There was a time not so long ago when I would have gone to extraordinary lengths to exclude anything man-made from my images. But I slowly came to realize that I was being narrow-minded and losing some great photo opportunities. After removing the blinders from my artistic vision I suddenly became aware of new possibilities with subjects I would have previously rejected without a second thought.
I first came upon this car about five miles from where it now sits in the Rio Puerco Valley. I had made a second trip to its original location only to find it had been removed. I thought it odd that someone had gone to the trouble of dragging it out of the small side canyon accessible only by a two track dirt road, but then I thought that perhaps the BLM was making an attempt to tidy up the valley. It is, after all, a wilderness study area. Imagine my surprise to find the old, rusted, topless vehicle parked (for lack of a better word) in the “yard” of a tumble down adobe/rock house not far from Cabezon Peak.
I made this second image while driving through the panhandle of Texas. This whimsical installation lies along Interstate 40 east of Amarillo; I had my youngest daughter in mind when I was making the exposures. She loves VWs.
The image of the bus and the car were made along Torreon Wash near the Empedrado Wilderness Study Area near Cabezon Peak in the Rio Puerco Valley. The bus sits on rusted wheels and is full of old insulation and rat droppings suggesting that it is (was) being used as a storage shed for some nearby construction.
The car sits near an adobe/rock ruin. It is sunk to the rims in the clay soil and so its fate appears to be sealed.
This 1950s era Ford is parked in front of one of the rooms at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. There are several other old vehicles parked in front of other rooms. I can’t be positive, but I highly suspect that the creators of the Disney animated movie “Cars” may have used the Wigwam as a model for the motel in the movie.
The last image was the result of accidentally being in the right place at the right time. I was driving from Albuquerque to Los Alamos by way of Santa Fe. I pulled off I-25 at the exit where the AT&SF rails cross beneath the interstate. My plan was to get down on the tracks to make an image for my Road Series (as in rail ROAD). As I was walking across the bridge above the tracks on the frontage road, I heard the whistle and soon after that I saw the Amtrak Southwest Chief come through the cut and approaching the bend in the distance.
In my last post, I showed you images of some new terrain and features that I discovered on a recent trip to the Bisti Wilderness. In this entry I would like to show you some new images of places and things I have photographed before under different light or under different conditions.
Alamo Wash is the main conduit for the southern section of the Bisti. Most of the hoodoos, rock formations and other wonders to be found in the Bisti Wilderness are located in smaller side drainages that empty in Alamo Wash. Although I have been to this place many times, this is the first time I have seen any appreciable amount of water in the wash. I was drawn to the light on the rippled texture along the edge. I think this image tells a great deal about this land of severe contrasts.
As you make your way up the middle of Alamo Wash, if you are in the right alignment, you will see a curios formation in the distance. What makes it stand out to the trained eye is the color variation from the rest of the surrounding landscape. The Bisti Arch is comprised of a dark brown cap of rock which rests on a base of lighter and softer sandstone and mudstone. The base is a gradation of nearly white to a golden brown and is fluted which makes it resemble a freestanding component of Greek architecture.
Just around the corner from the Bisti Arch is the Egg Garden–probably the best known and most popular area of the Bisti. When someone signs up for one of my Photo Tours, this is the first thing they ask about. The Queen Bee is undoubtedly the favorite formation within the Egg Garden. I’ve photographed it so many times, it’s getting hard for me to find a fresh take on it.
The Egg Garden gets its name from the numerous egg-shaped rocks scattered about like, well…eggs in a gigantic Easter egg hunt. The bowl shaped rock in the above image has shifted since my last visit, most likely due to a heavy flow of water through the wash in which the garden is located.
Along with the cracked eggs, the Bisti Wilderness is also known for its ubiquitous hoodoos. They are literally everywhere you look, and, as this image attests, they can stretch to the horizon in some places.
I have been to the Bisti Wilderness more times than I can count; I lead Photo Tours out there, but there are so many nooks and crannies I doubt that I will ever be able to say I’ve seen all of it. Last week we made a quick one day trip just because we hadn’t been there in a while. We visited some of our favorite spots, including the Egg Garden and the Bisti Arch.
Here is a view of the Egg Garden that I haven’t done before and below is a look at the Arch from a wider perspective–it’s in the multicolored formation in the middle ground. Breaking habits (in both subject matter and perspective) is an important step in growing as an artist; you have to keep it fresh.
Next we wandered into an area I hadn’t been to before and in the space of about thirty minutes, we found at least five intact petrified logs; some partially unearthed like the one in the image above and some completely exposed like the one shown below. After who knows how many millennia buried in a sandstone tomb, the fossilized remains of these old trees are once again exposed under the same sun that set on their demise.
Apart from the intact petrified remains, there are also many fractured and broken remnants scattered about. The next image shows several smaller logs lying close together as if placed there in preparation for a petrified campfire.
Not only is this area rich in fossils, it is also home to a large number of hoodoos and eroded rock forms similar to the ones in the Egg Garden. I’m sure that others have been to this part of the Bisti, but I don’t recall ever having seen images of these logs or of the landscapes I have recorded here.
This last image is of Robin and me resting against the large tree with a view to the east. In two weeks I will be back out there leading a tour for a couple from Germany. The best parts of what I do are exploring new places and making new friends from around the world. These things help me realize that we, as people, are not so different from one another, and that we, as a species, are not so powerful or important as we might like to think we are.
I have been exploring the area in and around the Rio Puerco Valley for years and I think I’ve driven just about every road out there. But, there is one that had escaped me until recently. I had driven past it many times, but had always assumed that it was a private road leading to a ranch that could be seen in the distance.
That’s what I get for making assumptions. I recently had reason to study a map of the area for a totally unrelated reason, and discovered that the road in question continued on well past the ranch in a long loop that returned to the main road via a BLM road that I am familiar with.
So, this past Sunday we set out to explore what is identified on the map as the Empedrado Wilderness (it’s actually a Wilderness Study Area which means it is being considered for wilderness status). Well, one of the first things I realized is that for a wilderness, there sure is a lot of human impact, both abandoned and ongoing. Of course the former captured my attention.
This stone ruin is perched on the edge of Torreon Wash and if the steep banks continue to deteriorate, it will soon be a pile of rubble lying in the wash. There is something about these recent ruins that touches me. I see the abandoned hopes and dreams of people who were probably toiling here in my lifetime and who may still come to these places to watch those dreams decay.
A little farther along we found this water system that, at first, looked as though it could still be in working order, but upon closer inspection it was found to be, dried up, broken and rusting away.
Just around the next bend in the road is an old school bus that is filled with what could be mistaken for building materials. Most of the insulation has become nests for the pack-rats, and other small animals that have laid claim to the bus.
After the first five miles or so, the evidence of human endeavor began to dwindle and the place began to look more like a wilderness. We drove on for another ten miles making note of areas of interest for future exploration. Then, after turning on to the BLM road that leads back to our starting point, I stopped to make this image of an ephemeral New Mexico rain falling over Cabezon Peak.
I spend a great deal of time wandering the badlands of the San Juan Basin and beyond in search of images. I have an unquenchable thirst for desert landscapes. Some people might consider me a little off kilter, especially since I live right in the middle of a place so full of natural beauty and geologic wonders that it draws visitors from around the world.
The first image is of Soda Dam, a large calcium carbonate formation that has been deposited over the ages by a small warm spring which is right on the shoulder of New Mexico state road 4. This naturally formed dam is pierced by the Jemez River which cascades over a small drop in elevation into a plunge pool which is a popular swimming hole for both locals and visitors from Germany, Japan, Russia… I can hear their squeals as they jump into the cold water on a hot summer day. Soda Dam is about two hundred yards from my door.
If I head in the opposite direction from Soda Dam on Hwy.4, it’s only a five minute drive to Battleship Rock, another geologic attraction that is visible from the highway. It was formed during the last volcanic eruption in these parts-around one million years ago. Lava from the eruption flowed into a narrow dead end canyon and hardened. Over time the softer material which made up the canyon walls eroded away, leaving the volcanic rock exposed.
If I continue up Hwy. 4, I will eventually come to the crowning jewel of the Jemez Mountains; the Valle Grande. Actually only one of several valles which were formed when a huge volcano exploded and collapsed to form a caldera about 1.6 million years ago. The Valle Grande was, until 2000, a privately owned ranch. It is now public land, administered by a trust. This is the view from a turn out on Hwy. 4 looking north.
So, you see, I really need not travel all that far to find a photogenic landscape, but I am in love with the desert; I am in love with the stark, naked, truthful beauty of the earth laid bare. The mountains, rivers, and alpine meadows are fine, but they do not speak to me in the way that the desert badlands do.
I recently received an e-mail which made the argument that HDR is a polarizing subject in the photographic community. It led me down that road that forks and forks again and…well, you know. Are we as photographers to believe that we are (and should be) fenced in by rules? In this case the rules are about technique and processing. When photography was in its infancy, it was considered to be outside the realm of “serious art”. Now, nearly one hundred years later, it has become acceptable, but only if it fits in a certain box.
So, I am having trouble coming to terms with the ongoing debate inside the photography community concerning HDR processing. I consider the ability to blend exposures to expand the dynamic range of an image to be a wonderful addition to the photographer’s toolkit. There seems to be some divisive opinion about how much processing is allowable. What bothers me about this debate is one very important consideration: CREATIVITY! If someone’s vision requires that heavy and obvious HDR look, then who has the right to tell them it’s too much? Each one of us is different; we each see things in different ways and wouldn’t life be boring if we all agreed on everything?
This first image was made in the Bisti Wilderness last year. The landscape was other-worldly, and the dramatic sky added even more to that impression. In my post processing, I consciously emphasized that quality by making the HDR effect more obvious. I used a tool to help me achieve my vision.
The second image is from the same trip. It was made about an hour after the first. By then the skies had cleared somewhat, and, while the landscape is by no means common, it doesn’t quite have the alien feel of the previous image. This is also an HDR exposure fusion, but I backed off on the processing; I used the technique to enhance the contrast and to make the sky pop a little more.
So, two HDR images that express two very different emotions. I think I have succeeded in capturing my vision for each of them, and that is the point of art.
We went back to the Lybrook Badlands yesterday to do some more exploring and to come up with a format for a photo tour in the area. Just after leaving the paved road, we came across two guys parked on the side of the road. We stopped to talk and learned they are from Paris, France, and are traveling the southwest to photograph some of the more popular places. I was somewhat surprised to learn that Lybrook is on their list.
They were uncertain about the weather and asked if they could tag along with us. We agreed and set out to see what we could see. This photo shows Dominic, his son Frederic, Robin and me in the heart of the badlands.
Because of the conditions, heavy clouds with intermittent rain, I decided to shoot all HDR (exposure fusion) images. I have found that this is a good way to achieve depth and contrast in this kind of light.
These first three images were made right on the side of the main dirt road that leads into the Lybrook badlands. We weren’t more than a couple hundred yards from our vehicles as we photographed this small collection of hoodoos.
There was some blue sky as you can see in this image of what I dubbed the Hoodoo Playground. At this point, no rain had yet fallen, but I could smell it on the wind and knew it would be only a matter of time. As some of you who have read my previous blog entries may know, I am energized by this kind of weather. So, why the sudden shift in my attitude? The roads in this area have a high clay content; when it rains hard enough they can quickly become impassable quagmires. As much as I enjoy spending my time making images out here in the rocks, I didn’t relish the idea of spending a night in the Jeep waiting for the roads to dry out.
As we entered the main section of the badlands, the lightning began to flash and the thunder began to roll, but none of us showed the slightest hesitation at continuing the trek into the oncoming storm. By the time we reached the place named Hoodoo Cove, the rain began to fall, not hard, but steady, so we headed back towards the parking area to be in a better position in case we needed to make a run for the cars.
I couldn’t resist making one more image before we left. Even though the rain had begun to fall, there was a break in the overcast that allowed the sun to light part of the rim. It seemed somehow fitting that this dwarf Ponderosa Pine was sharing some of the rays.
When we were about a half mile from where we parked, the rain let up and then stopped altogether, but the storm still moved all around us. We headed up a wash between two prominent buttes to continue our exploration. I made this image from a high point on our trail, we then continued on through the notch towards the darkest part of the cloud cover.
We spent another two hours wandering the washes and climbing around the incredibly complex terrain, getting to know the place a little better. As we made our way back to our vehicles (again), I made this last image. to remind myself how fragile life is and how easily it can come to an end in a place such as this. At the same time, I was looking forward to our next trip out here.