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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

Arizona’s Top 3 National Monuments Part 2

7 Jul

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Arizona is brimming with enchanting places to explore including over a dozen national monuments. This is the second of a three part series on my favorites, including the pros and cons, best times to visit, and other key travel tips.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

A long, winding dirt road pierces the desert floor leading toward a crest of crimson cliffs. While speckles of jubilant yellow dot the hillsides, this is a foreboding place. Chiseled by arroyos and protected by chollas, views fan out beyond the unseen international border. Despite the crusty terrain, the ride is smooth and the warm, dry air is surprisingly fresh.

By mile four, undulating gardens of distinctive cacti animate the landscape. In the fading light of day, these haunting figurines mimic the human form. Normally, the patriarchal saguaro rules the Sonoran but in this lonely pocket of country features a rival. The banana-shaped organ pipe cactus is not as tall as the saguaro but much wider. While common in Mexico, organ pipe are only found in this US park, which is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

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At nearly 331,000 acres Organ Pipe Cactus NM is the largest national monument in AZ with 95% of the land designated wilderness. Park visitors can explore via two scenic loop drives. The Ajo Mountain drive is the most popular and scenic. It is a 21-mile, one-way loop that traces the base of the mountains before circling back toward the visitor center. Across the highway is the Puerto Blanco Loop, a 37-mile drive through mostly open desert and gaping views. Other rough 4WD roads are options for longer stays and seasoned visitors.

The park has several official hiking trails but the premier trek is summiting 4808-foot Mount Ajo, the areas highest peak.  This is a full-day hike, partially off-trail totaling 9 miles with a cumulative elevation gain of 2800 feet. Definitely not for beginners. A shorter and easier option is hiking the trail from the campground to the visitor center. Enjoy pleasant views of the mountains while traversing through copious cholla gardens. There are a few benches along the way.

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The exceptional Twin Peaks Campground, featuring 360-degree views, was fully remodeled less than ten years ago. There is reliable vacancy nearly year round. If interested in hotels, find a few in the town of Ajo about 35 miles away.

Summers at Organ Pipe Cactus NM are hot. The ideal times to visit are between November and early April with pleasant daytime highs and cool nights. Delicate ground flowers such as poppies and owl clover flourish in late February and early March. The strength of annual blooms vary and flowers wither when daytime highs exceed 85 degrees. Saguaros and organ pipe cacti don’t bloom until May.

Dining choices are also limited. There is a convenience store and small diner in Lukeville, a military-border town about seven miles away. Purchase a few snacks and cold water at the visitor center, otherwise, it’s a lengthy drive to a restaurant.

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If you are interested in seeing the best of Organ Pipe Cactus NM consider joining me on a group workshop. Due to high springtime demand of my private tours,  I’m assembling a 3-day group event in March of 2018. If interested, message me for more information.

 

Photographing Ice Lake

16 Jun

In addition to hiking, my book also includes a photography section for each lake. This provides useful information for both the serious shooter and the casual looking to improve his or her (smartphone) shots. While each chapter is unique, topics include instructional, technical and creative advice. Also discussed are nearby points of interest, strategies for finding the best composition and more.

You might learn something that isn’t obvious too. For instance, notice the distance from the water in the picture below. It’s about a half mile and 500 feet of elevation away. In many spacious basins, it is challenging to explore everywhere in one visit. That’s why tips on where to go help.

Below is partial excerpt for a popular location in the San Juan Mountains. July and August are the perfect times to visit. For an amazing experience, consider personal instruction and guidance by yours truly this year! Find more information about this here.

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Ice Lake Basin, Colorado, August

Capturing or witnessing Upper Ice Lake Basin’s signature alpenglow is an exclusive experience available to those willing to spend the night. Golden Horn is the most iconic peak and befittingly shows off the best display of crimson morning light, both before and immediately after sunrise.

During times of peak wildflowers, compositions are plentiful. The most iconic shots feature alpenglow reflections and successful ones accentuate form. Consider shooting at an intimate tarn as opposed to Upper Ice Lake. Sunrise images won’t display the lake’s vivid color, which needs direct midmorning light. Be sure to bracket shots or use a graduated neutral-density filter.

Another alternative is shooting Ice Lake’s hefty outlet stream. Several sections of rippling cascades offer excellent vantage points. These dynamic compositions usually do not include the lake. Use a wide-angle lens and try blending for depth of field.

Perhaps skip the water altogether and fill your foreground with a bouquet of splashy wildflowers. This works best on still mornings and emphasizes spectacle. Whatever you choose, the best plan is staying more than one night to ensure the greatest opportunity for success.

Sunrise is not the only time for mesmerizing photography. Midmornings on partly cloudy days also yield outstanding results. Remember to use a polarizer and shoot when the groundcover is in partial shadow. Even in harsh midday light, the lake photographs well with a smartphone.

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Hiking Hope Lake

10 Jun

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Below is an excerpt from my new book, Capturing Colorado: Hiking & Photographing Lakes of the San Juan Mountains. Celebrate summer with a definitive guide to Colorado’s finest range. Find out more about this exciting guide here.

Clouds play hide-and-seek amid unearthly red peaks and motley fields of flowers en route to Hope Lake. The price to pay for this special occasion is a paltry one – 2.5 miles and 1500 feet of altitude gain. A relative drop in the bucket compared with the taxing work necessary to reach other locations with similar scenery. Hiking is part of the allure, making this adventure an ideal choice when exploring near Rico and Telluride.
Begin on level dirt venturing through a shaded forest before reaching a hillside gulley. The streambed is wide and shallow but floods after heavy rains. An unobstructed presentation of a looming crest soon appears. Accentuated by the chattering sounds of water, these stately sights impress.
Effortless hiking continues for over a mile, including a brief downhill stint on a series of meandering switchbacks. Views progressively improve with shimmering Trout Lake and the unorthodox skyline of the Lizard Head Wilderness afar. Twenty-five minutes of walking brings the confluence of two major waterfalls and the trail traces them upwards. A wooden sign marks the beginning of this climb, which is a natural resting spot. Nearby, a tree-covered ravine makes an enchanting place to investigate.
The final push takes place on moderate switchbacks through a timber canopy and open understory. An occasional window offers compelling views of an imposing peak. Walk on soft ground while enjoying the roaring sounds of water splashing down the mountain.
Above the trees, enter a medium-sized meadow with unbelievable vantages of the burnt-orange slopes of 13,897-foot Vermillion Peak. Enjoy outstanding views of this mysterious mountain amid dizzying scenery. Wandering forward toward a notch in the hills, catch your first glimpse of soothing Hope Lake. You may find yourself wondering, “Is this place real?”

Photoshop Processing Techniques for Improving Your Prints Part 1: Chromatic Aberration

4 Feb

Chromatic aberration is one of those naturally occurring, technical imperfections of your camera lens that can take your favorite photograph and moderately reduce its overall quality if not handled properly. What is chromatic aberration? Well, you may or may not be familiar with the term although if you’ve looked at enough photographs I guarantee that you’ve seen it before, even if you didn’t notice it. Wikipedia defines it this way…

“Chromatic aberration manifests itself as “fringes” of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image, because each color in the optical spectrum cannot be focused at a single common point. Since the focal length f of a lens is dependent on the refractive index n, different wavelengths of light will be focused on different positions.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromatic_aberration)

OK that’s pretty technical. Without getting too convoluted, I define chromatic aberration as color fringing that usually occurs around objects as magenta, blue, red or green outlines or highlights. Chromatic aberration basically occurs from a combination of light, subject matter, aperture selection, and lens quality. It is mostly noticeable in the background of images along horizons and is especially noticeable in mountain scenes captured during the daytime where minor patches of snow are evident.  In some photographs, a small amount of chromatic aberration is acceptable and is usually an easy fix in Adobe Camera Raw or in Photoshop with just the click of a button or the movement of a slider.

Where fixing this problem gets tricky is if there is quite a bit of chromatic aberration that appears in different colors or if you are a perfectionist like I am. Before we get ahead of ourselves let’s quickly discuss how Photoshop or ACR fixes this problem. From how I understand it, what the software actually does is it picks up your image and moves it slightly so that it covers the areas of fringing. However, this isn’t a local selection – it is actually a ubiquitously occurring process in that it moves the entire picture so all areas of your image are affected. The problem with this is that it affects the overall image quality because there is a minor loss of resolution every time this movement is performed. Secondly, the image shift depends on the color so fixing a magenta color fringe won’t necessarily rectify a red one and vice versa. In that particular case, using the software results in a compromise where the color fringing effects can be offset and reduced, but not completely fixed.

Let’s look at an example at how I circumvented both of these issues.  Do you notice the bluish-green fringing around the flowers in the before image below?

Before

Before

After

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What you are looking at is a small portion of an image that was commissioned by a local bank in Colorado to use for the front of their 2013 calendar. Because the image was being used at approximately 8.5 x 11 for mass distribution I wanted to make it look as good as possible. This was a small fix and it can be a little time consuming. However, if delivering the highest quality product to your clients is must for you (like it is for me) then it is worth the time.  I find the easiest way to fix this problem is with the color replacement tool in Photoshop. In this case, I simply use the color of the flower petals or a neutral grey and trace away the noticeable effects of the chromatic aberration with the color replacement tool. The most important aspect of this method unlike other quick fixes is that it does not sacrifice image quality or resolution. Conversely, it actually makes your image higher quality! I hope you found this post helpful I’d love to read your comments or questions regarding it! My goal is to follow up this post with another blog about Photoshop techniques in the near future.

Top Ten Photos of 2012

1 Jan

Today marks the beginning of a new year and the end of what was probably the most personally challenging year of my life. Dealing with the advanced stage cancer diagnosis of my best friend has been tough and rewarding, but it definitely slowed down my photography over the summer to say the least. However, I was still fortunate enough to get out several times and I am extremely pleased with the overall body of my work.

Without further adieu, enclosed are my top photos of the year, in my opinion, and account for the preferences of a few close friends and family members. These are presented in chronological order…

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Dreaming of Altitude, Colorado, July, 2011

This ten second exposure of Sloan Lake is the only image not captured in 2012. Until recently, it sat dormant on my hard drive, but the positive feedback I received after posting it to my website plus the originality of the shot has propelled it into my Top Ten.

Lost in Forever

Lost in Forever, Wyoming, January

Probably my favorite image of the year, it was captured on a breathtaking and frigid 30 below morning in Yellowstone. I was with a group and didn’t have any say whatsoever as to the location choice, but I certainly made the most out of it.

Thermal Winter

Thermal Winter, Wyoming, January

Another image from Yellowstone, on a lonely night during a clearing storm in the Upper Geyser Basin Area. I was walking around using the ski tracks as a footpath and came upon this scene close to sundown. I wanted to take a lower perspective, but could not as my tripod legs were frozen. I liked these two images so much – I still haven’t yet posted any other images from the entire trip.

Kaleidoscopic Canyon

Kaleidoscopic Canyon, Utah, April

Skull District, Utah, April

A two week trip to Utah in April ended up being my longest adventure of the year. The trip was a fruitful one, although in retrospect, I can’t say any of the images I captured were amongst the most significant of my career. “Kaleidoscopic Canyon” is from a relatively unknown little slot canyon in Central Utah, which required a shuttle hike and some borderline technical skills to access.

While “Skull District” was a particularly memorable capture, it is somewhat bittersweet. I was treated to an incredible light display my last night on that trip, but it abruptly ended when high winds blew over my fully extended tripod destroying my favorite lens and polarizer. This was the last image I captured before that accident . This trip marked the end of all photography excursions until the end of October when I took wonderful trip to the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeastern Arizona.

Arms of the Century, Arizona, October

Arms of the Century, Arizona, October

This image is more a personal favorite than anything else. In 2012, I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to take more macro type images focusing on repetition and pattern and this is one of the best examples of the year. This was a monster sized century plant, the biggest I have ever seen and I had a wonderful time shooting it from all sides until the light faded completely. This was the last shot that I captured during that session and it was a 30 second exposure with extraordinary luminance. The  colors are perfectly natural and I am not sure if it was a result of that particular plant or also had to do with it changing colors for autumn. The whole plant wasn’t red and this was the most particularly colorful section.

The Balancing Act, Arizona, October

The Balancing Act, Arizona, October

This image was captured in the same area the following morning on Halloween.  It was about 20 minutes before sunrise and these peaks were radiating ambient colors of dawn while the full moon set behind it – hence the name “The Balancing Act.”  I purposely left the contrast low to reflect the conditions that I saw at the time.

Forest of Seclusion, October, Arizona

Forest of Seclusion, October, Arizona

One last image from my Chiricahua trip. This one I literally walked into as a very difficult, high altitude hiking trail went directly through a forest of peak foliage with incredible patterns. I was actually contemplating not bringing my tripod on this hike and I am sure glad I did. While I am not sure if this is one of my ten favorite images of the year, I definitely think it showcases the diversity of my photography and that is why I am including it.

Alien Stronghold, New Mexico, November

Alien Stronghold, New Mexico, November

Silent Mystery, New Mexico, November

Silent Mystery, New Mexico, November

The last two images of the year are both from my most recent trip, a five day excursion to New Mexico in the middle of November. Again, it was particularly difficult to limit the selections to a pair, as there are a trio I would have loved to include. In fact, the one that I am not including – found here is one of my three favorite shots of the year!

That being said, “Alien Stronghold” was my first image captured in this very remote and secluded wilderness area in Central New Mexico. The light featured in this image lasted probably less than 75 seconds and it was difficult to achieve the proper depth of field blending necessary to pull off this shot. What I love are the rock formations and drama; those pillars of stone are more than ten feet high.

The last selection of the year is from the same area captured during a long exposure well after sunset during the blue hour. The light, colors, and formation are all beautiful, but this image also is unique in at least two other ways. First, it has foreground elements where movement is not purposely captured – in this case, the reeds are blowing. Normally, this is a big no-no for me, but under circumstances and given the overall image – it doesn’t bother me at all in this particular case.

Secondly, I included the sister image of the same formation taken immediately before on my website. This is unique because normally I just pick the best image of a location and display only that one, but in this case, I think both images stand well on their own. There was some controversy as to which image to include and you can decide which one you like for yourself as the other one is found here.

Well, that concludes my list. Thanks for hanging in there and reading this post. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope to share more images and be more active blogging in 2013. I wish you and yours a happy and blessed new year. I would love to hear your feedback as well. Thanks for looking!

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Slot Canyon Photography Tips 2012

29 Jun

Many of my new images feature some rarely photographed slot canyons in Utah and it got me thinking about more tips to share with you regarding this specialized type of photography. I’ve written on this subject before and I hope this post builds and expands on the information I’ve shared with you in the past. Without further adieu…

Patiently Study Your Subject Matter – One of the best things about photographing slot canyons is the light is always changing. Furthermore, it’s sometimes better in the middle of the afternoon. How cool is that? What I am getting at here is if you don’t have to worry about crowds of people (A.K.A you are not photographing Antelope Canyon.) Then you’ve got time to work the area you are in for the best possible composition. For instance, take this picture…

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2 images blended for dynamic range. The primary image captured at F/22, ISO 160 and 2.5 second exposure.

While I am certainly pleased with the finished product, in actuality I struggled quite a bit with this composition. In fact, I’d estimate I spent nearly 45 minutes here before I actually found something that I could use! Again, what’s my point? Just to be patient. Take your time. Unless it’s partially cloudy day and the sky is moving fast you should have time to work your subject without worrying about the light disappearing in a matter of seconds or minutes. That brings me to my next point…

Relax – I don’t know about you but I can get worked up especially when I am in front of a scene that I know is special. My adrenaline is pumping – maybe it’s a difficult hike, a precarious ledge, or a tight squeeze – whatever the situation is just try to chill. Think about what you are doing and be in the moment. Finally…

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2 shots blended for depth of field. F/9, ISO 400, .8 exposure

Get A Good Guidebook and Read It – To find the best locations, perusing the Internet for information is not the best solution. You need to be Johnny on the spot. (Either that or you can hire me) These locations are remote, difficult to find, and even a good guidebook sometimes doesn’t paint an accurate picture as to what you’ll find when you do get there. (If the directions are even accurate.) My point is this – you need some handy dandy reference material when you are out driving around.

Studying maps, researching locations online – that stuff is all helpful to a certain point, but if you are not familiar with the location, you are going to need reference materials when you are out in the field. Otherwise, you are not going to truly comprehend what you are reading because you are not familar with the area. Heck, I’ve spent hours online just researching guidebooks! Let alone reading them. Count on spending many hours pouring over the fine print to find that needle in a haystack.

The good news is this can be done from where you sleep in the back of your car, at the trail head, or from a toilet seat in your hotel room. Just remember to bring the book with you on your trip. I know this sounds stupid, but when you start accruing guidebooks and you bring 3 or 4 along – it’s easy to forget one. I forgot probably my best guidebook for this trip!

I know these “tips” sound like overstating the obvious, but Don’t Take Your Time For Granted. Maximize It!

To see more of my images please check out my new release gallery found here http://www.wildmoments.net/gallery/new_releases/  and as always – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

New Images and Changes for 2012

22 May

I’ll admit I’ve been hoarding. I’ve been hoarding images, changes, updates, and blogs posts. I am as busy as ever with landscape photography, but I’ve been dormant from the social media world for a while. That’s all about to change and I thought I’d crack the ice with a post to get you up-to-date in the last happenings in my landscape photography world.

Let’s get you caught up on where I’ve visited first. So far it’s been: Yellowstone NP in January, Sedona in February, Organ Pipe National Monument in March and a 13-day road trip to Utah during the first half of April. I am pretty stoked about what I have to share with you, but I haven’t started processing just about anything yet.

Here’s why: I recently a purchased a new computer and monitor to be used strictly for photography. Currently, I am multitasking and everything for surfing the Internet, to shopping, banking, listening to music, conducting business and everything else under the sun is done from my one system. Let’s put it this way – I really don’t want it to break under the weight. So far, it’s been holding up great (except for my USB ports, which are basically fried) and I am finally to the point where I can afford to designate a new  computer system specifically for landscape photography.

Coincidentally, Adobe recently released CS6 and the timing was perfect to upgrade and process on all my new images with their new software and through my new hardware. As it stands now, I am just waiting on my new writing desk to come in, which is supposed to occur later this week. I am hoping to get up and running by this Memorial Day weekend.

To go along with all of the new changes, I thought it would be a great time to redesign my blog’s appearance too. I’ve added a few widgets and changed the theme as I wanted something where I could include a background image. Please let me know what you think. I wish it didn’t have the white background where the text goes, but it’s about the best theme I could find on WordPress.

In case you are wondering, I am still up-in-the air about many future photography trips this year. I am definitely planning another short visit to Sedona in late June and a weekend trip to Flagstaff in August. I am still on-the-fence about a major trip somewhere in late July and I have tentative plans on returning to Yellowstone in the middle to end of September.

I’ll keep you posted as to any new developments on that front and will update you further on my new computer system  within a week or so. If you have any suggestions on worthy photography related destinations within a 10 hour drive of Phoenix I’d love to hear about them. I am specifically interested in New Mexico, but any state that borders Arizona is doable. Have a incredibly blessed and safe Memorial Day weekend.

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