All is calm, all is bright
Glories stream from heaven afar
Love'‘s pure light
With the dawn of redeeming grace.
All is calm, all is bright
Glories stream from heaven afar
Love'‘s pure light
With the dawn of redeeming grace.
Utah is filled with spectacular national parks and monuments, and it has some state park gems. With appropriate marketing, one is named Kodachrome Basin State Park.
How about a quiz? What does this image have to do with the next one?
While geologists aren’t sure how the 67 sedimentary pipes in the park were formed, the primary theory is that they are remnants of ancient springs, like Morning Glory above, that were then filled with sediment and the softer sandstone eroded away. The monoliths are intriguing features throughout the park.
As I was photographing in southern Utah, I had worked my way east and crossed into northern Arizona. I was getting ready to retrace my path back to the hotel, when I noticed clouds gathering in the south. I took a chance that a return route via the north rim of the Grand Canyon might yield a nice sunset. I checked to make sure the road was open and headed out. As I drove, smoke gathered, and I was soon driving through the darkness of a prescribed forest burn. Photography wasn’t looking too good. I got through the burn and the clouds were still up, but a mist was gathering. I took a chance there would still be a colorful sunset and drove to the canyon.
There are fewer visitors to the north rim, and I discovered very few on the cold, mid-November evening. I was joined by a few photographers and viewers, but a mist was obscuring the view, and the sky was slate gray.
Two guys were scouting the run they would make the next day. To the South Rim and back!! Fourteen miles and nearly 6,000 feet down, then over twelve miles and 5,000 feet up, and then come back. Unbelievable.
I was content to stay on the rim and take some images. The conditions were improving.
The winter sun hit the southwest rim. Most everyone had left the cold night except for one other photographer and his French Bulldog who had a great deal of interest in my shoes—and likely my friend’s bulldog I had visited a few days before!
Then, a sight I’d never seen before. The sun seemed to melt, dissolve and whirl away.
By now, I was alone on the rim. But the light show often doesn’t end after the sun sets. After the drama, a simple coda. And then perhaps, some stars.
One of the great attributes of the Southwest U.S. away from the cities is the dark skies. A benefit of traveling at the end of the year is that it is darker longer. Our first night in Death Valley National Park had clear, desert sky, an early setting moon, and a Night Sky ranger talk. After the talk, another couple sat outside their car enjoying the Milky Way.
As the week went on, the moon got fuller and stayed up later making it more difficult to get the darkest sky images. However, the moonlight helped light up the red rocks of Zion National Park. The first image below is looking west with the Milky Way starting to appear. The next image is turned east with the moon and Venus showing through the remaining light from the setting sun.
A future blog post will have some images from one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. Afterward, some stars started coming out. You can see the constellation Cassiopeia over the tree on the left. You want clouds for a fiery sunset, but not for star images.
The moonlight helps light the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.
Just outside Bryce National Park is Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest. Your eyes’ night vision don’t pick up color very well, but the camera sensor captures the red rock in the moonlight.
Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, lies 282 feet below sea level. A spring-fed pool sits in the salt of the basin, reflecting the Black Mountain range to the east.
A walk from the spring into the salt flats challenges perspective. A small landmark looks not far away, until you’ve walked a half mile to get there.
Death Valley is also the driest location in the U.S. Less than 2 inches of rain fall in an average year, though the evaporation is so great, a 12 foot deep lake would evaporate in that year. The evaporation over eons has left a great salt pan across the valley. The salt forms great fractal patterns across the Basin.
At Dante’s View in the Black Mountains, you can look nearly a mile down into the Basin and across the Valley. On a very clear day Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous States at over 14,000 feet, is visible.
In the picture below, you can see Badwater Basin road. The spring in the first image, is blocked from view by the ridge. The second image was shot on the portion of the trail showing just above the ridge that is darkened by footsteps and was in the shadow of the Black Mountains when taken. The third image was taken in the bright salt flats where the trail ends. If you look very carefully, you might be able to see a few hikers there, a mile out from the spring.
Established in 1996, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument spreads across southern Utah. President Trump has attempted to reduce protected land by nearly half, and open 700,00 acres to mineral extraction. Neighboring Bears Ears National Monument, established primarily to protect Native American antiquities, was reduced even more. The executive actions are still pending court review.
A short hike leads to a collection of “toadstools,” pillars supporting a harder boulder. The column is sheltered by the boulder and erodes more slowly than the surrounding rock.
In the upper center of this image you can see the younger, harder Dakota Formation boulders above the softer, older Entrada Sandstone. One Dakota boulder rests on a forming toadstool in the center.
Sometimes it’s helpful to have some human scale to better appreciate the formations.
Jets and contrails criss-cross the sky. Hopefully, these toadstools will withstand encroachment from the ground.
I’m out collecting some images in southern Utah. Yesterday morning I couldn’t resist the name of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park right on the Arizona border.
The park is used extensively by ATVs and other vehicles in the dunes, so finding areas without tracks can be a challenge.
Below your feet are lots of little animal tracks among the vehicle track and footprints, and many unusual plants grow. I think I brought a good portion of the sand back in my shoes.
Fall colors came running in and quickly out of northern Illinois. Nice colors this year. Here are some yellows.
Just be careful where you park.
Transylvania County is the wettest in North Carolina and has over 250 waterfalls. Here’s what’s likely the best known. Looking Glass Falls is next to the main road running through Pisgah National Forest heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway and is a popular stopping point.
Looking downstream from the falls.
I went looking for another tall falls that 40 years ago I hiked to with my buddies and jumped off the top to swim in the pool below. I couldn’t find it, but I heard some falls along the trail and found this delight.
The Eastern Band of the Cherokees Reservation sits between Transylvania County and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is also filled with waterfalls. Here are two—or three, if you count the first as a double falls.
Birds need to eat, raise young, survive regardless of the weather. Fortunately, for a photographer, challenging weather can make engaging images. I love the challenge of wide angle environmental images, but to get an animal portrait, you need a tolerant creature. This Great Blue Heron, who hangs around people fishing on the beach, was cooperative.
Turkey Vultures have an image problem. Their life cleaning up dead animals adds to the creepy view. Featherless heads and legs to get into the carrion enhance the feel. A telephoto lens helps get a closer view.
Crossing the talons is a cute gesture, but note the missing middle toe and wonder what happened to this survivor.
But vultures should have their day in the sun, or in this case, in a rainbow.
Congaree National Park in central South Carolina is the largest remnant of old growth floodplain forest in the U.S.. Less than one-half of one percent of what once was 35 million acres in the Southeast U.S. remains.
You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me
Along with Tupelo, Bald Cypress grows throughout the floodplain. The knees are still a mystery. Perhaps support in flood conditions, perhaps an air exchange.
She's as sweet as Tupelo honey
She's an angel of the first degree
The Congaree was a shelter for runaway slaves during the Civil War. After the war, many former slaves farmed the floodplains and established towns in the uplands.
You can't stop us on the road to freedom
You can't keep us 'cause our eyes can see
I’ve never gotten more aerobic exercise on a flat trail. Despite covering myself in insect repellent, whenever I’d stop walking, a cloud of mosquitoes would surround me, so moving fast was the best repellent. However, the fast pace had me miss seeing the 5 foot coachwhip snake, and we gave each other a good fright. My heart rate got another boost startling two feral hogs in underbrush. It was a memorable hike.
She's as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey, baby, from the bee
Until I returned, I’d forgotten I’d left a piece of my soul here. A stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway looks down into an area called Graveyard Fields. the area had a geologic event that killed the trees and left stumps and mounds leaving it look like a graveyard. A devastating fire in the 1920s reinforced the look. When I worked at a nearby summer camp, I’d lead hikes into this area. We’d sometimes camp in the fields and could watch shooting stars while sleeping under the open sky. Camping is now prohibited here, and trees and larger growth have replaced the open field.
Part of the trail runs along the Yellowstone Prong of the Pigeon River. I had a college roommate who lived nearby in North Carolina. He returned home for a long weekend while I was in law school, and I went with him so I could hike again along the Pigeon River. It started raining just as I got my tent up. It rained all night. Before it was light I heard strange sounds and looked out and the river was flooding and approaching my tent. I hurriedly broke camp and bushwhacked my way to the pick up point since most of the trail was flooded. This was my first time back.
There are waterfalls nearly everywhere you hike, including these lower falls of the Yellowstone Prong in Graveyard Fields.
An overlook on the Parkway provides a distant view of the falls.
Near where we’d camp, there were several several branches of the trail, and I wasn’t sure which was the main trail. I followed one to these rocks on a bend in the river. I was suddenly taken back 40 years. I’d bring the young campers to this very spot to swim and play. I hadn’t thought of it in all that time, and the memory opened as I placed my feet on the spot.
Junior High School Spring Break 1972, my parents took my friend Doug and I camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is where it starts on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina. It ends 469 miles later at Shenandoah National Park, Virginia running along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains without a stop sign or stop light.
Pullovers and visitor centers dot the parkway with views into the valleys on each side.
The colors are just beginning to change.
And peeks into the towns along the route.
A year ago today, I was wandering through Saguaro National Park in Arizona. The big vistas of huge cactus and desert hills is eye-catching, but looking at the tiny environments within the scene is just as fascinating.
Plenty of insects survive among desert plants. I’ve no idea what this creature is.
I imagine it is a challenge for predators to get among the thorns to try to feed on this grasshopper, who seemed quite happy climbing around the cactus.
I loved Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. The Dali-inspired intro got you ready for travel to another time and dimension. So let’s journey to another time, though recent events show we haven’t entered a new dimension.
The root cellar is one of the few structures still located in its original site. Minidoka, Idaho was one of many “relocation centers” for people of Japanese ancestry (Nikkei) on the West Coast of the United States. Nearly 10,000 Americans were interred at Minidoka during the War. Afterwards, most buildings, fences, towers were moved or destroyed to try to erase the memory.
Some buildings such as the brown mess hall and gray barracks were moved and used elsewhere. Some have been found, and “relocated.” Where I grew up in Florida, barracks like these remained near the airport, a WWII Naval Air Station, which housed German POWs.
Just a bit north is the tiny town of Arco. It lights up its fame as the first community ever lit by electricity solely derived from the nearby nuclear power plant.
It doesn’t advertise that the 1961 reactor accident was the world’s first, and only U.S., fatal reactor failure killing three people.
Often we just let history fade away.
An uprooted tree at dawn provides some weathered texture.
Taken on top of an old volcano cone at Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho.
Ten years ago, driving home from Springfield, I stopped for a walk at a park near I-55. One picture I took was of a chicory flower--a "weed" you'll see along roadsides this time of year in Illinois. I sent the image to some friends on Friday, calling it Friday Foto and sharing some of the beauty near our feet. Over the last decade, the images have gone beyond some common roadside sites, but the intent has remained the same: to share the beauty around us.
Returning to the roots--or just above the roots--I stopped by a vacant lot in downtown Milwaukee that was filled with Chicory, Queen Anne's Lace and other common wildflowers. Here is a bit of the world along the sidewalk. And, yep, the same chicory whose roots are dried and ground as a coffee substitute or flavoring.
Timpanogos Cave National Monument is in the Watsatch Mountains in Utah.
Up in the mountains. You need to hike up over a thousand feet from the valley floor to enter the cave. In this image, you can see the road where you start the hike.
Look up to see other hikers and the cave enterance.
Once in the cave, you follow old fault lines which have been carved into caverns and are being filled with formations.
On tour, the ranger explains the formations, such as bacon stalagtites he lights with his flashlight and the cave's big feature, greenish helictites.
The helictites are tiny tubes where water and minerals flow through capillarity attraction through the small, capillaries and result in curled, twisting features.
Outside the cave, there was one outstanding, helictite-like beard.
The Salmon River runs through a high desert valley that it has carved. One plant that thrives in the environment is the Ponderosa Pine. Its thick, orange bark (that smells like vanilla) surrives most fires.
However, some intense fires will destroy all, or nearly all, trees in its path.
The tree can serve as a perch to host raptors looking for a fish dinner in the river.
While rafting five days on the Salmon River in Idaho, the first night camping in the Frank Church Wilderness was on a meadow above the river. With a dry, clear night forecast, I set up the tripod next to my sleeping bag and set an alarm for when the moon would set and the night sky would be its darkest.
With the tripod and camera ready, I just focused and shot away at the Milky Way in the northeastern sky without needing to get out of my sleeping bag.
When the sun rose, some clouds moved in and were a nice subject for a time lapse in the early morning light. (This is the first time I've tried to embed video in the blog. Hope it works. You may need to click on the arrow. Sorry, but YouTube might try to take to you to some other video after mine plays.)
The next night, the campsite was along the river with a view downriver and to the west. The river is the dividing line of Pacific and Mountain time zones, so this image was taken about 10:15 p.m., but it was only 9:15 on the other side. My watch uses GPS and was very confused. The moon was still up and its light covering most of the stars, though Jupiter was along side the moon and you can see it shining through to the right of the moon. I set my alarm for moonset and let the sounds of the river put me to sleep.
I woke and was stunned by the sight in the dark sky. The Milky Way was glowing, but more amazing, Mars had risen. Though I've seen the planet in dark skies before, never had the planet been so bright and so red. (Unfortunately, the camera sensor was set for the dimmer stars and the red wave length was too bright to record. However, you can see the red color in the planet's reflection on the river.) When I returned home, I read that Mars was in "opposition" to Earth meaning Earth was between Mars and the Sun, and Mars was closer to Earth than it had been since 2003. It glowed 10 times brighter than usual. Adding to the event, Mars is having huge dust storms and reflects redder than normal. I was mesmerized watching it move across the dark sky and its reflection dance along the river as meteors flew about. When the Sun started lighting the sky, it was time to get back to sleep.