Olympic Trio

My journeys to the Pacific Northwest continue, and the next stop for was Olympic National Park in Washington State. It was a difficult task to select all my favorites, but this Olympic Trio certainly makes the cut and showcase the variety of photographs to be made here.

Olympic National Park has several completely different ecosystem, from soaring mountains, rugged coastline, and temperate rainforests. It is the rainforests that caught my attention, and being in a rainforest when it is raining is a surreal experience. Nothing can quite compare to the sight and sounds of the forest when it is raining, and although water is falling from the sky, by the time it reaches you through the trees, it is more of a mist than anything else. You quickly become soggy, and once you are over that, it becomes a gratifying experience.

The sounds of the rainforest, too, are something to experience. The constant drip-drop of rain is all around you, even when it is not raining, providing a constant background noise. Bird calls dance and echo through the forest, followed by, well, I have no idea. An animal, probably, but of what kind I cannot say. Still, it was fantastic to be in the rainforest, and I think you can tell that from the photographs.

Rainforest Elms is a section of the Hot Rainforest known for moss-covered elms. The trees rise as quickly as they can to catch what sunlight they can, as fast-growing moss enshrouds their lower branches. The results are, well, stunning, and otherworldly.

The rainforest is not all that Olympic National Park has going for it, either. Fog is a constant companion to the park, and is, literally, as thick a pea soup. Now and then a scene such as Olympic Fog emerges from the mists, and it is hard to remember to breathe, little alone make the photograph.

And let’s not forget the beaches. The park encompasses over 73 miles of coastline, providing endless opportunity. Of all the miles, however, Second Beach called to me. Reached only by a half mile or so hike through a forest, it is truly a hidden gem and is framed by sea stacks. With smooth sand, this small cove is truly a photographer’s paradise, and it was hard to leave it when the time came.

Enjoy this Olympic Trio, and we will chat about Olympic National Park again soon.

You can find each beautiful photograph here

Rainforst Elms

Olympic Fog

Second Sunset

Yosemite’s Treasures

Spring is an incredible, magical time of the year. The trees are waking up from their long winter’s nap and spreading new leaves with vim and vigor. Birds are displaying their best plumage in hopes of attracting the perfect mate. Flowers begin to spring up and bloom, eager to participate in the bright sunny days ahead. And in Yosemite National Park, California, the waterfalls are roaring, full of newfound run-off, echoing and booming throughout the storied valley. Yosemite’s Treasures is a collection of four of my favorite Yosemite photographs to celebrate this famed park.

Yosemite's Treasures: Yosemite View

When we think of Yosemite, we almost without fail think of Yosemite Falls, one of the star attractions of the park. These falls, which tumble over two thousand feet into the lush valley below, are at their peak in the spring. Fed by Yosemite Creek, the echo of the falls is a constant background sound, ebbing and flowing for reasons all its own. Standing across the Merced River, on the other side of they valley, gives us a Yosemite View, a classic view of this iconic waterfall. Interestingly, although the Merced River looks calm and serene here, it is a mighty river in its right, and there is a significant current. As the river traverses the park and the valley, it picks up more tributaries and creeks, such as Yosemite Creek, on its long journey to the Pacific. We’ll revisit the Merced in at the end of Yosemite’s Treasures.

Yosemite's Treasures: Cathedral View

A little further along the valley, just across from El Capitan, one can find the Cathedral Rocks, an impressive grouping of rocks and spires. In spring, small seasonal ponds sometimes form, such as this one, which gives us the equally impressive Cathedral View. As spring turns to summer and the summer wears long, this small pond will quickly dry up, along with some of the waterfalls themselves, and scenes such Cathedral View quietly disappear.

Yosemite's Treasures: Lupine's Day

Still further along the valley, well past the towering granite cliffs, we find the setting for Lupine’s Day. The lupine grows throughout the region, and this grouping, coupled with the absolute perfect clouds, combine to make this stunning photograph.

As is turned out, I was not the only one interested in the flowers. As I was making Lupine’s Day, the bees were busy weaving in and out of the flowers, meaning I was busy weaving in and out of their way, lest they take too much of interest in me. I was equally invested in creating the photograph as I was not being stung, making quite an exciting dance amongst us all. In the end, I came away sting-free–whew!

Yosemite's Treasures: Stormy Valley

Finally, as promised, we return again to the Merced River. Beautiful, sunny days in Yosemite make for fantastic photography, but so do the storms that notoriously roll through the valley. Stormy Valley is one of those moments. I like the contrast of the lush green grass, the flowing river, and Bridalveil Falls against the stormy skies above. There’s something powerful and dramatic about the contrast, and it draws me in time and time again.

Yosemite National Park is full of wonders, small and large, and it was hard for me to settle on just a few images. Rest assured, for more stories await us there!

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Explore Yosemite View

Explore Cathedral View

Explore Lupine’s Day

Explore Stormy Valley

Bluebonnet Country

Most people call it Texas Hill Country, and to be fair, that is a perfect name for it. Low, rolling hills pucntuate the landscape in the southwestern part of Texas, and the landscape transitions from pasture to pristine in a heartbeat. Hill Country is known for quite a few things, but during the spring, the bluebonnets arrive in force, so it might as well be Bluebonnet Country.

I’ve long had a passion for bluebonnets, and an equally long, if not longer, interest with railroads. Combining these two is certainly going to capture my attention, and this small location just at the edge of Hill Country is one of my favorites. There we find an abandoned rail line which the bluebonnets have also found. I should, perhaps, refer to it as disused, since technically it not abandoned. In fact, the rail line here is on the National Register of historic places. It’s just that no one actually uses the rails anymore.

Except the bluebonnets, of course. They use it a lot.

83 miles to go on our Austin bound journey. Just 83 more miles and we are finally there. We’ve been riding the rails for a while now, headed to the city. Mile after mile the countryside rolls by and we are lulled by the creek and the sway of the cars as they whiz down the tracks. We round a small bend and now there is just 82 more miles until Austin. Outside the windows the miles continue to roll by. So do the years, because this vignette hasn’t happened since 1937 when the last passengers rode these rails. The historic railroad started as the Austin and Northwestern Railroad, which was purchased by the Houston & Central Texas Railroad which was then acquired by the Texas and New Orleans Railroad and finally by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Whew! Through all these owners and all these years the line has persevered, even though today it doesn’t see any rail traffic at all. The bluebonnets, on the other hand, have made extensive use of the rails. They find the lack of rolling stock perfectly acceptable and over the years have taken over the rails for themselves. We don’t mind, however, because now both the bluebonnets and ourselves are Austin bound.

The rail line eventually leads to Austin, Texas. If we were to stand in the middle of it, and look south, we would see something like Austin Bound. The rails, leading off to a bend just ahead, are covered in bluebonnets, making for a striking scene. Photographed in the early morning, it was quiet, tranquil and serene, shared only by a few passing rabbits, a stray deer, and of course myself.

Flower Rails, on the other hand, is anything but tranquil and quiet. The sunset roared to life this particular morning, and it swept into the day with a vengeance. The sun tore through the low-lying clouds at just the right moment, lighting up the trees and a distant trestle. The lines of color leading into the bridge really caught my eye.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the rails were bright and shiny, regularly polished by the steam engines and rolling stock that moved along them as the train made its way to and from Austin, Texas. These days, however, the spur line is left to itself, a reminder of those days gone by. Its rails no longer glisten nor gleam in the in sun and only silence keeps them company. That and the flowers. For as seasons roll by and the years blend together, so do the flowers. One by one, then group by group, the bluebonnets overtake the rail line. The flowers rejoice in the solitude of the abandoned line and have begun to flourish here. The rails, happy for the company, seem agreeable to the arrangement, giving rise to the flower rails. Texas Hill Country has many of these obscure locations. Most days of the year they appear to be nothing special, but in the right light at the right time they tell a striking story. Flower Rails is no exception, and the flowers spilling over the rails, stretching into the distant trestle, provide a perfect example. The sun lighting up the trestle, beckoning the bluebonnets onward, makes it all the more compelling. This spur line might be abandoned, but it surely isn’t forgotten.

Actually, that trestle held my attention for days. As much as I adore Flower Rails, I also like the last photograph, Bluebonnet Trestle.

The rails lie quiet now, but certainly not forgotten. And the bluebonnets in central Texas that have overgrown the rails and up to the creek to create Bluebonnet Trestle most definitely have not forgotten the line is here, either. For they make excellent use of it, although not exactly for the purpose originally intended. The Austin & Northwestern Railroad intended the line to be used for hauling a wide variety of loads to Austin and beyond. Livestock, such as cattle and goats, stone, such as granite, building materials, and even passengers plied these rails, coming and going. The route was such an important one that when it fell into disuse it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring its position in history. To the bluebonnets, however, none of this mattered at all. They are concerned in the here and now, and find the conditions exactly right. Blooming from March through May, more or less, of each year, they are slowly taking over the line as their very own. The Texas Hill County has numerous fabulous sights, and by any measure this one ranks up there with the best of them.

Where Flower Rails truly makes a statement, Bluebonnet Trestle is a different counterpoint and mood, bringing us back to a tranquil and warming image.

It’s hard to say which of these three I like best. They all well represent Bluebonnet Country, and they all have a different mood and feel. I’ll end up taking the easy way out and simply saying that I like them all.

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Yesterday’s Glow

I am always deeply fascinated when I visit the ruins of the Southwest. There is something awe-inspiring when you are standing there with a structure that was built a thousand years ago, and yet is still standing today. The wind brings echoes of the past to you and it is easy to be transported back to that time. I ponder what it must have been like living there. The pueblo would have been brand new, and probably still being built, for they certainly weren’t static structures. The signs of the hustle and the bustle of daily life would be everywhere, and perhaps children ran squealing from one room to the next as children often do. I imagine life back then, and marvel at the ingenuity and courage of those who lived here. As night falls, the scene fades back into black, and is lost among the night. Yesterday’s glow fades along with daylight.

Usually.

The National Park Service, for just one day a year, will light up–from the inside–the Spruce House Pueblo in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. This is not a trivial effort, by far, and even at that, they take their time and make everything perfect. Rangers strategically place lanterns and lights in the ruin itself, and they do so with eyes of artists. This is no haphazard be-what-it may arrangement, but instead slow, deliberate and careful. It takes them days to make all the placements. If that isn’t enough, the Rangers and volunteers also place luminarias all along the walkways of the Monument, again, not a trivial task. For the park’s centennial celebration they placed four thousand luminarias!

Crowds gather up at the top on the anointed day. The Rangers light each light and luminara, one by one, then make whatever final adjustments they need to. The crowd is always quite lively and the conversation brisk, but as dusk begins to fall and the ruin comes into its own, absolute silence descends. Everyone is completely transfixed, and for this moment–this one, special, magical incredible moment–we are all transported back into time, and the pueblo, for it is no longer a ruin, comes back to life.

Spruce House lit up with luminarias

Light streams from the doorways and the windows, just as it must have so many centuries ago. Shadows dance and play among the walls, perhaps remembering the children that once did that in the flesh. Light pours up from kiva, calling us to the ceremony taking place there. The entire effect is absolutely surreal. Eventually, the crowd regains its voice, but now it is just a murmur, as the full impact of what we are seeing settles in. Yesterday’s Glow now mixes past and present seamlessly.

Cliff Palace lit up at twilight

But the Park Service did one better than Spruce House on their centennial. They also lit Cliff Palace, which is one of the largest and most magnificent ruins anywhere in the Southwest. The effort to do this was extraordinary. All the lights and lanterns, and especially the heavy propane tanks, had to be carried in on the steep, narrow path down to the ruin. Cliff Palace is a big ruin, and it took a tremendous amount of time to place each light. Doing this pueblo in addition to Spruce House was a monumental task, yet they did it, and they did it expertly.

Cliff Palace lit up at night

As with Spruce House, when dusk began to fall the pueblo sprang to life. The site was, well, beyond words. Even as darkness came in and tried to cover all, the pueblo glowed with an intensity that went well beyond the lights that were there. Eventually, one by one, the lights were put out and the ruin once again was there, the dancing shadows living on only in our memory.

What makes this event so incredible is that it is only the second time that the Park Service has lit Cliff Palace. And who knows if they will do so again, if ever.

But the photographs remain, and allow us to see the pueblos as they once were. Yesterday’s glow will remain with us forever.

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Twilight Palace

Palace Light

Three Nightscapes

As the sun slips past the horizon and night begins its march across the land, many of us head indoors. We turn on the lights without a second thought, and continue our day inside. Should we glance toward a window, we see a square, if you have square windows, of inky blackness. We look away and enjoy the pleasures that light brings us. But what was it like long ago before the advent of electricity? What did our distant ancestors do after dark?

To begin to understand this we have to find truly dark skies. Today, that is not an easy task. You need to be far away from the nearest significant light source, and you might be surprised at just how much light even the tiniest of towns emits. There are places which are still truly dark, though, which is a good thing. Out west, it is a little easier to find dark skies.

From the moment you turn off all light, be that the sun or whatever light you brought with you, your eyes will begin to adjust. This is a gradual, slow adjustment, but a richly rewarding one. The stars slowly come to life, one by one, two by two, dozens by dozens and before you know it you are staring into the depths of space and a sky filled with countless stars. The more you look, the more you find, and the more you find, the more you look. In some locations and at some times of the year, you can see the core of the Milky Way, and that is a completely staggering sight. It can literally leave you speechless.

One startling thing about the night sky is that it isn’t quite as dark as you might first think. If there is even a sliver of the moon you will be able to find your way around. If it is a full moon it might as well be broad daylight and you will know it is night, but it won’t slow you down. Conversely, if you find truly dark skies on a moonless night, well, it is dark. Such nights are perfect making photographs of the night sky.

These three nightscapes are some of my favorites, and represent how different the Milky Way can look.

Yavapai's NightYavapai’s Night was made in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Although the Grand Canyon isn’t quite as dark as it could be, it is still a good location for photographing the Milky Way. This photograph was made just after true dark, which is two hours past sunset. The Milky Way was just rising over the canyon rim, and the sight was certainly inspiring The Milky Way has a different personality every day, and it can take on different hues and colors depending on the time of the year, where you are, and importantly, the current atmospheric conditions. There is no predicting it, but Mother Nature will always provide a show. This night beautiful purple tones came out, making an excellent contrast to the canyon. The red glow on the far horizon is Tuba City. It doesn’t take much light to go a long way.

The sun began its decent toward the horizon, hurrying as it went, and thus the transition from day to night began. It was quiet in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area in New Mexico, but this was usually the case for this particular wilderness is little known, little visited, and perfect for finding peace, tranquility and solitude. Best known for its hoodoos, it features much the same topology of its more famous cousin, the Bisti Badlands. Alone in the trackless maze of hoodoos it is easy to become disorientated; as the sun leaves the sky it is downright simple to lose your way. The setting sun, though, brings up another amazing sight—The Milky Way. Far from the lights of civilization, Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah boasts some truly dark skies. On a moonless night you cannot see anything, not even your hand in front of your face. It is that dark. The Milky Way shines clear and bright in those dark skies, and it simply takes your breath away. Also, in this photograph there is a vertical streak just above the horizon to the right of center. This streak is a falling star—a meteor—that happened when I made this photograph. Don’t forget to make your wish!

Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah’s Night was made in the badlands of New Mexico in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area. This area is little known and well off the beaten path. Few people venture out here, but that is their loss for it has some amazing rock formations, and some of its hoodoos are beyond the imagination. On this moonless night it was dark as dark can be. Even with my eyes fully adjusted I never could see my hand in front of my face. However, that was to my advantage because I was able to create the entire scene. I lit up the hoodoos that I liked, and positioned the Milky Way where I wanted it, making this beautiful photograph. As a completely unplanned bonus a meteor streaking through the frame (you can see it as a small vertical line jus above the hoodoos in the back). The wish I made certainly came true!

As the daylight seeps out of the day and the early evening shadows begin their march to darkness, the world quiets down and tranquility settles in. Perhaps a few crickets chirp to announce the arrival of night, and perhaps a lone coyote howl echoes in the far distance, but other than that, all is quiet. The ruins of the Abo Mission also quiet down, and prepare to hold fast through the night once more. In the centuries before electricity and reliable light at night, twilight meant the day was almost done, and night’s darkness was broken only by a cooking or watch fire and there. The Abo residents would be stirring before sunrise, and their lives were governed by the rhythm of the daylight hours. Standing there, alone, at the ancient ruins of Abo at the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico, let me reflect on that time. The stars above shone as bright as I had ever seen them for the skies in this part of New Mexico are reasonably dark. The lights of Socorro, sixty miles away, provided a faint glow on the horizon, and the light of Albuquerque, just further than sixty files, another glow on the opposite side of the mission. As in the opening narrative above, a coyote howled in the distance, letting me know that some things never change.

Abi Night is the last of the three nightscapes and showcases the mission and pueblo in the Abo unit of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico. Although unoccupied since the 1600s, the mission still stands and makes an imposing foreground to the New Mexico night sky. Although not quite as pitch-black as the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness, it is still dark and the stars shine exceptionally bright. As with the Grand Canyon, however, modern civilization intrudes, with the cities of Socorro and Albuquerque contributing their glow to the scene. Still, it is not hard to imagine how this scene must have looked more than four hundred years ago.

When you get a chance, turn off your lights and step outside. Take a few moments looking up at the sky and let your imagination wander and roam. The stars above will be your guide. If you are in a city and you find yourself in the country, take a moment there to look up.

In the meantime, let these nightscapes inspire you!

Virgin River

There are always those places that hold your attention and draw you back time and time again. For me, one of these places is Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. The park is world-renown for its awe-inspiring beauty, from soaring, majestic mountains, to red rock formations that defy conventional description, to its tree-filled main canyon, an oasis in the desert that makes you feel as if you walked onto a different realm altogether.

I’ve been in the park more than a few times, and I’ve been known to drive a few hundred, or more, miles out of my way just to drive through it. There is, however, one feature of the park that draws me back: the Virgin River.

The Virgin River is not, by any means, the mightiest river around. Far, far from it, and most days, it is quiet and unassuming and you can walk though it without getting the tops of your shoes wet. However, when the flash floods come, and they do, this small river becomes a torrent in its own right, and it has cut through and down into Zion National Park, leaving impossibly high and sheer canyon walls and small hidden treasures.

For this small adventure, we’ll work our way from north to south along the Virgin River.

Subway PoolsOur first stop is called The Subway. Here, the river has cut a near-tunnel through the solid rock. It’s not a true tunnel, as there is an opening, perhaps just a couple of feet wide, at the top. The walls are gently curved and rounded, however, and it resembles more than anything else its namesake: a subway. The river seems to be so gentle here; a thin film of water, not even an inch high, covers the entire floor. And yes, as you might expect, it is exceptionally slick, too, and you need to be mindful of where you put your feet. The highlight, though, are a few emerald green pools of water. The pools are a few feet deep, deep enough that you don’t want to fall in them, and just deep enough for the emerald green color to appear. In any event, The Subway is a highly photogenic location.

Archangel Falls

Just downriver from The Subway is a small, gentle series of cascades known as Archangel Falls, or sometimes, Arch Angel Cascades. To me, this is one of the most beautiful locations in the entire park, if not this entire area of Utah. The river still isn’t very large at this point, but what water there is cascades over a long series of sandstone shelves. The water flows every which way here, and when viewed from the bottom, the cascades really show their beauty. With the high canyon walls behind it, and the characteristic glow of reflected light on sandstone, the scene is absolutely breathtaking. A small stand of foliage at the top completes the tableau.

Swift Narrows

Further downriver, many miles in fact, the Virgin River is more of a river. Small side streams and springs along the way feed into the river, and it slowly begins to build. Along with that is the power to cut through canyon walls. The Narrows is a section where the walls are staggeringly high, almost one thousand feet, and the river runs from edge to edge. The effect is, well, dramatic, to say the least. This small river is now a quiet powerhouse. For me, I love the feel of the blue-green waters of the river and the high sandstone walls; the color combination just cannot be beat and again it feels like you are walking through a different time and a different place.

Subway FallsWe’ll leave the Virgin River with one more view of the Subway. This view is at the beginning of the Subway, looking up into it. I really like how the small waterfalls are formed between the pools, all flowing into a fault on the river’s bottom. This scene, perhaps, is my favorite one of the Subway.

The Virgin River cuts through Zion National Park, leaving us a myriad of wonders to enjoy.

Teton Winter

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is one of our more impressive National Parks. Dominated by the soaring Teton Range, the park stretches the length of it, encompassing and protecting this environment. In addition to the mountains, the Snake River flows through the park, and there are numerous lakes, making for a wide and diverse ecosystem. For me, that means opportunity, regardless of the time of year.

This year I made the journey there in the winter months. Much, if not most, of the park is closed to vehicles in the winter. The snow depth is not trivial, and measured in feet, not inches. An average snowfall can add a foot or more to that depth, and clearing the roads which are seldom used in the winter just doesn’t make sense. They keep one main road open as best as they can and the rest is left to nature. This is exactly how I prefer it.

Teton's Winter

This panorama, Teton’s Winter, shows the mighty Teton range as I encountered it. The fresh, unbroken snow started at my feet, creating the perfect foreground, and ended at the top of Grand Teton (which is the tallest peak in the center of the image; it has a slight crook to the right). As I stood there, absorbing the vista before me, letting it all soak in before I made this image, I was struck by how massive these mountains are. Moreover, they do not have foothills to speak of, and they start unexpectedly from the flat plains. The Snake River runs from right to left in this scene, and is in the line of trees.

Speaking of the Snake River, this scene, Teton Afternoon, also called to me.

Teton Afternoon

As Mary Beth and I were driving through the park I looked out the window and saw this. I was immediately, and I mean instantly, transfixed by it. The way the Snake River flowed in front of the mountains, and the frost still covering the trees spoke volumes to me. Unfortunately for Mary Beth there was no viable place to stop and photograph. Remember above when I was talking about how deep the snow was? It applied here, as well. I stopped our vehicle in the middle of highway, much to her consternation and considerable alarm, grabbed the camera gear I thought I might need, and suggested that she might keep driving and come back for me in a bit. She took this advice, luckily, before any other car came along. Unfortunately for me, I was so caught up in the scene that I completely forgot about small things like a coat. At least I had my camera.

As I stood there on the side of a highway in the snowbank, camera in hand, in just a T-Shirt, I made this photograph, one of my favorites. A few cars whizzed by–I couldn’t help but wonder what they were thinking. At last Mary Beth came along, too, and retrieved me, which was good since my teeth were really chattering by that moment. Still, the result was well worth it.

Grand Teton National Park held something else for me as well–a couple of red foxes!

I had been looking for a red fox in the snow for quite some time, and my patience, such as it was, was finally rewarded. I encountered this beautiful female deep in the park and was able to spend some quality time with her. She was skittish, as is to be expected with any wild animal, but she also tolerated my presence. As I stood there, still as a statue, she finally relaxed and went about her day. She walked across the snow ever so lightly! Even though the snow was fresh, she barely left any tracks, and I spent the longest time just watching her. Fox Stride was made during this encounter. I love the way she is looking ahead, staring at a spot where perhaps, just perhaps, a meal awaits below the snow.

Fox Stride

I saved the best for last, however.

Fox Curl

I also encountered this beautiful male red fox, curled up on the snow, just looking at me. For me, this photograph, Fox Curl, is destined to become one of my all-time favorite photographs. We looked at each other for the longest while. He was comfortable, and not bothered by me in the least, although I was quite a ways away so as to pose no threat. He was enjoying the sun while it lasted, and I was enjoying him. All in all, it was a very good moment for the both of us.

Grand Teton National Park is winter is a magical place.

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Keyhole Arch

There is something about an arch that draws us, pulls us in, and generally commands our attention. Perhaps it is the fact that an arch is, essentially, a hole in a rock. Perhaps arches represent strength and holding rock up. Or perhaps it is just that they are, after all, very cool. We love to look through the arches to see what is on the other side. And sometimes, like in this case, something looks back at us through the arch.

Keyhole Arch is a small arch in a medium-sized rock just off of Pfeiffer Beach in the Big Sur area of California. Standing just a few yards offshore in the Pacific Ocean, this rock with a tiny opening is neat to look at, although most of the time, beyond the fact that it is in the ocean, it is mostly unremarkable. Waves crash through the arch, which is also fascinating to see. I should know, for on a previous trip to this arch I watched the waves surge through the arch for over an hour without realizing the time had gone by so quickly.

As in many areas of life, however, timing is everything. Right around the Winter Solstice, if weather and conditions are favorable, the setting sun lines up with this arch perfectly, allowing the sun’s rays to shine directly through the arch for just a few magical moments. And the word “magical” is exceptionally applicable. This easily ranks as one of nature’s finest shows and is mesmerizing to witness.

Keyhole's Solstice

This display took my breath away. As the waves careened through the arch, they hit the rocks on the other side of it; they were in turn lit up by the golden rays of the dying sun, and, well, the results are above. It was heartbreaking when the sun went below the horizon, and within the space of seconds, the light went out. It was almost as if someone flipped the switch, so fast the transition was.

Looking at the sun directly through the arch gives another interesting perspective, too. And yes, I wore sunglasses. This scene was incredibly bright, as you can well imagine. Still, I think it turned into an incredibly dramatic photograph.

Flaring Arch

Eventually, the sun slips below the distant horizon, and the light fades out of the day. That’s OK, though, because it leaves us with one more scene:

Keyhole's Night

As the year ends and January rolls around the display fades away and we need to wait again until next year.

All in all this small arch packs quite the punch, if you know when to look. Then again, isn’t that the case in so many areas of life?

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Colorado Orange

Aspen have a reputation, and more than deservedly so, of their beautiful and stunning fall colors. When we think of aspen in autumn colors, we think of wave upon wave of gold, stretching as far as the eye can see. Now and then we see gorgeous red aspen leaves, and when the red is intermixed with the gold, magic happens. Yet, there is another color that you can sometimes see as well, and this year I wanted to focus on that color: orange. What better place to look for it than Colorado? After all, Colorado Orange is a fascinating subject.

I journeyed to some of my favorite places for the aspen that I know of in Colorado, and by and large, found what I was seeking. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Fenced Aspen

Orange FenceJust outside of Aspen, Colorado, is one of my all time favorite places to find aspen. It isn’t know for its vast aspen groves, but it is where I have found extraordinary photographs, such as Aspen Sun. It was right along this that I encountered Orange Fence. It was still early in the morning, and the sun hadn’t risen too high in the sky, but nor was it dark, either. The strong backlight provided just the right glow that I was looking for, and the small fence running in the background created the perfect counterpoint. Orange Fence was the final result, and I enjoy the myriad shades of orange that can be found in this photograph.

 Kebler’s Oranges

Kebler's Oranges

Journeying a little ways away brings us into the Gunnison National Forest, and the famed Kebler Pass. Here, you will indeed find the incredible aspen groves that stretch as far as the eye can see, and the swathes of gold that is so sought after. Yet, it was a small, vibrant hillside that caught my eye, for on the top of it were just a few aspen showing off their orange coloration. The fluffy white clouds drifting serenely by completed the scene for me, and I adore the overall feel of this photograph. Kebler’s Oranges reminds me that you don’t have to have large numbers of aspen photographs to make an interesting composition.

Orange Aspen

Orange Aspen

We’ll finish up in the Grand Mesa area, which despite being fairly well known, isn’t photographed as much as it could be. Why this is escapes me, but that’s OK, too. Grand Mesa is exactly what it’s name indicates: a very large mesa. The mesa itself is so large that it is hard to believe you are actually on it, and it stretches flat and wide for so many miles that you forget you are driving on the top. That is, until you encounter the edge, whereupon you are instantly reminded that you are quite a ways up. It was out on one of the far edges of the mesa that I encountered the perfect stand of aspen for this project.

Orange Aspen is from that stand; younger than many of the surrounding aspen, this tiny grove stood alone and apart from its older cousins. As the sun was dipping toward the horizon, it lit up with the most surreal orange I have seen in a very long time. I love the white trunks that give way to the bright orange leaves, and I decided to make this a more intimate portrait to show off the color of the leaves.

The next time you think of wave after wave of aspen gold, remember that there are other colors, too, and Colorado orange aspen leaves can make for a powerful scene.

 

 

Zion’s Autumn

As autumn creeps across the country, the landscape begins to change. Gone is the lush green of the summer, replaced, instead by the subtler, yet equally vibrant, hues of fall. Soft golds and yellows; rich oranges and reds, and every color in between begin to dot the landscape, in pockets here and there, and in vast swathes of color in other places. Even the desert Southwest dons fall colors, and especially Zion National Park, in Utah.

Zion is a very interesting park, and each of its different sections presents a completely different feel. Along its eastern edge one can find twisted sandstone shapes and canyons, with etched lines in the rock that defy the eye. Along its far western section are staggeringly large canyons, full of evergreen forests that seem to go on forever. But its middle section, where the Virgin River flows, is one area of the park that relishes fall. Here, the cottonwoods line the bank of the river, and it is those cottonwoods that turn into vibrant yellows come autumn. As the river flows through the canyon, carving its way down the soft sandstone walls, it flows past some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, and it is here that Zion’s autumn really shows off.

Zion Serenity

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On the right time of the right day, the Virgin River seems to run with pure gold. The light reflecting off the canyon’s walls softens everything, and adds a rich hue to it; by the time the light reflects off the river, it is mostly gold anyway, completing the golden illusion. As the cottonwoods reach over the river, they add their own rich hue, and the result is an absolute surreal scene.

The river has more tricks up its sleeve, however, for it sometimes flows over small waterfalls and rapids, just for a change of pace. In this section of the park, none of the falls are very high, and none of the rapids very fast, but it does help to vary the tone and the tempo of the river as it cuts through the canyon. And it provides a different set of views, too. As it makes its way over these sections, the cottons still continue their march down to the waterline, and some very intimate views can be found, as long as you know where to look.

Virgin ViewTake, for example, this small scene. The gentle flowing waterfalls add their own touch to the overall sense of peace in the canyon. The trees reaching down to, and around, the bend just seem to pull one into and beyond the view and the arching canyon wall helps pull you along. Not far from here the canyon walls completely close in, squeezing out the trees completely. This just adds to the complexity and character of the river’s journey through the canyon.

A mile or so downriver this spot the river picks up speed as it rounds an area known as “Big Bend.” Here, the canyon takes a relatively sharp turn, taking the river along with it, or perhaps the river is the one making the turn and taking the canyon along with it? Either way, this is a beautiful area, and can make for some beautiful panoramic photographs.

Zion's Bend

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Zion National Park is rated as one of the ten best places in the country for its fall color, and it is small wonder why. The Virgin River and its attendant canyon surely accounts for almost all of that rating, for after all, red rock, beautiful water, and amazing fall colors are an excellent combination. This is not to take away from Zion in other seasons, of course, or any other area of the park, for it is amazing throughout the park in any time of the year.

The river runs through the canyon and beyond; not far from here, just a few more miles in fact, the tall canyon walls begin to widen and then fade away as the river makes its way out of the park and into the lands beyond. That’s way of most rivers, of course, and not a problem, for the beauty that it leaves behind is beyond amazing.

Own Zion’s Autumn

You can purchase each of these pieces and always be able to see autumn.