Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"My" Billboard!

Yesterday as I drove towards Duluth from Minneapolis I was finally able to see the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino billboard, which has one of my photos of Lake Superior on it. The billboard has been up for several months, but this was the first chance that I had to see it. The picture of the billboard isn't the greatest (its a little fuzzy), as I just snapped it through the windshield as I drove by, but you get the idea. Its pretty exciting to see my photo up there! Here is the image that was used:

So, the next time you're driving up towards Duluth on Interstate 35, the billboard is between Forest Lake and Hinckley.... keep your eyes open for it!

Last night's presentation at the spring meeting for the Duluth-Superior Camera Club went very well. Last fall I had been asked by Brian R. to do a slide show and a talk sometime about my photos for the club. As it turns out, the timing for the meeting worked out great as a "bookend" for my trip to the southwest. My slide show and talk concentrated on my newest images from the trip and I wrapped things up by showing a few images from the north shore, to show what it is that always brings me back to the area and what makes the area "home". After the show a number of members from the club came up to me to thank me for coming and tell me how much they enjoyed my work. We also talked "shop" about cameras and the art of image-making. I ran into some friends that I already knew and made some new friends. It was a great evening, one that I enjoyed and I hope the members of the club enjoyed it as much as I did.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Badlands

I have been to the Badlands in South Dakota a few times now, and with each visit I enjoy the area even more. My previous trips were just quick "through-visits" on my way home from other travels out west. This time, however, I was able to spend almost two full days in the area. I arrived in Badlands National Park after spending the day traveling through the Pine Ridge Reservation and visiting Wounded Knee. The whole area is beautiful and I can only imagine what it must look like in the summer, when things are a little 'greener'. The grasses everywhere were still quite brown, nothing had really greened up yet.

As I arrived in the Badlands I started noticing a lot of standing water in the low-lying areas along the side of the road, and some patches of snow here and there. When I got to the park's visitor center the staff informed me that they had quite a bit of moisture in the past couple of weeks, in the form of both rain and snow. Consequently, there were lots of puddles and in some places larger pools of water. In the larger pools, choruses of frogs were croaking and singing to their heart's content. These pockets of water really made the visit interesting for photographs, as I was able to make several exposures of the hills of the badlands reflected in these pools of water.

While making the image above, about half an hour after sunset, a car pulled up alongside mine on the side of the road. A voice came from the window... "Great spot, huh?" I turned and voiced my agreement, then got up (I had been sitting on the ground with my tripod set low to get the above shot) and walked over to the car to chat some more. The friendly voice in the car belonged to Carl Johnson, who is currently the artist-in-residence at Badlands National Park. As it turned out, he's a photographer, too. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska but explained that he was a guide for a while in the Boundary Waters, up the Gunflint Trail. I said "No kidding... I'm from Grand Portage." To which he responded "I used to work as a security guard in the Grand Portage Casino during the winter, in between my summer guiding job." What a small world! It turns out he worked at the casino back when I was managing the marina in Grand Portage. At any rate, we had a nice visit and we swapped website information. If you'd like to visit Carl's site, go to and if you'd like to see his work from the Badlands, click on the "Blog" link at the top of his main website page. He has some nice work, and its worth a bit of your time to visit his site.

(Above: My car's shadow on the painted hills of the Badlands....)

Tomorrow, I head for home. The Badlands marks the last of my "tourist" stops for this trip. I am staying in Duluth tomorrow night, and tuesday night I am scheduled to give a slide show and a talk about my trip and my photography in general to the Duluth-Superior Camera Club. Hopefully they will like what I have to share!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Grosvenor Arch and Cottonwood Canyon Road

As my time on this trip nears its end, I've been reviewing many of the images that I've made throughout the trip and in so doing realized that I left out sharing the spectacular Grosevnor Arch with you! I visited this arch about a week ago, on the same day that I hiked the Willis Creek narrows. Grosvenor Arch is located down the Cottonwood Canyon Road, which goes right through the heart of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Its a little odd visiting this arch as Cottonwood Canyon Road is a fairly rough road with lots of washboard bumps and rocks, yet when you arrive at Grosvenor Arch you are treated to a nice picnic area with toilet facilities and a paved walkway leading up to the arch.

Since my visit to the arch was in the middle of the afternoon, I was thankful to have some nice clouds in the sky to make the mid-day photos a bit more interesting. After photographing the arch I continued to drive down Cottonwood Canyon Road, admiring the scenery along the way. I snapped a few images along the road, then turned around when I was roughly half-way through the road (about 23 miles). I would have continued all the way through the road, but I wanted to be back at Bryce Canyon that night to shoot the sunset.

As I write this update I am in Wall, South Dakota after a drive through the Pine Ridge Reservation and an afternoon/evening visit to Badlands National Park. I am working my way back home with mixed feelings. After spending a few weeks on the road its nice to be heading home, but at the same time I don't want the trip to end. At least I can take comfort in the knowledge that not long after I return home flowers will be blooming and the trees will be budding, and summer will soon be here! Look for a post about the Badlands to come in another day or two....

(Above and below: Some of the scenery along Cottonwood Canyon Road)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Arches National Park

Ah, Arches.... what was supposed to be a main focus of this trip ended up being just a short visit. I was originally planning on visiting Arches FIRST on this trip, and spending a few days there. Plans changed when I found out that Moab was hosting the "Easter Jeep Safari". I like to avoid crowds, so I changed my plan and decided to hit Arches and Moab on the tail end of my trip, after the madness of the Jeep Safari had departed. I stayed in Moab for two nights, and spent only half of my time in Arches... the other half in Canyonlands.

(Above: Note the person at the base of the arch, for a sense of scale as to how big Delicate Arch is!)

I was discouraged when, on Thursday morning at about 10:00, I arrived at the park entrance only to find a long line of about 40 cars waiting to get into the park. Eventually I made it in, only to find that parking at almost every trailhead was non-existent... all the spots were already taken, with overflow spilling down both sides of the road in both directions. There was one thing that I knew I had to do, though... and that was hike to Delicate Arch, easily the most famous arch in the park. I wasn't going to do that in the middle of the day, so I left the park for a while and came back to hike to the arch at sunset.

When I arrived at Delicate Arch there weren't any clouds to make a nice photogenic sky, but the arch was bathed in a beautiful glow from the setting sun. There were about 25 other people already there, most of them just enjoying the view, but a few were taking pictures. One thing is for certain, its practically impossible to enjoy the golden hour at Delicate Arch by yourself. Its just too popular. However, I found that if you wait 10 minutes after the sun goes down, everyone is gone! I stayed for about an hour after sunset, debating whether or not to hang around and make some star trail images of the arch. I decided against that when some clouds started to roll in from the east. So, I headed back to the car. I had my headlamp with me, but thinking about the words of Edward Abbey which I had read the night before, I chose not to use it. I still had enough light to see by anyway.

Edward Abbey wrote in his book "Desert Solitaire", which is about his time as a ranger at Arches National Park, before it was "discovered":

"There's another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light which it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision though limited has no sharp or definite boundary."

I realized this long ago, which is why my headlamp is only used when absolutely necessary. And tonight, it was not absolutely necessary.

(Above: The famous "Balanced Rock")

Arches is a very popular park these days... and I couldn't help but wonder as I fought the crowds what it would have been like to visit the park during the early days, when Abbey was a ranger here and the park had no paved roads and no crowds. I struggle with the "busy-ness" of some parks. I do like that most people, regardless of their ability, are able to visit some of these natural treasures. However, it is this idea of easy access that also works to strip away some of the sense of appreciation that people have for these areas. If they don't have to work hard to see it, they won't appreciate it as much. To quote the newsletter from Arches National Park: "Can't decide what to do? Well, forget the schedule and stay another day. If you try to see too much on your vacation, you end up really 'seeing' nothing."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Canyonlands National Park

If you like the canyon country but the thought of the insane crowds at the Grand Canyon turns your stomach, then Canyonlands National Park is for you! Featuring canyon vistas no less impressive than those of the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands is a heavenly park. Near Moab, Utah the park is easily accessible by car. However, if you want to fully appreciate this park (something I have yet to do) you need to spend at least a few days here and explore the park away from the main road. Canyonlands is a vast park with many things to see, but it takes time to see them and appreciate them. On my next trip to the southwest I hope to spend at least a few days here.

Above: These 2 images are actually from Dead Horse Point State Park, a short detour along the same road that brings you into Canyonlands. Dead Horse Point is a beautiful place with impressive canyon views to both the east and the west, making it a fantastic location for either sunrise or sunset shooting.

(Above and below: A sampling of some of the views available from the main park road.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Valley of the Gods

What a strange day! When I left the motel this morning I immediately noticed this strange sort of haze throughout the entire sky, which at first made me think of a forest fire. Then I realized that it was dust being kicked up into the atmosphere. It was incredibly windy all day, and all day these surreal skies kept me company. As the day neared its end the sky took on an even more eerie glow. Eventually as I approached Moab, Utah it started to snow a bit which seemed to knock the dust out of the sky. By the time I arrived in Moab the sky had partially cleared, and the strange haze was almost entirely gone.

These first few images were taken along the highway between Blanding, Utah and Moab.

Below: The dust storm at Goosenecks State Park, Utah. Goosenecks State Park features a series of bends in the San Juan River. I couldn't even see the bends in their entirety because of all the dust in the air.

Above and below: The dust storm in Valley of the Gods, Utah. Valley of the Gods is similar to Monument Valley, although on a less "grand" scale. It is a gem of an area, however, and if you are passing through on your way to Blanding from Monument Valley, its worth checking out.

(Above: Dusk in the Valley of the Gods)

(Below: Goosenecks State Park again, taken the night before the dust storm.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Monument Valley

Monument Valley is probably the most well-known spot in the southwest. Practically everyone alive today has most likely seen images and/or video from Monument Valley, whether they realize it or not. Many western movies have been filmed at this location and photos from Monument Valley are often used when it comes to promoting the southwest to tourists.

It certainly is a beautiful place and a worthy stop for any traveler, especially photographers. If you want to explore the valley beyond the scenic drive, however, you'll need to hire a Navajo guide. You can drive your own vehicle around the scenic loop which has views of the main features of the valley, but you cannot stray from the scenic loop road if you are on your own. These images were all captured from the scenic drive, as I chose not to go with a Navajo guide... although someday I would like to hire a guide to get some local insight into the area. I chose not go with a guide because of time and because of the conditions. If I was going to hire a guide I would like for it to be a nicer day, so I could enjoy it more.

It was very windy during my visit, with dust and sand blowing everywhere. I had been considering staying at the new Navajo hotel right in the valley, but with the conditions the way they were I decided to head further down the road.

(Above and below: There are some very interesting views approaching the valley from the surrounding highway.)

Horseshoe Bend

My timing was a little bit off today. Apparently I just missed, by a matter of minutes, the opportunity to photograph a California Condor perched on the edge of the gorge at Horseshoe Bend. As I walked the trail to the edge of the gorge, I met another photographer who was heading back to his car. He noticed I was carrying a tripod and he stopped to tell me about the condor. He said there was a condor that had been sitting on a rock right on the edge of the gorge for close to half an hour. He pulled out his camera and showed me the images that he had just taken. They were unbelievable. Condors aren't exactly the prettiest birds, but they are big and very rare. This guy had some great shots of the bird, but did not have a website to share where the shots could be seen.

I may have missed the chance to photograph the unique bird, but I still had a great time at Horseshoe Bend. The bend is just a few miles south of Page, Arizona on the Colorado River. It is very easy to get to via a relatively short (although sandy) trail from the highway. During my visit there were about 50 other people there at the same time. The little parking lot at the trailhead was almost full, and included one tour bus, which apparently was filled with French people. Which brings me to one oddity of this trip... at times it seems as though I have heard more French than English being spoken as I visit some of these areas in the southwest. Today I felt like I was back in France as the people from the tour bus were spread out along the trail and I could hear French being spoken almost the whole time I was at Horseshoe Bend. I guess the southwest has become quite popular with European travelers!

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I do believe that I've just had what I will consider to be the best experience of this trip. From a photographic standpoint, the conditions were a little "too" perfect (a more interesting sky would have been nice for the sunset/sunrise photos), but the experience overall was one that I will never forget. I must admit that the Grand Canyon and the southwest in general at one time held no interest at all for me. Well... now that I have been to this part of the country a number of times, my feelings have changed and I've really come to love it in the southwest.

I had first heard of Toroweap while browsing the website of Marc Adamus, one of my favorite photographers. On his website he has an image titled "Flaming Canyon" that, more than anything else, was my sole inspiration for wanting to visit Toroweap. (To see Marc's image, click here: Toroweap is part of Grand Canyon National Park, but resides on the north rim, and not the tourist over-run south rim. Toroweap is easily one of the least visited areas of Grand Canyon National Park. While the area is vehicle-accessible, you must drive down 60 miles of dirt road, the last 10 miles of which are VERY rough. I made it just fine in my Honda Element with all-terrain tires, but a passenger car certainly would never make it.

Toroweap is a Paiute term meaning "dry or barren valley". The views from Toroweap Overlook are 3,ooo feet above the Colorado River and take your breath away. Due to the remote nature of the Toroweap area (it takes a minimum of 2.5 to 3 hours to drive the road one-way) I decided to spend the night at the Toroweap campground, a lovely little 9-site (FREE!) campground that is one mile from the canyon rim. This would also enable me to shoot a sunset and a sunrise at the location. To my surprise the campground was about half-full, and I saw a half-dozen other vehicles along the last few miles of the road.

Everyone knew that this was a quiet place, however, and once the sun went down it was hard to tell there was anyone else camping there. None of the usual campground noise.... just pure, un-filtered silence. I was in heaven. Being that Toroweap is so far from any signs of civilization, the sky that night over the campground was one of the most amazing that I've ever seen. The stars seemed close enough to reach up and pluck them out of the sky. Surprisingly, none of the other campers were interested in the comings and goings of the sun. As such, as I shot the sunset and the sunrise, I was completely alone on the canyon rim. What a lovely place!

(Below: 1 hour, 30 minute star exposure, taken directly over my campsite)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Glen Canyon NRA - Alstrom Point

I wasn't really looking forward to today, since the forecast was calling for some pretty miserable weather all day. That's just how it started out, too. I stayed in Kanab, Utah last night and when I woke this morning it was going back and forth between rain and snow. When I got in the car and decided to head towards Page, Arizona it was hailing... actually more like kind of a slush coming down. Kanab isn't a very big town, and by the time I drove from one side of town to the other my car was covered in this hail/slush mix and I had to pull over to clear my wipers of the mess. Once I got a few miles outside of town, the clouds parted and the sun came out. It was sunny and warm (65 to 70 degrees) the rest of the day!

On my way out of town I stopped at the Kanab visitor center for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I ran into a very helpful older man with a white beard who has lived in the Page/Kanab area for the past 30 years. I told him I was interested in trying to get to Alstrom Point on Lake Powell, but wasn't sure of the way since the route is off the main roads. He gave me directions on how to get there and we visited for quite a while about other areas of interest as well. Once I had my fill of local knowledge, I thanked him and headed for Page and Lake Powell.

For those of you who might not know, Lake Powell is a man-made lake, created from the construction of the Glen Canyon dam in Page, Arizona. The dam is in Arizona, but the majority of the lake lies in Utah. Lake Powell and the surrounding land makes up what is known as the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. There are a couple of marinas on the lake, and houseboating is big business there. If you drive near the main marina you can see row after row of houseboats.

I spent a good part of the day just exploring the part of the lake that is right near Page. It certainly is a beautiful area... I could easily see myself living here. I wanted to shoot the sunset from Alstrom Point, and based on my "local knowledge", when 5:30 rolled around I figured I better get started on those backroads to get to the point. My directions told me it was about 25 miles to the point, which turned out to be spot-on. My GPS read 25.2 miles once I got there. I was told the way would be "relatively" easy so long as the clay portion of the road was dry. And it was, for the most part. There was only one section about 100 feet long that was a little bit wet but my Honda Element made it through without any problem, although not before flinging up a decent amount of mud and getting my car good and dirty.

Alstrom Point was sublime. I chose to walk the last mile and a half or "road" which went right out onto the point itself. I could have driven it, but it was easier to walk. The road at that point was more suited for a high-clearance Jeep. The sunset turned out to be the best one of the trip so far. The rocks seemed to glow as the light hit them, and the clouds were vibrant hues of pink and blue. After this amazing light show was over, I ate my Subway sandwich that I had brought along for supper, then opened the rear hatch on my car and rolled my sleeping bag out on the floor. I camped in the car for the night, since I didn't feel like driving back out on that road in the dark. It was a wonderful night and it was warm enough that I left the hatch open while I slept (no bugs here.... yay!!!!!), with the warm Arizona breeze keeping me company all night long.