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Pictures & Words

The American Southwest: Post 7—Getting to White Pocket

Now that we had Kendall and all his good camping equipment, we had some decisions to make. The original plan was for us to spend some quality time with hard ground sleeping in the Canyonlands, but Rick's Hawaiian blood is apparently too thin for the cold and wind that was forcast for that area (that's how we ended up in Page in the first place). And although I hadn't mentioned it yet, we've had quite a bit of wind to this point of the trip. Not so bad shooting big rocks, but shooting flowers is challenging with them blowing all around.

We happily decided to pack up our stuff and make an overnight excursion into the Paria Plateau/Vermilion Cliffs Monument. We had our South Coyote Butte pass for today (Tuesday), and we thought we'd stop by the station and see if we could get a Wave pass for the next day in the lottery. No luck (again). There were people who had been there all week trying who went away empty handed, so I don't feel to bad. We did luck out again and had the opportunity to grab yet another day in South Coyote Butte, so we took it. The permit was cheap ($5/person/day) and this gave us some flexibility as to our plans for the various locations. 

We headed down the gravel road (GSNEM 700–House Rock Valley Road) that leads to North Coyote and South Coyote Buttes. We were treated to incredible views. We stopped a few miles in to take in this scene:


The Vermilion Cliffs is a very apt name for this area—the reds and oranges in this area are incredible! The sky was gorgeous and we had lots of puffy clouds that cast shadows dancing over the hills. We also decided to load the Jeep with some flat rocks in case we ended up getting stuck in the deep sand that we would be facing later in the trip. Our fearless leader Rick is scouring a wash for appropriate sized ones here:


Kendall was busy taking photographs of all the native wildflowers in this location (there were tons around). Not to repeat myself, but one of the most amazing aspects of this trip was getting to see all the flowering plants and shrubs around here. Just incredible.

The drive continued (with a nicely loaded Jeep). Note the repetition of the red/orange cliffs above, followed by red/orange sand hills underneath, with bentonite hills (those wacky colored and striped mounds) near the bottom. Dr. Seuss would be pleased! I was surprised we didn't trip over any Truffula trees out here…



The great thing about driving with photographers is that you stop just because you can. And this struck our fancy. It looks good in color...


But do you prefer it in B/W?


Every time we came across sage brush I had to grab a couple leaves to crush. It made me wonder where I put my roast chicken.


Another friendly cactus species... (can't remember what Rick called these). 


After a while, we turned on the road to Paw Hole. This road was supposedly much more difficult to pass, but the alternative route runs an extra 20 miles south, so this cuts off a lot of traveling. Rick did great blasting us through the sand in the Jeep.


And I believe that these are the South Coyote Buttes shown below. We'll be exploring those more in the next day.


We were fortunate to block the path of a guide who was leading a small tour to White Pocket as we wondered which way to turn on the unmarked roads. It was a good thing we did ("Hi" to Susan of Paria Outfitters), because I think we would have picked the wrong road. Susan was driving a big Surburban, and she just told us to follow her and keep on the gas to get through the deep sand. We had another exciting 40 minute drive to reach our final day's destination of White Pocket: home of red sandstone and brain rock.


The American Southwest: Post 6—Lake Powell and Coyote Gulch

After our first night staying over in Page (at the Page Boy Motel), we got up at sunrise to shoot Lake Powell. I mentioned the difficulties of shooting an early morning sunrise? I wasn't particularly pleased about my efforts here.

What do you do when you have a major hydroelectric dam in town? Build a coal-fired electricity plant.

0517-LakePowellLake Powell is huge for boaters, and this shot is of the Wahweap marina.



And if I'm getting up for sunrise, you better believe that Domo is going to as well! The sunlight makes his fur shine pink...


So after this effort, we decided to grab some coffee and breakfast from Safeway in Page, and then had to the Paria Ranger Station to enter the lottery to photograph the Wave the next day. The Wave is a bizarre striped sandstone formation in North Coyote Buttes. They only allow 24 people to travel there a day (under permit). 12 are picked from an internet lottery, and the other 12 are picked from a lottery that takes place at the station at 8:30. Utah time, that is... Because Utah and Arizona are in different time zones during this part of the year (Arizona doesn't recognize daylight saving), it gets kind of crazy keeping track of things. I'll give Rick full credit—we were never an hour late (or an hour early) for anything we did while we were bouncing between the two states.

So, the lottery has space for 12. There were around 100 people putting in for it. No luck here, but at least Domo got to check out the place. He's sitting on a memorial for Paria Skip, a ranger who's truck rolled off the road between Page and Kanab UT in 1997.

While we didn't win the lottery for North Coyote Buttes, we did get in to visit South Coyote Buttes. This area is also subject to a lottery, but there wasn't enough demand to run it so we got in straight away. Kendall was joining us this evening, so we looked forward to exploring the area with him. The reason it's not as popular is that it's harder to get to (4WD is necessary) and a larger area. We found it spectacular, but that's for an upcoming post.

With permit in hand (for tomorrow), we then headed to Coyote Gulch, a place that Rick has shot before. What was amazing about this area is the incredible white sands. We've vacationed on St. George Island off the Florida Panhandle, and it's known for it's wonderful white beach sand. This stuff was so much better (except there's no water anywhere near it. Amazingly fluffy and fine, it reminded me of confectioners sugar. Domo had a great time in this area! He found his own arch:


And he played hide and seek in the formations. You can see by the comparison of the two photos how different sky is when you're pointing towards the sun versus away from it.


I need to practice my consistency for white balance...



These rock formations were great and we could have played forever, but the combination of color (white) and overhead sun made for less than ideal photography. We thought about coming back at some point for a sunset (we never did—something for a future shoot).

We traveled around on a sand road and checked out the local rock formations


Here's Domo doing a little climbing. It's hard to get a sense of scale of the rocks on this one...

But this better represents scale. This formation was somewhere between 100-200 feet tall.

Lots of great flowers in the shaded area around here. Those yuccas really chewed my legs up over the two weeks.

We moved yet again to another part of the canyon to shoot some rock formations and flowers. Once again, this desert was in amazing bloom. I don't know if it's like this every year, but this was outstanding!



OK, that's it for the rocks. All flowers after this. Rick had mentioned a day or two prior that he wanted to find a yellow cactus to shoot. So we found one out here. And the pink cactus. And a rosy-gold cactus. And a bunch of other stuff...







Some highlights that weren't captured: we had either a pronghorn antelope or mule deer (I think the latter based on the rack) jump out and run along one of the rock formations right in front of us. He hopped and bounded for nearly a half mile to get out of range. Of course, I had the 10-20 mm on the camera and although I tried to slap the 70-200 on, I decided instead to just watch. And as we were driving out, we got an interesting amount of overcast clouds that made magical light (all the foliage turned bright green, and the sands were glowing!). We tried to follow a cattle road to an area we wanted to shoot, but 'you couldn't get there from here...', so we ended up turning back.

After this shoot (later in the afternoon) we headed back to Page and checked into Debbie's Hide-A-Way motel, a great spot for what would soon be three guys. Three bedrooms, a living room and kitchen for $79/night (off-season)! Kendall made his trip in safely from Colorado, and we went shopping for dinner (forgoing a sunset shoot). Yams, corn-on-the-cob, chicken, and some other stuff. Yum!

The American Southwest: Post 5—Cottonwood Rd to Page, AZ

After eating a very filling (and well-deserved) breakfast back at Bryce, we put our gear in the Jeep and headed out. We took Route 12 (a pretty drive) through Cannonville (we hid the Sigma gear) and then got on the gravel/dirt Cottonwood Road. Our first stop was Kodakchrome Basin State Park. Nice rocks, but it was the middle of the day and I didn't see anything that struck me as being a good photograph. We continued on and hung a left to go to Grosvenor Arch. As arches go, this is a mammoth one in terms of its location, on the top of a pretty big chunk of stone.

This is the view from the bottom looking straight up it.


This was a nice diversion. We continued on for a while, (past Cottonwood Narrows and the dreaded "Nikon Man") until I started seeing some flowers that I wanted to shoot. Rick pulled over and we got our first taste of exactly how much this desert area was blooming.



It was so beautiful, I let Domo get out and stretch. You'll see how nice and clean Domo is at this point of the trip. Let's just say that by the end he'll need a bath...


So, we drove a little farther. Rick had mentioned that he wanted to shoot catci at some point, and I saw one in bloom from the car. So again, we pulled over and hiked around for an hour shooting catcus. I had brought my reflector along, and that ended up to be a good thing—we used it a surprising amount on the trip.

Here's the 'generic' hot-pink catcus that was all over the place.

And here's the 'Claret-cup' catcus:


We got ourselves catcused-out eventually, and jumped back into the Jeep. We ended up at this really interesting overlook, so a little scramble up one of the hills gave me this nice view.

Farther on, we came across this interesting area:



And we eventually ended up back on 89 near the Paria Ranger station. Rick took me across the road to shoot an old house/windmill that he had shot before. It was a great drive, but the house had been taken down and a semi container was under the windmill, so it wrecked the shot…  However, I did get to prove that I'm a Wisconsin photographer with this fine portrait.


I also snapped this in our travels.


And we finished at 'Ship Rock' to shoot a couple formations as the sun was setting.



All in all, this was a fantastic day, and the trip was really just getting started!

The American Southwest: Post 4: Morning at Sunrise Point

On Sunday morning we decided to visit the cathedral of hoodoos at Sunrise Point before sunrise and do a bit of shooting. I personally find sunrise photography to be much more difficult than sunset photography. It's not just dragging yourself out of bed and finding coffee that's the pain—it's setting up somewhere that you're not totally familiar with, figuring out what your subject is going to be, and hoping that the light hits it correctly. And you've got maybe 4-5 minutes of that wonderful soft light as the sun peaks over the horizon. At sunset, you can see your subjects, you can get a bead on the sun's location, and you have time to figure stuff out.

Sunrise Point has tons of things to photograph, but it can be overwhelming if you don't isolate a decent subject. For me, that was an ongoing struggle. For example, 


this is a pretty view, and even might make a decent print, but it's not great. What's going on below the pines?? There should be more pines on the slope to balance things (IMO), but my guess is that there were a bunch of hoodoos lighting up below.

Hoodoo's are pretty, but they get overwhelmed by shadows pretty quickly...

Finally, I got a shot that I'm pretty pleased with, a nice isolation of a rock formation on a hillside. All these are with my 70-200 mm zoom; not a classic focal length for landscape, but for this landscape (and where we were), it was pretty effective. Trust me when I say the 10-20 or 8-16 would have been pretty busy.


Rick and I eventually started to hike down a trail to the canyon floor. Three issues with that: we were dressed for cold weather (it was windy and 40's), once at the bottom we had to hike up, and this was the start of the hiking for me and I was not in shape for it. Photos that I made while going down include:





On this last one I have no idea how I got the crazy blue-black sky. The 10-20 lens sometimes overdoes blue (seems like it self-polarizes), but this is wicked extreme. But very cool. The tree was twisted nearly that badly.

No shots were taken on the way up. Just huffing and puffing. The good news is that I lost around 15 lbs. with all this hiking on the trip!

The American Southwest: Post 3—Afternoon at Bryce Canyon

So, we got through the amazing tunnel(s) at Zion, and headed to Bryce to shoot the afternoon, spend the night, and shoot the next day's sunrise. But escaping Zion wasn't completely easy, because new opportunities always seemed to be cropping up. On the way I was introduced to some more amazing scenery. The southwest is big—and it's a challenge to make photographs. You just want to put a wide angle lens on and capture it all, but you end up with 'salad bowl'—a mixture of junk tossed (and lightly seasoned). Creating strong images with good composition was my biggest challenge on this trip.


Driving to Bryce. How's this for a nice diversion along the road? We're not in Kansas (or Wisconsin) anymore! Glorious colors, wonderful topology, amazing landscape. Would you ever get tired of looking at this for your back yard?


Nope. Me neither. Both these images were shot out of the car with the 18-200 OS lens (thanks Sigma USA!)

I wanted to demonstrate the 'Salad Bowl' effect (although the above images do a decent job of that). I had a nice shot, but SPP corrupted the jpg conversion. So I call this 'Salad Bowl effect–a la Jimi Hendrix'. Trippy, huh?


Back to our regularly scheduled stuff. We did most of the 'lookout' points at Bryce once we got there in the afternoon. It was strong light (too strong), beautiful clouds. Haven't yet worked these images into B/W, but there might be some keepers. I wanted to show an overlook where we worked for 30 minutes or so…



Different perspectives of the same basic area. I like them all for different reasons, but probably none of them enough to print. Ignore the pine tree branches impinging on the third shot (right side). I forgot my pruning shears. Rick was working pretty hard around here:


This is Natural Bridge, a famous arch. Frankly, I didn't do it much photographic justice, but the light was too hard. Composition is really important in landscape shots, but so is getting the right light on the subject.

How about Sunrise Point at sunset? The sandstone hoodoos light up so that they glow. This is overexposed intentionally, and I should probably crop out the left side. This one, I will print. Even if it's busy...


Thor's hammer is next. I thought it was a fist, so I named it before I looked it up. I wish I had hung around until the background rocks were in shadow. I learned to do this later on the trip. Notice the snow around the pines. There was plenty of snow in the area. This was taken with my 70-200, and you'll notice it has a naturally cooler rendition than some of the other lenses.

But the real question: what about Domo? Well, he was chillin' at inspiration point as shown here:


In fact, he was chillin' even more in this photo:

We ended up shooting Sunrise and Sunset points at the end of the day, and then headed for a tasty dinner at the lodge at the park. It was a great way to end the first day's shoot!

The American Southwest: Post 2—Zion

One of the selling points that Rick used on me for this trip (not that he had to) was that if I loved Death Valley (which I did), I'd like this better. Especially because the trip would be more isolated and we'd see less people.

Not at Zion. The place was packed. I'd estimate that 10% of the populations of France, Germany and Japan were at Zion this Saturday (May 15). Throw in a couple of Americans, and it was clear that it was a very busy, very popular, very multicultural spot! The road to the valley was closed to car traffic (as of April 1), so the only way we would be able to participate would be via tour buses. No way—we had a date with Bryce, and we didn't have the time.

0515_domo at ZionWho's the pink guy? This is my daughter's Domo (valentine edition). I promised to take Domo sightseeing on this trip seeing that Grace couldn't come (because she's missed about a million school days for dog shows this year). This is Domo overlooking the park. Scenic? You bet!

0515_Zion Rock

This is a record shot of a great big honking rock. I wasn't sure if I'd see anymore as impressive as this during my trip, so I made sure to snap it. Foolish, naive Jim…


There's a very pretty bridge in Zion, with a nice stream rushing through. I did not get my feet wet at all this trip (unless you count blood at Antelope Canyon, but that's for another post). I worked this view with the 50-150, but I returned to my 10-20 for this shot. I bought the 10-20 on a whim—I had never really done wide angle work before Death Valley, and didn't know if I'd like the lens (and the perspective), but I thought I'd give it a try. It's now a favorite, and I really like this shot, even if it's too busy to print (and the perspective makes the peaks in back a little too small). Would have loved to have blurred the water, but would have needed an ISO 4 settting to do so.

A real photo here. This is a B/W conversion of a slope that had a trickle of water going down to a pool. Rick and I pulled over to do some shooting here as we were driving out. This is before the tunnel.


Another view of the same area. I could have made a much stronger photo if I had a 16-20" chain saw with me. Sigma, please put that on your product list.


An image of an old log (again with the 10-20). This works quite well in B/W.


And finally, the obligatory cactus shot. This is actually one of my best ones (and you'll see several attempts in the posts to come). Domo shows the appropriate amount of emotion for being stuffed into this shot! Seriously, the areas that we frequented on this trip were all in bloom, and I saw dozens of different wildflowers (including six or seven different cactus flowers). The diversity and beauty of the areas we visited were incredible, and it's really hard to capture this in totality with photos. But hey, we try anyway!

So that ends the Zion series. Now, on to Bryce!

The American Southwest: Post #1

So, I'm going to blog about the trip that I've just returned from: twelve days of photography in the American Southwest, centered around Utah and Arizona. What a fantastic trip, and a great opportunity for me to get out with some experienced photographers to see this country and try to capture some decent photographs! Up front, I'd like to give a huge 'THANK YOU' to my photographic host, Rick Decker. Rick organized this trip (italics used intentionally), and it was a complete blast. We were joined by Kendall Gelner for some of the trip, and I really enjoyed having him around for the few days he could make it. Thanks also go to Laurence Matson and Chunsum Choi, who provided some vitally needed equipment (I've got some degritting to do...), as well as Sigma for supplying some lenses to try out (that 70 mm Macro is S•H•A•R•P!).

For me, the trip started Friday, May 14. No images were taken (no pixels abused), but Rick and Laurence gave presentations to the Nevada Camera Club in Las Vegas. The presentations were excellent (if long...). Rick did a beautiful job discussing some of his work, experiences, and philosophies around photography. Laurence discussed Foveon and Sigma technology, as well as presenting a number of very nice, large prints. Sigma provided dinner, door prizes, and lenses for those Canon and Nikon shooters to try out. It was a lot of fun, and very well attended (at least 120 people by my count).

The photography would start tomorrow…

Perhaps the most important event of this day happened at the rental car lot: after asking for a 4WD SUV and being told there weren't any, we pointed to a Jeep Wrangler and asked about that one. They said, "yeah, that'll be OK", and we were sent on our merry way without any upgrade charges. The Jeep heavily factors into our trip: it allowed us access to places that we couldn't get to otherwise. I had never been in a Jeep on 'trails'—now I have a profound respect for the things that vehicle can do. And Rick did a great job of navigating over and crawling through some really rough/tough terrain.

Happy Mother's Day…

…to all mom's out there. To my Mom (and Dad)—hope you had a nice getaway. Hard to believe that it's been 50 years! Although my knees are starting to feel it...

To my wife of nearly 22 years, happy Mother's Day! Your Mother's Day breakfast was delicious—Noah and I really enjoyed it!. We'll have a nice dinner anyway; I hope you and Grace win today.

Copyright 2014, Jim Kofron. All rights reserved.