scene, or somehow get a fresh take on it.  Don’t avoid shooting something like the Taj Mahal straight on, especially in beautiful light.  Just move around and try different compositions and perspectives.
Prayer flags in the Himalaya are not hard to find, so they have become super-abundant in pictures.  But they still insert a strong sense of place into an image.  Just don't overuse them!

Prayer flags in the Himalaya are not hard to find, so they have become super-abundant in pictures. But they still insert a strong sense of place into an image. Just don’t overuse them!

      • When it comes time to process your images on the computer, pay close attention to the mood you create.  Often it’s useful to try the image in black and white to see if it strengthens its sense of place.  The idea of place is tied to that of time, so if you think having an ‘old-timey’ look will help, then go for it!  Whatever you do, don’t treat all images in a similar way (such as high contrast and saturated colors).  This is from someone who was guilty of that for a time.
This image of Lake Crescent on Washington's Olympic Peninsula has the kind of low-key atmosphere that called for sepia and film grain.

Lake Crescent on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has the kind of low-key atmosphere that harkens back to the old days of summer vacation, a mood enhanced by sepia and film grain.

An image with a strong sense of place can make the viewer a part of the scene, which of course strengthens your images and makes people want to look at them.  And it’s not just travel photography that benefits; all sorts of pictures are made better with a sense of place.  Have a great weekend and happy shooting!

This is actually one of my favorite images from the desert southwest.  I know many wouldn't agree, but you tell me.  Despite the lack of any obvious identifying features, does it give a strong sense of place?

Road to Nowhere:  This image is actually one of my favorite images from the desert southwest. I know many wouldn’t agree, but you tell me. Despite the lack of any obvious identifying features, does it have a strong sense of place?

An image from Arches National Park in Utah profiles the park's typical 'fins' of orange sandstone.

An image from Arches National Park in Utah profiles the park’s typical ‘fins’ of orange sandstone.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Captioning   7 comments

Autumn in Utah's Wasatch Mountains means quaking aspen in their golden glory.

Autumn in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains means quaking aspen in their golden glory.

Photo captioning is a subject that never really occurred to me before last week.  And I don’t really known why.  It just seemed to fly under the radar, something not really relevant to photography.  How wrong that is!  Writing good captions is a part of presenting your images well, and is just as important as good editing on the computer.

As images have proliferated on the web, so have bad captions.  Let me back up.  When talking about photography, I try to be as non-judgmental as possible.  I have my own ideas of what a good image is, but I don’t presume others will always agree.  Photography is an art, thus completely subjective.  So let’s just say the following is my opinion and leave it at that.

The images here are a sampling from my recent trip through the American West.  I’m picking the keepers now, and succeeding posts will feature more.  They are all copyrighted, thus not available for free download without my permission.  Please click on the image or contact me directly if you’re interested in purchase of prints, downloads, etc.  Thanks for your interest.

The Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon attracts an enthusiastic group of "wind-riders".

The Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon attracts an enthusiastic group of “wind-riders”.

Here are some examples of captioning that is less than useful (in my opinion):

      • The Superhero Story:  I put this first because it annoys me the most.  And it’s getting more and more prevalent.  Even pro photographers succumb to the temptation.  Of course Facebook is prime hunting ground for these captions.  But even sites like Earthshots.org (which features excellent nature photographs) seem to love these silly captions.  

The superhero story is a long, involved account of how the photographer got the shot.  Nothing about the subject unless it is some hazard that he had to face down.  You find out that in order to bring you this amazing shot, he had to brave dangers that would make mere mortals like us turn and run.  

Reading these captions, you find out that the photographer entered dangerous waters, faced vicious predators, danced at the edge of tall cliffs, endured extreme weather and discomfort.  In short, he performed feats that Homer would have been proud to include in The Odyssey.  Notice I use ‘he’.  That’s on purpose, because this is primarily a male ego thing.  It is also pure B.S.  

These captions are about the photographer not the subject.  Will the viewer think the image looks better after finding out the photographer went to some trouble getting it?  It’s more likely the reader will discover the photographer has an inflated opinion of himself? 

Early morning light floods into the historic Peter French Round Barn in the "outback" of southeastern Oregon.

Early morning light floods into the historic Peter French Round Barn in the “outback” of southeastern Oregon.

   

      • Camera Info. Only:  Pros do this all the time, I think because they are sponsored by the camera/lens manufacturers.  I certainly don’t mind knowing the camera and lens used, but don’t tell me that and leave out the camera settings.  I don’t really care if someone uses a $6000 camera and $12,000 lens.  After all, a person shooting with much cheaper gear could easily have much better images.  And would it kill these guys to write an actual caption for the photo?  Where is it, what is it?  You know, a caption!
      • Inaccurate:  I’m running across this more and more.  These days, people want to be seen to know about all sorts of things.  I want to say to them, “hey, I’m slightly impressed you know this, but I’ll never mistake you for a Renaissance man.”  It’s certainly okay to give detailed info. in your captions.  But if you don’t know a lot, don’t get too specific.  Nothing wrong with going into detail, but do your research.  Get it right.
      • Deliberately Misleading:  I understand why a photographer might not want to reveal exact locations.  I have my favorite (secret) spots too.  But for the most part, you can easily give location information without giving away your exact shooting position.  I think it betrays insecurity when a photographer is afraid that others will replicate the shot.  Who cares about imitators?  If you are secure in your ability, you’re not worried about such things.
A frosty morning walk along the Rio Grande River is beautiful when the cottonwoods are in autumn leaf.

A frosty morning walk along the Rio Grande River is rewarded by cottonwoods in autumn leaf.

The end of fall comes to the high desert of southeastern Oregon.  "Termination dust", the winter's first snow, mantles the peaks in ghostly white.

The end of fall comes to the high desert of southeastern Oregon. “Termination dust”, the winter’s first snow, mantles the peaks in ghostly white.

I could go on but I’m starting to sound like a curmudgeon.  To sum this up, here’s what I believe a good strong caption should possess:

      • Keep it Short:  Say enough but not too much.  Captions should be short paragraphs, one line if you can swing it.  Don’t worry about writing sentence fragments, but make it readable.  Just the facts.
      • Be Accurate:  Do your research.  Find out the animal’s correct name, get the place-names right (including spelling), was it sunrise or sunset, and so on.  Most important, don’t go beyond your knowledge.  If you don’t know for sure, don’t include it.
      • Make it Subject-centered:  Give the viewer some idea of the What/Where/When of the image.  If you want to add camera & lens info. make sure to include the settings too.  It is even more important to give information on the subject when the title lacks it.  Titles; don’t get me started on those!
      • Avoid “Making-of” Stories:  Following the above point, make it about the subject and consider a blog if you want to talk about how you got the shot.  There simply isn’t room in a caption to give a lot of back-story.
      • Spelling & Grammar Count:  Run spell-check.  While I think phrases and sentence fragments are fine in the interest of brevity, that doesn’t mean bad grammar is okay too.  Captions are writing, and bad writing looks sloppy.  It can reflect poorly on you and your images.
      • Add Interesting Stuff:  If you know something interesting about the subject, include it.  You don’t have to be long-winded to add info. that people would find fascinating.
      • Don’t overdo Cute/Funny:  An occasional cute or funny caption is great, depending on the photo of course.  But if most of your captions are like this I’m not sure you’ll be taken seriously when the time comes to inform rather than amuse your viewers.  Wittiness can, like everything else, be overdone.
Welcome home:  A typically understated entrance to an adobe house in Taos, New Mexico.

Welcome home: A typically understated entrance to an adobe house in Taos, New Mexico.

Writing good captions takes some practice.  But if you keep it simple, start with the basics – the What/Where/When – and if you add interesting tidbits only as you learn them, you really can’t go wrong.  Have a great weekend and Happy Shooting!

In this view of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah, the early morning low sun highlights the spires, buttes and mesas of Indian Creek Canyon.  The Abajo Mountains lie in the distance.

In this view of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah, the early morning low sun highlights the spires, buttes and mesas of Indian Creek Canyon. The Abajo Mountains lie in the distance.

The former mining town of Silverton in the San Juan  Mountains of southwestern Colorado lies nestled in a high valley.

The former mining town of Silverton in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado lies nestled in a high valley.

Single-image Sunday: Peaceful in Baja   8 comments

I find Baja to be a peaceful place, by and large.  It’s not like some other areas of Mexico, which can be bustling (or even dangerous in a few cases).  To use the correct term, it’s ‘tranquilo’, a reason Mexicans give for visiting and even moving here.  The non-resort areas of Yucatan are similarly peaceful.  I wanted this shot to express that peace and I think it did.

I walked out here from Ensenada looking for a good shot of the bay and possibly a good overview shot of the town with a big cruise ship sitting in harbor.  That shot wasn’t possible, as the best vantage point was either from an off-limits naval yard or the top of a steep hill I didn’t have time to climb.

I watched the sunset develop as I walked.  I passed a wedding where the photog. was happily shooting his couple with great light.  After a rather plain sunset, I waited until near dark hoping for that glow you sometimes get.  Mostly I wanted the kind of low light that makes long exposures like this easy to shoot without an extra filter.  The vibrant sky was a nice bonus.

Bahia Ensenada under a peaceful dusk sky.  Please click image for purchase options.

Bahia Ensenada under a peaceful dusk sky. Please click image for purchase options.

 

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.

Storm in the Desert   2 comments

The meat of the winter storm moves across a barren southern Utah valley.

The meat of an early winter storm moves across an empty valley in southern Utah.

The first snowstorm of the winter moved across the desert southwest in the past few days.  When the desert gets snow, it is announced noisily beforehand by cold and wind.  But like most politicians it doesn’t fulfill all its blustery promise with much of a payoff – in this case snow.  The first night an inch or two came, and the second about five inches fell.  That morning I woke in Capital Reef National Park and there were large flakes slowly falling in a gentle, windless snow. Beautiful.

Morning reveals new-fallen snow in the old pioneer settlement of Fruita, Utah.  This is the one-room schoolhouse, which has been beautifully restored.

Morning reveals new-fallen snow in the pioneer settlement of Fruita, Utah. This is the one-room school, which has been beautifully restored.

This particular storm is neither the coldest nor the snowiest I have seen in these parts.  But for November its not bad.  Since I can remember I’ve enjoyed weather like this.  I always think it passes too quickly in the western U.S.  Alaska is the only place I’ve ever lived where weather like this can hang on for weeks.  This weather cay yield great pictures, but I can’t say I like messing with camera gear in cold, wet conditions.  I will post a Friday Foto Talk on how to deal with this potentially damaging issue surrounding winter shooting.

As I write this the weather has returned to typical conditions for the desert southwest; that is, cloudless blue skies.  Have a great week!

Goblin Valley is a hot place in summertime, but on this morning it was anything but.

Goblin Valley is a hot place in summertime, but on this morning it was anything but.

The San Juan Mountains   11 comments

An alpine lake high in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

An alpine lake high in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

The San Juan Mountains are my favorite mountain range in Colorado.  They are not the highest mountains in the state, though with six peaks surpassing 14,000 feet (4270 meters) in elevation they’re close.  It is the largest range in Colorado by area.  They slice spectacularly through the southwestern part of the state, forming a stunning Rocky Mountain landscape.

The major towns bordering the San Juans are Durango, Montrose and Alamosa.  Telluride, Creede and Silverton are smaller towns with historic, touristic and recreational personalities.  Hiking, mountain climbing & biking, horse-riding and white-water rafting are very popular, as are 4WD jeep rides.  There are four ski areas in the range, with Telluride being by far the biggest and most famous.  There are a plethora of summer homes and ranches, many owned by wealthy people.  Some are even famous (Tom Cruise is one).

The rugged San Juans in SW Colorado.

The rugged San Juans in SW Colorado.

William Henry Jackson, a photographer’s photographer

An intrepid photographer named William Henry Jackson, whom many of you might already know about, trekked through this range on his mission to document the best of the rugged American West in the late 1800s.  As part of the Hayden Expedition, he used pack animals and his own strong back to lug his large-format camera (complete with huge glass plates) up and down these steep mountains.

He set up make-shift tents that served as darkrooms, developing his prints often on the very summits of the mountains.  All in all he made about 300,000 black and white pictures.  These images, reproduced in newspapers in cities worldwide, played a large part in forming an idyllic image of the American West in the minds of those looking for new opportunity.  The call of “Go West young man!” now had superb pictures to go with it, and the mass migration soon followed!

Ranch land at the foot of the San Juan Mountains.

Ranch land at the foot of the San Juan Mountains.

 

Geology

The San Juans are a large western branch the Rocky Mountains.  Like the rest of the chain, they formed by the uplift and buckling of a large pile of older sedimentary and volcanic rocks during the late Cretaceous (the dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago).  This massive crustal “squish” happened because of a collision between two huge chunks of Earth’s crust: the Pacific and North American Plates.

Some of the highest and most rugged peaks in the San Juans are made of very hard igneous intrusions (granite is an example) that resist erosion.  These so-called plutons were intruded as the mountain building process got going.  Many of the flat-lying layers of sedimentary rocks forming the canyon walls of the adjacent Colorado Plateau lap up onto the San Juans.  There they take on a different look, being strongly deformed by folding and faulting.

Ouray, Colorado is a small town situated in a spectacular spot.

Ouray, Colorado is a small town situated in a spectacular spot.

Hard sedimentary rocks like quartzite, which is metamorphosed (heated and changed) sandstone, form prominent peaks and cliffs because quartzite is hard like the plutonic intrusions.  Other sedimentary rocks, such as the mudstones and sandstones of the dinosaur fossil-bearing Morrison Formation, typically form the rubbly slopes bordering the peaks.  Many valleys and canyons follow faults.  Ouray, Colorado lies at the base of a steep grade because of the E-W trending Ouray Fault.

Volcanism is one other important force that helped to form the San Juan Mountains.  Large and explosive volcanoes erupted in middle Tertiary times (about 30 million years ago).  Many calderas, including the Silverton Caldera, make up what’s called the San Juan Volcanic Field.  Calderas are bigger than craters and are formed when the volcano violently explodes and collapses back into its emptied magma chamber.

You can see these volcanics (tuffs – rock from volcanic ash and lavas) by driving up and over spectacular Red Mountain Pass.  In the San Juans, the colorful volcanic rock forms high but more rounded peaks that are less rugged than those formed by earlier igneous intrusions of the main mountain-building event.

Aspens take on a very different look after they lose their leaves in late autumn.

Aspens take on a very different look after they lose their leaves in late autumn.

Thar’s Gold in them thar hills!

In the late Tertiary, from about 20 to 10 million years ago, the slowly cooling granitic intrusions that were the sources for those explosive volcanoes sent forth gold and silver-bearing fluids into the faults and fractures of the calderas.  So like so many mountainous regions of the world, the events that formed valuable mineral deposits were the penultimate phases of the mountain-building process, the last gasp of the big granite bodies solidifying deep underground.

In southwest Colorado as in similar places throughout the world, these events dictated the much later human history of the area.  The mining history of this area, while interesting, also has a dark side.  The Summitville Mine in the eastern San Juans was worked by the old-timers in the late 1800s, well before modern environmental regulations.

The pollution from acid drainage resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declaring the area a Superfund site.  They have been trying to clean it up since the 1990s.  The EPA wanted to list an area near Silverton for Superfund status, but local opposition forced them to drop the idea and rely on the mining company to help control acid drainage.  The local economy relies heavily on tourism, and residents did not want that reputation tainted.

Silverton sits in a high valley between Molas and Red Mountain Passes.

Silverton sits in a high valley between Molas and Red Mountain Passes.

Silverton's mining-driven boomtime was in the late 1800s, as the architecture suggests.

Silverton’s mining-driven boom-time was in the late 1800s, as the architecture suggests.

 

The San Juan Mountains, a real Rocky Mountain wonderland, make for outstanding landscape photography.  In early summer there are spectacular wildflower displays. In autumn the aspens turn gold beneath the snow-dusted peaks.  If you have never been to this part of Colorado, I recommend making every effort to visit sometime soon.  And don’t forget your camera!

Click on any of the images to go to my image galleries.  They are all copyrighted, so aren’t available for free download without my permission.  If you’re interested in purchase of fine-art prints or high-resolution downloads please contact me.  Thanks for reading and have a great day!

The setting sun's light brightens the peaks of the San Juan Mountains,  Colorado.

The setting sun’s light brightens the peaks of the San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

A Visit to Photograph Santa Fe & Taos, New Mexico   8 comments

Adobe rules in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Adobe rules in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I had never been to this part of the country and I wanted to see why it was so popular as a travel destination.  Great Sand Dunes National Park was still closed because of the Govt. shutdown, and thinking it might open very soon (which happened) I made the detour down from south-central Colorado last week.

I drove down to the little town of Questa in spitting snow.  Camping above the Rio Grande River, I woke next morning to find about 4 inches of snow had fallen.  The weather gradually cleared and warmed a bit over the next few days.  I made my way first to Taos and then to New Mexico’s capital Santa Fe.  Both are chock-full of adobe architecture, some of it very old and restored.  This post will give tips for visiting the region and touch on its history.  Images of the architecture will take center stage.

The Rio Grande Gorge near Questa, New Mexico on a snowy morning.

The Rio Grande Gorge near Questa, New Mexico on a snowy morning.

Both Santa Fe and Taos are great for strolling and exploring.  Santa Fe is the more touristy of the two and is larger.  But you’ll find no tall buildings in Santa Fe, and really not much traffic.  Both are small enough to walk but Taos is very much a town compared to Santa Fe, which is a small city.

Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Santa Fe

I started in Santa Fe, America’s oldest state capital (and highest at 7000 feet).  It was founded by the Spanish in 1607 and played a big role in the early western expansion of the U.S.  Many famous people have spent time here, both in historic and more recent times.  The artist Georgia O’Keefe lived and painted here in the early 20th century.  It also has a world-renowned opera.

There is paid parking throughout the downtown area, in old-fashioned coin meters.  If you’re willing to walk into the center, you can find free parking.  I visited the friendly Capital Coffee, which is only 5 minutes walk from the edge of the historic center.  After coffee, I used their parking lot to strike off into the streets and shoot.  I was only a little over an hour doing this.  I would not take advantage and spend half the day parked there.

Adobe houses are, above all, simple.  You can see the straw used to mix the adobe.

Adobe houses are, above all, simple. You can see the straw used in the adobe.

I recommend simply wandering through the streets around the central plaza.  The plaza (zocalo in Mexico) is a good landmark to keep circling back to.  There are innumerable art galleries to visit of course.  The town is a magnet for artists of all stripes.  I focused on shooting exteriors here.  I photographed mostly when the sun was low but not so low that shadows dominated.

Built in 1607, this is America's "oldest" house, though since it is adobe, it's been continuously patched and rebuilt over the years.

Built in 1607, this is America’s “oldest” house, though since it is adobe, it’s been continuously patched and rebuilt over the years.

Rather than list places to visit, I urge you to check out Wiki’s travel guide (which includes a walking map) or do your own Googling.  For the rich history of this 400+-year old city, you couldn’t do much better than start with the Palace of the Governors.  This is the former center of Spain’s colonial government here and is now New Mexico’s state history museum.

While you’re strolling, it’s very worthwhile trying to get access to the placitas (commonly called courtyards in most areas).  Placitas characterize the architecture here. Found throughout Latin America as well, here these delightful open-air spaces are surrounded by low-slung adobe buildings.  During my travels in Mexico, Central and South America, courtyards have been a favorite place to chill out and soak in the sun: reading, journaling and relaxing.

Inside a traditional placita.

Inside a traditional placita, this one at the Blumenshein Home in Taos.

Traditionally several families would live in the homes bordering the placita, sharing it as an outdoor living and animal husbandry area.  Some flowers and other plants were grown but placitas were not traditionally devoted to gardens as they mostly seem to be these days.  Modern placitas (courtyards) also differ in being most often surrounded by one single-family dwelling.

I found Taos to be much easier than Santa Fe in terms of wandering in and out of placitas, but you might have better luck than I did in Santa Fe.

The Scottish Rite Cathedral is located a mile or so from the center of Santa Fe but is a magnificent building worth photographing.

The Scottish Rite Cathedral is located a mile or so from the center of Santa Fe but is a magnificent building worth photographing.

The moon rises over the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Santa Fe.

The moon rises over the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Santa Fe.

I like Taos a little better than Santa Fe.  Santa Fe seems a bit strange to me.  Maybe it’s because of all the tourism clashing with history clashing with the modern influx of wealthy retirees clashing with the older residents of the area (many Native American) clashing with the new-age types.  It seems to me to be a place lacking an identity. Also, real estate prices are way out of whack.

So much of the adobe in Santa Fe looks like it was built yesterday, which I think takes away from the real history of the place.  Taos suffers some of the same, but I’ve found this effect to run rampant throughout the world, anywhere history and authenticity gets in the way of modern life and “progress”.  At least they keep to adobe construction and style here.

A house in Taos.

A house in Taos.

Taos

Taos has some of the same vibe as Santa Fe but it’s much smaller and has a definite character.  Besides being a gateway to mountain recreation (including great skiing), Taos is a fine place to wander around and photograph.  Kit Carson, the famous scout and mountain man lived here.  Or I should say his hispanic wife and their kids lived here while he passed through from time to time.

One of the few windows in Kit Carson's old home.

One of the few windows in Kit Carson’s old home.

The restored placita next to the Kit Carson Home in Taos, New Mexico.

The restored placita next to the Kit Carson Home in Taos, New Mexico.

There is a main plaza in Taos as well.  In Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America these zocalos or plazas seem to be much more “alive” with activity than in Taos and Santa Fe.  I think it’s because of all the limitations in the U.S. for people to just set up carts with cheap eats.  Here they serve as centers for shopping, much of it high end.  In Mexico they’re places for street performers, strolling couples and great street food.  The ones in New Mexico look just like zocalos but are not the same at all.

A church-bell in Taos.

A church-bell in Taos.

You can park very near the plaza at one of the public parking lots (feed coins into the meters) or look for free spots 10 minutes walk to the plaza.  You can just wander through the streets surrounding the plaza.  The placita bordered by Kit Carson’s house is interesting, restored to near what it would have looked like.  The placita at the Blumenshein Home is a great one too, and the narrow street it’s on, Ledoux, is lined with attractive adobe architecture.

A great mural at the entrance to Ledoux Street in Taos, New Mexico.

A great mural at the entrance to Ledoux Street in Taos, New Mexico.

A couple places I neglected on this trip but which are certainly worth checking out are Taos Peublo just north of town and Ranchos de Taos a couple miles south of town.  Taos Pueblo has some of the oldest buildings in the area.  At Ranchos de Taos, the deservedly famous San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church is an amazing building.  I suppose I need to skip some things to have an excuse to return!

A bit of fall color in Taos, New Mexico.

A bit of fall color in Taos, New Mexico.

This high and beautiful area of New Mexico is certainly worth visiting.  The climate is darn near perfect and the Sangre de Cristos Mountains are gorgeous.  Also, the Rio Grande River flows through it.  It’s a very beautiful stream that runs in and out of rugged canyons.  One morning I took a frosty walk along the river and found some fall colors (image below).

As usual, clicking on any of the images takes you to my gallery page, and all the pictures are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission. Please contact me if you are interested in any of them; they’ll be uploaded to my site soon.  Thanks for reading and have a superb week!

The Rio Grande River and colorful cottonwoods between Santa Fe & Taos, New Mexico.

The Rio Grande River and colorful cottonwoods between Santa Fe & Taos, New Mexico.

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