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Day Trip Through Hill Country

While in Texas recently, I had a chance to get away for a day to see if that state had anything to offer this nature photographer.  I have been to the Guadalupe Mountains in the far western portion of the state, but much of what I’ve seen has been flat and unphotogenic.  My previous most favorable impression of Texas has been the best night sky viewing I’ve seen anywhere.

I had heard about the hill country near Austin and San Antonio, so that’s where I was determined to explore.  A cold front blew through the day before, with tornadic activity in the northern part of the state, but I was left with blue skies for the day.  Although I prefer clouds and softer light for my photos, I wasn’t going to complain with temperatures that barely hit 70, and almost no humidity.

I tried to research places to check out, but really didn’t see any photos that made stop and say, “Wow, I have to visit there”!  I was really disappointed that many of these places didn’t open until 8am.  With a sunrise at 6:30, that meant I was going to miss the best light of the morning.  My first stop was Guadalupe River State Park.  It really wasn’t a planned stop, but the sign said 3 miles, so it seemed a waste not to visit.  The river is wider than I expected in this mostly arid environment, with a beautiful green hue to the water.  Mostly I was charmed with the older trees along the banks and their beautiful exposed root system.  The tiniest of clouds passed briefly in front of the sun, showing me a glimpse of how this place would photograph under softer conditions.  That was just a tease, and I did manage a couple photos before realizing it was time to move on.

River 02

My next stop was Cave Without A Name.  This was a planned stop.  There are other caves in the region, but the remoteness made me think I would have a little quieter visit.  There were just 5 of us in our little tour, and the staff was very friendly.  I expected the usual stalagmites and stalactites that are common to caves, but there were features called “bacon strips” that seemed pretty unusual, and my favorite “the alien”.

Cave 05

Cave 04

Cave 01

Cave 03

I spent more time there than I had anticipated, but given the fact that above ground was midday lighting conditions, that didn’t seem to matter.  I was definitely glad with this choice for a visit.  Upon my drive out I saw a sign for a local county park.  Kreutzberg Canyon Natural Area is on the Guadalupe River, and seemed like a nice place for a picnic, but given the fact that I had stopped previously along this river, and the sun was now too high, I kept my visit brief.  I was planning to stop next at Enchanted Rock, but the people at the cave told me it was a popular area and might be closed due to crowd size already.  The fact that they didn’t stay open until sunset just reinforced my feeling that this would have to wait for another trip.

After a late lunch stop, I was headed off to my last scouted location, Pedernales Falls State Park.  Although none of the photos I had seen had a wow factor, the staff at Cave Without A Name said I would enjoy this place.  They were absolutely correct.  As I was driving through hill country, I realized I was at the tail end of the spring flower season, but there were still a few left, including these within the park.

Pollination

Flowers

My biggest surprise was the overall size of the place and volume of water.  These are not tremendous falls, but a series of cascades all distinct from each other.

Falls 01

Falls 02

As I said, the volume of water was not what I expected after the photos I had seen online, and this river has perhaps the best infinity pools I have ever seen.  This is the moment I was really wishing for clouds.

Infinity Pools

There were still a few people around at this point, but not too many.  I think this allowed the wildlife to feel at ease returning to the water.  The park’s website lists heron and vultures as part of the permanent inhabitants.  Even with the telephoto lens, the vultures I saw were too far away to really recognize, but this heron put itself in the most perfect spot to be photographed.  The bird was aware of my presence, so I kept my distance until I had many shots that I liked.  When I took a couple steps closer, I was able to capture its takeoff.

Crane

Falls 03

With that, I was just waiting for the sun to get to the horizon for the soft light I needed for my favorite part of the falls.

Falls 08

Falls 05

WPC: Solitude

When I first started venturing out on photographic journeys, I felt solitude almost immediately upon leaving the city.  Unless it was a holiday weekend.  Nowadays, finding a quiet space seems a little more difficult, but not impossible.  There are still places where I can hear the pulsing of a hawk’s wings, or a lizard moving upon the sands, or just plain silence.

WPC: Ambience

For this week’s Daily Post Challenge of Ambience, I tried to think of one place that captures the mood of the southwestern deserts.  Monument Valley, in the heart of the Navajo Indian Reservation, tops my list.  As with any location that is highly visited, there is the tackiness that comes with tourism.  But spend a day in this valley, and seek out moments of solitude.  If you happen to be here when the rains come through, you might be rewarded with sunsets like this.

WPC: Resilient

This is a very resilient world we live in, and the desert has many examples of that.  When I saw this week’s challenge, one of the first places I thought of was the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.  It’s hard to fathom the resiliency in this pillar of sandstone which remains standing while everything around it has eroded away.  This formation was once part of a long isolated wall similar to those in the background, yet still standing after many thousands (or perhaps millions) of years.

WPC: Relax

I do a lot of hiking when I take my photographs, and in those cases, there is often strenuous activity involved in getting results.  But there’s one place I’ve gone in which I don’t remember working up a sweat, or even a raised pulse – the White Mountains in eastern Arizona.  Even though the elevations are between 8000 and 11000 feet, the word mountain is a bit deceptive.  Much of the terrain is flat with many lakes and gentle streams.  Yes, there are a few trails where one can get the adrenaline going, but mostly it is a popular spot for people to camp and fish, and in general, relax.

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.

Monochrome Madness: MM3-30

Last week I had a short trip to the east coast, and managed to get a little time at the beach.  On my second day there, the clouds lit up for a sunset that was very nice.  After that I continued shooting, knowing that any of those shots would be best as b&w.  The last one of the night turned out to be my favorite, and is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week.  You can go to her site to see photos contributed by others, as well as instructions on how to participate.

WPC: Transmogrify

On the big island in Hawaii, volcanic eruptions have changed the look of the land, but there is one spot that was changed in a unique fashion.  In 1790, lava flows swept through this area near Pahoa.  Unlike slow flows that burn everything in site, this flow was swift, and wrapped the trees without destroying them instantly.  The trees eventually did die, leaving these lava forms (and many others) standing instead.

From Lava Tree State Monument, Hawaii for this week’s Daily Post Challenge of Transmogrify.

WPC: Shine

It was really one of those days when you don’t want to be outside – a late spring day on the Colorado Plateau.  With a cold front sliding by to the north, winds were a constant 45mph and gusting in the 60s.  Yet, the sun was still out.  Every loose particle of dust from Barstow to Albuquerque was on the move.  I was driving near Page, Arizona so I thought the shelter of Antelope Canyon would be a good place to hide out for a while.

There had been a tour group going through, so another photographer and I just stayed back a ways.  The sun only has a few minutes each day to pinpoint its way through the narrow opening of the canyon.  As it did on this particular day, the wind gusts were picking up nearby sand and depositing it in the canyon.  In the three exposures I took, I can see the movement of the shaft of light.  I also had to blow sand off my lens between exposures.  Mostly, we were thankful the tour group did not return at this moment.

I was using a large format film camera, with slow film, and the aperture stopped down for depth of field.  Even though this is the brightest light I have ever seen in Antelope Canyon, that all translates to long exposure.  Similar to long exposures of moving water, it took several seconds for the swirling dust to fill the shaft of light.  Had today’s digital cameras been around back then, I could have taken this with a higher ISO and lower f-stop and perhaps captured this as Peter Lik did in his “Phantom”.  Some of you may recognize this location from “Phantom” – a work that Peter Lik supposedly sold for $6.5 million.

This has been my second best selling print, but if someone wants it in a wall sized b&w, I would close the edition and let it go for a mere million.

For this week’s Daily Post Challenge of Shine

WPC: Local

There’s nothing I’d want to take a picture of in my neighborhood, but I can see this mountain clearly from my windows.  For this week’s Daily Post Challenge of Local, I present to you a place I know by heart.

I was out here last week on a trail I have taken several times before.  Back to the bristlecone pines, the ancient forest.  As another dry year passes, and more people venture into the area, I am thankful there have been no major fires here.  It seems there are no “helpful” fires any more – the kind that sustain a forest – just large devastating ones.  In a normal winter, there will be snow lingering on this trail into May.  I am hoping for a normal or above normal winter, but that doesn’t seem very likely….again.  In the meantime, I try to get out to my local hangouts whenever I can.

On The Trail Of A Stereotype

When I first started out in photography, I was fortunate to find a great stock agency to sign on with.  The woman who ran it was very knowledgeable and provided tips on what to shoot and more importantly, perspectives from which to shoot.  On one of my early visits, I asked for a list of subjects.  Saguaro cacti at sunset was one of the items on the list.

When I returned about a month or two later with material to review, her response was less than enthused.  She accepted a couple, but then said, “Can you find a postcard cactus?”  “A What?” I replied.  “A postcard cactus – you know, one with one arm on each side, but one side slightly lower.”

I had never heard that expression before, but apparently in the early days of postcards, someone had taken a picture of this type of cactus that sold very well.  People then came to expect that all saguaro cacti looked like that.  The state of Arizona has one on their standard issue license plate, but the previous red license plate had the perfect stereotype.

So the entire request went something like this:  One saguaro cactus (of the postcard variety) without any others nearby…..close enough to recognize, but not filling the frame…..at the right angle so as to not cut off the base…..with generic looking mountains in the background…..and a spectacular sunset.  Right.

In my travels, I eventually spotted a couple of these elusive cacti, but they were always in some location that involved scrambling – something I didn’t want to do with a flashlight.  I was looking for “road kill“.  The top shot is as close as I ever came to the complete request.  Along the way, I encountered many beautiful, unique saguaros.  One of these ended up being my best selling stock photograph by a huge margin.

For this week’s Daily Post Challenge: Quest

WPC: Edge

The Daily Post Challenge this week is Edge, and the first thing that came to mind was waterfalls going over the edge, but I haven’t come across too many that allow getting to this angle safely.

Lake Powell in southern Utah has more shoreline than the Pacific Ocean along the continental US.  In this early morning photo you can see the shoreline’s sinuous edges.

Lake Powell, Utah, shoreline, sunrise, Steve Bruno , gottatakemorepix

Sand dunes sometimes have well defined edges, such as this one shown here from Death Valley National Park, California.

Death Valley National Park, sand dunes, sunrise, Steve Bruno - gottatakemorepix

These massive boulders are hanging over the edge of a cliff along the drive up Mount Lemmon, just outside of Tucson, Arizona.

Mount Lemmon, Tucson, Arizona, rock formations, Steve Bruno, gottatakemorepix

There are few canyons in the desert southwest as impressive as Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly.  Spider Rock, shown here at the edge of darkness, can only be seen by walking to the edge of the canyon.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona - Steve Bruno - gottatakemorepix

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