Tag Archives: cactus bloom

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.

 

Day Five – Tips, Techniques, and Insight into Making Stunning Photos

21 Sep

Today we’ll examine the creative insights behind a different kind of image, this one called “A Subtle Acquaintance”. The title comes from the location of this scene, which was in neighborhood where I go walking with my fiancee, Joyce. One house in particular has a large cactus garden in the front yard and I noticed one day it had an incredible bloom going on. Around sunset the following evening, I came back and captured this image. (One side not about this image is it received the photo of the week (earth, sea, and sky gallery) award from Nature Photographer’s Network, a prestigious online showcase for some of the top contemporary landscape and nature photographers today. Check out the website, and if you join, please let them know that I referred you.)

A wonderful late Spring bloom caught my attention during a walk through our neighborhood. The combination of horizontal and vertical lines on this cactus with prolific colors captivated my attention to this scene.

 Location:  Phoenix, Arizona 

Technical Info: Canon 5D MK2, 70-200F/2.8, F/20, ISO 160, 140 mm focal length, 1.6 second exposure 

Filters: none 

Processing: Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4 

Creative Process: While walking by the scene I was immediately struck by the strong, repeating patterns and colors of the cactus. When I returned the next evening I had a good idea of how I was going to approach the subject. I wanted to capture the “tiers” of cacti layers along with the patterns of flowers. One issue with image capture I was concerned with was the depth of field. Originally, my plan was to blend images to create a better depth of field, but in the end, I was satisfied with the depth of  just one image. 

To maximize depth of field I chose an aperture setting of F/20. My goal was to create the best blend of depth and clarity and I was shooting from about three feet away. I originally started closer and kept backing up until I achieved a depth of field I was comfortable with. Compostion was fairly straightforward, I knew I was going to cut offf some of the flowers; I just didn’t want that to occur in the front of the frame. The only other issue I had to deal with during capture was vibration from passing cars because I was shooting in the street.  Post processing was straight forward and that’s pretty much the entire creative process behind this image. I hope you found it useful! Please let me know if you did. Thanks – Michael

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