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The Top Three Western States for Landscape Photography

19 Sep

As landscape photographers, we all have different visions and reasons to shoot the subject matter we chose.  At times, the experience of traveling to these places is as lasting a memory as some of the images that I create.  The following is my personal list of western states that I enjoy the most for landscape photography,  some interesting statistics, and characteristics that embellish them.

1. Colorado

Land Mass – 104,000 square miles or 8th largest in the country

Population – approx 5 million  or 22nd most in the country

Approx. Percentage of State Visited – 40% including the entire western border from Dinosaur National Monument to Grand Junction and Cortez

Pro’s:  Arguably the most scenic mountains in the US accompanied with superior wildflowers, and the most prolific autumn foliage in the Western United States. Diverse topography featuring many southwestern geologic features including sand dunes and red rock.  Summer monsoons and early autumn storms make fine art landscape photography possible at almost any time of day.  More accessible roads and fewer hiking and camping restrictions than found in most states.

Con’s: No access to beaches or coastline, eastern part of the state is flat, ATV’s are very popular and disruptive to solitude

Summary:  There is no better place in the United States to photograph than Colorado if mountains are your subject matter of choice.  Here you’ll find more than 60% of the 14,000 ft. peaks located in the United States. That’s more than twice as the next state Alaska, which is more than six times its size! Addition, Colorado also boasts some of the most dramatic weather in the country, hence the name colorful Colorado. In the summer months, the afternoon skies are littered with clouds during its monsoon season. Fall arrives early in the alpine areas and it is typical to get snow during peak fall foliage. This phenomenon is uncommon or not possible in most other states. Spring brings budding aspens and wildflowers in the foothills of its ranges. A true four season state, Colorado offers the best of the best for alpine scenery mixed with enough topographical diversity and southwestern reds to make every connoisseur of the landscape a happy camper.

2. California

Land Mass – 163,700 square miles or 3rd largest in the country

Population – approx 37.2 million, which is  the  most in the country

Approx. Percentage of State Visited – 40% including most of the areas south of San Francisco to San Diego, most of the Sierra Nevada’s and the Channel Islands

Pro’s: The most diverse topography, best alpine lakes, longest coastline, largest island, best sand dunes, tallest mountain, highest waterfall, and most national parks in the country.

Con’s: Poor air quality/smog, overcrowded parks, state running out of funds and tourism is being affected

Summary: The most obvious choice for number one, due to its sheer size and location California finishes a distant second on my list. While the Sierra Nevada’s offer some of the best backpacking in the world, there are too many clear days and way too many bugs to rate it ahead of the mountains in Colorado for landscape photography.  Air quality can also be an issue there, as it is in states desert park’s like Death Valley and Joshua Tree.  Yosemite and its sister parks King’s Canyon/Sequoia offer big views, lakes, trees, waterfalls and certainly crowds. In the spring, the Mohave Desert is joy to photograph as is the eastern Sierra during all seasons. California’s coastal ranges from Santa Cruz to Santa Monica are arid, homogenous and somewhat uninspiring.  However, its beaches offer as much opportunity as anywhere in the country. The Golden State is a place landscape where photographers have to work much harder to get original, high quality landscape shots.


Land Mass – 84,900 square miles or 13th in the country

Population – 2.7 million residents or 34th in the country

Approx. Percentage of State Visited: 80%

Summary: Utah seriously challenges California for the number two position on this list. I gave the nod to California for its diversity and size, but Utah probably offers more bang for the buck and as a whole is arguably a more photogenic state.  Utah’s most famous scenery comes from the southern part of the state, some of which it shares with Arizona like Monument Valley and the Wave. One also can’t forget the Subway, the Watchman, Mesa Arch, Zebra Canyon, the Narrows, Calf Creek Falls and Delicate Arch as well many others…From its famous national parks to the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains in the north, Utah offers world-class scenery throughout.  Its diverse climate and landscape makes it an excellent choice for visitors year round.

Pro’s: Most iconic southwestern landscapes in the country, easy to find solitude, five national parks, slot canyons, fall foliage, deserts, above average wildflowers and excellent alpine scenery.

Con’s:  High entrance fee’s to state parks, no access to coastline, middle part of the state is generally uninteresting, ATV’s very popular

Honorable mention: Wyoming, Oregon

Not included in these rankings: Montana, Idaho, and New Mexico

I’d love to hear some other opinions on this subject whether you agree or disagree. Please feel free to chime in!


Computer Crashed Again…Hopefully Not a Total Hard Drive Failure

26 Feb

Hi Folks,

I am writing this blog on my back-up computer. For the third time in a little over a year, my computer has crashed. Unfortunately, this time it did so with little warning. I just turned it on and it started making some weird, clunking noises and would not boot up. Hopefully, I’ll have some answers by the end of this weekend. I have my images from Joshua Tree that I have yet to share with you and some other images for my new gallery as well. (By the way, if you haven’t checked out my newest gallery, please do so – it is a sub gallery in the human handprint gallery called “The Urban Landscape”).

Well, I am keeping my fingers crossed and saying my prayers the data is recoverable from the drive, if it has gone bad. Unfortunately, I think I’ll be in the market for a new computer again even though I have only owned this one less than two years. This kind of forces my hand though.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. In Phoenix, we are expecting another winter storm this afternoon and tonight and I am hoping to have some new images to share with you soon. God Bless, Michael

Joshua Tree National Park

16 Feb

Hi Everyone,

I am taking a brief trip to Joshua Tree National Park in Southeastern California. It will be my first time in the park and I am looking forward to getting a chance to explore. I was hoping to get to Death Valley, but the weather reports are dicey this weekend and I didn’t want to drive twice as far knowing rain was in the forecast for several days. There is a storm coming in from the Pacific and I expect some high winds and possibly rain in Joshua Tree as well. Hopefully it will make for dramatic conditions. If the weather gets too ugly, I have a much shorter drive home. Looking forward to sharing some images and stories from the trip with you when I return. Thanks for stopping by!


Wigwam Arts Festival This Weekend

10 Feb

Hi Everyone,

Joyce and I will be at the Wigwam Arts Festival tomorrow through Sunday for anyone who wants to stop by. It is a small, invite only arts festival. The Wigwam Resort is located off of Litchfield Park Road in Goodyear. It is a gorgeous, authentic Arizona property that was originally used as a retreat for executives from the Goodyear Corporation. It is one of the most famous resorts in Arizona and recently underwent extensive renovations. We hope to see you there!

Wild Moments in the Wilderness Close Call #5: Quicksand

9 Jan

During my wilderness travels, there haven’t been too many things more startling than stepping into an area you think is solid, only to instantly sink up to your knees in sand or mud. It’s stepping in quicksand and it has happened to me on several occasions in Zion National Park. The first time I encountered quicksand was during a through hike in the Narrows with a buddy of mine about four and a half years ago. I was aware of the potential hazard, but it is very difficult to perceive where the danger is, meaning you basically have to experience it. When you step in quicksand you are generally taken off-balance because your momentum is stopped cold. So while you think you should be walking, you’re not, resulting in a mild whiplash type of effect. In this instance, I stepped almost up to my thighs and lost one of my boots in the process. Luckily, I was able to retrieve it, regain my composure, and move on.  Make no mistake about it, stepping into quicksand requires quick thinking.

While in Zion this past fall, I had another near miss with quicksand, only this time it was in swift moving water that was almost waist deep. As I was moving slowly into the water to try to set up for a picture,  I could feel the sand give out much too quickly underneath my feet as I lightly stepped into the deeper section to test the current. Immediately I knew it was trouble and backed off. This wasn’t something you could see, as it was actually beneath the water in some fairly deep rapids.  A serious situation in which in an unsuspecting person could have conceivably been seriously injured or drowned.

Dangerous Times - This was the area that had the quicksand. I wanted to get into those rapids, but what lurked beneath made it much too dangerous.

In another instance during the same trip, I was walking through a canyon in Zion’s eastern section near the Checkerboard Mesa, where I carelessly stepped into a shallow patch of quicksand. This instance was quite surreal because I was in a side canyon and was intently searching my surroundings for photo opportunities.  As I walking, the ground looked solid and I was looking up and boom, right up my knees in quicksand!

This time I really banged up my shin and almost ruined my camera which I was carrying on my tripod.  The quicksand caught me so off guard I actually put my camera down in it for a split second, getting dirt and sand in its controls. It took more than a week for my shin to heal, another half hour to clean my camera, and my shoes to this day still stink from that episode.

Bottom line is,  make sure you are educated on the areas where quicksand is a potential hazard. Be aware and mentally prepared for any encounter.  I keep a very level head in the wilderness, but I’ve been caught off guard several  times. If you get stuck, don’t struggle or wiggle to get out. Try to free up one leg at a time or if you are up to your waist, lift yourself out and roll onto the mud.  Remember it’s the first 30 seconds after it happens where you can really get yourself into trouble, especially if you are carrying expensive camera equipment. Be sure to use a hiking stick to probe areas that lock suspicious. Be alert and prepared and have fun! I hope you enjoyed this post, if so, please let me know. I’ll post later this week with number four.

“Wild Moments”, Close Calls in the Wilderness Pt. 1

6 Jan

Happy New Year and welcome to the newest lineage of postings for 2011. To start the year, I’ve been reflecting on the precarious situations I’ve experienced over the years in the wild, the ones that sometimes make for great stories, but aren’t  nearly as fun when you are experiencing them.  Fortunately, all these stories have a happy ending . We didn’t lose any body parts, break any bones or even wreck any vehicles. We are so very thankful and fortunate for that. That being said, we still have gone through some sticky and sometimes nasty situations that I think you’ll engaging, entertaining and even useful. I am going to count down the top 5 this month, starting later this week in reverse order at number five.

Here’s what to expect: From close calls with big game animals in big parks, to being stranded and trapped in the wilderness, I’ll give you my first hand account what went down, how I approached it, and what I learned. We’ll start with number five by this weekend and from there it is going to get intense! I am looking forward to sharing these stories with you and I’ll talk to you soon.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

25 Dec

I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season. Thanks so much taking the time to read my blog and I hope you enjoy it. For this last post of 2010, I wanted to briefly discuss some of our hopes in terms of travel for 2011.  I am hoping this winter or early spring will bring at least one major trip. We’ve tossed around some ideas and a place we’ve been wanting to visit for years now is Big Bend National Park in Texas.

From what I can tell it is approximately a 20 hour drive from Phoenix, which would make it worthwhile if we could spend at least 10 days there. Another possibility is a return trip to Yosemite to capture the valley in its winter colors.  We also plan on doing some exploring locally in the Phoenix and possibly Tucson area as well.

Spring means flowers and we’ll wait to see what the spring bloom brings us this year. One of our favorite places is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near Ajo, AZ.  We didn’t get to go last year, so I am sure hoping we are blessed with an opportunity in the new year.  The Anza-Borrengo Desert State Park is another place jigh on our list that we’d like to visit. Other candidates for later in the season are: Death Valley National Park, Canyonlands/Arches National Parks, and if things really work out…a return trip to the Pacific Northwest to the Columbia River Gorge and the Palousse.

In the early summer, we’ll being focusing again on our Zion Narrows Workshop and the rest of the year we’ll most likely leave open. Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity for one major trip in the late summer and it will be a smorgasbord of the usual spectacular candidates depending on our resources:  The High Sierra, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, The Canadian Rockies, or maybe even the The San Juan Mountains in Colorado.

Our fall is going to be completely up in the air, but it is going to be extremely exciting so matter what. Most likely, we’ll be returning to Colorado although a trip else somewhere isn’t our of the question either. In closing, I want to thank you so much for being a part of this blog. Let’s not forget to honor the person whose birth is really what this holiday season is all about – Jesus.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Michael and Joyce

Leaving for Utah Today

27 Oct

I am leaving with a friend of mine for a five day photography trip in Southern Utah later today. We’ll visit my normal stomping grounds of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. We are hoping the fall colors are peak in some areas and I look forward to bringing you back some spectacular new images.  I will also be doing some scouting for my 2011 workshops in both of these parks.  Have a wonderful rest of the week.


Heading out to Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon

25 May

I hope to have some incredible images for you all when I get back in two weeks. We’ll also continue with the top 10 best parks to visit in the summertime. Looking forward to sharing with you soon. Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. God Bless!

Top 10 US National Parks to Visit During the Summer #9

14 May

9. Olympic National Park, Washington

Pros: diverse scenery/topography,  incredible camp sites,  jaw dropping marine life, pleasant temperatures, Swains General Store

Cons: inconsistent weather, overcrowded, poor park layout, bugs

date(s) visited: August 2009

Olympic National Park is the most diverse National Park in the lower 48. It is the only park that can tought: beaches, mountains, and rain forests. It is pretty incredible when you think about it. All this diversity comes with a price though…It is also one of the most visited national parks in the country. We stayed four days there spending most of our time at the beaches coupled with a night in the Hoh Rainforest. We skipped the Hurricane Mountains, one of the park’s premiere attractions, because the park was in the midst of having one of its worst bug seasons in decades.

The best part of our trip, by far, was spending the night on Second Beach. That was absolutely incredible and I would highly recommend it. You can camp right by the Pacific Ocean among the driftwood, star fish, and sea stacks. If the weather is pleasant, you really can’t ask for too much more out of a camping trip. What’s even more, the tide pools and seas stacks there are covered in Star Fish, Sea Anemone, and other fascinating, little, marine critters.   I really can’t say enough good things about it.

Unfortunately, the weather changes on a dime and it virtually impossible to predict using your own judgement. The rest of our time at the park was marred by very inconsistent weather. Periods of intense clouds and fog miraculously turning to sunshine only to turn to clouds and fog again a couple of hours later. And when its cloudy there – it’s quite dreary.

Also,  the park was excessively crowded. For example, during our much-anticipated visit to Sol Duc Falls – one of the park’s signature locations – we got there, took a couple of snap shots, and turned around and went back. There were literally hundreds of people there and on the trail. It was an absolute thoroughfare. We experienced about the same thing at the Hoh Rainforest. You’d see less people walking around at the mall. There is really only one major trail that leads into the rainforest and just about every tourist and their grandmother was on it when we went. Obviously, the farther in you go the less people you see and we still enjoyed our time there.  The place has a very unique and rugged feel to it. You just know you are in the Pacific Northwest and not anywhere else. Overall,  as your can probably tell, I was actually a little disappointed with my Olympic Park experience.

The park is nestled in the northern corner of the Olympic Peninsula and doesn’t have any roads that go through it; so you actually have to travel around it. What’s worse, is that most of the driving doesn’t actually involve being inside the park – so it is a lot of clear cut logging forests and trailer parks. This is also true for the park’s hiking trail system. Some of the major parks have intricate networks of hiking trails – so you coud literally hike hundreds of miles around the whole starting at one trail. This isn’t the case at Olympic where major trails generally don’t connect, so long distance backpacking trips have limited options, even though the park has a lot of trails.

One place that is definitely worth stopping is Swain’s Sporting Goods/General Store in Port Angeles, WA just miles from park headquarters. It was recommended to us from an incredibly helpful gentlemen working at the backcountry desk at the visitor center and we are glad he did. If you are in the area, be sure to stop – they have an incredible selection of items and unbeatable prices. We stocked up on sweatshirts, footwear, tent stakes, and beef jerky.

Overall, Olympic cracks the top 10 because of its diversity and beach camping. It is worth the trip alone for those significant traits of the park.  It’s a wonderful park with enough attractions to accommodate even the most discerning of visitors.

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