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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: MM4-24

Last winter/spring was one of the wettest that California has ever seen, and was declared a drought-buster by several accounts.  Now, about a half year later, we have seen the most devastating fires to ever hit that state.  What happened to all that water?  Did the drought really go away?

Intense, out-of-control fires have occurred in places that you would not normally expect these to take place.  Oregon, Montana, western Canada, and now Portugal have all been in the news for their fires this year.  A reasonable person would have to look at this situation and wonder if there is something we can do for long-term fire prevention.  The White House says global warming and climate change is a hoax.  More FAKE NEWS!

My photo is from several years ago, and is one of my favorites from a springtime trip in what used to be a normal weather year.  I know fires have threatened Yosemite National Park in recent years, and I can’t help but wonder if the next one is the one that leaves the park in ashes.

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 her website.

Monochrome Madness: MM3-50

Mesa Verde National Park is one of the best preserved examples of the Ancestral Puebloan culture that once thrived in the American Southwest.  More commonly referred to as Anasazi, which is a Navajo term meaning “enemy ancestor”, these people created structures which were the largest in North America until Europeans settled here and industrialization began.  This civilization vanished around 700 years ago, and experts have various opinions as to how this happened.  A major climate shift started in the mid 1100’s with multiple periods of drought, and would have severely impacted the food supply.  There is also evidence of warfare which may have occurred with nomadic groups.

My photo is of Cliff Palace, the largest of the ruins at Mesa Verde, and is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness, which had the theme this week of culture.  Instructions on how to participate, and the contributions of others can be found on her website.

Historical Photographs, Part IV

Quite a few years ago, my brother and I went on a weekend trip through northeastern Arizona.  One afternoon, we went hiking in at Petrified Forest National Park.  The trail was difficult to follow, so we gave up trying, and just started heading off into the backcountry.  Petrified Forest NP, which lies in the middle of the Painted Desert, has hills that can look the same very quickly, and is not the place for an inexperienced hiker.  After about a couple miles of this, we knew it was almost time to turn around, when something caught our attention.  As we got closer, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  There were two standing petrified trees!  Although one was more like a tree fragment, the larger was about 9-10 feet tall.

Standing Trees - Petrified Forest NP - Steve Bruno

As you take the driving tour through the park, you will see the petrified logs laying on the ground, with some I’ve seen 40-50 feet in length.  I haven’t covered every square mile of Petrified Forest National Park, but I’m pretty sure these trees were the last ones standing.  That day was a complete adrenaline rush, but both my brother and I knew we had to come back and see this again with different skies.

It was almost a year later when our schedules coincided and we had dramatic skies to photograph this rare find.  It had been a wet winter, and the washes still had water as we headed into the backcountry.  Like I said earlier, the hills can look alike, and we were having trouble locating the trees.  We were joking that we were losing our tracking abilities, but then we discovered why we were having difficulty.  The taller of the trees was no longer standing.

As I mentioned, it had been a wet winter, and the soft soil of the Painted Desert captures impressions very well.  When we arrived at the fallen tree, there was a lone set of footprints that wandered towards the tree in an almost drunken fashion, stopped at the tree (easily in arms reach), then continued onward.  When this tree eventually fell, I figured it was going to be towards the right (top photo), but it had fallen to the left.  More importantly, it fell away from the footprints.

I find it highly improbable that this tree stayed upright for so many centuries, then fell on its own within the next year.  The footprints and the direction of the fall lead me to believe it had assistance.  This seems like the senseless destruction that only a young male would do, but then the story about boy scout leaders toppling a boulder in Goblin Valley, Utah a couple years ago makes me wonder.  They were both in their 40’s, and supposed role models, but look like immature teenagers in the video.  Their excuse was “we didn’t want the rock to fall on someone and hurt them”.  Sounds like the bullshit their lawyer fed them.

In the case of the petrified tree, the footprints wandered further into the backcountry.  I honestly hope that the asshole who did this was drunk and couldn’t find their way back, and ended up being a good meal for the coyotes and buzzards.  At least there would be some purpose for this waste of life.

Even with the photos I did manage to get on the first trip, it took a couple tries before I had one published.  Ironically, on the day after the magazine came out, I received a phone call from a photographer who gave me a long winded story when I inquired about one of his locations.  For a brief moment, I felt like sending him on a wild goose chase, but I was still disgusted over this, and just told him how there was nothing left to go back to.

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

WPC: Curve

For this week’s Daily Post Challenge, I’ve found a few shots where the emphasis came from the curve in the photo.  The top shot comes from Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

Rainbows made me think of curves, whether in the skies over southern Arizona, or frozen in sandstone at Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah.

Rainbow in the desert of southern Arizona by Steve BrunoRainbow Bridge from underneath, Steve Bruno

Curves in the road also came to mind, and this one has plenty.  It’s called the Swift Trail, and it heads up the Pinaleno Mountains of Arizona.  As you can tell, there’s nothing swift about this drive, but it can be a lot of fun, and takes you into a beautiful mountain range.

Pinaleno Mountain highway, Steve Bruno

Also in Arizona, you will come across many of these Saguaro cacti.  Although the younger ones are a single column, the older ones develop arms that often curve gracefully.

Curvy Saguaro Cactus Arms, Arizona, Steve Bruno

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: Beneath Your Feet

For this week’s challenge, I thought it would be easy to come across many photos fitting the category.  Emphasizing the foreground in landscape photography is one of the standard rules.  Moving in close doesn’t necessarily equate to showing what’s beneath your feet, however.
The featured image, taken in Yosemite National Park, is a location where everything was below my feet.  I had a great vantage point where three creeks came together, providing a different perspective on tumbling water.
At Bryce Canyon National Park, I usually prefer to hike down amongst the formations, but this has been a favorite from the rims.  I have often been asked where I was standing to get this one.  Since then, I think erosion has made this spot off limits.

Overlook at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah by Steve Bruno
Overlook at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah by Steve Bruno

Not far from Bryce, in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, I encountered these sandstone discs embedded in the ground, on edge.  This repetitive pattern was under my feet for some distance.

Sandstone discs line the hills of Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, northern Arizona by Steve Bruno
Sandstone discs line the hills of Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, northern Arizona by Steve Bruno

The Painted Desert was a well chosen name, which becomes more obvious when you see it after a rain.  These patterns were in a wash where the water was still standing in limited pockets.  A polarizer was used to remove the glare and allowed the color come through.

Wash patterns after a rain in Petrified Forest National Park by Steve Bruno
Wash patterns after a rain in Petrified Forest National Park by Steve Bruno

Getting down close to the ground was the best way to get photos of these little goslings, seen on one of my trips to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

young goslings near the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, Canada by Steve Bruno
young goslings near the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, Canada by Steve Bruno

Most people are in disbelief when you tell them there is a great hiking trail right next to Interstate 10, which is arguably the most boring drive in the US.  Picacho Peak rises about 1500 feet above the surrounding desert, and on the back side there’s a stretch with very little earth beneath your feet.  Posts, cables and planks assist hikers in this steep section.  Thrillseekers expecting something along the lines of Spain’s El Caminito del Rey will be disappointed.

Hiker on the built-up portion of the summit trail to Picacho Peak, Arizona by Steve Bruno
Hiker on the built-up portion of the summit trail to Picacho Peak, Arizona by Steve Bruno

I know some people are big on taking foot-selfie’s wherever they go, but this is the only one I have.  From under one of Valley of Fire State Park’s largest arches, where I brought my friend and accomplished hiker, Dave.

Valley Of Fire Overlook-Steve Bruno
After the arch, Dave and I explored the large sandstone mass in the middle of the park, which I refer to as the park’s summit.  Along the way, we came across some interesting potholes and pools.  This one went down a short distance, then ejected from the small side canyon in the shaded area, upper left.  Nothing under his feet there, and as we walked this area, we could hear some areas that had a hollow sound underneath.

Hiker swallowed up by sandstone manhole, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada by Steve Bruno
Hiker swallowed up by sandstone manhole, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada by Steve Bruno

Another great place to check out what’s beneath your feet is Mount Charleston, just west of Las Vegas.  The red flowers are called Indian Paintbrush, and this is a squirrel’s perspective on them.

Indian Paintbrush flowers in early summer on Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno
Indian Paintbrush flowers in early summer on Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno

Also on the mountain you will come across both of Nevada’s state trees.  This one, the bristlecone pine, is characterized by distinct coloring and patterns, and can live to be 5000 years old.

The base of a bristlecone pine tree on Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno.
The base of a bristlecone pine tree on Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno.

At the base of Mount Charleston, there are thousands of joshua trees.  I wasn’t quite sure what was lurking under all that snow, however.  Rocks?  Bushes?  Frozen bunnies?

Winter buries the desert at the base of Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno
Winter buries the desert at the base of Mount Charleston, Nevada 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?

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