Backpacking and Photography in the Petrified Forest National Park

13 Jun

Exploring the Painted Desert and Black Forest areas of the Petrified Forest National Park

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“The Wanderers” Early morning dappled light in a remote area of the Petrified Forest

The Petrified Forest National Park lies along the remote eastern border of Arizona near the small railroad town of Holbrook. Surrounded by the Hopi, Navajo and Zuni Indian Reservations, vast rolling badlands feature copious amounts of petrified wood. A paved road connects two visitor centers. The drive between features various landmarks, overlooks, pueblos, mesas and other Route 66 curiosities.

The park closes at sunset and does not have a campground. The only way to spend the night is by backpacking. Entrance fees are $20 and backcountry permits are free. Of course, bring plenty of water!

Timing your visit to this arid high-desert playground is tricky. Expect 40-degree differences between highs and lows. There are no perfect months for weather. Late spring and early fall are top choices for comfortable days and chilly nights.

The mission of my June 1st visit  to successfully capture the full moon. We choose to enter the backcountry from the unnamed trail near the Painted Desert Inn (historic landmark) in the northern sector. There are no topographic maps available at the visitor center and a GPS is highly recommended.

After setting up camp, I settled upon a rocky perch ringed with various geologic oddities overlooking crimson badlands for the sunset session. Light was harsh and a 400 mm lens would have been useful. Photography was tricky especially finding suitable foreground compositions and capturing adequate depth of field.

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“Extraterrestrial Flapjacks”

 

As the light waned I was almost to busy pursuing my goal of the perfect shot to notice the absence of the full moon. The sky was ninety-percent clear but obviously it was hiding somewhere. I could not even see a source of light! As I packed up my belongings writing off another opportunity to capture one of my favorite subjects…the moon peeked out behind the veil of thick clouds. I worked quickly to capture the scene and to my delight to develop an adequate rendition of my experience.

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“Lunar Fortress”

As the night progressed the clouds thickened and when I awoke I knew that it would be a fantastic sunrise.  The color appeared quicker than anticipated as I scrambled up a steep, clay mesa behind our campsite near a wash. While I had not scouted this spot the night before, I was pleased with the unending views as well the abundant petrified logs.

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“Primordial Firewood”

While I expected the sky to clear, a fresh new layer of clouds flew into the scenery. I climbed higher above the badlands for a bird’s eye before settling on a distant location. I predetermined a safe way down and knew that I’d have just enough to time to capture the best light.

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“Solitary Awakening”

While the day heated up we ventured out for one last round of sight seeing before returning to our vehicle. The desert smelled of rain and distant storm clouds confirmed our senses. I had difficulty finding the location I had visited earlier but stumbled upon miles of other enticing scenic interests. I’d love to learn about your favorite interpretation of my experiences. Thanks for reading and sharing!

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“Day of the Sky”

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“The Long Wood”

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Destructive Grazing in the Wilderness Hurts Everyone

30 Oct

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Cattle living in the mountains where there is literally snow melting into streams in August. 

The summer of 2017 ushered in many new habitat changes in the San Juan Mountains – none more noticeable than a grazing uptick. This was most prevalent in the South San Juan Wilderness near Tobacco and Quartz Lakes – where sizable herds reside.

Cattle cause problems in numerous ways and when living in pristine places – the results are disturbing. They damage the ground by widespread trampling while also devouring flowers and grass. Lush green pastures perfect for taking a nap become a cesspool of ants, flies, mud, and loose rock. Flowers don’t automatically grow back yearly and the ground doesn’t magically reform either. It takes decades to fully recover.

In areas of competing public use these effects are worse. The herds sleep at obvious camp spots, making those inhabitable – littered with foul manure and swarming insects. This means looking elsewhere and finding new spots – putting more pressure on an over-stressed environment.

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Hiking to Tobacco Lake

The same applies for hiking trails. The trails become so disfigured and muddy – hikers have to step off and go around. However, the most significant damage is done to our water supply.

High altitude places in the Western US should be known clean water – a vital natural commodity.  In the South San Juans, these high-altitude watersheds flow into the Rio Grande River. Tobacco is the highest lake in the wilderness at nearly 12,400 feet. Yet, dozens of cattle graze just beneath the shoreline.

I’m all in favor of responsibly herding cattle but not between 8500 – 12,000 feet at beautiful mountain lakes. Can’t we find some place more appropriate? In most towns, chemically treated tap water tastes poor and bottles waste millions of tons of plastic each annually. If our highest and finest natural resources are tainted by bovine – we’ve all got issues.

In case you are wondering how much it ranchers pay for their grazing rights – it’s now 1.87 a month for a cattle and calf. That’s down from 2.11 during the Obama Administration. I think they do more damage than that in an hour. Let’s put politics aside and all agree this is not right.

If you are interested in more evidence please check out my video uploads here. I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic again in the future. Your thoughts, opinions, and input are always appreciated.

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Noticeable damage to the banks of lovely Quartz Lake while the water color is a murky green it should be a silty blue. The forest service touts this lake as a hiking destination but a herd of 20 cattle live onsite making picnics here less than desirable. 

5 Insider Tips on Renting Cars for Your Next Adventure

11 Oct

Autumn is the perfect time for road trips and renting a vehicle can save gas and prevent needless wear-and-tear. For those of us with wanderlust this can be invaluable. Here are five tips to save money, time, and headaches the next time you need a rental car.

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  1. Aim for the Sweet Spots – Rule #1 when renting vehicles – not all days cost the same. Week-long rentals generally offer the best bang for your buck. For instance, if you are renting for four or five days a week-long rental could be the same price or just a few dollars more. Likewise, many rental agencies offer specials on weekends. However, expect to pay more on holidays or during local events like concerts or festivals. Similarly, most locations have “peak” seasons for charging premium prices. For instance, rates spike in Phoenix in March for spring training. Having flexibility when planing your next adventure can save you cash.
  2. Use Costco Travel – This one is not free as a membership costs $60/yr. However, if you are renting four or five cars annually this can pay for itself. Costco Travel aggregates all the coupons for Enterprise, Avis, Budget,  and Alamo and automatically applies them to your reservation. This saves you countless hours searching the web for the latest coupon codes or deals. While some “discount” companies like National, Fox, and Dollar are not covered – these prices provide a benchmark if you want to search elsewhere for better prices. Hertz is the only major company not covered that has locations away from the airports.
  3. Reserve Early and Double Check Later – To secure the best rates try reserving at least three weeks in advance. In fact, I recommend making the reservation as soon as your trip plans are solidified. Earlier is usually better as prices tend to rise as more demand for that date occurs. However, prices also occasionally drop. It may be worth investing 5 to 10 minutes of time to double check prices as your next trip approaches. You could end up saving 50 bucks or more!
  4. Coverage Choices – I use American Express when renting cars because it covers my insurance. Make sure you have proper coverage in place without paying the extraordinary prices rental agencies charge. If necessary, call your insurance agent to find out what your policy covers. If you need to purchase coverage have the clerk explain everything as there are multiple levels of coverage including some that you may not need.
  5. Watch for Bait-n-Switch – This usually pertains to the class of cars. Because there are so many: economy, compact, intermediate, standard, and full size the differences can be vague. Some cars and SUV’s seem too fit into two categories. Rental companies will occasionally put you in a lower class of vehicle and then try selling you on an upgrade. This “upgrade” is actually what you are paying for in the first place! If necessary, be prepared to pull up the company website which shows and describes the class of vehicles. Additionally, companies will try selling “fake” upgrades. For instance, when renting a Jeep from the airport in Hawaii I was asked by the clerk if I’d like to upgrade to two-door model for $60. I let him explain the benefits and politely refused. When I got my vehicle I was able to choose a two-door one anyways!

If you have any other tips, stories, or if this post was helpful to you I’d love to read them in the comments section below.

Endless Journey

5 Tips for a Better Backpacking Trip

6 Oct

For many October represents the last month for backpacking without traveling. Here in the Southwest, it is the beginning of the backpacking season. Whether you live close to the mountains, forest, ocean or desert, these are five tried-and-true backpacking tips to help you get more out of your next adventure.

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Off-trail backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness

  1. Pack Smarter – One way to maximize your travel load is to pack items that have more than one use.  For instance, mix olive oil in hot food for extra calories and  use it as a nighttime facial moisturizer. Likewise, a trowel is primarily used to dig latrines but can also come in handy in emergency situations. Carefully selecting multifaceted items helps keep pack loads lighter because you can do more with less. Traveling lighter also makes hiking more enjoyable.
  2. Invest in a Better Sleeping Pad – It’s amazing how many people still carry the old-school foam sleeping pads. While ultralight, inflatable sleeping pads are more expensive, it’s a worthwhile investment. Not only will you sleep better but you’ll be warmer as high-end inflatable pads are insulated and keep you off the ground. Improving your sleep quality in the backcountry means a more enjoyable experience and you’ll think more clearly too.
  3. Count Calories – Packing the right amount of food is an art and taking the time to stay organized pays back dividends. How much is too much? To save money, starting purchasing food several weeks before and stockpile. Visit a variety of grocery stores to get the best deals. Once your cache is complete, divide the food into days by meticulously counting  calories per package labels. Two-thousand calories per day is sufficient. Store in bags and label each day. Bonus tip: consume your heaviest and bulkiest items first. If buying dehydrated meals like Backpacker’s Pantry – buy in bulk to save money. These meals last for years.
  4. Cut Labels and Packaging – The majority of cutting will be performed on food packaging. Cut the ends without compromising freshness. If the original packaging is too bulky (usually bags) repackage altogether (except for jerky). Also be sure to cut the labels off of your tent, sleeping bag, and clothes. Labels and packaging add up. You could save between 12 – 15 ounces easy.
  5. Mental Preparation – I am huge proponent of mental preparation. Study the weather reports and comb over topographic maps. Make sure you know the elevation and distances for each leg of the trip. Identify an areas on your hike where the trail could be faint or a creek crossing difficult. If finding water is an issue, this is where you need to plan accordingly. Most adventures hold surprises and mental preparation could be the difference between having fun or making a serious blunder.
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Taking in a backcountry sunset in the South San Juan Wilderness

Exploring The Desolation Wilderness

27 Sep

Backpacking The Sierra Nevada in September

I recently returned from a 3-night backpacking trip in the Desolation Wilderness. This adventure offered a cornucopia of surprises including 50-mph wind gusts, heavy rain and snow and campground thieves. It was a heck on adventure!

The serendipitous choice to visit this remote pocket of wilderness near South Tahoe was based on logistics, subject matter, budget, and weather. The 50-mph wind gusts were predicted but not accounted for. I simply did not believe the forecast. And snow was never mentioned…

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“Enchanted Dreams” Off-trail in the Desolation about an hour before the rain

Three of the four days featured stormy, windy, and overcast conditions while a layover day was mostly sunny and breezy. Temperatures never exceeded 65 degrees. The howling winds smashing the side of my tent often affected my sleep. The last night was notably piercing and the open basin sounded like a wind tunnel.

Fortunately the smothering rain changed to snow after sunset and the frozen sides of my tent helped weigh it down. If it hadn’t snowed my tent would have surely flooded. The next morning was gorgeous until 9:45 am when the weather soured. By 11:15 am I experienced blizzard-like conditions ascending 8500-foot Maggie’s Peak en route to the Bayview Trailhead.

Overall, the wilderness was gorgeous with shimmering water and shining slabs of granite. Most peaks here top out just south of 10,000 feet so there isn’t as much vertical relief for photography. We saw only 5 people over the last 3 days and I was elated with the level of solitude! Obviously, the weather had something to do with that.

I’ll have a few more pictures on my website soon. Enclosed are a couple of cell phone shots. If you want to learn more about this trip, hit me up and I’ll pen a follow-up!

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A remote lake in the Desolation Wilderness

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A view near base camp.

September Decisions

14 Sep

Autumn, the time when the weather cools, school starts, football returns, the leaves change and fall, and everyone’s lives get a little busier. This is notably true for landscape photographers as the fall is a consensus “favorite” season for many shutterbugs.

Late September is an unpredictable time as the last days of summer usher in a wide variety of atmospheric conditions. Humidity decreases, so does the bugs and crowds, creating innumerable possibilities for those fortunate enough to travel.

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I was hoping to revisit my favorite waterfall while in Yellowstone. This shot was captured in September 2009.

I find myself currently in this position with my girlfriend who works for a major airline, the opportunities are endless to explore new places. The plan was to return to Yellowstone, as September is known as the “golden month” in the world’s first national park. However, the upcoming weather forecast is calling for below normal temps and extended periods of precipitation (rain/snow mix), which makes backpacking less fun.

Long story short we decided to look elsewhere. Some of the places we considered were Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park (ME), Blackwater Falls SP (WV), Cathedral Gorge State Park (NV), Lassen Volcanic NP and Channel Islands NP (CA), and now the search continues. We still haven’t decided on a destination although it is now looking like California again. What places do you recommend during this time of year?

In other news, I am back in editing mode working on my new releases gallery. Most of the images will be from summer backpacking trips around the San Juans as I am diligently working toward a printed version of my book. However, you’ll also discover images from other states too. It is a work in progress but check back regularly for frequent updates and happy leaf peeping!

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A high key black and white image from Yellowstone Lake in early October

 

 

 

New Images from Colorado

1 Sep

Wildmoments Update:

I’m back from a three-week adventure to Colorado specifically for additions and updates to my book. The trip was a tremendous success for photography. It rained more this summer than my previous visits, which made for interesting conditions. I witnessed better sunrises, unique cloud formations and prolific waterfalls. However, my feet were constantly wet and I spent more time holed up in my tent, which also incurred some damage. Overall, it was a good year for wildflowers with some spots showing better than before while others not as prolific.

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Cunnigham Gulch was raging this year and a delight to photograph

I also was fortunate to visit some new places and meet some new friends. Currently, I am working on processing images as well as a new book design. My plan is to have the book in print by next spring. It will surely be the best version yet with even more spectacular pictures and places to visit! Stay tuned for more exciting news, updates, and I’ll explore other related topics too!

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It hailed four times on this particular day

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