Tag Archives: Arizona

Arizona’s Top 3 National Monuments Part 1

26 Jun

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

Canyon De Chelly National Monument

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A gaping chasm of sandstone reveals a lush valley with zigzagging patterns of stately cottonwood trees. Hidden in this oasis are myriads of ancient ruins, linking the past to present. My strongest impression is indulging in the palpable silence of sunrise while standing on the precipice of a sheer 1,000-foot cliff. A whispering breeze slices through the stillness of this lonesome landscape. Carefully navigating the rocks only inches from certain death invigorates my soul. Occasionally I hear from a companion, a cawing raven struggling in the cross currents.

Canyon De Chelly is the premier national monument in Arizona and a top-shelf scenic attraction. Established in 1931, the Navajo Nation owns this national historic treasure. A series of roads surround it connecting unique vistas with interesting names and stories. Getting around may confuse first-time visitors as Canyon De Chelly actually comprises four canyons and features complex geology.

Many viewpoints feature wide, sprawling platforms perfect for scrambles and exploring. It is easy to find solitude among the many nooks, overhangs, and ledges. However, there is only one public trail in the park. A 1.2-mile route (Whitehouse Ruins Trail) leads down a winding rock passage from an overlook to the valley floor. Further exploring is prohibited without a Navajo guide. (Easily book a private or public sightseeing tour near the visitor center. Prices are negotiable.)

The most iconic landmark is Spider Rock, a lone, towering spire in a secluded basin that shimmers at sunset. A brief 10-minute walk introduces the best views but some sight lines are obscured by dense foliage and dangerous outcroppings. Local residents (a.k.a.) outgoing canyon dogs sometimes tag along for fun. The Spider Rock Overlook is about a half-hour drive (16 miles) from the visitor center and campground.

 

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Photo by Dean Hueber see more of his work here

 

In addition to the campground, other lodging options include an in-park hotel and several others in nearby Chinle, a town of about 5,000 people. The privately owned Spider Rock Campground adds the unique experience of staying in a Navajo hogan. A three-day stay is a perfect introduction to this spellbinding place. Canyon De Chelly is a true four-season park with fall colors usually occurring toward the end of October. It is a five-hour drive from Phoenix or about fours from Albuquerque, NM.

 

 

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Shooting Tips for Slot Canyons

13 Apr

I recently returned from a three day photography trip to northern Arizona, where the most productive photography was in Lower Antelope Canyon outside of Page. It was there that I met fellow landscape photographer and friend Justin Reznick and we spent several days together exploring the area and shooting this slot canyon.

In case you haven’t visited or are unfamiliar with this place,  Antelope Canyon may be the most photographed slice of real estate in this country or anywhere for that matter, and for good reason, It is a lot of fun and the scenery is stunning. Today I’ll share a couple of  my recent pictures along with a pair of my favorite approaches to photographing this incredible area.

1) Use a small, lightweight tripod instead of your big, bulky one. Slot canyons are tight and Lower Antelope in particular can have as many as 150 people passing through every hour.  Therefore, space is seriously at a premium.  It is to a photographer’s advantage to set up and shoot as quickly as possible. Many shots are taken near the ground from a lower perspective. A small tripod makes perfect sense.  The larger the tripod, the harder it is to travel through the slot canyon. Set up time is longer, and there is a good chance of damaging a larger tripod by accidentally banging on the narrow canyon walls when you move.

Versatility is a key component in your shooting success in slot canyons. Using a small, lightweight tripod allows me to scramble to achieve shots like this.

2) For compositions, look for scenes with a variety of depth and color. I look for compositions that give me angles to capture elements of the canyon that present it at its greatest depth. One element that helps provide depth is color. The color you see in slot canyons is simply a product of the intensity and temperature of the reflected light.

It is also important to pay attention to what is going on outside the canyon walls. If the sun is cutting in and out because of fast-moving clouds, the light is going to change often and this is critical information to understand to achieve your desired results in the slot canyon.

Once I get honed onto a scene,  I will work that scene using several varieties of the same general composition while continuing to pay close attention to the light. I’ll use the vertical lines and shapes of the sandstone to block any direct light and accentuate glare and form while creating abstract images.

Even though the color can be amazing, photographers can still create high quality images using a black and white conversion. This image uses the vertical and horizontal bands and erosion patterns of the sandstone to form a complex picture of shapes all accentuated by the reflected light.

In closing,  slot canyons allow the landscape photographer a high degree of photographic creativity in the field as well as in the digital darkroom.  If the light is right, you’ll have the opportunity to capture multiple stunning images in a relatively short period of time.  When you go to Lower Antelope Canyon, be mentally prepared to deal with crowds, travel light, and pay close attention to the light and its source.  You’ll have a wonderful experience!

Lost in the Desert Part Three – The Rescue

15 Feb

Sometime during the day, one hearty traveler ventured into the camp while I was attempting to summit Mica Mountain starting from the campground. I don’t recall the individual’s name, but he traveled alone and did not use any kind of shelter – he just slept in his bag. I thought this was unusual because it was quite cold and windy. He also told me that winds the preceding evening were strong enough to knock over one of the oldest and largest saguaros in the area.  We spent some time talking and getting to know one other that night and discussed traveling out together the following morning.

I can’t remember exactly how the events  unfolded, but I believe the following morning this individual decided to break camp earlier than we had planned. Unfortunately, I was still in the process of breaking down my camp and wasn’t able to accompany him. I think I left approximately an hour after he did. That’s really when the trouble started.  In and around the campground, there are a number of use trails, and it is difficult to discern which is the main trail leading out of the camp. I am not exactly sure where I got lost, but I think it happened pretty quickly.

One of the  interesting things about Saguaro NP East is  housing developments abutt the park boundaries. So when traveling in and out of the mountains,  many of the distant views are of residential areas. I think this gives the traveler a false sense of security because everything looks closer than it is, and it is impossible to tell the lay of the land.  At times, it almost looks like you can reach out and touch the houses, but they are much further off than they appear. Another major mistake I made was using these homes as a guide point to determine which way I should be traveling.  I’ll try to describe to you what happened next….

Instead of following the ridgeline down and off the mountain at approximately a 45 degree angle, I descended straight down a 90 degree angle.  Needless to say, before I realized  I was traveling in the wrong direction, I had already passed the point where it made sense for me to try to turn around and retrace my steps. I wasn’t even sure if I could find my way back if I tried. Part of the problem was there were a considerable amount of game trails in the wilderness and I was deceived into believing that I was traveling on an actual hiking trail. I saw an astonishing amount of deer during this adventure.  At one point, I must have spooked a herd of nearly 50, right in the middle of day, just galloping through the groves of giant saguaros. It was really quite a site.

Once I realized that I was lost, my game plan was to follow the washes down and out of the wilderness. Often times, the washes represent the path of least resistance. Occasionally, they cliff out and you are forced to circumvent around. That happened a couple of times, and I basically resorted to bushwhacking through some nasty desert terrain. By this time, my water supply was quickly dwindling. I had a couple different plans for my water. One strategy that I’ll sometimes use is to hold the water in my mouth for as long as I can without swallowing, which keeps your breathing passages hydrated and moist. If had completely run out of water, I knew that I could probably find some stored in the park’s many barrel cacti and would not hesitate to cut one open if my life depended on it.

That ended up not being the case, but I was a complete mess by the time I wandered off the mountain. I never saw a single soul during the entire length of my descent, which took about twice as long was what it should have taken. My thighs to my ankles were completely covered in scratches ranging from one to five inches in length. It literally looked like I had been attacked by a wild animal. By the time I reached the base of the mountains, I ended up in a remote section that had just a single trail. That trail eventually led out and I ended up soliciting a neighbor for some water and the use of their phone.  As it turned out, I was a good 15 mile drive from my car when I should have been able to walk right off the trail and throw my gear into my trunk. I called the park for assistance, and they sent a ranger out to drive me back. After searching all my stuff for “petroglyphs,” he returned me to my car. It was the only time I had to be “rescued” and I was thankful  I made it out in one piece. It was quite the adventure!

Lost in the Desert Part Two

8 Feb

I arrived at the barren Juniper Basin campground, nearly seven miles from the trailhead, to have my pick of campsites. I was the only one there.  By this point, I was at about 6,000 feet in elevation and there were patches of snow just starting to appear. There was a small stream near the campsite, with just enough running water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking. There was also an outhouse, bear boxes (bears in the desert!), and fire pits. My goal for the following day was to hike to the summit of Mica Mountain at 8,666 feet.  This was an ambitious goal, as getting there involved a round trip hike of nearly 20 miles.

That night, the winds were some of the hardest I  have ever experienced in the backcountry. As I understand it, over 60 mile per hour winds were whipping through the mountains. I could hear the wind coming before it smacked into my tent. The next morning, after a breakfast of soup and dried peas, I readied myself for the long day ahead. Because it was the middle of December, I was dealing with one of the very shortest days of the year. Daylight was certainly at a premium. I was also leery about starting too early because of the weather and running into any potential predators, specifically mountain lions, which are known to frequent the area. 

It was  beautiful day and I encountered just a few small hang-ups along the way. Specifically, around the area of Tanque Verde Peak, where I lost sight of the trail and spent close to a half hour trying to find it. That incident set me back a bit. The snow got deep as well, and it was quite a different scene when I arrived at Manning Camp.

I want interrupt here for just a brief moment and apologize for not having any pictures. I checked my old hard drive earlier today and cannot find the images from this trip. Anyway, Manning Camp is a high camp used by the park service as a backcountry HQ. It is located at about 8,000 feet near a number of intersecting trails.

I knew I didn’t have far to go to get to the summit, just 1.4 miles and in the end I decided to be prudent and turn around so I could get back before dark. This part of the story reminds me of an image I took of an eight point buck just lying in the snow, not 25 feet from the trai. It didn’t even flinch when it saw me coming. It just laid there and chilled. So cool! I’d love to share it with you, oh well…not today I guess. Anyway, I arrived back at camp safely an hour before dark, fueling skepticism in my mind that I could have summited the mountain and returned safely in time. No matter, I really didn’t want to potentially cross paths with a mountain lion at dusk anyway.

To my surprise, there was one other adventurous soul setting up camp upon my return….to be continued on the next post.

Wild Moments #3 Lost in the Desert – The Expedition Pt. 1

3 Feb

In December  2004, I ventured into the Rincon Mountains of Saguaro National Park East for my first solo backpacking trip. It was a trip that I’ll never forget. For those of you that don’t know, the Rincon Mountains are part of the “sky islands,”   a group of mountain chains in the Coronado National Forest of southeastern Arizona that draw their name from the extreme biodiversity found within the topography.  The largest of the sky islands is Mt. Graham. At 10,720 ft, it is also the third highest peak in the state.

The Rincon Mountains top out at 8,664 feet, but draw distinction as being some of the roughest mountains in the state. A few years back, I read a book about hiking the Arizona Trail and the author claimed the Rincons, which traverse the state from north to south, were the most difficult part of the 772 mile hike.  Although there are over 100 miles of trails in the Rincons, there is one trail that serves as the artery into the park. It’s called the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail and it’s the one most backpackers use. It is an 18 mile trail (roundtrip) that journeys on the spine of the Rincons into the heart of the mountains. From its terminant, it is a manageable day hike to reach the top of the mountains.

I started out in mid morning on a typical December day. Temperatures were in the high 60s and it was sunny and relatively warm. At the trailhead, the topography is lower Sonoran desert. You’ll see a veritable display of plants such as saguaro, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, and barrel cacti as well as mesquite and palo verde trees amongst others. As the trail begins to climb, the topography soon changes.  Lower Sonoran desert gives way to high Sonoran desert and the larger cacti soon disappear. They are replaced with large boulders, wild grasses, and more trees. (If you are interested in the different biotic zones of this hike, you’ll find more information here)

By the time I reached camp near the seven mile mark, the temperature had dropped about  15 degrees. There were patches of snow at the campsite. When night began to fall, the wind picked up considerably and  the temperatures plummeted. Backpacking in the Rincon Mountains is not for the faint of heart. This was just the beginning of my adventure…(I’ve got my pictures from this hike on another hard drive and I will update this post with a few shots before my next post.)

Tucson Barrio

27 Jan

Joyce and I are back from an awesome weekend in Tucson. I have to say that here  in Phoenix, the city of Tucson sometimes is portrayed negatively and unfairly (in my opinion) by many of the local print publications. It is unfortunate because Tucson has a ton of character on its streets that  really isn’t as evident here in the valley. Although it has grown dramatically in the past ten years, it still maintains the feel of its Spanish roots. Tucson has also down a good job of preserving historic sites. The Mission at San Xavier del Bac just south of the City is a shining example painstaking preservation efforts. In addition, Tucson has some killer mountains on all four sides and probably the best saguaro forests in the country. Saguaro National Park is a must do trip on any visit to the Tucson area.

Today I want to talk about the Tucson barrio.  As many of you may know, I volunteer for Friends of Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. It was through the Friends organization that I first learned about this  amazing place. They do a workshop there in the spring and reading about this place captured my imagination.  I’ve always been interested in photographing doors and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. The brilliant colors and unique architectural features in the barrio are mesmerizing.

With a weather forecast of clear, blue skies all weekend long I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to capture some urban art in the heart of the “Old Pueblo.”  Joyce and I spent several sunrises there capturing the colors and atmosphere of the unique barrio. Below is one of my favorite images from the trip….

I prefer the distressed look on the abandoned properties as opposed to the cleaner presentation of many of the remodeled homes in the area

Joyce captured some fantastic shots too. Even though this home is remodeled, I think the light shining in the middle of it really makes this shot for me. It is definitely one of my favorites…

The barrio is a really cool place if you are interested in this type of photography. We felt the best location was in the vicinity of Stone and Cushing streets in downtown Tucson. If you are ever in the area, it is definitely worth a look. My next post will most likely be on Monday, until then, have a fantastic weekend!

Call in the Relief

10 Nov

Michael returned from his trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks a bit weary and road worn, but with some tremendous new images. While fall colors were somewhat shy of their peak, weather and lighting conditions were quite favorable, allowing him to capture new Narrows images as well as images from the Subway and Kolob Canyon. He and his traveling buddy spent a good deal of time hiking, scouting new locations, and of course, stopping to catch up on the latest sports activities. They also had the good fortune of spending some time with a photographers Michael met through Flickr. It was a personally rewarding trip with a great time had by all.   

 While he was away, Induro, the manufacturer of the tripod Michael uses in his work, had him as the featured artist on their blog. The profile, Michael Greene on Nature’s Trail, provides a brief biography, some details about his photographic style and outlines how he prepares for field work. The blog also showcases several of his best images. It is a great piece, so please check it out.

 Lastly, you may wonder why this blog was not written by Michael. I have the same thought as I wrap it up. We are extremely busy preparing for the Tempe Festival of the Arts. It is one of the largest art festivals held in Arizona and we will have a booth there December 2-4. Stop by if you happen to be in the area! As you can imagine, there is a great deal of work involved in getting ready for a show. We are editing new images, re-editing, having images printed, matted and framed, as well as a myriad of other duties. My “to do” list included updating the blog, so although I am not as gifted an author as Michael, I do hope you enjoy it.

 Joyce

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