Going through some old photos of my trips, I came across this one of Yosemite Falls from 2010. Yosemite National Park is my favorite National Park in the US and I am sad to say that it has been over six years since I have been back there. I definitely have to remedy that next year. My buddies, Jeff Clow and Steve Somers informed me that the falls were dry last October when they visited due to the drought in Northern California. I can't imagine being in Yosemite and not hearing the roaring of the waterfall that never seems to stop. I just looked at the webcam of the falls and it looks like the drought has continued. According to the National Park website, the falls has been slowing to a trickle by the end of July. Let's hope that the weather patterns change and the rains return to California.
This photo is from quite a few years ago when we were on vacation, sailing on a cruise around the British Isles. The ship had docked near Glasgow and we decided to take a tour on the coastline of Scotland. One of our stops was at Culzean Castle, which is actually located in a country park of the same name and is open to the public. We weren't sure what we were going to see, and as we walked along the path and saw this entrance "gate", I knew we were in for a treat.
If you live in the United Kingdom or have visited there, you probably have seen a photo of the castle -- it appears on the back of five pound notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland. The castle was built in 1792 for the 10th Earl of Cassilis as the seat of his earldom. It lies along the coastline, with views of the sea from various locations within the castle. The castle was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945 to avoid inheritance tax. One unique stipulation was that an apartment be given to Dwight Eisenhower in recognition of his leadership during World War II.
One of the great joys of photography is finding an unexpected subject that captivates you. Don't think that finding subjects is pure luck, it's not. Properly scouting a location requires lots of research ahead of time and knowing not only where to shoot but what time of day to shoot. There are many apps out there that help with this research and Google search helps quite a bit. Another source of information is 500px, where there are many excellent photos of just about every location on Earth. You can often discover where a location is, what time of day it was shot, and what the weather conditions were by looking at a photo's metadata. You also get a feel of the different compositions that others have shot.
With all that, luck does play a part in getting a photo (especially with weather condition). This shot of Mount Norquay was quite unexpected. We were shooting sunrise at Two Jack Lake and and a few of us decided to walk around the right side of the lake for different compositions of Mount Rundle reflected in the lake. As we turned a corner, I spotted this view opposite of where we were looking. It turns out that it is a view of the back of Mount Norquay that we didn't know could be seen from the Two Jack lakeshore. The light and shadows really pulled out the details of the ruggedness of the Canadian Rockies.
How many churches have this type of view of a bay and rugged mountains? In fact, how many churches sit on a small islet in a bay that is over 17 miles long with a shoreline of more than 66 miles of shoreline? I know of only this one, namely The Church of Our Lady of the Rocks in the country of Montenegro. Like most ancient places, there is a story attached to the islet. According to legend, the islet was created by seamen who were keeping an ancient oath after finding an icon of Madonna and Child on a rock there. After each voyage, they would lay a rock in there until the islet was formed. The original church was built there in 1452, with the current church replacing it in 1632.
It shouldn't be surprising that a church was built there. The country of Montenegro is very small (just about the size of Connecticut) and is made up of mostly rugged mountains. While it is home to only about 620,000 people, the most amazing fact is that it has 365 churches. So having a church in the middle of a huge bay shouldn't be that surprising.
Exploring Monument Valley is always an exhilarating experience as well as a photography adventure. Perhaps the most recognized sandstone formations in the American Southwest are two that are called the "Mittens". When viewed from the south, they look like two gigantic mittens with their "thumbs" facing inwards like a person's hand. These formations are really big, each rising about 6,200 feet from the desert below.
One has to wonder how these two formations became mirror images of one another. Like most of the formations in Monument Valley, they were formed by thousands of years of erosion. I am guessing that the two mittens are at least a half-mile apart, if not a mile or more. Given that, what were the circumstances of wind and water erosion that would cause them to form almost identically? Obviously, these questions will probably never be answered. In any case, this photo depicts the West Mitten that I thought the old dead tree limbs framed quite well.
No scouting trip of the Palouse is complete without a visit to Palouse Falls State Park. Many are surprised that it is over an hour drive from the town of Colfax and is in the middle of nowhere. Our plan was to get there around 5pm and stay until sunset to get some photos. We knew it would be hot there and when we stepped out of the car, both Jeff and I knew we probably would not make it until sunset. I don't know the exact temperature, but if you had told me it was over a 100 degrees, I wouldn't have argued with you.
I wandered past all of the signs that told me that if I ventured past the signs and fell or got hurt, I would be responsible for paying for my rescue. I continued past them anyway, as it was the only way to shoot the falls, the Palouse Canyon and the Palouse River in the same photo. It can be very hard to get a decent shot, as the shadows can quickly fill the canyon, making the dynamic range quite challenging. I wasn't sure if the light would be soft enough for the shot, but I think it turned out better than I expected. Once I got this shot, I quickly headed to the parking lot to cool down in the air-conditioned car.
There was a sign that we spotted in Glacier National Park on our drive to Bowman Lake that read "Dust is a four-letter word" that would become very apropos for our visit to the Palouse later that week. It was my second trip to the Palouse, the first being in the spring when the landscape is colored in all shades of green. This trip was during harvest when the landscape is more of a gold and brown color. I fully expected the change in coloring before I got there. What I didn't expect is that the dust, as a result of all of the harvesting, would be just about everywhere. Oftentimes, when we saw a car or truck coming, we would head into our car so as not to get our cameras (or us) covered with dust.
When I took this photo, we were shooting just after sunrise looking away from the sun. I heard a car coming and turned around to see how much time I had before I could jump into the car. With the sun glare, a dust trail was evident where the car had driven, making it look almost like fog in the valley. I thought that this scene was really cool and decided right then that I would be posting the photo.
On one of our mornings in Glacier NP, we headed to Apgar Village to get some sunrise photos. It is an extremely popular location in the park for sunrises, as the sun rises across Lake McDonald and often silhouettes the Rocky Mountains in the background. Another reason for its popularity is that there are always boats there that can be used as a foreground element. There is always one boat that is anchored offshore and I have never not seen it there. In fact, I don't know if it ever used. The other boats are always tied up on the small dock that extends onto the lake EXCEPT for this morning. The boats were inexplicably all onshore. In all of the visits that Jeff Clow has been there, including his many photo tours, he had never seen them in this position. In any case, I wanted to get a shot of this not too often composition just before the sun rose above the Rockies.
I have been posting photos of a few of the barns that Jeff Clow and I scouted in the Palouse. This was actually the first barn that we saw. It was unique for two reasons. The first reason was that it was a red barn, which is not as common as one might think in the area (many are unpainted). According to Jeff, whose knowledge of trivia seems to have no bounds, farmers painted barns red as it was the cheapest color of paint they could buy in the 1800's. The second reason was that it was surrounded by a fence and there were several horses grazing there. I may be wrong, but I think it was the only barn of the 80 plus barns we saw that had horses. I wanted to get an angle were I could get just one horse in the frame, so I exhibited patience (that I am not known for) and finally got this photo.
On our last day in Glacier National Park, Jeff Clow and I wanted to get an early start to the Palouse for our scouting trip. As luck would have it, the car we had rented wasn't available for an early pickup and we decided to head up to Bowman Lake. Not many visitors head up to the lake, as it takes about 2 hours to drive 32 miles on a narrow non-paved road. I think the photography gods were on our side as the weather was extremely nice. The ride was pretty uneventful, with not many close encounters with large vehicles (the road is quite narrow and it can take a lot of maneuvering when two large ones need to pass each other).
Once there, we were blessed with relatively calm water. Despite the fact that it was mid-morning, the light was surprisingly nice. We took a trail around the right side of the lake and took quite a few shots at different points. I spotted this cairn (a manmade stack of stones) and decided to use it as a foreground element. Cairns are often used as trail markers, but this one seemed just to be there for no reason that I could determine.
One of the interesting things about shooting the Palouse during the harvest time is the patterns that the farm equipment make in the landscape. When you are on ground level, they don't jump out to you as compared to the view when you drive to the top of the 3,600 foot high Steptoe Butte. The first challenge that you encounter once on the butte is what to shoot. The 360 degree gives you so many choices that it is difficult to pick one. Trying to take a wide shot, in my opinion, doesn't work as well as zooming into parts of the undulating landscape, as you lose a lot of the nuances (I still shoot wide but I never like them when I get home). Using a telephoto lens can focus on the details much more and bring more interest to the photo. In this image, I used the tops of the trees to anchor it, and used the tracks in the landscape moving from the lower right to lead the viewer through the image. As a side note, this was shot in early evening light just as we were arriving.
One of the sunrises that we shot in Glacier NP was at Fish Creek, which runs into Lake McDonald. From this location looking east, there were plenty of shots of a terrific sunrise to be had. After getting some pretty good shots, I did what I like to do and explored other vantage points. As I turned around, I spotted this scene that really intrigued me. Across the lake, there was fog rising from the water. The sky had turned a great shade of soft red and orange. I think that what intrigued me the most was the stand of trees that are silhouetted and the top of the hill. It was a great reminder to myself to always look behind you or explore other areas of a location. You might find a hidden gem.
When scouting the Palouse, one of the challenges is determining the best barns to shoot when we go back. During the trip, Jeff Clow and I looked at 88 different barns. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are painted, some are not. Some are in excellent condition while others are in total disrepair, including some that have fallen. Some are close to the road and others can only be shot from a distance. Sometimes it was easy to agree on whether the barn was photography friendly and other times we disagreed. While both of us will not claim to be barn experts, we certainly know a lot more about barns than we did when we started.
This particular barn and its accompanied shed has fallen on hard times during the years. There is hope for it though. The farmhouse that sits further down the street was being renovated as we drove by, so maybe the barn is to be next on the list. If it does, I don't know whether it will be a better or worse photography subject, but time will tell.
Driving along the Going to the Sun road is such a treat. The road is the only paved road in the park (there are only a couple of other roads) and it stretches 50 miles from the west entrance to the east entrance of this amazing national park. The road is quite narrow and takes visitors through the rugged Rocky Mountains, crossing the Continental Divide. It's highest elevation is at Logan Pass at 6,646 feet, which is an extremely popular stop offering all kinds of hiking opportunities.
The road is particularly narrow with two lanes and little guardrails and has quite a number of hairpin turns. It is one of the most difficult roads in the US to plow the snow, often taking 10 weeks to plow up to 80 feet of snow. There have been instances when the road has not been cleared until mid-July.
For photographers, it is difficult to get many shots, as there are very few pullouts to park along the way. During the peak of summer, the small pullouts can only fit a few cars. To get this photo, I was in the shotgun seat of the car and stuck my camera out the window. I had it on burst mode and probably shot about 150 photos. I knew that traveling at 30 mph, many of the photos would be blurred, have trees in front of the scenes or worse. I also knew that I might get lucky and get a few good shots. This one is one of those lucky ones.
Steptoe Butte State Park is the Palouse's must visit location to stop and shoot photos. Standing about 3,600 feet above some of the most fertile farmland you can find, it gives a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape. It is best seen and shot at sunrise or sunset (or both) when the sun is low, allowing for the undulating landscape to be best captured with golden light and deep shadows that add dimensionality to the photo. Once the sun gets higher, the shadows lighten and the contrast is reduced.
The last time I shot there, it was spring and the view displayed all different shades of green with some patches of brown thrown in. On this last trip, it was the harvest and the greens were replaced with gold. It was a shock to my system but, as you can see, it was beautiful in its own right.
Last month, I visited Glacier National Park for the third time. One of my goals on this trip was to get a decent photo of McDonald Lake, as I had been stymied on all of my previous visits even when I went back there several times on each trip. The first first day, we went to Apgar Village at the western end of the lake. As you can see, the photography and weather gods were on my side as Mother Nature put on quite a light show. After seeing the scene in the blue hour, the clouds came rolling in and the sky lit up like it was on fire. With the Rocky Mountains silhouetted in the background, the lone boat on the lake (which always seems to be there) and the boats on the dock, it was a scene that I will remember for a long time.
When I was scouting the Palouse last week with Jeff Clow, I was hoping to come across this house again that I had shot in 2015. I wasn't sure where it exactly was, but the map I was using delivered me to the right road and there it was. When I shot it last, the sky was overcast and was completely a monotone white. This visit was a little after sunrise, and what a different look it has with blue skies and golden hour light.
Since my last visit, I have learned a little more about this abandoned house. It turns out that it was built in 1885 (according to another photographer) and was actually a one-room schoolhouse named the Skeen School. The schoolhouse had a bell tower on its roof and, if you see the other side of it, you can see where the roof was patched where it once was. I haven't been able to find out any more information on it. I would love to know its history. It is currently used for storage and it looks like it could fall any day. That being said, when I was searching for information on it, the main thing I found were lots of other photographers posting photos of it wondering if it would survive a harsh winter. These musings date back at least 10 years, so it seems that the schoolhouse is resilient.
After a photo tour in Glacier National Park, Jeff Clow and I headed to the Palouse to scout out over 200 locations. I had visited the park last year, and Jeff had always wanted to go to but hadn't yet. He has been inundated with requests from his alumni to host a tour there, but he needed to see what it was all about. I wasn't sure what to expect when we got there, as I had only been there in the late spring when everything is all shades of green. We were hoping to catch the harvest in the Palouse, but we weren't sure if we timed it right. Happily, the harvest was still happening although we might have gotten there when it was half over.
I must say that I was in for a shock when I first set my eyes on it. All of the shades of greenery were gone and were replaced with more of a monotone color. As the scouting trip went on, I got used to the change in color and fell in love with the landscape all over again. Just like the spring, the light plays such an important part in showing the Palouse at its best. The undulating hills create these terrific shadows, which really add a three-dimensional look to the landscape. I particularly loved scenes like this, where the farm is nestled in among the mounds and hills.
Very slowly recovering from my recent trip to Glacier National Park and a scouting trip to the Palouse. Haven't looked at many of my photos yet, but I remembered this photo that I took on the first morning at Many Glacier Hotel. It looked great on the LCD of my Fuji but I knew better than to get too excited until I could view it on my iMac. Suffice to say, it still looked pretty good.
We had a great sunrise and Mount Grinnell was bathed in the orange light of the Golden Hour. I am a sucker for reflections shots and look for them wherever I go. Many times, if you follow me around when shooting, you will spot me lying flat on the ground to get the most of the reflection. I think that my buddy, Jeff Clow, has taken more shots of me in that position than I want. In any case, I was able to get the whole puddle filled with Grinnell's peak. I was really lucky to have found this spot as the wind was really kicking up, making the rest of Swiftcurrent Lake extremely rippled. The stones around the puddle made a terrific barrier so that the wind did not affect it.
If you have spent any time watching old time westerns, you have seen this scene many times before, probably in black and white. It is the quintessential landscape that defines the wild west. The point from which I took this shot is known as John Ford Point, where he shot a scene from the 1939 movie, "The Searchers" where an American Indian village is attacked.
Haven't seen any of the old westerns? Here are some other times that Monument Valley has been in the media:
- The rock band Eagles used Monument Valley on the cover of their 1985 UK Best of album.
- The 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD features the West Mitten of Monument Valley on the cover.
- The film 2001: A Space Odyssey features footage of Monument Valley.
- In the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest ends his cross-country run here.
- The film Thelma & Louise features some shots of Monument Valley,
- The video for "I Disappear" by Metallica was partially shot in Monument Valley.
- The opening shots of Mission: Impossible II feature Monument Valley.
- The film National Lampoon's Vacation features footage of Monument Valley.
- In Back to the Future Part III Marty McFly drives from 1955 to 1885 from a drive-in theatre set at the Valley's base.
There are plenty of other famous films (Easy Rider, Once Upon a Time in the West, Electra Glide in Blue, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Lone Ranger, A Million Ways to Die in the West); TV commercials; television shows; video games; music videos; and album art that feature Monument Valley.
So it is very likely that everyone has seen Monument Valley even though they haven't been there. Take my advice, no matter where you have seen it, nothing does it justice that seeing it with your own eyes.