Thursday, April 29, 2010

APRIL 28 Yellowstone Park

Well after a full day of shooting in Yellowstone in a snowstorm, I am kicken back in a small Montana bar called the K BAR. One of the rangers told me the food was grea, so here I am with a beer, burger and salad... said to be the best local fair around. (So Sad) Sitting in the window table I see the snow isn’t letting up so I may choose to stay in the motel tonight instead of camping in the park. Don't get me wrong I love the camping but freezing cold mornings are no fun.

The day started with driving up the mountain in a blizzard, the things I do in pursuit of the best shot are often not easy at my age. So suddenly there is a payoff...There on the side of the road by the stream, a pair of coyote… they see me and the female turns and heads to the trees but the male is occupied by something under the snow possibly a mouse trying to get away so I get several great shots of him.

The storm is getting worse now, I pass a car in a ditch and the driver is standing off to one side scratching his head. "Are you alright" I asked he nods help is on the way. Ahead the ranger I am following pulls over by an official car and is talking to another ranger. Soon he finds out the road is closed with 2 other cars off the road. I am signaled to turn around and go back, so I do. The rest of the day is spent in the lower parts of the park. I shot Buffalo in the snow... a classic, Elk with their new budding horns of the season and a black bear by a pond, not a bad day all in all.  Just not what I had hoped for. I guess all this nature is making me spoiled.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Believing in my GPS

Last week my wife Trudi and I were on our way from Capitol Reef Park to Arches (Oh, she flew in to Vegas to join me for a week of the trip.) we were following the directions of my GPS unit to the letter. We were traveling on what appeared to be a new highway (70) through the desert when the GPS said turn right in 2 miles. With out question I pulled off the highway onto what seemed like an old road the GPS said go straight for 27 miles then turn left. I looked at Trudi and she did not look to thrilled with the prospect of driving off into the desert on this old road.  I said lets try it for a while we have water and food and a full tank of gas so off we went into the unknown.

Slowly the road got worse, the desert was reclaiming pieces of it as it clearly had not been driven on for some time. Now we had gone on for 30 or 40 minutes and the road was giving way at the edges to sand tumbleweeds blew by and the road soon turned to sand. The GPS said turn right in 5 miles so I pushed on… I could see the 70 freeway off in the distance and thought if I can get there we can get back on the main road. So I pushed on… Then the GPS said turn right but there was no road at all to turn on so I pushed on… thinking about getting to the highway again, I drove over a hill and low and behold in front of me was highway 70 but there was one small problem. There was a large fence between me and the highway not to mention a deep impassable ditch. Trudi said lets go back, I agreed so we turned around and following our tracks through the sand drove back the GPS kept repeating recalculating, recalculating… I turned it off.

On the way back we drove through a rock canyon. I noticed something on the side of the road that I could not see when we drove in, I stopped the car to get a closer look, It was the carcass of a cow. It was at this point skin and bone but I noticed it had been eaten the bones were scared with teeth marks and there were large paw tracks in the sand. Cougar I thought. I took some pictures and quickly got back in the car and drove on. I guess if I had seen the cow body coming in I could have read the signs and turned around then, but then there would be no story to tell. After several miles we were back at the turn off where we started. Trudi breathed a sigh of relief and I could not help but laugh at what was an exciting romp through a desolate tract of forgotten desert.  Oh by the way the GPS was right after an additional 30 miles I recognized the part of the fence where we were. If  they didn’t put up the fence and dig the ditch we could have saved some time and miles with the very long short cut through nowhere.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Opening to Grandeur

It has been a while since I last posted. My apologies to those of you waiting for the next chapter. I have had so little time and so much has happened since then.

I have been through the heat and ash of Death Valley, seen the trees of Joshua, Crossed the sands of Mojave, entered the promised land of Zion, photographed the Hoodoos of Bryce; Climbed the staircase of the Grand Escalate; Seen the towering walls of Capitol Reef and captured the Arches of red stone. Today I caught the dawn mist of the Salt River and the towering peaks of the Tetons at dusk and soon I will be at Yellowstone. Bison, Elk and deer seen grazing, squirrels pose for photos as if they know you. Crows and eagles and birds of all types and colors sing songs of courtship to each other and because I hear their call my heart swoons too.

This trip is a lesson in greatness. NO, not mine but America's, I have seen the overwhelming grandeur of our nation in it's parks and the scenic byways between them, nothing in all my travels compares to the spectacle. It's as if suddenly everything has meaning, everything is as it should be, there is nothing to gain that is not already available and there is nothing to loose that is necessary to keep. Seeing nature in this scale and abundance gives life focus. It is the clarity of pine scented fresh air and the sureness in will of rock and stone layered in all the colors of the rainbow forged in the folding crust of the shell we call Earth. I try to think of how it has changed me, I wonder if my life will ever be the same again. I hope not, I don't wish to hold to the small minded ways of my former self.

I have used up my knees climbing up and down mountains (they are being ices as I write this), My back is stiff from sleeping nights under the stars in the back of my Subaru, muscles ache with overuse and I can't remember when I have done so much in such a condensed and daily activity regimen.  I could do it all again... and I will.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Finding myself alone in the wilderness

One would think that this trip is envied by many as a joy ride through scenic America and I would admit that there is some truth to that. Journeys are filled with unexpected delights and disappointments, I am learning as I go that not all things can be accounted for.

Over the last 4 nights as I traveled through Death Valley I was unable to find a single vacancy at any of the motels along the way. Three of the four nights I slept in my car under the stars. Sounds romantic until you realize how small the sleeping space is in the car. There would be no hot shower in the morning either, only cold water from a bottle to wash my face. On the fourth night I ended up at an RV Camper park and still had to sleep in the car but there was a hot shower for the campers and even an electrical outlet to recharge my camera batteries. What a luxury and all for under $20 with my AAA membership card.

Events like this make me wonder why I am doing this in the first place. It's not an easy or comfortable trip by any means. It's like I tell my students, the best photograph is often not taken from the most convenient location. I am not after a quick snapshot but rather a carefully studied and framed composition. I have been claiming up hills and down sand dunes fully loaded with all my gear to get to just the right point of view. I think I could even loose a few pounds with all the walking.

At some deeper level I kind of knew what I was getting into here. I wanted the unknown to shape the events of my experience. In this way I could learn something about taking better pictures and once there in that deeper level I could learn something about myself. Mostly we don't know how we will respond to unpredictable events, we hope that they will not be catastrophic, we hope they will bring out the best in us and in so doing we are the better for it. Sometimes the reward is profound and other times it is mundane. I believe sleeping in the car to be one of those mundane learning experiences. It is possible that in younger days I would not have noticed the cramped quarters. The adventure would supersede all else. Now it is a sacrifice I am willing to make, some small discomfort for the opportunity to experience the big picture and open myself the big mind.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day 5-6

Day 5
Tonight I sleep in the car. I’m in the dessert at a place called Fossil Falls. Created by a prehistoric volcanic lava flow and eventually flooded by a river it became the home of an ancient tribe of people. Now the river is gone and all that remains is the carvings the water etched in the lava bed.
The sun has just set and the wind has increased its relentless howling as it rocks my car from side to side. I think it will rock me to sleep tonight. The rich blue sky is slowly giving way to the pinks of sunset and the eventual black of night. Is there a moon tonight? I will see the Milky Way!

Rock formations stand like dark sentinels around the camp sight. Offering me a glimmering hope of protection from whatever else is out there in the dark. It is all so vast and I feel like such a small thing barely noticeable in it all. Time to rest now.

Day 6
I woke up to a bright light shining in my window... It was the moon. The stars were now gone replaced by this almost full orb. As I looked around half asleep I saw that it lit up the dessert in an eerie half-light. Being the dedicated photographer I am and not wanting to miss the opportunity to capture the light I got up set up my gear and got the shot. Shortly after I went back to sleep.

Today I drove to Lone Pine at the foot of Mt. Whitney and the scene of so many western movies. High Serra staring Humphrey Bogart was filmed here and Gunga Din (not a western) "Into the valley of death road the 600". It is the Inyo National Park. I couldn't help but be struck by the rock formations and how every where I looked was filled with the interplay of color, light and shadow. So many dynamic shapes playing against the highest point in North America Mount Whitney. She stands majestic watch over the low lands.

After a full morning of shooting I was getting hungry and it was time to gas up the car, so back to Loan Pine and refueling then I was off to Death Valley where I am once again camping in the Subaru. Tomorrow I will explore Death Valley National Park.