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I live high above northern Manhattan, where we get to see a lot of the city and some of the Palisades and Englewood Cliffs area of New Jersey. This is the view from our terrace.
If I were in a relationship with Facebook, that's how I'd describe it on Facebook. This post marks my return to that particular online time-suck (if you're reading this on your newsfeed) after a roughly two-week absence. I tried hard to fully remove myself from Facebook and keep our relationship entirely professional, but, alas, I'm weak.
So, I'm going to attempt to only post blog entries to Facebook. I'm sure you'll hold me accountable if I stray from that effort.
About this photo: I recently upgraded to the iPhone 6 and I'm putting it through its paces. This was sunset on Oct. 28 over the Hudson River in Peekskill, with the Ramapo Range in Harriman State Park forming the skyline in the background. I don't have a photo taken with an earlier iPhone to compare this to, but despite the obvious pixelization, this is a major improvement over the images I got from my old iPhone 5. Stay tuned for more...
Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is a photographer's dream in one of the West's most surreal landscapes. I spent Saturday night and Sunday morning at the dunes, where the best light occurs at sunset and within about 30 minutes after the sun peeks above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains not long after sunrise. My best images have been added to my National Park Series on my Restless West Photography website.
The campground at Wind Cave National Park, which is just as much about wildlife-rich rolling mixed-grass prairie as it is about the cave itself, hasn't filled up in 30 years. It's a special place at the foot of the Black Hills in South Dakota, certainly one of the most peaceful places I've been. See my entire photo album from Wind Cave and the rest of our Black Hills trip here.
There's a certain peacefulness in one of the most popular corners of Rocky Mountain National Park when all the peak baggers aren't around. I spent about an hour solo hiking up the Longs Peak/Chasm Lake trail today with hardly anyone else around to break the silence. Or the monotony. The goal was turn around at timberline because I really just wanted to see how high the snow line is right now in this abysmal snowpack year. But the hike to timberline on the Longs Peak trail is a relentless trudge through a monotonous lodgepole pine forest miraculously disturbed only minimally by bark beetles. After just under a mile and a half, I got bored, turned around and decided to head down to Rocky's Wild Basin area for some midday river photography on St. Vrain Creek.
The National Park Service still has the last mile or two of the gravel Wild Basin road closed for the winter. The parking area behind the seasonal closure gate was completely packed, suggesting big crowds and gaggles of screaming kids. But I only saw four people over the hour or so I was hiking in the area, proving once again that solitude and silence can be abundant even in the busiest and most famous national parks in the country.
If you're curious about all the gateways into Colorado, Dale Sanderson over at USEnds.com emailed me today to let me know he has mapped all the "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" signs in the state, linking each point on the map to my project, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado: 41 Views from the Border."
Check it out here.
Dale's site along with Matthew Salek's Colorado Highways site are both excellent introductions to the highways and history of Colorado and Centennial State trivia. Be sure to check them both out.
This sign is unique in Colorado. Only Interstate 70 features signs that say "Leaving Colorful Colorado" when you're heading out of the state. There are no such signs on I-25, I-76 or any other highway leading out of Colorado.
As you'll see if you check out my "Colorful Colorado" series, the sign on the Kansas border appears to be a bit newer than this one on the Utah line even though they are both credited to the "Department of Highways." This one looks like it has been standing on the Utah border since CDOT was called the Colorado Department of Highways sometime long ago.
The Colorado Plateau — redrock canyon country, that is — is replete with national parks and monuments: Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Cedar Breaks, Chaco Culture, Arches, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, Glen Canyon, and many more. Most are destinations unto themselves. But my experience is a bit different with Capitol Reef. Back in 2006, when a backpack into Dark Canyon looked like it would be rained out (don't get stuck in the rain at the Sundance Trailhead with a Toyota Corolla), my friends and I spent a night backpacking in Capitol Reef. In 2010, when the heat at the place we were camping beneath the Henry Mountains climbed to 103 degrees, Jacob and I moved to Capitol Reef where things were only slightly cooler. Last month, when my friends and I were annoyed that our chosen camping spots were either packed with people, full of blowing dust or were frenetic with screaming kids, we spent the next two days in Capitol Reef, the alternative we head to when our original plans fall through.
But Capitol Reef deserves more than that. One of the lesser visited national parks in Utah, it has all the accommodations people unprepared for backcountry travel need: easy trails, green grass, locally-made ice cream and root beer and other stuff tourists like, except that nearly the entire park, much to its credit, is out of Facebook and cell phone range. Most of Capitol Reef is far out of reach of casual tourists, and that's why the park rocks. "The Land of Tilted Rocks" is a slanted redrock badland riddled with slots and grottoes, arches and narrows, and, of course, Cathedral Vallley, a remote icon of the park I have yet to visit. It's a 100 mile-long spear-shaped park that encapsulates all the greatest things about canyon country. One of my favorite protected places in Utah, Capitol Reef is unique among the national parks: In the summer, visitors can pick fresh fruit from the peach, apricot, cherry, pear and apple trees planted by the Mormon settlers more than a century ago.
I'm still working out my technique on by-the-seat-of-the-pants astrophotography, as seen here from my attempt last week at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. My friends and I were camped at the Capitol Reef campground, which sits below the mouth of Cohab Canyon. Capitol Reef has one of the darkest night skies in southern Utah, and we had a new moon, which is the perfect combination for stargazing. The cliffs are lit only by the ambient light in the campground. This is what it looks like before the sun goes down:
I set up my tripod behind the picnic table, aimed above the park's scenic drive, which was just below the frame and over the fence from the campsite, and opened the shutter for 25 minutes, hoping the occasional breeze wasn't enough to blur the image. One problem with the camera I used here is that it takes longer to transfer data and write the image to the CF card than it does to take the image. So, a 25 minute shot becomes a 50 minute shot. I'm using a high-speed 16 GB card in my Canon 50D, and I'm a bit perplexed as to why the process takes so frustratingly long. Oftentimes, I'll shoot an image, and by the time the camera is done transferring the data, I'm either too tired or too frozen to spend another hour taking a single image.
On this trip, a friend of mine brought along an ancient Canon Rebel XT that he was borrowing from a friend. The camera used a cheap CF card, and when I took an image with a 30 minute exposure, I was shocked that the data transfer process was instantaneous despite the large RAW file size.
The next night, I decided to do an hour-long exposure on my camera and then go to bed after I closed the shutter so it could write to the card while I was sleeping. This is what I got:
It's a little blurrier, probably thanks to my low-end-ish Manfrotto tripod and a bit of a breeze. Look closely, though, and you'll see the image is full of dead pixels and grain despite shooting at the same ISO as the top image:
Incidentally, I discovered that nearly every image I took on this trip was marred by several "stuck" pixels, an errant bright red, white, green or black pixel. I think I found a fix for that, and I'm hoping I solved the above problem, too.
I also brought along my 35mm film camera on the trip, too, and the same evening I shot a similar night sky image using Fuji Provia 400X slide film. It'll probably take me a year to go through the roll, so we'll see how this shot turns out then.
If you've ever driven I-70 from Colorado to Moab, Utah, you've been by Thompson Springs. It's the exit with the Shell station just before the U.S. 191-Moab interchange. If you get off the interstate there, you'll discover a dusty little town long ago bypassed by the freeway now existing as a forlorn reminder of slightly more prosperous days in this lonely quarter of Utah. U.S. 6 & 50, which once formed the main drag through town, now follows the interstate, but the old highway remains in the middle of town, crumbling with age.
Thompson Springs is still hanging on as a settlement (barely), but the derelict old cafe and motels that surely served as a stopping point on the way from Salt Lake to Denver back in the day have become works of art unto themselves, thanks to some creative graffiti artists and, in the office of the Thompson Motel, a massive pile of tumbleweeds.
A week ago, on our way from Capitol Reef to Grand Junction, my somewhat perplexed friends ("How did you learn about this place?" "Why would you ever want to stop here?" they said.) and I pulled off the freeway in Thompson Springs for a 10 minute look around town.
Some look like aliens. Others look screaming phantoms. One, called the Holy Ghost, looks like a crowned king. Last weekend, my friends and I finally visited the Great Gallery of Horseshoe Canyon after many years of putting the trip on the calendar and either getting rained out (the road is impassible when extremely wet) or snowed out.
Perhaps 3,000 years old, the pictographs that compose the 200 foot wide Great Gallery embue Horseshoe Canyon with a sense of history nearly unparalelled anywhere north of the Mexican border. Visiting the canyon is an incredible experience as long as you bring an appreciation of history along with you on the hike.
Several things to know about Horseshoe Canyon: It's way the hell far from everywhere and 32 miles from the nearest asphalt. It has signs of possibly more than 11,000 years of human habitation (and visitation). It was once called Barrier Canyon, and its pictographs are some of the most extraordinary examples of their kind anywhere. It was Aaron Ralston's escape route after he cut off his arm in Blue John Canyon, which spills into Horseshoe. It's a satellite unit of Canyonlands National Park. And, its rim is inexplicably within cell phone and Facebook range, likely because it's within a long-distance view of Green River, Utah. Its position strategically within Facebook is much to the region's discredit, which means it's not nearly as remote as it seems. But that's another issue.
The hike is short, about seven miles round trip. It's sandy, so if you go, be prepared to hike uphill on sand on an old oil and gas exploration road and at the sandy bottom of a wash.
"crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. ... May your rivers flow without end, meandering through ... miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs across the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls."
Perhaps no place is that more possible than in Mee Canyon, an obscure sandstone gorge near Grand Junction where the wash at the bottom of the canyon inserts itself about 300 feet into the canyon wall, creating a cavern the size of a 747 hangar. I've been to the Mee Canyon Alcove before, but this time I came with better camera equipment.
The Mee Canyon Alcove is said to be the deepest canyon alcove anywhere on the Colorado Plateau, and it's not easy to get to. At the heart of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, Mee Canyon is at the bottom of a sometimes-feint trail descending from the top of Black Ridge overlooking Fruita and Grand Junction. It's a nearly unbelievable sight, one that's well worth the scramble to the bottom of the canyon.
This is what awaits you at the bottom:
The Denver Post on Saturday did a story about unlocking the mysteries of the Hanging Flume, a 19th Century wooden structure clinging to the sandstone walls of the Dolores River Canyon in far-western Colorado along Colo. Highway 141. Colorado tourism boosters call the region "Hanging Flume Country," a historic mining district amid Colorado Plateau red rock canyon country nearly spitting distance from the Utah state line. It's one of my favorite parts of Colorado, and certainly one of the least-known regions of the state. Here's what the Hanging Flume looks like from above:
A closer view:
The Hanging Flume was built between 1888 and 1891 as a means to send water to a gold mine in the Mesa Creek Flats area. The mine went bust, and the flume was left derelict on the canyon walls, where it remains, in a somewhat tattered state, today.
Highway 141 runs from Grand Junction to U.S. 491 northwest of Dove Creek, about 165 of the most stunning highway mileage in Colorado. It's far from everywhere, threading through some of the most amazing geology in the state: Unaweep Canyon, Gateway, the Dolores River Gorge, Big Gypsum Valley, Disappointment Valley and much more. If you've never driven the highway, it's a highlight of any western Colorado road trip.