Steve Bruno Photo


Grand Canyon

All Time Favorites

I’ve been crazy busy lately, so I’m trying to get caught up here.  In the final installment of the Daily Post Photo Challenge, they put up the topic of All-Time Favorites.  While I have posted some favorites before, these are mostly new to my blog.  I purchased my first real camera over 40 years ago, and moved into large format 5 years after that.  I have some favorites from way back then, and some that have made the ranks within the last year.  Choosing definitive favorites throughout the collection would be impossible, so here are a few from the top of my lists in various categories.

Living in the desert, flowers are a limited subject for me.  The top photo comes from the North Rainbow Trail along the Arizona-Utah border.  We had just dropped into a canyon whose entire bottom was layers of sandstone, when I spotted several Indian Paintbrush in bloom.  Who needs soil anyway?

One of the difficulties in photographing poppies is that they open up when the sun is stronger, then close by the end of the day.  Secondly, they appear in surroundings that are often not very photogenic.  Then, if those two come together, there’s the third variable of decent light.  I think I hit the trifecta when I photographed these poppies in the late afternoon, below a saguaro cactus studded hillside in the desert east of Phoenix, Arizona.  Just as I was setting up, a thin wave of clouds moved in as though someone were pulling a fine lace curtain over the desert.

Saguaro, cactus, poppies, Arizona, desert, spring flowers, Steve Bruno

Although I’m partial to the desert, my travels have not been limited to the warmer regions.  Anyone who has been to the Rocky Mountains in summer knows that you can almost set your watch by the afternoon thunderstorms.  On this mostly clear day, somewhere south of Telluride, I captured this favorite mountain scene as the sun was getting low.

Telluride, Colorado, Rocky Mountains, forest, mountains, Steve Bruno, landscape photography

While the desert does contain a few, there are better chances of finding waterfalls in the mountains.  I think I always had a special place for this one because it was the first time I was able to get behind the falls without getting a wet lens.  Oh, and the light is pretty good, too!  From Rifle Falls, Colorado.

Rifle Falls, Colorado, waterfall, Rocky Mountains, gottatakemorepix

Another place having thunderstorms with clocklike predictability is southeastern Arizona.  While spending a couple very wet afternoons on Mount Graham, I woke up very early the last morning to capture the sunrise coming up over a fog-filled Safford Valley.  I have seen hundreds of sunrises and sunsets from beautiful locations, but this one still ranks high.

sunrise, sunset, mountains, Arizona, Steve Bruno, landscape photography

Seeing mountains from an aerial perspective can be breathtaking, but often too distant to see great detail.  However, mountains and commercial airplanes in close proximity is a bad thing.  Many routes out of Seattle pass close to Mount Rainier.  I was fortunate on this almost cloud free winter Seattle day (yes that sounds like an oxymoron) to capture one of my favorites from an airplane.

Mount Rainier, Washington, National Park, aerial photography, Steve Bruno

While many tend to think of Arizona as hot and dry, there are a few riparian zone gems to be found.  One of them, West Clear Creek, is a photographer’s paradise, as well as a great place to escape the heat.  This is one of my favorites for reflections, and pretty high on the list for canyon photographs.

West Clear Creek, Mogollon Rim, Arizona, reflection, Steve Bruno

The reason it could not take top honors for canyon favorites is because of the next place.  I have hundreds of Grand Canyon photos from various trips, and have seen many different faces that it puts on, but there’s nothing like being in the bottom and really appreciating its scale.

Grand Canyon, National Park, Arizona, Colorado River, Marble Canyon, Steve Bruno

Water in the desert is special, but certainly not the norm.  The counterpart to creeks and rivers would probably have to be sand dunes.  This is truly impossible to pick a favorite, so here is one I have posted before.  From Death Valley at sunrise, I have never seen arcing ridges like these at other dunes I have visited.

sand dunes, Death Valley, National Park, California, desert, sunrise, landscape photography




Despite all the time I’ve spent photographing nature, with many great days, I have one that I still refer to as best day ever.  I left Las Vegas around 3 in the morning to head to Zion National Park.  I arrived just in time to get a glimpse of sunrise hitting the freshly snow covered mountains.  Once I started photographing, there was something to capture my attention around every corner.  Despite great light in the middle of the day, I had to force myself to go down to Springdale for some lunch before returning to keep clicking all the way until the sun went down.  I don’t think there were more than 20 people in the park all day long, and the rangers said they had never seen that much snow before.  Somehow, with the lack of people, I came across one scene that was up about two miles along a trail that someone had walked in the middle of for no apparent reason.  It was the most surreal image I had seen that day, and I was cringing because someone walked through it.  This was slightly pre-Photoshop, and if I had any idea of the changes that were about to happen, I would have captured that image and waited for technology to catch up.  I have no “outtakes” from that day.  If I had a digital camera, I can only imagine the volume of images I would have taken.  Perhaps it was the time-consumption of each setting with a large format camera that placed me in the right moment as I approached the next location at the perfect time.  One of my early morning shots made a cover of a national magazine, but the truth is they’re all favorites, so here’s one the world hasn’t necessarily seen yet.

Zion, National Park, Utah, winter, landscape photography, Steve Bruno

Monochrome Madness: MM 192

Most visitors to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon see the forests of the Kaibab Plateau upon entering and exiting the park.  The plateau drops off sharply on either side, and much of the land north of the Grand Canyon is vast, wide open desert.  On one of my trips to the west side of the plateau, I set out across the desert, mostly following one wash.  Above one side of the wash, I found this lonely boulder with an opening beneath it, and the late afternoon sun perfectly highlighting the grasses and other textures beneath it.

This is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week.  To see what other photographers have contributed, or instructions to join in, please visit Leanne’s website.

WPC: Graceful

A 2000 pound animal graceful?  Are you kidding?

There are 2 places in Arizona where you can find buffalo.  One of them, House Rock Valley Ranch, has no fences.  The Grand Canyon, Kaibab Plateau, and Vermillion Cliffs all form a natural perimeter.  With that much land to cover, don’t expect coming here for animal sightings.

On my first visit to House Rock Valley, I had my brother and his daughter along.  She got excited when she saw the sign about the buffalo ranch, but we let her know about the vastness of the property so her hopes were not too high.  We drove many miles out to where we set up camp overlooking Marble Canyon, then drove back slightly for another overlook.  When we came across a road junction which we had crossed not more than an hour before, there were 5 buffalo standing in the road.  Collectively, they easily outweighed my vehicle, so we just sat and watched.  After a minute or so, they got bored with the standoff, and started to move along the side of the road.  We drove slowly beside them, and then they picked up their pace.  We matched them.  They continued to pick up their pace, at which point I noticed we were driving 35mph.  We were on a fairly smooth road, they weren’t!  After about a minute of running with the herd, they peeled away until we lost sight of them.

A few years later I returned to House Rock Valley.  This time was specifically to cover the buffalo, and unfortunately, it was hunting season.  The herd’s numbers are maintained, and only a handful of permits are issued each year.  These buffalo know when it’s hunting season, and become scarce.  Rising from the valley at about a 45 degree angle, the Kaibab Plateau has some twisting, sheer walled canyons.  The buffalo traverse these canyons like bighorn sheep, and the hunters can’t follow. I met with the manager of the ranch, and he was full of information about these animals.  One story he relayed was about the animals’ ability to leave no trace.  There are no reliable water sources here, so they have placed water tanks about in several spots.  In hunting season, the buffalo will enter from one side, then step on a rock or clump of grass, get their drink, walk around to the other side of the tank, all the while being selective as to where they step, and not leave a track within ten feet.  Is it any wonder these animals were so revered by Native Americans?

WPC: Magic

When I shot with a film camera, I always used the slowest, finest grained film.  I would mostly shoot in the early or late parts of the day, and when moving water was the subject, this meant getting a blurred, dream-like effect.  I always thought this was a magical look to the waterfalls or streams.

I’ve been to many national parks and other special places in the country, but there’s one place that has always stood out.  In the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the western part of the Grand Canyon, you will hike a canyon that is similar to the others in the region, but once you come to the first of many waterfalls, this canyon takes on a magical feeling.

For this week’s Daily Post Challenge of Magic, waterfalls in Havasu Canyon.

WPC: Mirror

This week’s Daily Post Challenge theme is Mirror, and as with many bloggers, I have photos of calm bodies of water. Who can resist pointing the camera towards nature’s reflections?  Those weren’t the only ones I came across, and I realized I have more of these than I initially thought I would.  Here are some of my favorites.

I usually had my camera along with the dogs out for an excursion, and in these shots, I noticed some reflections.

In modern buildings, the glass surfaces almost always offer a mirrored image, and here are a couple favorites from Calgary, Alberta.

With that much volume of water in motion, large rivers seem like an unlikely place to find a mirrored surface. Despite that, early morning on the Colorado River in Marble Canyon in Grand Canyon, Arizona can look like this.

Colorado River reflections in Marble Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park - Steve Bruno - gottatakemorepix

In my backyard (relatively speaking), I have a couple spots I enjoy hiking in Red Rock Canyon, where I came across these mirrored surfaces.

One of my favorite places that I’ve ever hiked, West Clear Creek in Arizona, usually has a breeze moving through the canyon.  Early mornings can be very calm, and pools can be glasslike.

Mountain lakes with reflections appear to have proliferated my files without me being aware of it.  Here are some in that category.

One image that always made me look twice was this one from Coyote Buttes.  There is no water or reflection here, but I felt like the illusion was there.

Coyote Buttes, The Wave - Steve Bruno - gottatakemorepix

I have one photo of an actual mirror. This is the MMT (Multiple Mirror Telescope) at the Whipple Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Arizona.  During daylight, this telescope dish is tilted down and pointing northward.  This was around the summer solstice, and at sunset, when the sun was at its furthest point north.  As I walked by, this cool mountain air had a hotspot about 20 degrees warmer from the sun just grazing the edge of this dish array.  I can’t imagine the destruction if this thing were aimed in the slightest degree towards the sun.

MMT at Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, Arizona - Steve Bruno - gottatakemorepix

Finally, a little bit about the featured image.  That’s Saguaro Lake, on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona.  It’s usually a crowded place, especially in summertime.  This happened to be in winter, after a couple days of rain.  It’s a fairly sizeable body of water, and this reflection has to be a rare moment, and the absence of people, even rarer.  This photo will always have a special place in my memories.  It was the first one I ever had published.

WPC: Opposites

This week’s Daily Post Challenge is Opposites, which presents many possibilities.  The above shot was taken on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and doesn’t need an explanation.

Not far from there, I spent a day at the Grand Canyon where it was fogged in.  At one point its opposite, complete sunshine, made an appearance on the distant cliffs.

Foggy Grand Canyon

When you have a positive and negative charge, you get a spark.  Opposing charges created in the magnitude of a thunderstorm produce lightning.

lightning 03


In northern Michigan, land and water come together in a serene setting.

Lake Superior

Mid-week Mixings: Jacob Canyon

The start of autumn in Jacob Canyon, in Kaibab National Forest, northern Arizona. Photo by Steve Bruno.
The start of autumn in Jacob Canyon, in Kaibab National Forest, northern Arizona. Photo by Steve Bruno.

There are places where it seems you have to fight for elbow room to get your photographs, nowadays.  Most national parks come to mind, but even those have room to venture about, unless you’re looking for that classic shot.  In autumn, places like the Maroon Bells in Colorado, and Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona are just as packed as any national park in peak season.

I’ve always liked finding hidden gems, and this place, Jacob Canyon, certainly comes to mind.  In between Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce, there’s little chance of it becoming a destination for many.  The canyon runs for some distance, and is a great place to just get out and walk in the fresh air.  The area that the leaves change is quite condensed, as the forest is dominated by ponderosa pines.  To me, its main beauty is that I can have the place to myself most days of the year.

WPC: Boundaries

As I travelled through airports last week, it occurred to me that the image I wanted for this week’s challenge was right in front of me.  Of course I’m talking about the post 9/11 boundary that makes getting to the airport early a necessity.  It seems that it wasn’t very long ago that greeting arriving guests at the gate was the norm.  Nowadays, not even the bottle of water you’re consuming in front of security can pass this boundary.

I’ve had a little time to go through other shots in my files, and have found a few more that seem to fit the challenge.

Once believed to be beyond our reach, we’ve set foot on the moon.  Even though that has been a few decades, we continue to further our exploration of space.

Blood Moon 01-Steve Bruno

Human minds pushing their current boundaries of the understanding of science will be the reason we might eventually reach beyond our solar system.  As much as our minds have the potential to break boundaries, some choose to believe in limits, which are often self-induced.  Photo of sculpture in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Calgary-Steve Bruno-Wire Frame Sculpture

This one doesn’t need an explanation.  There’s no need to go beyond this boundary.  How much closer do you need to get?

Bison Tourist-Steve Bruno

Lastly, if you look closely in the center of the shot, you will see a hiker at the canyon rim boundary.

South Canyon-Steve Bruno

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Boundaries.”

WPC: Possibly Horrendous Change

The Grand Canyon is one of earth’s special places, and even in special places you come across spots that are extra incredible.  The photo above is the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.  During the majority of the year it looks like this.  The turquoise colored waters of the Little Colorado, coming in from the right, are fed from a highly mineralized spring about six miles upstream.  The Colorado’s waters come from Glen Canyon Dam, which filters out most of the sediment, leaving a deep green hue to the water, when the sunlight hits it.  If there is a flood in the vicinity, either, or both, will turn muddy before returning to this two tone mix.

For this week’s challenge, I thought the changing of the Little Colorado’s waters after mixing with the larger volume of the main river showed the visual aspect of change.  But there’s a far deeper issue of change at stake.  The photo above is in National Park property, but about a mile east, just outside the right edge of the frame, is the boundary with the Navajo Indian Reservation.

A project called the Grand Canyon Escalade is still being considered to be built in the Navajo lands at the edge of the national park.  The project’s main feature would be a gondola estimated to bring up to 10,000 people a day into the canyon.  At the bottom would be restaurants, shops, an amphitheater and elevated riverwalk.  You can also add toilets and garbage to that list.  On the rim would be hotels and an RV center plus more of the previously mentioned items.  They seem to have omitted where the water supply would be coming from.

The Escalade idea came from developer R. Lamar Whitmer, with the project offices based in Scottsdale, Arizona.   Mr. Whitmer has several arguments for his cause, including making this area “accessible to those who might never get to enjoy the tranquil isolation at the bottom of the canyon”.  Have you been to Mather Point on the South Rim, Mr. Whitmer?  There can easily be a thousand people there at sunset, and the words “tranquil isolation” are the furthest thing from my mind.  I can’t imagine experiencing tranquil isolation with thousands of strangers in this tight little pocket of the canyon.  That is where raft trips fill the need quite well.

The major selling point of this project was jobs for the Navajo Nation, where unemployment is incredibly high.  Nobody could possibly be against that, or could they?  Written into the contract is a non-compete clause for 40,000 acres along access roads.  It seems all those jewelry stands run by nearby families would have to go, among others.  And how about that corporate address?  I would have an easier time believing that the Navajos’ best interests were at stake if it was based in Window Rock, or Cameron, or even Flagstaff.  Are the Navajo workers supposed to move or commute to Scottsdale?  Or are the Navajos not even being considered for corporate level jobs?

This project is completely in the hands of the people of the Navajo Nation.  There is nothing that US citizens or the US government can legally do to prevent this from becoming reality.  The nearby Hopi tribe has no say in the matter, either.  The spring which feeds the Little Colorado is one of the Hopis’ most sacred sites.  Fortunately, newly elected Navajo President, Russell Begaye, is against the Grand Canyon Escalade.  This is probably the best news to come about since this idea first started.  His predecessor was completely for it.

In addition to the impact in the immediate area, this eyesore will be visible from many points along the South Rim, and those points on the eastern drive of the North Rim.  The spot I was standing, even though considered backcountry, used to have a rough road leading all the way out to the overlook.  Very few people knew of this, but it only took a couple of disrespectful people, having bonfires and leaving trash, to make it so you have to walk the last five miles now.  I wonder what the impact will be when the numbers are in the thousands?

I really don’t want to add this to my historical photograph collection.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Change.”

WPC: Creepy

I posted a bunch of creepy critters in the Close-Up challenge.  If you missed those, you can find them here.  That made me search harder for some different creepy images.

Initially. I have this lizard which I came across in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona.  Probably not that creepy until you look at the gash on the top of its head.  He was a fairly sizeable creature, but it makes me wonder what thinks of him as dinner.

Lizard with a gash on its head, southeastern Arizona, photo by Steve Bruno
Lizard with a gash on its head, southeastern Arizona, photo by Steve Bruno

Dark forests can be creepy, and one of the darkest I ever came across was in Hawaii, of all places.  I didn’t take any photos there, but this one, with the moss hanging from the branches, is from last year in Oregon.

Sunlight filters through the moss covered forest in central Oregon, photo by Steve Bruno
Sunlight filters through the moss covered forest in central Oregon, photo by Steve Bruno

At Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park in Hawaii, there are many carvings.  Most of these are genderless with ugly faces with large teeth, which would imply they were there to scare off intruders.  The creator of this one decided it was scarier to have a relatively featureless face and a large penis.  That’s creepy!

Carved statue in Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii by Steve Bruno
Carved statue in Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii by Steve Bruno

Other symbols, created by a different civilization are equally bizarre.  In the Grand Canyon, this panel of pictographs has some creepy characters on it.  In addition to the large symbols, there are 5 faces which are nothing more than 3 dots and a line on top (4 lines for number 1).  Two eyes and a mouth is my guess, but it’s more like a nose on 4 and 5.  There’s also the ghostly white symbol on the far left.  I’m not sure how the two deer ended up on this one.  This panel is, fortunately, out of reach of anybody today, so this is how it was created over 700 years ago.

Strange panel of pictographs in the Grand Canyon, Arizona by Steve Bruno
Strange panel of pictographs in the Grand Canyon, Arizona by Steve Bruno

By far, the creepiest site I have ever encountered was this pair of grottos in the canyons near Moab, Utah.  The dark features around the two grottos suggest a rather alien-like face, and I couldn’t help but have the feeling I was being watched.

Canyon walls near Moab, Utah appear to have eyes. Photo by Steve Bruno
Canyon walls near Moab, Utah appear to have eyes. Photo by Steve Bruno

Historical Photographs, Part III

I walked down to the viewing area of Grand Canyon’s Point Imperial where there were a dozen or so tourists.  I spotted the ranger amongst them, yet by himself.  “Excuse me, but where can I find the complaint department?”

Everybody’s head turned.  Complain?  About the Grand Canyon?  What has this guy been smoking?

Without hesitation the ranger replied, “Right here!”

“Simply put” I said, “bark beetles”

The ranger and I engaged in a conversation for several minutes where he explained the park service’s approach to the fires and the beetles.  I brought up the fact that there have been ways of exterminating the beetles for many years, but I realized he was just the messenger.  After decades of a policy that put out fires as quickly as possible, land managers have figured out it is best to let nature run her course.

Translation:  We’re going to let the wildfires burn the beetles out of existence.

I thanked the ranger for his time, but as I looked around I just felt nauseous.

A couple who had been there several years before were sitting, listening, on a nearby bench.  “We thought we were driving through a toothpick factory” they commented, “We just wanted to cry!”   I conversed with them for a while, sharing our feelings for a once spectacular place that has lost its luster.

The ‘toothpick factory’ they were alluding to was actually outside the park boundary, in Kaibab National Forest.  As I drove in I couldn’t help but feel saddened.  Mile after mile of completely scorched forest had an eerie feeling to it, even in the middle of the day. That fire’s damage stopped before the Grand Canyon park boundary, and I remember having a sense of relief, thinking that the national park’s forests were spared.  But that was not the case.  Separate fires have left their mark, leaving the forest unrecognizable from its former appearance.  It’s downright ugly in places.  I honestly felt a couple bulldozers would help.

If you haven’t been there before, I should explain.  The North Rim of the Grand Canyon used to be a package deal.  The journey started at the town (gas station, restaurant, hotel) of Jacob Lake.  From there it’s about thirty miles to the national park boundary.  Driving across the Kaibab Plateau and its pine and aspen forests, mixed with small lakes and open meadows, you got the feeling that you were entering a special world long before arrival at the park’s gate.  On my previous visits, I could swear they had landscapers working at night.  I had never seen a forest that immaculate before.  It wasn’t just that it was clean, there was something in the way the trees were arranged, as though it had been planned.  It seemed to other forests how Augusta National is to other golf courses.

Autumn was a magical time here, especially near where the road to Point Imperial left the road to Cape Royal.  Aspens lit up the forest with their golden hues, sometimes lingering to reach a shade of pumpkin or tomato.  Two cars would be crammed into the pullouts designed for one.  Occasionally, people might not even pull completely off the road, just getting out of the vehicle to snap a quick pic or two.  Nobody honked their horns in a petulant rush.  Everybody slowed down to admire this gem of a forest.  And the Grand Canyon was still three miles away – yes, THE Grand Canyon!

Forest in autumn near the junction of the roads to Cape Royal and Point Imperial by Steve Bruno, 1992
Forest in autumn near the junction of the roads to Cape Royal and Point Imperial by Steve Bruno, 1992

As the road continued to Point Imperial, it offered hints of what lay beyond, finally terminating in a forest of ponderosa pine.  These majestic trees towered to the skies, giving a visitor the impression there was a touch of redwood mixed into the DNA here.  Between all that shade and the encompassing view, it used to be a great place to have a picnic lunch.

The fire line stopped on this point, and now I think there are two tall pines left.  To the north, where the small brush is growing back, it looks like an overgrown weed field.  The Grand Canyon is still there, relatively the same.  I say relatively because evidence of bark beetles is visible as one looks towards the south.  Lush green trees protected from all else by sheer cliffs, are starting to brown.  A lightning strike is the only chance this pocket of forest has of catching fire and eliminating the beetles.  That seems like it would only be trading one shade of brown for another, but at least the forest might have a chance to recover.  That is not an option for beetle devastated trees.  Several generations of visitors will get to view this slow, lingering death.

Grand Canyon looking south and east from Point Imperial by Steve Bruno, 1988
Grand Canyon looking south and east from Point Imperial by Steve Bruno, 1988

Fires are a natural and healthy process for the longevity of our forests.  Public land management officials have come to the realization that dense undergrowth is the fuel for intense fires, and make efforts to clean out that growth.  Drought may be something out of our control, but the bark beetles are not.  The Grand Canyon is not the only place subjected to this damage.  Forests throughout the western US are being destroyed by the insects, leaving them unhealthy and prone to massive fires.

In the famous words of Smokey the Bear, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”

I wonder if Smokey knew about bark beetles?  Are WE supposed to be doing something about those?

WPC: Door to Eddie’s Place

Door to Eddie's Place in the Kanab Creek Wilderness, western Grand Canyon by Steve Bruno
Door to Eddie’s Place in the Kanab Creek Wilderness, western Grand Canyon by Steve Bruno

Welcome to Eddie’s Place.  There are no roads here, and you will have hiked at least ten miles to get here.  Deep in the Kanab Creek Wilderness on Grand Canyon’s western edge, the building comes as a surprise along the route to most visitors.  Eddie was a veteran who returned with leprosy, and was given the chance to live out his years far away from society.  This was long before any wilderness designation was assigned to the region.  It’s been over ten years since I visited last, but I have a feeling this durable structure is still intact.  I feel sorry for the mule that had to bring in the cast iron stove, however.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Door.”

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