Tag Archives: wilderness

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.

 

“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.

Understanding the Scene – Colorado Fall Foliage

8 Oct

We  just returned home from a three-day trip to Telluride to shoot the fall colors of Southwestern Colorado in the San Juan Mountains. What I am going to do today is show a  picture from that trip and talk specifically and technically about the thought process of creating the image and the processing involved. This image was captured on Saturday October 2, 2010 at Woods Lake in the Uncompahgre National Forest.

A profusion of fall colors accented by stillness, blue skies, and warm light on a quiet evening at Woods Lake near Telluride, Colorado.

So this is the shot. At first glance, you might really like this or even think that looks kind of generic depending on your preferences. (Hopefully you are reading this because you like my work) The composition and processing look standard right? Before we go any further with this, I just want to say if it get’s too long I’ll break this up into two parts and finish the second part tomorrow. 

Composition

Let’s start by talking about the composition because it is the first thing I do when setting up to take a picture.  Sometimes I’ll spend 20 minutes climbing up or down and scrambling and setting up only to find myself not happy with the composition.  Luckily, it wasn’t the case for this scene. The composition here was pretty straight forward for me.

 Upon arriving at this scene, I did not know too much about this place.  From what I had read, I knew it was a sunset location. Right off the bat, I chose this specific location at the lake for one primary reason and that is the aspens on the left hand side of image. They were absolutely stunning and I thought critical to creating a balance to the scene. Also, I thought the patterns on the right hand side of the foreground are actually kind of interesting to look at and you can still make out the reflection of the aspens.  For your information, I could not move the composition any further to the left because there is a big white sign there that would have gotten into the scene. 

I chose my focal length based on the desire to capture the entire reflection of the aspens.  The amount of sky I included  was based on the fact there wasn’t many clouds (just one little one) in the sky that evening and I tried to incorporate the appropriate amount based on the conditions. The round hill on the right hand side of the scene adds a lot with its dynamic mix of color and shape. I think the scene is well-balanced even though the peak (Mount Wilson) is pretty much centered in the frame.

Capture

Part of my approach to landscape photography involves capturing as many unique elements into the scene as possible at any particular time. Looking at this scene we have several:  peak fall foliage, clear reflection (minimal wind), and warm, directional light.

Normally when I approach a scene I will intently look at the brightest and darkest parts of it to determine the proper exposure. I basically use Ansel Adam’s zone metering system in my head. I normally can tell what the exposure values should be depending on the colors and brightness of the scene.  I knew I wanted to capture this scene right at the edge of light.  Meaning I wanted some direct light on the aspen and conifers around the lake at the base of the mountain and I wanted to capture it just seconds before it fell into shadow.  Luckily, I was successful there; it didn’t last long within a minute of this shot the lights went out on the aspens. The next image I took there was no brightness or glow in the reflection.

 I knew there were two potentially problematic areas with the lighting of this place. First were the exposed aspen trunks getting the direct sunlight. These are very easy to clip with direct light hitting a whitish color. And second, was the dark grove of conifers across the lake on the other side of the aspens. These were showing up very dark in my viewfinder,  although I could certainly make out the detail with my eye. We will stop here today and we will resume this tomorrow. I hope you are getting some out this post. Have an awesome day!

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