Tag

valley

Our Journey, Photography

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

It was quite a relief to watch the arid and bleak scenery of Death Valley melt away into the green smatterings of plants here and there. Before long, the views along the roadside had fully transitioned into lush, rolling hills, sprinkled with rocky outcrops and dotted with trees. Seeing the green grass rustling in the wind made me realize just how long it had been since we had seen real grass, not just a tiny dot of it that comprised of the dog runs in Vegas or the fake grass that people roll out in front of their RV’s. This was thick, green, and full of life. I wanted to run out into the middle of any number of the passing fields and roll around. It seemed like an eternity since the ground had been anything but baked earth or the red dusty sand that had grown so familiar these past few months. Brown and white cows were in abundance, casually meandering through the picturesque landscape as they chewed their cud. Little calves pranced and jumped about in joy, playing as their mothers watched over them. It made me smile as I looked out over the hills as far as the eye could see with clouds rolling across the sky promising rain. The initial phase of the journey to Yosemite was comfortable and smooth with the promise of a new environment.

It was a long day working our way south of the Sierras and back up again. Nearly eight hours into our ascent our journey took an unexpected turn. A man, a truck and a sign all indicated the same thing – “Road Closed”. Despite the lack of warnings on the roads leading up to this junction, the DOT employee was able to explain to us that the entire corridor up ahead was washed out. The unusual amount of rain that California had received over the past couple weeks had wreaked havoc on many of the area roads and bridges. Unfortunately for us, this meant we would need to turn around and take a detour that would add a couple hours to our trip. The detour led us directly into Yosemite instead of skirting the western edge as we had planned. While the views were of course incredible, it had already been a long day and now the sun was setting. More than once I thought the RV was going to scrape against the edge of the cliffs and rock faces that had been carved out to make way for the road. The constant winding track, inclines, and steep downhills made the wheels of the RV send up small billows of smoke as we slowed our descent around precariously tight corners. Several hours past our original time for reaching our destination, and we had finally reached the RV park. Brandon took out his phone to check for cell coverage and/or WiFi only to discover that there was absolutely no connection. No internet means no work which forced us to have to make a new set of calculations.

Without data coverage we were limited to what information we had cached on our offline maps. We suspected that if we headed west we would increase our odds of cell coverage as that was the only direction where there was any towns of substantial size. Half an hour later we were starting to get limited coverage and decided to pull off and call around to see if we could find someplace else to spend the night. After a few phone calls to the different campsites around the area, we learned that not just the roads were flooded out but also the majority of the nearby towns and campgrounds. The best suggestion any one had was to head to the town of Sonora as it was high enough up to avoid most of the damage. It was another hour away from Yosemite but without any better options, it was our last hope. After doing a bit of research we learned that there are no RV parks in Sonora. At this point though, we needed a place to stay so that Brandon could work in the morning and decided to start calling hotels. We found a Best Western in Sonora that was pet friendly and had space for an RV, our two key requirements. The hour was more of an hour and a half with the RV due to the steep, winding roads leading out of the western edge of the Sierras. By the time that we arrived we were thankful to be done for the day, even if that meant leaving our house in the parking lot. We packed up our electronics and setup a worksite in the hotel figuring we could spend the remainder of the week working from the hotel before moving back up to the campground for the weekend.

Sonora was a nice little town with a large variety of restaurants and luxuries that we had been lacking while out in the more remote parts of the desert. On Tuesday, after Brandon had finished work for the day, we headed back up to Yosemite to spend the late afternoon and evening in the park. The drive was infinitely easier without the RV and we made good time, but it was still a two hour drive to reach the places we wanted to be inside the park. This arrangement was less than ideal and meant that our visits into Yosemite were considerably less viable than we had originally planned. We came to the conclusion that we would have to wait for the weekend for more thorough excursions into the park. The rest of the week seemed to meld together as we kept ourselves cooped up inside the hotel until the weekend. The one major benefit of this was an opportunity to catchup on going through photos and a bit of relaxation.

Once Friday rolled around we were eager to get everything packed away and loaded up into the RV to get back to things. The drive back up to our original RV accommodations was rather grueling, and again spent much of the time wondering if we would leave some paint on the abundant, jutting rock faces. Once we were settled into the campground and got situated, we realized it was one of the nicer ones we had been to. There were a very limited number of campsites, but they had plenty of room, a small plot of grass for the dogs to enjoy just outside our door, and the peace and quiet of the outdoors. Saturday we spent the day traveling throughout Yosemite, taking our time to get pictures of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and another attempt at some sunset photos. It was surprisingly busy in the park throughout the weekend which we later learned was due to it being spring break for all of the schools in California. Despite the mix of sunny and cloudy weather we were still able to sneak in a few shots in the handful of sunny moments that existed. Next year, I suspect we will be coming back but will have a better idea of where we need to stay and can plan a little better. We will also know to avoid spring break so we can enjoy the park while it’s more empty.

Sunrise the next morning was long and drawn out. Although we got up at 4:30 AM to make sure we would make it in time for the sunrise, we ended up waiting until almost 7:30 AM before the sun finally managed to burst forth and spread its light over the valley. There was a long line of photographers patiently waiting with their cameras fixated on the horizon. Darting in between you would find couples trying to grab a quick snap or selfie before getting bored and moving on. After the sunrise we made a final loop around the park and took a few more shots of the primary falls as the light began to illuminate the cascading water. It was beautiful to see how the shadows of the water falling down the rock face morphed and swirled in the shifting light.

Back at the RV, we packed things up and prepared to hit the road. Due to our experiences over the past week we decided that we would be better off finding a location that was more centralized to areas we could shoot during the week. Instead of spending the next week holed up in the hotel again, we decided to head to the California coast just north of Monterey. This would give us opportunities to visit with sea otters, whales and other local creatures before continuing our journey ever northward.

Our Journey, Photography

The Valley of Death

The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death

Once work was completed for the week we began our escape by heading down one of the many long, empty roads out of Vegas. As the city fell away behind us, all that remained was uncompromising desert flats, a horizon of tiny mountains off in the distance and the occasional military base or prison sprinkled in between. The only thing of note along that barren stretch of highway was the Area 51 Cafe which must not have realized that it was a tad bit south of the actual base. After a couple hours we arrived in Beatty, a small, former mining town. While there wasn’t much there, it provided a close base from which we could explore Death Valley.

After setting up camp we headed into the park for sunset. Despite being relatively close to the park, it still took us over an hour to get into the park and to arrive at the Mesquite Dunes. This is largely in part due to the sheer size of the park itself. Sitting on over 3.3 million acres, it is nearly the size of Connecticut. In addition to sheer size, the park ranges from sitting below sea level to rising to nearly 11,000 feet in places. The vastness is not easily conveyed but is truly quite astonishing. The massive sand dunes themselves rise to over 100 feet tall and cover a many square miles. Dune after dune, we ascended upwards to scale the tallest dunes and capture shots of the contrasting peaks of sand. Without the clouds, the sunset lacked the luster we really hoped for, but given that Death Valley has almost 365 days of sunny weather, it was little wonder there were no clouds. We sat and appreciated the sunset and twilight before making our way back down the rolling sand mountains and eventually back to the RV.

We got up around 3AM to head back into the park and attempt to capture some astrophotography. Sadly, our efforts were thwarted by a series of low level cloud layers that obscured the sky. For some reason, by sheer luck, when we came to Death Valley, one of the driest places in the world, clouds seemed to have followed us. It made taking pictures of the night sky and the stars impossible. Since the view of the stars was rendered hopeless, we decided to head to our next destination for sunrise, hoping that the clouds would clear away and give us a nice glow for the breaking of dawn. A quick nap in the truck was in order before we trudged out to Zabriskie Point where the hills look painted with the striations of the rock itself. As we sat out on the lip of the steep drop overlooking the main formations, the wind whipped violently and strong from behind us, but was warm upon the skin. As light began creeping across the sky the wind became steadily colder, and sadly the clouds refused to abate and blocked the brilliance of the suns glow from touching the point. We captured what we could and then made our way to Badwater Basin.

It was a funny feeling being in Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at almost 300 feet below sea level. The wind was so intense it almost knocked you over as it gustily made its way down the valley. The deeper we headed into the valley, the more the ground was cracked and plastered white with the thick crust of salt. The effect of the salt was apparent on the earth as it was creased and torn from having all the moisture sucked out of it. Unlike the Bonneville Salt Flats where the salt would cling to the bottom of your shoes and still seemed almost like wet snow, the salt here made your eyes feel as if they were drying out of your sockets as the wind hit them. The patterns upon the ground were very similar, but the Badwater Basin lacked the pure white glittering of Bonneville. The salt here was harsher, darker, and dull. Once we had finished taking our photos of the extensive basin we trudged our way back to the truck to grab some much needed sleep in the RV.

It’s amazing how refreshing a short nap and a good meal can be after being sleep deprived and exhausted. We were up and off again in no time as we had little time to spare if we were going to get to our next destination by sunset. After an hour and a half on the main roads, we took the truck down the rocky road to Racetrack Playa for 30 miles to reach Racetrack Playa. The whole road was extremely washboarded and the entire time you could barely exceed 20 mph or your tires would begin sliding out from the loose gravel and stones on the road. Those 30 miles took almost another 2 hours before we reached the Playa. The area is known for the mysterious ‘moving rocks’ that left long trails carved into the ground behind them. It wasn’t until rather recently that scientists were able to pinpoint the root cause. Apparently, it is an extremely rare event but the idea is that if the correct series of events occurs, it will trigger this phenomena. First, enough rain must collect in the area to partially cover the stones but not submerge them. Next, it must drop below freezing such that the top of the water is frozen but the bottom remains unfrozen. The temperature then needs to rise just enough that the ice begins to crack and leave gaps. Finally, the wind must be strong enough to push the now free ice chunks into the rocks with enough fore that it causes the subtle movements seen over time. This was something that had fascinated me as a child and to finally get a chance to see it in person, I was disappointed. This was not because of the rocks themselves, which I fully enjoyed and was enthralled by, but by the blatant carelessness and disregard of previous visitors. It was extremely apparent that people had no regard for this natural phenomenon. You could see the trails that must have taken thousands of years to have been made, only to find no rock at the end. Only an empty spot where it should have been, a trail cut short. On others you could see where the trail had been created by a larger rock, but another rock had been placed upon the track. Some places had tracks with rocks at the beginning and the end of them. It was abundantly apparent that people had been taking the rocks, or moving them to try and get a better photo without any real regard to the fact that these rocks were here because of thousands of years of absolutely perfect conditions to allow them to move. It was deeply saddening that people held such little regard for such things. As long as they got their perfect souvenire or that perfect shot, who cares right? With that in mind we were careful not to disturb any of the rocks, and after a lot of searching finally found a few that we liked, took our photos, and made sure to leave everything as we found it.

Once the sun had gone over the horizon, we made our way back down the long bumpy road back to the main road and through the dark to our RV once more. It had been an extremely full day and another long one was waiting for us the next morning as we would make our way across California and into Yosemite National Park.

Our Journey, Photography

Zion & Kolob Canyons

Zion & Kolob Canyons
Zion & Kolob Canyons
Zion & Kolob Canyons
Zion & Kolob Canyons
Zion & Kolob Canyons
Zion & Kolob Canyons
Zion & Kolob Canyons
Zion & Kolob Canyons
Zion & Kolob Canyons

When we arrived at Zion we had high hopes for the week. We were put on a site that was next to a lovely group of people visiting from California. The campground was fairly empty and backed up to the Virgin River that flowed down from the mountains and created a tranquil place to sit and relax. The only major downside was the massive amount of construction that the town was undergoing. All of the roads were being torn up and repaved before the busy tourist season commenced. Unfortunately for us, this meant that going anywhere, whether to the grocery store or to the park, became an easy thirty minutes of waiting for the one way road to clear.

Each day after work we would head into the park and wait patiently for the sun to set over the nearby mountain range. The weather was in the 60’s and was a nice change of pace from the freezing nights the past few weeks. One oddity we discovered in attempting to get sunset shots was that there must be some sort of weather anomaly for the area. The valleys surrounding Zion would have perfect, wispy, high altitude clouds, but as you get closer to and into Zion valley, the clouds completely clear away and you are lucky to even get a single tiny cloud in the sky. We can’t be sure if this is an actual weather pattern or just our misfortune but it made getting ideal sunset shots impossible.

The first couple of nights we went to one of the more iconic points for sunset photography, the Canyon Junction bridge over the Virgin River. This is the stereotypical, postcard view but for good reason. The river bends at just the right angle to create a nice foreground with the Watchman in the background painted with the last glows of sunlight. The downside of course is that everyone knows this and there tends to be a large conglomerate of tourists and photographers alike jostling over the limited space. On our third visit to Zion however, we decided to head further down the river to a second bridge. While more overgrown than other parts of the river we were pleased to discover a small amount of glow reflected off the water. Additionally, there was a smaller stream that merged with the river at this point creating a waterfall. While it wasn’t the postcard view, it was at least something a little different from the run of the mill shot and was quiet enough to just sit and enjoy the sunset.

The daunting traffic in town had caused us to overlook the nearby Kolob Canyon that we should have considered earlier in the week. The canyon itself is not as remarkable or as well-known as Zion, but at this time of year it had a rather unusual advantage: snow. Just after the last snows of winter and before the warmth of spring, small amounts of snow can be found clinging to the North facing parts of the canyon that don’t receive as much sunlight as the rest of it. This, coupled with the dark orange and red textures of the rock and the bright green of the pines, gave the area an even greater contrast. Together it created a visual appeal that we hadn’t found in Zion Canyon. After the sun had set, we proceeded down into the small town of Cedar City to grab some food and a bit of dessert. The latter, Sub Zero Ice Cream, was quite a discovery. Despite having locations across the country, neither of us had been there before. Unlike other ice cream vendors, their claim to success was using liquid nitrogen to freeze a custom mix of base dairy and toppings. The end result was possibly the best ice cream we have had.

After our excursion to town, we returned back to Kolob Canyon to attempt a bit of astrophotography. Despite our best efforts, the excessive light pollution from nearby Cedar City and Hurricane completely ruined any efforts. Where there should have been stars instead lay gaps of dark, empty spaces. Instead, we decided to head back to the Canyon Junction bridge in Zion since it was far enough away from civilization to have the light pollution of Kolob. There was a different set of difficulties to getting an astro-shot there though. Due to the fact that the road through Zion is still a main road for the area, cars cross over the bridge even in the dead of night. Careful timing could end up leading to nothing if a car came around the bend unexpectedly, and ruin an entire shot. As was the case, this happened frequently and it proved that patience was the key to getting any results.

With the week at an end, we packed up and once again hit the road, this time to Las Vegas. Though neither one of us is particularly thrilled with being back here, it is a necessary evil as it is one of the major transportation hubs in the region. Brandon will be heading back to D.C. for a week and half and this is one of the cheaper places for him to fly back. Once he returns we will be heading through Death Valley and up to Yosemite.

Our Journey, Photography

Shiprock to Zion

Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion
Shiprock to Zion

We drove up from Alamogordo on a blistery Saturday morning. Most of the drive was through arid, hilly terrain with an occasional dusty small town to pull off in to get gas. As we approached Shiprock, the elevation began to climb and the outside palette shifted from fine sand to a mix of rock and snow. Setting up in the dark isn’t much fun but by this point we have a pretty good system and in less than 15 minutes we were setup for the night. The blistering cold of the desert will always be a shock to me. When I was growing up, I always pictured deserts with extreme heat, tumble weeds and lizards skittering across the sand and baked earth. Being out here is a completely different experience from the images conjured from my childhood imagination. Even in the RV the cold air could be felt seeping in through any nook or gap it could possibly find. Fortunately, we were prepared and have a number of heavy blankets to keep warm throughout the coldest nights.

When we awoke we were amazed to see that even from the RV park, about 40 miles away, we were able to see Shiprock jutting out of an otherwise flat landscape. We spent the day stocking up on supplies, taking care of some necessary repairs and a bit of photo editing. We went to bed early to ensure we would be able to get up at 3 to go out and attempt astrophotography. Brandon had done research on different websites to find the best route to get there but since the roads weren’t part of any mapping software, we knew it might be a bit of a challenge to find. There had been a mild warning that the roads would be rough. When we actually found the first service road, we realized that it might have been a bit understated. It was by no means as rough as the road out to Hole in the Rock in Grand Staircase Escalante, but it was still not a route I would recommend for anyone driving a sedan. Unless you have a truck or an off-road vehicle, I would recommend not taking that route at all. In the pitch black of 3AM, we couldn’t really see much other than what was directly in front of the headlights. When we finally reached the end of the road, we were a bit baffled. The GPS showed us being nearly on top of the mountain but there was no more road. We decided to turn off all the lights and wait a few minutes to see if we could get a better feel for our surroundings. Almost immediately after we turned off the headlights it was as if Shiprock had magically appeared. We were both so startled at how close we were that we both burst out laughing. Just out of range of the beams of our lights Shiprock emerged from the earth and we had failed to see it till that moment. Once our eyes adjusted we took the time to plan out where we could shoot from. To our disappointment, the Milky Way was over the city itself and not over the rock as we had hoped. Brandon didn’t let that discourage him though as he decided that he wanted astral shots either way. After taking a few shots of the mountain with the stars above, we bundled up in the truck and waited for first light of sunrise to finish getting the shots we wanted. Before long we had the brilliance of morning shining down and snapped a few more photos. However, they lacked something. The sky was bright blue and not a cloud in the sky. It sounds ideal, but photos that lack clouds also lack the colors that can be found on the undersides of clouds as the sun rises and sets. We headed back to the RV and Brandon began his work. By the time sunset rolled around, the wispy clouds had taken over the sky and Brandon was eager to get out and try again. Before long we were rumbling down the service road once again and the clouds streaked the sky with deep purples and shimmery pinks as the sun started to set. While we waited for the peak color, I spent some time testing and playing with the Lensball that Brandon had purchased on a whim. The crystal ball was fascinating, and after some playing around I learned a lot about what I could and could not do with it. Despite the fact that I am by no means a professional photographer, and only use my phone, I still enjoyed finding out how I could push the limits and broaden my abilities with this new tool. Brandon was pleased with the shots he managed to get in the dusky sunset and so ended a rather long and eventful day.

As the week continued we took every opportunity in the evening after Brandon finished his work to race down to Shiprock and try to find a new angle to shoot. The week was going rather well until I came outside one afternoon and discovered a giant wet patch behind our RV. We had just had the fresh water pump repaired after we were told that it just had an air pocket stuck in it. As I watched, I found the fresh water tank gushing with water out of the vent and forcing its way out of the cap. After some fiddling around and trial and error, I found that every time I turned on the city water connection, the fresh water tank would begin dumping water out onto the ground. This is less than ideal in a desert setting where water is precious. I made some frantic searches on Google and discovered that there were two likely possibilities for the problem. The most likely candidate was the center valve of the fresh water pump. Usually it is supposed to make sure that the two tanks are partitioned off so that water from the city water connection can’t flow backward into the fresh water tank. I made a trip up to the front office and they gave me the number for a local RV repair company. Shortly after calling, a repair man discovered that the issue was not actually the center valve, but that the diaphragm inside the pump had failed and instead of keeping the water separate, it was causing the water to flow backwards and out of the fresh water tank. We ended up having to replace the entire fresh water pump. Considering the RV is brand new this was a bit annoying but at least now we had a working water pump.

After work Friday, we hopped back into the truck, and set out to Monument Valley for the weekend. It was a short drive with a minor detour to the tourist trap of Four Corners. We arrived just before closing and took the customary pictures of standing on all four states at once. Another hour or so driving through winding hills and rusty colored rock formations and we were there. Once we set up at Goulding’s campground, we set about arranging tours for the next couple of days. The town itself sits in the Navajo Nation and most of the surrounding lands are owned privately. In order to access many of the most beautiful areas, you must travel with a local guide that will help navigate the many sandy roads that weave between the rock formations. The next day, we met our guide, Tully, who took us deep into Mystery Canyon. We spent the afternoon traversing a dizzying array of intertwining back roads to cliff faces, arches, and ancient ruins of the Anasazi people who once lived there hundreds of years ago. One of the most fascinating sites was Honeymoon Arch, which was once a granary storehouse for the area. The small structure was built almost like a beehive against the sloping arch of the stone and with the exception of the intricate pattern created by the rocks placement, it would have utterly blended in to the surroundings. Once the sun began to set, we headed back to Monument Valley to see the Mittens and Tully told me about the Man and Woman. The Man is the ‘thumb’ of the Right Mitten, and he watches out over the valley to the north as a protector. The Woman is the ‘thumb’ of the Left Mitten And she watches over The Man and to the south of the valley. By sunset the clouds in the sky had taken on a bright array of purples and oranges and we scurried about from spot to spot trying to capture the best views, which is rather difficult when they all look amazing.

At 5:30 AM the next morning, we caught up with Tully again to traverse the main valley. He drove us out onto private roads, past the home of the late Susie Yazzi, an accomplished and famous local weaver who lived to be 106 years-old. We continued onward, drifting over sand filled ruts and roads to get morning shots of The Totem Pole and The Dancers. We parked and ascended a series of sandy dunes so that we could capture the first burst of sunlight coming over the horizon. The valley lit up orange and gold as the sunlight poured over and lit up the sky, banishing the night. We traveled out to The Sun’s Eye Arch and were able to observe many ancient petroglyphs of big horn sheep that has survived over a thousand years. The Sun’s Eye itself had streaks of ‘desert resin’ caused by the minerals from the rocks and rain, making it appear as if the Eye were crying tears. Next we ventured to Ear-of-the-Wind arch and found, not only a great site for photos, but also a set of fresh fox tracks. We followed the tracks for a ways until it crossed with rabbit tracks and signs of a scuffle before the rabbit tracks went one way and the fox went another. Last on our tour was Moccasin Arch and Big Hogan arch. In the Big Hogan arch I found myself feeling rather small as I gazed up at the almost perfectly round hole in the top of the massive arch of a cliff face. Although we try our hardest, it is nearly impossible to actually capture the true scale of the cliffs and arches out here in the west.

Once we got back to camp we broke everything down again and were trundling our way to our next destination: Zion National Park. The drive wasn’t long but took us through some interesting weather as we somehow passed through a snowstorm on the way through the desert. Once we reached Zion, we settled into our new campsite, ready to plan out what the next week would have in store for us.