Glade’s Mill – The mill at Glade Creek on a gorgeous autumn day

Glade's Mill

Glade Creek Grist Mill in West Virginia is one of those incredible places that can transport you from the hustle and bustle of the modern day world to a different time entirely. As you stand there, you can feel yourself fall effortlessly back into the late 1800s, and it is quite easy to imagine that era.

The clear, crisp autumn day has been a little bit warmer than the previous ones; a welcome, though brief, respite from the encroachment of winter. The farmer brings his wagon to a halt at the mill; his horses, having hauled a load of fresh grain from field to the mill are more than happy to oblige. The farmer greets the miller, and the old friends catch up on the local news and events, for these trips provide the opportunity for more than just milling. Eventually, they get to the task at hand, the actual milling itself, although while doing that they continue to catch up and talk as old friends do. Despite the hard work, many hands make it easier, and they put their backs into it willingly. The sluice is opened, the water flows over the water wheel, the milling stones grind against each other and grain is slowly turned into the much needed flour. The farmer can already taste tonight’s fresh-backed bread–so can the miller, for his payment is a portion of the flour. The flour is loaded onto the wagon, and once again the horse and farmer start the short journey back to the farm. The forest quickly swallows them up, and the mill’s stands silent until the next load comes its way.

Today, the mill stands there, testimony to a time long past. Yet it provides us a with a bridge to that past, and helps us remember the those times and stories.

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Sprague Morning

Sprague Morning

There is something amazingly peaceful when lakes and mornings are combined. Morning at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, is the very definition of “peaceful,” and one would be hard pressed to find a more tranquil and serene setting.

Despite the large number of small lakes and tarns in Rocky Mountain National Park, you would think that there wasn’t a need for one more. However, back in late 1800s, Abner Sprague decided to build another lake on Glacier Creek to improve the fishing for his lodge. He couldn’t have chosen a more perfect location, and today, enjoying a morning at the lake, not only makes for the perfect morning experience, but also takes you back to a time over one hundred years ago, and lets you make a connection to the days gone by.

What is very neat, at least to me, about this particular morning, is that shortly after I made this photograph, I went on to make Elk’s Paradise. I was at Sprague Lake looking for wildlife, but in the process, managed to distract myself with this view. Frankly, this very scene helped me into the best frame of mind possible for working with the wildlife, for you need a calmness about you to be successful. This is, without a doubt, one of the best mornings that I have experienced in a very long time.

Sprague Lake isn’t the biggest lake in the park, that’s for sure, although it has a surface area of around thirteen acres. Looking out over the lake from this location, we can see the Continental Divide, including Half Mountain, Thatchtop Mountain, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain and Notchtop Mountain. Abner Sprague certainly knew what he was doing when he built this lake, and today, we still enjoy his foresight and vision.

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Fiery House – Mule Canyon Ruin

Fiery House

The ancient ones have moved on, but their legacy in the Cedar Mesa area, Utah, remains, even to this day. The Ancient Pueblo People were accomplished builders and what they built tends to last. They selected their sites carefully, used the best materials they had available, and built with precision and care. They also built what they needed, no more and no less, a trait that helps their buildings withstand the forces of time. They often situated their structures in canyon walls, sometimes near the bottom and sometimes near the top. It’s clear that they chose the best canyons for their purposes, and when they found one to their liking, they made extensive use of it. Mule Canyon must have been a good spot for building, since it houses several small complexes in its walls. (Road Canyon, containing the Fallen Roof Ruin, was another excellent location.)

This small granary, or perhaps dwelling, located about a mile down up Mule Canyon, and, at first glance, there is little to distinguish it from the countless other buildings in the area. There is a bit of light magic that happens here, though, and whether by coincidence or design it is impossible to say. As the sun rises and light reflects throughout the canyon, this ruin lights up, and it is easy to see why it has earned the moniker “House on Fire.”

It is good to reflect upon the time that was, and the people that built and used this building. They had a hard life by today’s standards, yet, they not only survived by thrived, as a people and as a culture. We should do so well, and hopefully, those who come long after us remember us. We don’t know what our ruins will be like, but hopefully they are symbols and signs representing the best we have to offer, just as this ruin is.

Be one with Mule Canyon

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Valley Monuments

Valley Monuments

The desert Southwest calls me, it’s siren song whispering to all that I am. No matter how hard I try to stay away, time and again I am drawn into the depths of the Southwest, where I always find the peace and solace that I hold so dear. There is something about the shifting sands, monument after monument swallowing the landscape, and azure skies that resonates deeply within. Needless to say, I spend quite a lot of time looking for exactly these places.

One of my favorite haunts is Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation. However, just north of Monument Valley lies another extraordinary area: Valley of the Gods. This valley is where Road Canyon (Road Canyon just happens be where the Fallen Roof ruin is) exits Cedar Mesa and opens back up into the desert. As the canyon falls away, monuments, the tall, red rock buttes and spires that dominate the landscape, take over, standing tall and proud, piecing the very sky. These buttes are impressive from far away; up close their size overwhelms your senses. As you continue south a few miles, the landscape gives way to Monument Valley proper. Here, you are free to wander the fantastic landscape at will. A dirt road cuts through the valley, making it possible to quickly delve deep into it. From the road, you can start your own journey on foot, and given how few visit the valley, you’ll quickly find utter and complete solitude. The deeper you go, the quieter it is as the routine civilized world is left behind. As always, you need to be aware that you are in a harsh, unforgiving environment. The desert doesn’t tolerate those who feel they are immune to it, and the ill-prepared quickly find out that the desert doesn’t give second chances. Still, to have the privilege of wandering right up to the base of these extraordinary monuments is well worth it. Touching walls of sandstone that tower one thousand feet, or more, over your head, perfectly perpendicular, is a profound experience.

There is something very pristine about this known, but little traveled, area. The landscape remains pure and just as it has been forever. Traces of humans remain here, but very few. Overlooked by most, this area is exactly the kind of place that I seek.

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Aspen’s Daisies

Aspen's Daisies

Nature is incredible, that’s for sure. Sometimes, you look about and are completely amazed and awestruck. Perhaps the view before you is vast and magnificent. Perhaps the view is fantastically colorful or vibrant, or maybe it includes a mountain higher than you have ever seen. Yet, equally stunning vignettes can be found everywhere. Sometimes, it can be in the middle of a Colorado forest near Crested Butte, such as this new aspen grove, replete with delicate purple daisies.

A view doesn’t have to be huge to be compelling and extraordinary, that’s for sure. But it does have to speak to you, call to you, and invite you into the scene. This young stand of aspens did just that for me. I was enchanted at how the light played and danced amongst the trees, lighting up different areas of the rich green carpet. The clouds, high above and for the most part out of sight, scuttled across the sky, allowing the sun to break through for moments at a time before blocking it right back out again. Yet, it was this game of hide and seek with the sun that made it magical. The daisies didn’t mind, that’s for sure, and they would drink and soak up the sun when it shone directly upon them.

To be sure, I didn’t happen upon this scene by accident. I had spent a couple of days in the forests around this area looking for this scene. It had to be perfect for me, and although I saw plenty that were close, it wasn’t until I walked to this location that it really spoke to me. I wanted the daisies and aspens together, but they had to really call to me. Sometimes, the daisies were far away and sometimes they were too close. Sometimes the forest floor was bare, and sometimes it was so dense that you got lost in it. I didn’t give up hope, but it sure did take take a while before I found the exact place that I was looking for. I did, though, and thus this photograph was made.

I was happy to enjoy daisies and aspens, and this photograph reminds me that amazing scenes are all around us.

You can let the daisies dance with the aspens in your home

Cerulean Tarn

Cerulean TarnJust when you think you have seen every color there is to see, there is always another one waiting for you. Nature keeps you on toes, if only you know where to look.

This is Ice Lake, located in the heart of Colorado’s San Juan mountains, at the top of Ice Lake Basin. The colors are completely natural, and the lake sports this gorgeous shade of cerulean, a color somewhere between blue and cyan, and as reasonable description as you will find. Colorado has just a handful of truly blue lakes, this being one of them, and the color, almost florescent, defines the imagination. The color comes from the water itself, which contains a very high concentration of glacial flour. The flour is created from glaciers grinding down the bedrock into a fine powder, or flour. This flour is suspended in the water column, giving the lake this cerulean color.

Overall, this is not a big lake, but you don’t have to be huge to be incredibly gorgeous. It sits above the tree line, up at the very top of Ice Lake Basin, and requires a fairly strenuous hike to reach it, with a three thousand foot elevation gain along the way. It seems like you are walking to the top of the Rocky Mountains, and, in fact, you are. The lake sits at over twelve thousand feet, making a wonderfully high alpine lake. There is something amazing about all alpine lakes, but blue alpine lakes are especially beautiful and this one, perhaps, the most amazing of them all.

The day this photograph was made turned out to be absolutely perfect, and the summer thunderstorms were just beginning to build. A little while later, heavy clouds rolled in, taking the sunlight away. Yet, the lake still glowed its mystical cerulean, thanks to the extraordinary forces of glaciers.

Ice Lake, with its hues of cerulean is not soon forgotten.

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Fallen Roof

Fallen Roof

The Ancient Pueblo People, formally called the Anasazi, appeared in archeology of the Cedar Mesa, Utah area a thousand or so years ago. They were master builders, and they often built their buildings into the alcoves of canyon walls, and often far up from the floor, seemingly defying gravity. Their stonework is impressive even to this day, and they built with care and precision, allowing many of the works to remain looking like they were just finished yesterday.

Although their buildings have withstood the ravages of time, the same cannot be said of some of the canyons they chose. These small granaries, tucked into Road Canyon, were probably unremarkable when first built. However, part of the alcove’s roof has fallen, leaving a dramatic and impressive design in the new roof, that’s all changed. Add in some reflected light, and the ruin known as “Fallen Roof” takes on a mystery and magic all of its own.

I’ve known about the Fallen Roof ruin for a while now, and it was a delight and a joy to finally find and experience it. I was reasonably certain I knew its approximate location, so I had a decent chance of success. Being situated in a remote area, however, certainly added to the challenge. Cedar Mesa, located in Southeastern Utah in roughly the middle of absolutely nowhere, today is wild and no longer tamed; its canyons are rugged and deep, with steep side and no easy egress if something goes wrong. It pays to be exceptionally careful and cautious; cell phones do not work, and once you head down the four wheel drive roads you disappear into the wilderness completely. As you head deeper in country, you begin to appreciate the extraordinary beauty that abounds. Once parked, it was a good mile or so hike down into Road Canyon, winding through a small tributary into the main canyon itself, finding my way through a countryside that once was teeming with people. Today, only the birds and a few smaller animals remarked on my passage.

Once I was where I thought the ruin was it was still difficult to locate; it is tucked into an alcove so perfectly that it looks almost as if the canyon grew around the building. Even when I did see it, getting to it was problematic, since it was located higher up the canyon wall than I was expecting. Luckily, it was possible to find a route up to it, although I will say I was pretty nervous in a few spots. Still, once the climb was made, the experience of being there was overwhelming. Just standing there in the silence of the alcove you could hear the sounds of days gone by, and you could feel the strong presence of the location.

The Ancient Pueblo People built to last, and even today it is not always easy to see their ruins, so cleverly that they situated them into the natural surroundings, and getting to them is often another story entirely. Still, they serve as excellent reminders of the spirit of these proud people, and let us remember them via Fallen Roof.

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Arching Color: Flowers in Arches

Arching Color

It had been a hot, dry day in Arches National Park, Utah. The wind, although gentle, was blowing and making a dry day even drier. Although there had been rain recently, it was already a distant memory. As the hours went by the heat was becoming relentless.

Yet, there in the distant sky was the hint of relief. A thickening of the clouds low on the horizon promised, perhaps, that moisture would come. As the day continued it slowly turned into a race of heat versus the incoming storm, and eventually it was well apparent that the storm was going to win this race.

The incoming storm presented opportunity for me, if only I could take advantage of it. As much as I adore Arches National Park, and it is one of my favorite National Parks, creating compelling photographs there can be somewhat of a challenge. Despite the amazing arches, and surrounding red rock, when the skies are clear blue it, at least in my opinion, makes the resulting photographs somewhat flat. Best to have something interesting in the skies. White, fluffy clouds are quite interesting. Storms are interesting, too, and that’s what captured my interest. For I knew that if a storm came, the park would transform itself into an amazing place to be.

The flowers knew it, too. They appeared to become more vibrant than they did earlier in the day, although perhaps it was merely against that now ominous backdrop that made them appear that way. They reached for the sky, wanting to catch and taste the sweet water as it tumbled to the ground. Best not to waste a single drop!

Shortly after I made this photograph the storm delivered as promised, and skies opened up, spilling the much needed water onto the flowers and the desert.

Enjoy the colors of Arches!

Saguaro Nights

Saguaro Nights

The Sonoran Desert is, despite being a desert, a surprising noisy place. You might expect it to be dead silent and quiet, for surely, no one lives here, and since no one lives here, it must be quiet. In truth, the desert is a very active place, both visually and audibly. True, it is not like you can’t hear yourself think for the noise, and yes, you have to be still and listen, yet, the desert is active and lets you know it. During the night, however, it is a completely different story.

As the sun goes down, there is a brief flurry of activity as the desert begins to cool off from what can be scorching heat. Yet, eventually, the desert begins to quiet down for the evening. The lower the sun sinks, the more the feeling of stillness pervades the air. Of course, the desert is still quite active, it just quiets down.

What better representation of this phenomenon than the ever classic saguaro, silhouetted against the deep reds and blues of the sunset? This particular photograph was made in Saguaro National Park, the east district, in Arizona on a cool spring evening. As the sun began its final journey into darkness, I was rewarded by the last grasp at color, red this evening, just before it slipped away. The saguaro stood tall into the oncoming night. Tomorrow, of course, the cycle would repeat, but for now I was simply content to enjoy the stillness and silence of the moment.

Saguaro National Park has two distinct districts, and as expected, each has a different feel to it. The west district, or the Tucson Mountain District, can be characterized by numerous, yet smaller, saguaros. In some places, it seems like you cannot walk through the desert at all due to the high concentration of the saguaros. The east district, or the Rincon Mountain District, can be characterized as fewer saguaros, yet the ones that are here are substantially taller than their cousins to the west. There is no “best” district, and we are fortunate that both are preserved. Night at either district is an amazing time.

Step into the night

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Antelope’s Swirls

Antelope's SwirlsAntelope Canyon, or more precisely, Antelope Wash, is a series of slot canyons in the Navajo Nation known for their extraordinary walls of sandstone. Located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, this part of northern Arizona’s landscape is filled with nooks and crannies, each more spectacular than the last. What was once buried under the sea is now exposed to light and air, and especially susceptible to the relentless forces of erosion. What was once a sandy seashore is now layer upon layer of sandstone ready to be sculpted by nature.

Over the eons, water has flowed through the wash, carving and creating the slot canyons from the soft rock. Water, being water, doesn’t move in a straight line, and takes the easiest path; as a result, the canyon’s walls are wider in some places than others, and the floors often far from level. Also, along the way, the walls are made up of fine lines that meander and swirl throughout the canyon. These canyons are deep, too; the bottom is anywhere from twenty to thirty feet below the rest of the desert, although from the top, they are remarkably easy to miss because the top can be just a few inches wide.

Add in an enticing mix of sunlight reflecting down through the canyons, focused by the narrow opening at the top, and you have an exhilarating experience of color and light playing and dancing off the walls. Colors range from browns on a cloudy or overcast day, to yellows and oranges and red, and every shade in between on a bright and sunny day near noon. In the deep recesses of the canyons, you can even find purple tones. In short, the countless colors, combining with the long, sinuous swirls, make an enchanting setting.

This scene intrigues me because of the splash of colors down the canyon’s walls. The yellow at top, replete with some desert varnish, quickly blends into the oranges, then slowly into the reds. The passageway continues around the bend, leading, no doubt, to yet more colors that haven’t been named yet.

Should you explore slot canyons on your own, you need to be exceptionally careful of weather. Despite the beauty and allure of the canyons, they are above all extremely dangerous. Remember, water carved through solid rock. Should it be raining anywhere around the area, even seemingly far away, the water will quickly fill and tear through these canyons, making for one of the most dangerous situations you can find yourself in. Even on a perfectly dry, sunny day, the canyons have perils, namely in the form of rattlesnakes. They might not enjoy the beauty of the canyon in the same way that you or I do, but they sure do like a cool, shady spot, and, unfortunately, are not fond of being disturbed, which is where the real problem lies. Please exercise extreme caution in and around slot canyons.

Swirl your way to Antelope Canyon

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