I remember vividly my first encounter with a cholla cactus. It was a teddy bear cholla growing on the flank of Thunderbird Peak northwest of Pheonix. The year was 1970 and I was living (temporarily) in a garage apartment on the fringe of the fast-growing, but still relatively small town. I and a few of my friends had walked several miles through orange groves, happily sampling the low hanging fruit. We climbed the trail up to the top of Thunderbird Peak and were clowning around in our youthful exuberance; it was then that I backed into said teddy bear which left a number of its spines in my backside.
Fast forward a half century or so and I have come to appreciate the beauty of the cholla. People’s rear ends are not the only thing they are good at catching; the bristly chollas can turn the light of day into a soft glow that seems to illuminate entire hillsides, or in the case of this image, a large tract of desert. I made this photograph of a colony of buckhorn cholla on a path near the Carefree Highway (yes that one) north of Pheonix. The cactus seem to reflect the shapes in the distant mountains. I moved around amongst the spines very carefully to find the right composition.
This image was made in the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park. It is not a very extensive area because it is at the margin of the Teddy Bear’s range. Again, the backlit spines were luminous and beautifully in contrast to the Hexie Mountains in the distance. I spent several hours photographing in this spot before moving on.
I cannot walk or drive past a display such as this without stopping to admire the soft ethereal glow. This small group of Teddy Bear Chollas stands amidst a grove of Saguaros in Tucson Mountain Park. Teddy Bear Chollas are found only in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of Arizona, California, and Sonora and Baja, Mexico.
If there is magic on this earth it lies in water.
Water, without it life cannot exist. It is elusive, you cannot hold it long in your hand (unless it is in its frozen state and even then it soon melts away), yet it carves mile deep canyons through billion year old rock.
I made this first image on a cold day last week. I walked up the East Fork of the Jemez River at Battleship Rock looking for water and ice, and while there was plenty of both, it took a while before I found a composition worthy of an image. This small cascade was exactly what I had in mind; the ice suspended above the rushing water and coating the small branches has a fragile elegance that is all its own.
After leaving the East Fork, I walked a ways up the Rio San Antonio to this waterfall. It is a favorite of mine; I have been coming to this place for many years. I used to bring my daughters here on hikes when they were little girls, so I have a deep connection to it. Again, I was looking for ice, and again I found it. I don’t know how many photographs I’ve made of this waterfall over the years, but this is certainly one of my favorites.
I made this photograph of upper Guadalupe Falls, as well as the two that follow, in the mid-nineties with my Nikon F3 using Fuji Velvia transparency film. To achieve this intimate perspective, I had to set my tripod on a boulder which was lodged above the falls where they drop about ten feet. It is a precarious platform with not much room to work from, but the results seem worth the risk. The snow and ice on the rocks and the greenish color of the icy water give this image a frigid feel.
This is the same waterfall as in the second photograph. It is an abstract to some degree, but the reality of the falls is still obvious. I have always loved the visual and physical contrast between liquid water–particularly if it’s moving–and its solid state when it appears to be moving. Here the immutable basalt face of the cliff provides yet another contrast to the ephemeral nature of the water.
This is the lower end of Guadalupe Falls; the rock in this location is granite, part of an ancient upthrust. The shapes and the solid presence of the rock juxtaposed against the relentless flow of the river through this narrow passage along with the figurative connection between the two provided by the ice are the elements I was reacting to when I made this photograph.
The back roads of northern New Mexico are a treasure trove for a photographer willing to spend the time and energy driving from one remote village to another. I happen to live in one of those villages, so for me, it’s like visiting the neighbors.
I’ve discovered I have a thing for windows. More to the point, I have a thing for old windows in old walls. This first image required several trips before I got it right. I wanted to get the frame just so; the weathered log post plays an important part in the composition and the elevation proved to be tricky–I finally returned with a ladder in order to capture a satisfactory version of the photograph.
Nikon Df Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 F8 1/80 ISO 400
These adobe walls are about worn to the nub and the window frames, along with the viga used for a header, will eventually join the pile of rubble. As I drove past, I noticed how the windows were aligned and that is what drew me to make a photograph. The sage in the foreground also provides a nice anchor for the scene.
Nikon Df Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 F11 1/500 ISO 800
This scene literally jumped out at me as I rounded a curve in the road just south of Taos. I spent quite a while shooting from different angles, and when I edited the images, I chose this version because I like the spatial relationship between the tree and the mailbox.
Nikon Df Nikkor 24-70mm F8 1/400 ISO 400
I saw a photograph of this bar in a book titled Gone to Sanctuary From the Sins of Confusion that my friend Robin had loaned me. The book is a compilation by photographer John Kiewit who traveled the west for three decades from the late sixties through the late nineties making images of the places he saw along the way. The book was published in 1997 and, sadly, John died a few years later. But I was so taken by his work and the subject matter that I started driving to the places from the book which were relatively close to me. It became akin to a pilgrimage. Unfortunately, most of the locations have changed so drastically they are no longer worth photographing. This scene, however, was virtually unchanged from the image John made all those years ago. This one photograph made the entire quest worthwhile.
Nikon Df Nikkor 24-120mm f4 F8 1/640 ISO 400
I wish I could have visited this bar in it’s heyday, I’m willing to bet it was a pretty rowdy place, like something out of The Milagro Beanfield War–just my style. But now it sits abandoned, nothing more than a curiosity for passers-by and wandering photographers. Viva el Norte.
Nikon Df Nikkor 24-70mm F8 1/160 ISO 400
At last, a real winter! One we denizens of the Jemez Mountains can be proud of. We’ve had two substantial snowfalls within the past two weeks, and there is more in the forecast. The day after Christmas I awoke to a world of swirling white. I quickly got dressed and grabbed my gear. There is nothing like being cloaked in the clouds during a fresh snowfall to bring the world into focus.
Jemez Springs has become a “destination”, the road and the village are typically busy with tourists, so it was a welcome relief to see it relatively abandoned with clean, new snow covering the small cluster of buildings that comprise the heart of the village. Luckily, the road hadn’t even been plowed yet.
The Jemez Historic Site (the pueblo of Giusewa) is about halfway between the village and my home. I have been wanting to make this image for quite a while, but due to a lack of the white stuff, I had put it off. This was my chance, and I think I made the most of it. This is what I consider to be the best of a series of seven exposures I made of this scene.
Continuing up the road, I came to Soda Dam. I have made many photographs of Soda Dam over the years; it’s only a five minute walk from my house. With the snow still coming down, I decided to give this image the same treatment as the one of the village seen above. I used a relatively fast shutter speed of 1/250th of a second to freeze the motion of the falling snow. The resulting image puts the tableau in context and serves to convey what I was feeling at the time I released the shutter.
After leaving the Soda Dam, I continued north on the highway into the Santa Fe National Forest. The most striking scenes I found were the ones of areas of forest burned in recent wildfires, their branches covered and defined by the snow. They provided a visual as well as a thematic contrast, and the photographs are a combination of realism and the abstract.
2015 was an exceptional year for me in terms of photography. Not just for the images, but for the experiences as well. I made an effort to be more adventurous, and spontaneous in my choice of subject matter. I also vowed to be more responsive to the images themselves when it came to post processing. In all, there are thirty-seven photographs, so I will present this post in two parts. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed making them.
In late January we had a heavy snowfall which made it impossible for me to drive out of my driveway. So, I walked down to Soda Dam to photograph it in its winter splendor. This image seemed to be a black and white candidate from the start.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-70 f2.8: 1.3 sec., f20, ISO 50
March took me to southern Arizona to photograph desert wildflowers. I didn’t find the showing I had hoped for, so I contented myself by pursuing Teddy Bear Chollas. When photographed in the right light, they have a luminous quality about them. I made this image at sunset in the Lost Dutchman State Park, east of Pheonix. The fabled Superstition Mountains lie on the horizon.
Nikon D800 with 24-70mm f2.8 lens: 1.3 sec, f16, ISO 50
I’ve been to Ah Shi Sle Pah Wash many times over the years, but I seldom explore along the southern edge. In April I decided to change that; I made this image looking northwest from the top of the southern rim. This is the section I call the Yellow Badlands. It’s like taking a look back through time.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-70 f2.8: 1⁄8 sec, f18, ISO 50
In May while exploring a part of Ah Shi Sle Pah Wash I had never been to before, I came across this incredible hoodoo hidden in a small ravine along the northern edge of the main wash. I stayed and worked the area for nearly two hours. This is the first of many compositions using what I call the Neural Hoodoo as the main subject.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 16-35mm f4 lens: 1⁄30 sec, f16, ISO 50
This black and white image was made from the opposite side of the Neural Hoodoo. If forced to choose a favorite, this would be it.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 16-35mm f4 lens: 1⁄25 sec, f16, ISO 50
This final image of the Neural Hoodoo was made from the same general location as the first, but I zoomed in to capture a more intimate portrait.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 16-35mm f4 lens: 1⁄15 sec, f16, ISO 50
At the same time I was exploring the far reaches of Ah Shi SlePah, I was discovering some of the amazing and convoluted drainages along the southern rim of the wash. I made this image on a stormy evening in late May. I could not have asked for more appropriate light for this scene.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄60 sec, f18, ISO 50
In early June I went out to the Bisti Wilderness. At the far reaches of the southern drainage, I made this image of a multi-colored grouping of hoodoos. I had photographed this same group several times in the past, but I think this is my favorite. The clouds seem to reflect the lines of the caprocks.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-70 mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄40 sec, f16, ISO 50
One morning in late June I noticed the chollas around my house were blooming. I set out the next morning for the Rio Puerto Valley to capture the splashes of color in that dramatic landscape. I made the first image (above) in the ghost town of Guadalupe. The return of life to the desert seemed coincidental to the ongoing decay of the adobe buildings.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄6 sec, f16, ISO 50
In this image, a blossoming cholla stands at the head of a deep wash as a rain cloud passes over Cerro Cuate in the distance. Even the slightest precipitation sustains life in this environment.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄10 sec, f16, ISO 50
Early on the morning of July 4th, before the road was closed for the parade, I slipped out of town and drove out into the San Juan Basin. I didn’t really have a plan other than to visit the Burnham Badlands, which lies to the west of the Bisti Wilderness, and covers a relatively small area as badlands go (about one mile by two miles). This graceful hoodoo sits smack in the center of it.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄20 sec, f16, ISO 50
After completing my exploration of the Burnham Badlands, I drove west through the heart of the Navajo Reservation and arrived at Shiprock in the early evening. I drove one of the dirt roads that runs along the lava dike until I found a spot I liked. I set up my camera and tripod then waited for the light. Over the next two and a half hours, I made almost a hundred exposures as the light changed and the sun crept toward the horizon. This is my pick.
Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄6 sec, f16, ISO 50
Hidden in plain sight, just a few miles north of Ah Shi Sle Pah is the Fossil Forest. At the end of a low ridge which runs east to west, you can just make out the telltale signs from the county road: the striated color, and the deep cut drainages where geologic treasures lie exposed. I went there with an agenda: to find a fossilized tree stump. I’ve related the whole story in an earlier post, so I’ll just say here that we were able to locate the stump after some scrambling and sleuthing.
Nikon D700 with Nikkor 16-35mm f4 lens: 1⁄25 sec, f16, ISO 100
In July, I made a trip to visit my daughter Lauren in Madison, Wisconsin. She accompanied me on the return trip. Early on the second morning, somewhere in central Kansas, she mentioned the large birds roosting on the fence. I had driven past and hadn’t noticed them, so I backtracked until we found them. The birds turned out to be a committee of turkey vultures sunning themselves and drying their wings. I was able to get pretty close to them without distressing them, and I managed to capture quite a few exposures. This is my favorite.
Nikon D700 with Nikkor 24-120mm f4 lens: 1⁄640 sec, f9, ISO 500
In August we set out on the high road to Taos. The way passes through many small villages: Chimayo, Truchas, Las Trampas, and Picuris Pueblo to name but a few. At Picuris, we visited the plaza, and there, I noticed the shapes and texture of the adobe walls of a small church. This is the result of my efforts there.
Nikon D700 with Nikkor 24-120mm f4 lens: 1⁄400 sec, f14, ISO 1600
Farther up the road, we took a fork to visit the village of Tres Ritos. There, in a meadow by the side of the road, was a spray of mountain asters with a small wetland full of cattails just beyond it. The dark foreboding sky intensified the saturation of the colors and was the perfect backdrop for the scene.
Nikon D700 with Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄640 sec, f16, ISO 1600
In late August on a trip to Denver, I drove up highway 285 instead of using the interstate. Late in the day, the clouds were hanging in tatters from the peaks of the Sangre de Cristos to the east. The grasses were just beginning to turn and the colors filled the spectrum. When I came across the trees, it all came together.
Nikon D700 with Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄5 sec, f11, ISO 50
On my return from Denver, I was driving across the Taos Plateau and the nearly full moon was climbing through the clouds above the Sangres. The Chamisa was in bloom and all I needed to do was find the right combination.
Nikon D700 with Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄500 sec, f13, ISO 800
Still on the Taos Plateau. The texture and colors in the grasses and sage, along with the rays of sunlight piercing the dark clouds caused me to pull over again (at this rate, I would never get home). The lonesome Ponderosa Pine anchors this image, but the thing that really ties it all together is the thin strip of light colored ground below the mountains.
Nikon D700 with Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 lens: 1⁄500 sec, f11, ISO 800
I spend a lot of time these days in one of several badlands in the San Juan Basin. These images are from a tour I led recently in the Bisti Wilderness. I normally take a tripod whenever I go out photographing, but recently I have been leaving it at home when I lead tours.
The main reason is that I want to be able to devote my time to my clients and the time involved with setting up my tripod every time I make an image is a distraction.
Also, shooting handheld puts me in another frame of mind, one where I have more freedom to shoot from the hip. I think it also has an an positive effect on my creative vision.
At one point, I saw my client down in the rocks looking around for a shot and was able to capture this image of him processing the scene. If I had to fiddle with my tripod, I doubt the image would be as spontaneous.
I’ve also found that I make images that I would normally pass up. This one is an example; at first glance, I wasn’t really that impressed by this scene, but, I did like the cracks in the foreground. I’m glad I decided to make this photo, after spending time processing the image, it’s grown on me.
This petrified log is half exposed in a small wash in a remote section of the Bisti Wilderness. There are several other relatively large logs in this same area. Actually, I’ve taken this photo before, but I like the light much better in this version.
As we were packing up to leave in the parking area, this group of riders approached us. I called them over and we shared some water with them, then they posed with their horses.
It was a fitting end to the tour and my clients were overjoyed.
When rain finally comes to a parched landscape, the earth seems to give a sigh of relief. In the high desert of northwest New Mexico, the Rio Puerco Valley hasn’t seen appreciable moisture since last summer. And now the skies are opening. The result is a study in contrasts.
And the biggest contrast is that of life and death. There is a very real danger of dying of dehydration in this unforgiving environment. The image below shows the irony of being so near yet so far from the life-giving flow.
With the rains come the dramatic skies that are so common in New Mexico in the summer. The wide horizons allow the sky to, seemingly, stretch to infinity; it feels as if you could actually fall into it.
This image was taken at the Guadalupe ruins, a Chacoan outlier that sits atop a small butte deep in the Rio Puerco Valley. It was inhabited from about 900-1150 CE. This view is to the north across the Rio Puerco with Cabezon Peak and Cerro Cochito in the distance. There just happened to be a rainbow sitting on the horizon which made this moment even more worth capturing.
I spend a lot of time in this valley, and it is pretty rare to see water in the drainages. I was immediately drawn to this scene as I drove past it, so I stopped to make this image. The light was just perfect and the sky emphasized the mood.
As I was driving out to the highway, I noticed these ominous looking clouds hovering over Cabezon Peak and had to race to the stretch of road I wanted to use in this image. I lost some of the light in the process, but I think I managed to capture most of the drama.
I live in a small village in north-central New Mexico and the Jemez River runs through my yard. There is one apple tree; I don’t harvest the apples. In the fall when they begin to ripen, the deer make my yard their own and feast on the apples.
They also come through to get to the river. There is a drainage that runs from the mesa top five hundred feet above and the deer use this as a conduit to move to and from the river which is the most reliable source of water for miles.
The deer: bucks, does, and fawns have become a regular source of enjoyment for me. Just looking out and seeing them browsing at the tree or grazing in the grasses gives me a sense of connection to them and their world–my world.
Last week while editing some images and trying to pick one to post to my Facebook page, I went to my coffee pot to pour a cup, then to the door to survey the yard. I was greeted by this majestic bull elk. There are plenty of elk in the Jemez Mountains and I’ve seen many on, or near the road, especially in the high country; but this was the first time I had seen one in my yard. He was nervous and I had to move slowly to get into position to get a decent line of sight.
I managed to make eight exposures and the two I have posted here are my picks. I hope this guy makes my place a regular stop in the future.
Of all the times I’ve been to the Bisti Wilderness, this is only the third time I’ve been there with snow on the ground. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been there this time if I didn’t have a Photo Tour to lead. We met at the Bisti turn-off on NM 371 at 8 AM. After giving my safety briefing, we set out across the snow covered terrain.
The first stop was the Brown Hoodoos. I almost eliminated this part of the tour due to the slippery footing combined with the climb required to reach them, but once we got there, I was happy that I made the effort. The scenery more than made up for the risk and my clients were delighted.
After spending a half hour or so I decided we needed to move on. The forecast called for warmer temperatures in the afternoon and I knew that would mean the snow would melt turning the mostly-clay ground into a muddy quagmire.
We made the hike out to the Egg Garden in good time and here we spent another forty-five minutes or so. I began to realize that there were parts of the landscape that were more defined because of the snow and the contrast it provided, and other parts that seemed less photogenic because of it. The Garden was in the latter category, but my tour participants were having a great time nonetheless.
From the Egg Garden, we moved on to the Petrified Trees and here we lingered the longest. It was while we were here that the mud began to raise its ugly head.
The next stop was the Eagle’s Nest and by now we were walking in the runoff channels which was easier than walking in the ooze. This is an image of the approach to the Nest–it’s the prominent feature in the distance. You can see the muddy water flowing in the wash on the left.
We circled the Eagle’s Nest and then made our way back over to Alamo Wash which by now was running deeper than I have ever seen it run. This meant we had to start walking in the mud, but we were also at the final stop on the tour. Now all we had to do was trek close to four miles back to the parking area. I made this image in a small area of hoodoos just north of the Eagle’s Nest and began to pack up my gear in preparation for the return hike.
It was then that Tomas noticed the cranes. A flock of Sandhill cranes–probably migrating to Bosque del Apache–were battling the winds to make it to their wintering grounds, still more than two hundred miles to the southwest. They were too far away to make a good image, but you can see them (the small dots to the right of the rock formation) in this one that I made of my intrepid clients watching them fly by.
The walk out was more strenuous and it did take longer than usual due to the muddy conditions, but we laughed at our plodding and sliding most of the way out. At one point, we were all stuck on a slight incline and none of us could make any headway; the greasy caliche mud was so slick that we had to backtrack and find another route. It was a good day though. My clients came away with some good images, and I with some nice images and some good stories to tell.
The Taos Solar Fest has been an annual event for the past fourteen years. I have often thought about heading up to Taos to join the fun, but for one reason or another, never made it–until this year. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Taos’ connection to solar energy, the Taos Electric Co-op ranks second in the nation when it comes to providing solar-generated electric power to its consumers. That’s pretty impressive for a (relatively) small town in northern New Mexico.
The festival is held at Kit Carson Park smack dab in the middle of Taos, and the setting is perfect. There are two stages, the main stage, and the solar stage. Between the main acts, there is music on the smaller solar stage provided by local musicians some of whom are from the main line-up. Max Gomez is one of these performers this year; he just finished recording his debut EP, “Rule The World” in Los Angeles, and at twenty-five years old seems to have a promising career ahead of him. His music is a blend of folk, blues, and alt country and he delivers it with the style and confidence of a well seasoned performer.
The Del McCourey Band followed Max Gomez, and while Del is a little too slick and polished for my taste, the crowd enjoyed his set and most everyone was on their feet dancing. He played many bluegrass standards that he has helped to make popular.
Los Lobos needs no introduction; they have been around for nearly forty years and during that time have won several Grammy Awards. Fronted by David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas they burned for well over an hour and finished with a sizzling version of their cover of the Richie Valens classic “La Bamba”.
As the sun set over the park, a feeling of expectation filled the air. When Lyle Lovett walked onstage, the crowd erupted into a round of applause. For the next ninety minutes, Lyle kept us captivated with his own special brand of country, western, blues, jazz, swing…well anyone who has ever seen Lyle in concert knows what I mean.
He and his Acoustic Band (as opposed to his Large Band) played songs from throughout his thirty year career and no one kept their seats.
The Cabezon Wilderness Study Area is a wild and beautiful place in north-central New Mexico. There are endless vistas dominated by volcanic plugs; there are deep cut channels of the Rio Puerco and its many tributaries; there are ruins of a long deserted Chacoan outlier; and there are roadside dumps where someone, at some time, decided that he or she could improve on the scenery by leaving what they no longer treasured to bake in the sun.
I assume that some of the trash that has been left here was discarded by former residents of the area–there are numerous small ranches and ruins of many more that are now slowly making their way back to the earth. The ruins will probably disappear long before the abandoned refrigerators, stoves, culverts, and other artifacts of human habitation that litter the landscape. Maybe we should just learn to accept it. After all it’s human nature to defile the only home we have. No other species has the means, the desire, or the audacity to deface and pollute the earth.
We already have become accustomed to such degradation-and perhaps we even expect it-in the cities and towns where we gather and live in great numbers, but is it really necessary to leave traces of our arrogance in the wild places where our presence is, or should be, but a whisper?
On Friday I had the honor of being “Freshly Pressed” by the editors of wordpress.com. I am still trying to read through all the comments I’ve been receiving on my blog because of that. I’m not sure I will be able to reply to them all, so I decided to write this post in response. I would like to thank the editors for choosing my blog to be freshly pressed; it is an honor, which I think comes with some responsibility. It’s not that I didn’t take my blog seriously before, but now I feel as though I have some expectations to live up to.
I would also like to thank everyone who has taken the time to view, comment on, tweet, and like, my posts, as well as all of you who have subscribed to my blog. It is quite a humbling experience to be acknowledged by so many from all over the world. I have visited some of your blogs, and I am amazed by the amount of talent and creativity that’s out there.I think this whole experience has made me realize (yet again) that we are all connected, and I don’t mean just through cyberspace.
I hope I can continue to take you to some of the places that you may not have the chance to see otherwise, and perhaps inspire some of you to visit them. Peace!
Lake Fire Rainbow
We were out just driving around one day, and I decided to head out onto Lake Fork Mesa. This area had been ravaged by the Lake Fire several years before, and I had not been there since before the fire. The desolation was complete; from the point where the fire had burned, not a single tree remained unscathed.
The sky was heavy with the possibility of rain. As the dark clouds gathered, giving the charred landscape a sinister look, the sun broke through, and the most amazing rainbow I had ever seen appeared in Lake Fork Canyon. I felt as though I could reach out and touch it; it became a tangible presence.
The contrast between the devastated treescape and the vibrant colors painted across the sky is what makes this image work for me. I made the usual curves, vibrance, clarity, and saturation adjustments in Lightroom and Photoshop.