Zion National Park

After three glorious days hiking in Bryce Canyon, we took a long day and drove down to Zion (with a few stops along the way – next blog post!). Southern Utah is a beautiful place, in some places reminiscent of West Texas and in some places reminiscent of my planet of origin… 🙂

Planning ahead, we had cleverly acquired tickets on the Zion shuttle for a reasonable time, so we walked from our hotel up to the Visitor’s Center (less than a mile) and got in line for the shuttle bus (running at half-capacity, they actually pulled every other seat out of the buses!). The line moved pretty quickly though, and we got on the bus to ride up into the valley.

Zion is a different kind of animal from Bryce Canyon. Bryce was all about the hoodoos. Zion is more about the cliffs! I don’t think a day went by that my wife didn’t dangle her feet over some thousand-foot sheer cliff – just because it was there! Now, if I started to get close to the edge, that was a different story! She seemed that I’d be looking through the camera and not where my feet were…

We rode the shuttle up to the Grotto stop and crossed the Virgin river to the Angel’s Landing Trail. It starts out as a well-maintained paved trail, not unlike walking a nature trail in the suburbs. Well, except for the stunning beauty of the sheer cliffs all around you! 🙂

After a flat stretch, you start a little uphill until you come a series of switchbacks, as you can see in the gallery above. Farther on you come to Walter’s Wiggles (named for Walter Ruesch, Zion National Park’s first superintendent)- a series of 21 very tight switchbacks going up a steep incline. It’s a fun climb, and it gets steeper and steeper! Unfortunately, as we knew before we got there, the chains were closed – and there was a park ranger standing (well, sitting!) guard at the “Trail Closed” sign. Not that we would have gone past it…

Since Angel’s Landing was closed to us (we’ll be back!), we decided to go on along the West Rim Trail. The views are great and there are plenty of places that need climbing, as you see below!

Since we didn’t want to go 28 miles to Lava Point, we turned around after a while and went back the way we came. The walk down Walter’s Wiggles was almost as much fun as the walk up, and a fitting way to close the day.

The next morning we thought we’d do the Emerald Pools Trail. This is a relatively short trail (only 3 miles) with a bit of up and down, our friends at Alltrails rate it as “moderate.” The trail starts at the Zion Lodge, crossing the river on a footbridge not unlike the one to Angel’s Landing the day before. Hmmm…I didn’t put that picture up, I’ll put one in this gallery.

The Lower Emerald Pool has a nice waterfall (which you can almost see in one of these pictures). As often happens, when we travel at the end of summer the flow is fairly low! The trail to the Lower Pool is fairly flat, but you start going uphill as you head to the trail over to the Middle Emerald Pool, which was so low as to be barely a pool!

From there, we retraced our steps a bit to the trail that leads to the Upper Emerald Pool. This is a rocky trail up the slope so you have to watch your step, and it climbs about 400 feet in a quarter-mile. But the effort is worth it! The Upper Pool is a nice oasis-like area, surrounded by trees and large rocks that make for good seats.

I do have to say that the pools were not, in fact, emerald green. As you can see above, the water was extremely clear! They tell me that the name comes from algae growing in the pools during the warmer months, but it was pretty warm while we were there and I didn’t see any! Maybe it was because the water was so low.

We left the pool after a brief respite and went back down toward the Lower Pool, but before we got there we took a left turn and headed down the Kayenta Trail. That trail takes us down to the West Rim Trail that we took toward (alas, not to!) Angel’s Landing. We crossed the river there and walked back to the Lodge on the Grotto Trail.

It was early when we got back to the Lodge, so we looked around the Lodge a bit, stuck our heads into the store, grabbed a drink, then caught the bus. We went up to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava. This is where you go toward the Narrows. For various reasons I wasn’t prepared to go wading in the river on that particular day, so we just did the Riverside Walk.

This was one of my reasons

This was other people’s reaction to the warning.

But it’s a pleasant walk along the river. We walked to the end of the (wide, paved, accessible) trail and back. At the beginning of the trail there’s a lot of green space between the trail and the river, some of which is occupied by the local fauna.

When we reached the end of the trail, we turned around and walked back. When we reached the trailhead, we kept going! We walked along the river all the way down to the Grotto, as the sun sank slowly below the canyon walls.

On Tuesday we had decided to go to a different part of the park, so we didn’t get shuttle tickets. Instead, we drove through the park, past the entrance to Zion Canyon (where private vehicles dare not tread) and out east on Highway 9. There are a lot of trails out that way, we’ll have to do more of them when we come back! This time we were going to take the Petroglyph Trail to Slot Canyon.

On the Petroglyph Trail, you start walking along a dry (at least when we were there!) creekbed that goes under the highway. A little way in, there’s a break in the brush to your left and you follow that up to the base of the cliff. And there you find…petroglyphs! Pretty cool…probably over a thousand years old.

After you pass the petroglyphs you come to a place where you climb out of the creek up onto the rock. Alltrails shows the way to the slot canyon. But…

My wife said, “We can climb that!”

So we did. If you see that pointy little hoodoo up there, that was our goal. At first. Turned out, that wasn’t the top!

This was the view when we got there, that little hoodoo standing behind us. So, being us, we kept going.

In the gallery below are some other pix from the climb and the view we got from the top! The cell phone has an altimeter that’s showing 6075 feet (based on the GPS), only about 700 feet above where we started, but a fun climb! Then, of course, we had to go back down…

That was just a small side trip, we still hadn’t made it to the slot canyon that was our goal. So we followed Alltrails across the rock and down another dry streambed until we found the canyon. It wasn’t as tall as “Wall Street” back in Bryce Canyon, but the light was good and there were some neat formations, as you can see!

Then back down the road. Heading west on highway 9, just before you get to the long tunnel, you come to the trailhead for the Zion Canyon Overlook trail. This was a fun little trail, only about half a mile out (and the same back, surprisingly) but it takes you through some interesting terrain. If you’re going to sidle across a narrow ledge, I recommend doing it over the 5-foot dropoff here rather than the things those other crazy people do! And there’s a beautiful view at the end, along with a precipice for my wife to dangle on. You’re actually looking down one of the side canyons (Pine Creek? I can’t recall) into Zion Canyon.

That was the end of our hiking day, but it wasn’t the end of our day! Back to the hotel for a snack and a rest, then off into the night…

As you see in the photo above, there is a road going through the canyon over which we are looking, That’s Highway 9, a road on which we did many miles, several of which covered a bunch of switchbacks leading from the entrance to Zion Canyon up to the tunnel. Around those hairpin turns there are several parking areas where you can stop and check out the views. One of them looks rather like this at night:

Have I mentioned the sheer rock walls in Zion? 🙂 That’s the northern part of the Milky Way, not quite so dramatic as the view toward the core, but lovely nevertheless. And as an added bonus, you get the Andromeda Galaxy there on the right edge!

Our last day in the park we again skipped the main canyon, starting our day on the Watchman Trail which starts near the Visitor’s Center. It’s about 3 miles, out and back, and not too difficult. The photo below is from the trail, about as high above the canyon floor as we got. Our destination is there in the foreground.

After that pleasant hike, we did a road trip, this time heading up to the northwest part of the park. The Kolob Canyons are a series of “finger canyons” entering the valley along the western edge of the park. This is yet another area we need to revisit, because I really want to hike out to Kolob Arch! But not this time. Instead, we just drove out to the end of Kolob Canyon road (where there is, again, a fantastic view) and did the short hike out on the Timber Creek Overlook Trail.

When I edited this, the view of the Kolob Canyons was on top. On the bottom is the view looking south from the end of the trail. In the distance on the right is the plateau containing the Grand Canyon. If you can see that far! After a stroll back to the trailhead, we returned to the hotel – with a couple of interesting stops along the way (next blog post, I promise!).

And once more into the darkness! We had rather a busy night that last night. First we stopped at the bridge over the river by the entrance to Zion Canyon. We moved on the the area around the Petroglyph trailhead, then we went up to the Overlook again. That trail is a completely different experience in the dark!

Zion was an amazing place and we’re definitely going to have to go back there, even if everything had been open we’d have missed so much! I’d recommend everyone go there. Just not on the days we go back… 🙂

Bryce Canyon National Park

When we started planning this trip, we looked at the average conditions for Bryce Canyon in September. Average high around 70 (about 21 for you metric types) sounds great! Lows around 40-42? (yes, 5-ish in metric) Not a problem, layer up a little and take it off as the temperature climbs. Easy, yes? Then, as the time approached, we could look at the 10-day forecast. And that showed a cold front moving in. So we packed a little bit differently than we originally thought. And it was a good thing!

When we flew into Vegas and drove up to Tropic (Utah), it was a lovely day. We stopped along the way and did a bit of hiking (in the Dixie National Forest) as the sun was going down. The sky was showing some haze, perhaps from the California fires. But it was starting to cool down.

We checked in at the Bryce Country Cabins, at the north end of Tropic (cute little cabins, clean & comfy!). Next morning off on our first adventure. We had (as usual) scouted out the area on Alltrails and picked out a few. Our first morning hike was Mossy Cave, conveniently located between the Cabins and the main entrance to the park. It’s a short hike with only a bit of elevation gain so it seemed like a good warmup!

The hike is pretty flat going along the stream in the “Tropic Ditch,” essentially a canal dug over 100 years ago. They tell me it’s only run dry once since then. Well, it has a lovely waterfall, behind which my wife can hide! If you look closely, you can see her. There are a lot of cool rock formations, one of which framed the moon at just the right time! You can see the wind whipping at my jacket, making it hard to hold still. Oh, there’s also a cave with moss growing…

After our visit to the cave and waterfall, we headed for the park. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center to get our park passport stamps and then headed for the Fairyland Loop trail. We started where it goes down into the canyon close to Sunrise Point and this is where we got our first view of the strange beauty of Bryce Canyon!

Did I mention a cold front? As we were going to the trail, the temperature was dropping and the wind was rising! Here we see what the well-equipped hiker was wearing. We saw a lot of people who hadn’t read the forecast apparently – many Bryce Canyon sweatshirts were being sold to many cold-looking people!

But the trail was marvelous. Once we got down in the canyon we were (slightly) shielded from the wind, which was good, since it was about 40 degrees! As we went along the trail, at first we saw more large formations, walls and proto-hoodoos. We went on a bit of a side trip to see the Tower Bridge (as you see in the adjacent gallery). We got a great view of the Sinking Ship (also in the gallery), though we saw it several other times from different trails while we were there.

At some point you come around a curve (or over a ridge, I really can’t remember!) and you begin to see more and more hoodoos. We stopped and took a “boot” picture with some of them. And then more in the next picture. It’s just amazing and unearthly! Finally, you get to Fairyland Point, back up on the rim. You look down on what looks like a grand gathering of hoodoos and you can see why they called it “Fairyland!”

As we strolled along the Rim Trail back to our starting point, we got snowed on! See we have evidence – not one, but TWO snowflakes on my wife’s glove! 🙂 We strolled back to the car and went to check out a few of the overlooks in the park, the Natural Bridge for example. Beautiful views as the sun went down!

We’d trained up for this trip so we were ready for the ups and downs but it was still pretty tiring. So we went back to the cabin and got a good night’s sleep! Tomorrow is going to be even more up & down – we planned to do the Navajo Loop and the Peekaboo Loop. And so we did!

In the morning we headed to Sunset Point, where the Navajo Loop starts with a descent to Wall Street. If it looks like a long way down, that’s because it is! But it’s a good trail and it takes you down to the high walls of, well, Wall Street! It’s a neat little, very tall, slot canyon.

After Wall Street, you hit a level part of the loop until you branch off for the Peekaboo Loop, then you start going up and down. This loop takes you through some of the most fabulous stretches of rock-based scenery I’ve ever seen! In the gallery below, you can see the Two Bridges, the Wall of Windows, some very cool hoodoos and more. Even the horses that passed us by after dropping off a gift…

After we had finished the loops and gotten back up to the rim, I wanted to go back down through Wall Street again because I had discovered that my camera had underexposed several shots I had taken there. Silly camera! 🙂 We decided to do the Navajo Loop – Queen’s Garden trail, staring back down through Wall Street. After I had retaken a few pix we turned left toward Queen’s Garden instead of going straight toward the Peekaboo Loop. This trail took us by the Queen Victoria Hoodoo and some other nice formations, as seen in this gallery:

That was sufficient hiking for us for the day. After all, in two days hiking in Bryce Canyon we had hiked about 27 miles – and climbed the equivalent of about 500 flights of stairs! So we took the next day off from Bryce and went to Kodachrome Basin State Park – but that’s for another blog post! We came back to Bryce that night, though…

We went back to Sunset Point just to see what we could see. This is what we could see!

The next morning we wanted to do the Hat Shop via the Rim Trail. This is a fun out & back trail that leaves from Bryce Point. There’s a fabulous view from Bryce Point, it’s like you’re looking out on a vast sea of hoodoos! And you can see Earth, off in the distance…

So we gaped at it for a little while and then we headed down the trail. You start out walking along the side of the canyon through the trees. After a little while you come to a point where you have a view looking out east. A bunch of hoodoos and one little spot in the distance…

I looked out and said “Hey, look at that little bunch of hoodoos way out over there! ” That spot there on the right, in the hills. Eventually I figured it out. That’s where we were going!

It looks pretty far away. And pretty far down. It’s really only two miles of hiking, And about a thousand feet down. It’s easy going down, a nice walk and cool scenery. The problem with that is that there’s no shuttle going back up! But the Hat Shop was pretty neat, there are a fair number of hats to be seen! As you can see in the gallery…

We went a ways past the Hat Shop, down into the woods, for no really good reason except maybe momentum. Then we walked all the way back up. Adding an extra 200 feet of climbing for walking through the woods! It took a little while, but we got back to Bryce Point.

After we finished the Hat Shop we went down to Rainbow Point to do the Bristlecone Loop Trail. That’s a nice easy 1-mile loop through the woods. But the best views were at Rainbow Point, as you see here!

After we went back to the cabin and had a cup of tea and some dinner, we went back to Bryce Point for some evening photography. The sky is a little darker there than at Sunset Point. But if you’re looking north, you see the lights of Bryce Canyon City. As you can see in the photo below, looking over the hoodoos at the Big Dipper!

So we spent three wonderful (albeit a tad windy and chilly!) days hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park. About 40 miles of hiking, along with almost 700 floor-equivalents of climbing, through some of the weirdest rocks I’ve ever seen. We had a blast, and I would recommend it to anyone!

Stay tuned for Zion and more!


The Show Must Go On!!

I hope everybody is healthy and safe! Well, it’s been over 2 months since my last post, and I’ve been pretty busy. Not as much photography travel as I’d have liked, but then I always want more, don’t I? Also some just plain hiking up in Arkansas! But that’s not the main purpose of this post…

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may already be tired of me mentioning the Urban Artist Market next weekend, July 17-18. If you don’t follow me…you should! 🙂 Follow that link for more information, but here is the gist: 60+ regional artists, all precautions taken. It’s in a new place: the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas – a much larger room in a very cool building in a great location. Traffic will be one-way. the number of people inside will be limited (you have to buy a ticket for a time slot) and they will be taking temperatures! Hand sanitizer will be available and masks will be required. The booths will also be larger for more spacing. Special times available for 65 and older and those with immune suppression on Saturday from 10 a.m. until noon.

The 60+ artists will cover all sorts of genres and media. There will be photographers (besides me), painters, sculptors, crafters, jewelers, and all manner of strange beasties! When I got a chance to wander around at this show last fall, I was astounded by both the quality and the variety. My booth will be almost at the end, so please try to hang on to some of your money until you find me! And my friend Danielle in the next booth… 🙂

So come on down and see these and many more :

And these as well:

I just wanted to put these up there to show you some of the new stuff I’ve gotten since my last post. I hope you can all come down to the show!

Use the discount code GiveMe5 to get $5 off admission for up to 4 tickets. Buy early and get the time you want! Tickets are going fast!

Welcome to The Grand Canyon … of Texas

“…a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color.”

-Georgia O’Keeffe.

In our last days of freedom, before the Enclosed Times, we took a trip up to Palo Duro Canyon, up Amarillo way. Unfortunately, we came back… But it was a great trip while it lasted! I hadn’t been there for more than 30 years and now I have no idea why, what a marvelous place!

Palo Duro Canyon is, as I said, up in the Panhandle, close to Amarillo, about 6 hours of driving from home. It’s not a bad drive, past Wichita Falls and then the smaller towns along highway 287, Chillicothe, Quanah, Childress, Memphis…Memphis? Are we lost again? 🙂 And on to Canyon, TX, where we were staying. We arrived late in the afternoon and we didn’t have a day pass but we couldn’t resist driving over to the park and checking things out.

Wind Turbine and classic windmill on a ranch in the Texas Panhandle

On the road to the park we saw this sign of the changing times in Texas. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you’ve seen plenty of both kinds of windmills, but rarely this close together. Equally rare is that this wind turbine was all by itself, most of the time it’s a whole farm!

At 120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide, Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the US, behind that other Grand Canyon! 🙂 It was formed by the Prairie Dog Town branch of the Red River as it flows off the Caprock of the Llano Estacado. The base rock was laid down by a Permian Ocean 250 million years ago, covered by a Triassic Swamp about 225 Million years ago, and then capped off by Rocky Mountain sediment around 10 million years ago. For some reason there’s a 200-million year “discontinuity” in the rocks.

Saturday morning we heard The Lighthouse calling our name. The Lighthouse is perhaps the most recognizable feature in Palo Duro (except maybe the arena where they perform “Texas !”) and it’s a popular hike. Being us, did we head right for the Lighthouse Trail? Don’t be silly! We decided on the Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail which meets the Lighthouse Trail part way, and up to the Lighthouse. On the way back we’d follow the Lighthouse Trail back to its trailhead and then the Paseo del Rio Trail back to where we parked, to minimize retracing of steps. Simple! 🙂

A defunct windmill at the trailhead

The parking lot for the GSL Trail is watched over by a defunct windmill and an empty water tank. Only a few vehicles preceded us (the park was already restricting entry) and the trail was also sparsely populated, at least until we reached the Lighthouse Trail.

The trail is a pretty flat but rather fun trail, through and around much beautiful geology.

These red rocks at the bottom of the canyon are part of the Quartermaster formation, laid down in the Permian period (fitting for a canyon this close to the Permian Basin I guess). Those white stripes are gypsum layers in the sandstone.

There’s a type of formation known as a “hoodoo” around here (also as a “pedestal rock,” but that’s awfully boring, don’t you think?) , I think they called them “fairy chimneys” in Cappadocia. We only saw a few of them in Palo Duro, but one of the biggies is the aforementioned Lighthouse. The hard cap cracks and the softer material below erodes away.

This isn’t the Lighthouse, but it is a hoodoo along the GSL trail.

The GSL trail runs into the Lighthouse trail about a mile from the Lighthouse itself. Along the way we were passed by several cyclists. Many of the trails are bike-friendly and there are some trails that are just for bicycles. Why didn’t we bring the bikes? Next time… Oh, and in the picture with the cyclist you can really see the distinct layers of the rock formations on the right!

It was just after that junction that we got our first glimpse of the Lighthouse in the distance…

When we got to the base of the formation, we took a non-standard route up to it. It was perhaps a bit steeper than the recommended route, but it was fun and it got us where we wanted to be. A little more scrambling up the red rocks and we were standing next to the Lighthouse!

The Lighthouse is a good example of much of the geology in Palo Duro. Over 300 feet high, it contains the older geology of the park, with the Triassic sandstone on top!

And the views are spectacular!

We left the Lighthouse by way of the Lighthouse Trail and followed it back to the trailhead. From there we went up the Paseo del Rio Trail, a flat, rather pleasant walk, mostly through woods. In about a mile we were passed by at least a half-dozen cyclists, definitely need to take the bikes next time!

There was still plenty of daylight, so we went to the short-but-interesting Caves Trail.

We explored a couple of caves, and Leigh went up the side of a cliff and a good time was had by all!

On the way back we passed this “No bicycles beyond this point” sign. Since I don’t see a trail back there, I think I can live with that – although my brother-in-law might be tempted!

After the Caves we went on to the CCC Trail that starts near the Visitors Center (which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934). In the early 1930’s, this trail was the only way that the CCC workers could get from the rim of the canyon to the bottom. I don’t envy them the commute, especially during the summer! And the winter up in the Panhandle is no picnic either! They built the road, bridges, and trails as well as the “El Coronado Lodge,” which is now the visitors center.

The trail is only about 1.5 miles, going from the Visitors Center to the Pioneer Amphitheater, with about 500 feet of elevation. You go down a little from the Visitor’s Center, then along a ridge for a while. Then you pop over the ridge and head down into the central valley and the Pioneer Amphitheater

Of course, the downside to this trail is that once you get to the end, you turn around and go back. The descent to ( and ascent from) the amphitheater is fairly steep, so it was a good workout getting back up top! We weren’t passed by any bikes on that trail. When we got back to the Visitors Center, the sun was getting low, so I took one last panorama that you can see above.

And so we returned to the hotel for a good nights rest and concocting plans for our next day’s adventure!

Pinnacles: California part 3

Part 3 of our adventure begins in a lovely Airbnb in Soledad, California. For part 1 go here, for part 2 go here. The location was great, just 15 minutes or so from the western entrance to Pinnacles National Park.

Of course, our first day hiking in Pinnacles, we decided to go in the eastern entrance, which is a bit farther, an hour or so. We did that because we wanted to do the highly-rated Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail, and that starts at Bear Gulch over on the east side. It was top-ranked on Alltrails and it is rated “hard,” and it deserves both.

We pulled in to the Visitor’s Center on the east side and I was looking for condors!

I never saw this guy spread his wings, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t a condor… 🙂

We stopped in at the Center, looked around in the store, got a stamp for our National Park Passport, and then went back to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area to park. From there up to the Bear Caves Trail. These caves aren’t quite like Carlsbad (or Sonora). Pinnacles is a 20+ million-years-old volcanic formation that has taken a bumpy ride up the San Andreas Fault for almost 200 miles since it was born. Between earthquakes and erosion, boulders and pillars collapsed and formed interesting cave formations. Like these:

It was fun going through the caves, and there was only one place where I had to go on hands-and-knees. Once you get out of the caves, a little farther down the trail you come to a lovely reservoir.

I like the reflection . Also the little rubber duckie on the lower left…

From there the trail gets a little steeper as you head up toward the High Peaks. There were a lot of switchbacks and a little scrambling, but it was a great trail. Here are a few shots from along the way.

Once we got up to the first peak (where, if you look really closely, you can see Paul and his sister Dana, who we met earlier on the trail), we looked over at the other peak and saw condors! We realized that the other peak was where all the action was so we hightailed it down from that peak and sped toward the peak where the condors were. And…

They left before we got there!

Admittedly, there was a little operator error involved, so we took a non-optimum path. We chatted with a couple of other people who were there and I got a snack and drank some water and we relaxed for a few minutes. And then…

Whoosh! Around the peak and past me before I could aim a camera! Of course, having a protein bar in my hand didn’t help… Anyway, several condors came and tooled around the peaks for a few minutes. Did you get the license number on that beast?

Some of them even went to gang up on this poor airplane…

That was the literal and figurative high point of that hike. We completed the loop, past the Condor Gulch Overlook, where we saw no condors (maybe one or two in the far distance) but impressive and ancient rock formations.

We finished the trail and got back to the car. Since we had taken the southern route to get to the entrance, we took the northern route home,only partly because that was the closest gas station! Fair warning, there’s no gas within about 25 miles of the park entrance, so maybe fill up on the way in! We had plenty – the car said we had another 15 miles worth or so when we got to the gas station! A forgettable fish dinner in Salinas and back to the room.

Saturday we took the short way into the park, just up the road from where we were staying. We went past the ” West Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station” and parked at the Chaparral Picnic Area. The plan was to hike the Juniper Canyon Trail up to the High Peaks and the Balconies Trail, and maybe a couple of side trips. Have I mentioned our hikes always seem longer than the trails? 🙂

It was a a rather grey morning, and the flat light did not show off the terrain to its best advantage, but it was a nice trail, relatively easy until you approach the High Peaks Trail. There you get back to the steep part, switchbacks, a little scrambling, and so on. We went back up to the plateau where we had seen the condors on Friday. And there they were!

I like the one where you can see the antenna on the radio tracking device, a fashion accessory worn by all the chic condors (for the Condor Recovery Program). If you’re on your phone, you may have to use the “view full size” option after you click on the gallery! There, I added a crop so everyone can see it. These shots are all of our friend 692, he was out showing off for me!

Photographing the Condors (I almost said “shooting the condors…) was certainly a lesson in contrast, with dark birds against a bright sky! Not to mention that I’m more accustomed to shooting landscapes and buildings – which tend to sit still (we hope!).

When we left the condors, we made a side trip down the Tunnel Trail, which would have been the other way up to the High Peaks from the west side. It’s called the Tunnel Trail because…well, you know. Had I realized at the time that to see the tunnel we’d be going almost all the way down the mountain, I might have requested a different itinerary.

We went down the mountain, went through the tunnel, came back through the tunnel, and walked back up the side of the mountain. I hope you like the picture! 🙂

I should put in a plug for those Trailbuddy trekking poles Leigh is carrying, but they’re not paying me so I won’t mention them. Oh, wait…

After re-climbing the peak, we followed the High Peak Trail down to the Bench Trail and up to the Old Pinnacles Trail, and finally to the Balconies Trail. The Balconies Trail offers two possibilities: you can go through the caves or you can bypass the caves. Us being us, we did both…

First we bypassed the caves. From the above-ground trail (well, really above-rock) you look down into the valley into which the Balconies hillside collapsed, creating the caves.

We reached the point where the Bypass Trail meets the cave trail, so we turned back for the caves. Like the Bear Gulch caves, these caves are really a path through a very large boulder pile. It’s bigger than the Bear Gulch caves, and in some places much darker. It was fun going through the caves, I had my headlamp and flashlights, so we were well illuminated when we needed it. Two of these pictures are long exposures lit by our lights. It’s good that we enjoyed it, since, of course we had to go back through it (or the long way up the hill) to get to the end of the trail!

After the caves, it was an easy walk back to the picnic area. On the way out we passed some interesting sights. The repeating pattern of the out-of-season winery caught my eye.

And this rather dilapidated structure earned me Honorable Mention in a competition at the New York Center for the Photographic Arts.

Well, we’re back in Texas, safe and sound, all things considered. I guess we won’t be flying anywhere for a little while. But West Texas is driving distance. Maybe Langtry, to visit Judge Roy Bean! My feet are getting itchy…

Yosemite – California Part 2

Welcome back to California! For those who missed Part 1, it is here. We begin this part in Merced, California, where Leigh and I get to sleep in a bit because we’re close to the bus station and it doesn’t leave until 9. Unfortunately, I am a bit paranoid about missing planes and buses, especially in a situation where I’ve never been! We were there in plenty of time… 🙂

The bus ride on this Monday morning in March was uncrowded and uneventful (the way we like them) and it was nice to be able to watch the scenery rather than the road. We arrived around 11:30 at what is now called the Yosemite Valley Lodge. We checked in, dumped our luggage, and went outside.

Out in the parking lot, we look up and (wow!) see Upper Yosemite Falls.

Leigh says “Let’s go to the top!”

“But that’s like a 3-1/2 or 4-hour hike! It’ll be dark before we get down!”

“Then we’d better get started…”

Who can argue with that logic? 🙂

We loaded up with water and snacks, did a quick loop past the Lower Falls, and headed up the Upper Yosemite Falls trail (thanks, Alltrails!). This is a fun trail, but it can be challenging (rated 5 stars and hard!). Much of the trail is over stone, some laid by the NPS and some by nature. That stone is mostly covered with sand, making it often quite slippery – but I managed up & down with only 1 spill… 🙂 Much credit goes to the Trailbuddy trekking poles we now have! Bring some along if you’re hiking the trails in Yosemite…

Yosemite falls from the top

We made it to the top! And it felt good!

And Leigh says “Let’s keep going!”

After all, Yosemite Point is just another mile or so…

Just as an aside, this is what the same view of the falls looked like last time we were in Yosemite, in September 2015! If you look really closely you can see the trickle of water in the center.

And we kept on going. Sure enough, after just another mile or so, we came to Yosemite Point. Of course, some of that was through snow and ice!

We didn’t carry the crampons with us, but the snowy part of the trail wasn’t that long and when we got to the Point…

The view was rather amazing as sunset approached. The color changes on Half Dome were fabulous and we really enjoyed the show! Having failed to learn my lesson from previous experience, I was reminded that there is a drawback to watching sunset from the top of a mountain: you walk down in the dark! The walk down was even more of an adventure than the climb up!

The trail between Yosemite point and the top of Yosemite falls crosses a lot of rock so it’s not easy to follow, and the twilight was fading. Fortunately, we had Alltrails! (Have I mentioned Alltrails? 🙂 ) It kept us going in the right direction. Also fortunately, I had a headlamp and two flashlights! (I have learned some lessons! 🙂 )Once we reached the bridge, the path was much clearer. And of course, the view on the way down was just a little bit different! And Leigh just barely got frostbite while she was waiting for me to take this one:

I’m afraid that you’ll have to come to my next show (Urban Artist Market, May 8-9, Addison, TX) (assuming it doesn’t get cancelled! 😦 ) to get the full effect when I have it printed… 🙂

We got down to the bottom of the mountain and back to the room a little before 10:00 and aimed for a good night’s rest. After almost 20 miles and the equivalent of 444 flights of stairs (according to my wife’s fitbit) it wasn’t hard to get to sleep!

Tuesday morning I suggested we stay closer to the valley floor. In fact, I rather wanted to go scout the area around Mirror Lake and see if there was anything interesting going on there. We over to the Swinging Bridge, then to check out Yosemite Village to the facilities , and on up Tenaya Creek.

The bridge itself wasn’t looking too exciting, but from the bridge we had this view up the Merced river. There was a breeze, so the water was rippling a bit. I rather liked the effect on the reflections in this shot.

As we crossed a meadow on the way toward Yosemite Village, I picked up a passenger…

The moon was rising over Half Dome as we walked toward the Lake.

I checked out a few locations for possible shots, we made a new feline friend, and we walked all the way around the lake.

After we went for a meal we returned to Mirror Lake for some nighttime reflections. And one Half Dome shot with no reflection at all.

We got to our room before anybody got frostbite!

Having barely exercised on Tuesday (a mere 15 miles, 59 stair-flight-equivalents), we got more ambitious Wednesday, setting our sights on Vernal and Nevada Falls. Alltrails (have I mentioned Alltrails? 🙂 ) lists that at 8.8 miles. Our hikes always seem longer than they say…

Anyway, we shuttled over to stop 16 and headed up the Mist Trail. The trail’s an up-and back, so we passed by the falls twice. These shots of vernal falls are from the return journey, because there was a rainbow…

Note the strategically placed trekking poles… 🙂

After topping Vernal Falls, we were in the small minority that continued on toward Nevada Falls. The scenery was spectacular!

Not much over a mile past Vernal Falls, you reach Nevada Falls. Here’s a shot from below and above:

We thought we might try coming back by the John Muir Trail, but for various reasons (like ice on the trail!) we went back the way we came…

We got down not too long after dark, and went to eat. Then we went out in the cold! Again! The moon wasn’t even full, but it was astonishingly bright, the landscape stood out clearly against the night sky. I hope freezing my wife all these nights was worth it!

For that day we did just under 16 miles and almost 200 flights of stairs (equivalent). Good thing we train up on actual stairs!

That was our last night in Yosemite, the next day we bussed back to Merced, jumped in the car and drove down to Soledad. My next post will be our Pinnacles National Park adventures. Stay Tuned!

California, Part 1

Leigh was going out to San Jose for an event with the non-profit she chairs (connectionpractice.org), so we thought we’d take advantage of the opportunity. I would go out shooting (with the camera, people!) while she was working, then we’d go to a couple of National Parks. It was a great plan – and it worked beautifully! 🙂

We flew into SJC on Friday, hit a store or two to pick up a few supplies, and checked in at our hotel. After I dropped Leigh at the event site, I ran back up to a nearby reservoir where we had noticed an unusual sailing vessel!

This is a “puddle duck racer” (www.pdracer.com) built by David Spencer. Who is in it, if you look closely! It’s a type of racing boat (and boat racing) that allows for a lot of individuality.

The next day, I drove over the mountains down to Santa Cruz. They have a couple of lighthouses I wanted to see along with some beaches I wanted to check out. The weather was clear and sunny so I put on my sunscreen and hit the beach!

First I went to scout the two lighthouses. The midday sun was looking pretty stark, so I decided I needed to be around the Walton Lighthouse, on the breakwater, at sunset. The other lighthouse is now a surfing museum, which I did not enter – this was definitely not a museum day. So I watched the surfers, then went up the coast a bit.

My next stop was Natural Bridges State Park, a park that is home to a multitude of Monarch butterflies…at the right time of year. This is not the right time of year. I did hike the butterfly trail, just to see what I could see, and it was a pleasant walk through the woods.

Natural Bridges State Park

I went down to the beach to see if there were any natural bridges there.

Sure enough!

After that, I went up to Four-Mile Beach. This is, oh, about a mile past Three-Mile Beach. A little less really, but who’s counting? This was an adventure, because the National Weather Service had just issued a wind advisory. It seemed like it was blowing 40 miles an hour out there – my pockets were literally filling with sand! And by literally, I mean “literally.” not the way some people use the word these days. I dumped quite a load of sand out of my clothing after I got off the beach (shortly after I decided that the wind was sandblasting the coatings off of my lenses). But I did get a little wave action!

Then up the coast to Shark Fin Cove.

Aptly named, I thought.

Evening was approaching so I grabbed a bite (probably a protein bar) and headed back for Twin Lakes State Beach, from which I expected a good view of the Walton Light House (a youngster among lighthouses, built in 2001, dedicated in 2002 to Merchant Marine Derek Walton).

Clouds were moving in from the west, so it wasn’t one of those spectacular golden west-coast sunsets, but I rather enjoyed the subdued lighting and the muted color. See if you agree:

Let me know what y’all think!

After that I dragged my worn-out tail back to San Jose, picked up my wife, and went back to the hotel to sleep! We were going hiking the next day with my nephew and his wife up in (well, near) Oakland…

We got up early and ran up to Oakland. After a delightful brunch, they took us up to a place called the Albany Bulb, a park built on a landfill at the edge of San Francisco Bay. In Albany, just north of Berkeley. There’s still a lot of visible construction/destruction debris along with art that’s been created from various things around the place:

I liked the sailing ship aimed at the Golden Gate, my companions liked the…animal you see in the other shot. The one that’s not my wife on the swing!

After that we went to Wildcat Canyon in Richmond, a little farther north. Part of it was on paved trails, then we left that and went up some pretty hefty hills. Past some pretty hefty cows. Some of the views were delightful. It was a great hike, for being so close to the city.

Afterwords we went for some nice Thai, then Leigh and I drove down to Merced. We spent the night there and caught the morning Yarts bus up to Yosemite. And that will be part 2, in a few days.

To Hot Springs, just because…

I seem to have been neglecting my duties for the last couple of months! Actually, I haven’t been doing any interesting trips, mostly shooting locally and getting used to some new equipment I got at the beginning of this month. I’ll post some of the pictures in the next couple of weeks. But first I’ll tell you about a quick trip I made last week.

I decided a few weeks ago that I needed to take a road trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Why? Well, why not? I had been up there just after Christmas with family and I was not pleased with the photos I took (in part because the weather was most uncooperative!). I wanted to spend some time there by myself and scout around for views and locations. So I did!

I was tired of the interstate, and I hadn’t seen much of southwest Arkansas, so I went south from Texarkana and caught a smaller road. For a while I wasn’t sure what state I was in – I passed through Garland ( I live in Garland, TX), Lewisville (Lewisville, TX is just north of Dallas), Magnolia (Magnolia, TX is down near Houston), and El Dorado ( I passed though Eldorado, TX on the way to Sonora in my last blog post). I also passed through Stamps, Ar, but I’ve never been to Stamps, TX! It’s out East, near Lake O’ The Pines, a corner of Texas I haven’t passed through in a while.

One reason I went through Magnolia and El Dorado is that they are county seats , and thus have County Courthouses. If you’ve read my previous posts, you may have noticed a trend. 🙂

The Columbia County Courthouse in Magnolia (1905)

El Dorado’s Union County Courthouse (1927)

It turns out that small towns in Arkansas look a lot like small towns in Texas. The trees are a little taller, I think. As in Texas, it seems like the smaller towns are getting smaller and the larger ones are getting larger. Many of the towns that seem to be doing well have murals on the downtown buildings, like this one from Magnolia:

I’m not sure the direction of causality there. Magnolia had a number of nice murals, but most of them had cars in front of them!

One small town I stopped by was the birthplace of a well-known singer.

Since I wanted to make Hot Springs before sunset, I didn’t make any more stops. It was a pleasant journey, through smaller towns, woods, and farmland.

I got to Hot Springs shortly before sunset and headed toward West Mountain. This shot is from Prospect Ave. just up from Central Ave. That’s the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center on the right (I think) and the Mountain Tower in Hot Springs National Park (I’m sure!).

Hot Springs had always seemed like a small town to me, but standing up on that mountain after sunset…

I’ve been to Hot Springs a few times over the years. We have family up in Arkansas, though not around Hot Springs. We visited a few times, went to the horse races a few times, went to Bathhouse Row, hiked a little up in the National Park. And now my brother-in-law and his fiancee have a lake house you can rent on VRBO (LAKE ACCESS ON LAKE HAMILTON COVE – Royal). That one sleeps 10, probably a bit much for just me, so I stayed in the small auxiliary house just up the block from it. Quite comfy for just me!

I spent the next 36 hours or so roaming Hot Springs and its environs, looking for shots in different places and at different times of day – with mixed success. For example, I wanted night shots of empty streets along Bathhouse Row, but even 5:30 on a Tuesday morning or 2AM on a Wednesday didn’t get me a quiet street. And this was before racing season started!

I did find one decent shot without traffic or parked cars! I’m not sure the vintage of those buildings, but they’re classic. This is Central Avenue just up from the bathhouses.

Oh, and did I mention the temperature? It was chilly! It dropped below freezing as the sun went down on Monday and didn’t get back up over it until Wednesday morning. Fortunately, I had layers. And more layers. Unfortunately, the fancy gloves I got were…not warm. They may have to go back.

Here we have Your Humble Narrator posing for a 15-second exposure in front of the stairs leading to the Grand Promenade. Those are bathhouses on either side of me. I was lucky no cars drove by! If my face doesn’t look clear, it’s just possible I was shivering… 🙂

Anyway, I’ll stop yapping and show you a few of the photos I got, inside and outside of Hot Springs!

That’s the Tower in the National Park again, the statue of Triple-Crown-Winner American Pharaoh outside of Oaklawn (where he won the Arkansas Derby before he went on to those other races), some of the local not-so-wildlife, and the dam that created Lake Ouachita from the Lake Hamilton side. Next trip I’ll get to the dam that creates Lake Hamilton. And Garvan Gardens. And…a bunch of other stuff!

I did get in a little hiking – just up to the Balanced Rock in the National Park. Alltrails will tell you the way!

So, the weather moved in Wednesday morning, a little snow and freezing rain. It warmed up to the mid-30s (around 1 or 2 degrees for you Celsius types!) so the roads were wet but not icy. I drove back down to Magnolia and caught US 82 back to Texas. I stopped here & there for interesting old buildings, mostly defunct gas stations (I like them, though my wife often finds them depressing). I don’t post those as a rule, I’m trying to develop a project… Here are a couple of other things I passed:

It was dark by the time I got back to Texas, so I just kept cruising down 82 – until I reached Paris! Texas, that is…

And you can’t visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower! 🙂 But I couldn’t find Notre Dame…Odd.

About that time the outside temperature finally reached 40 degrees(about 4.5C). Practically tropical! And it was an uneventful drive back to my own warm bed…

It won’t be as long until my next post, I’ve been exploring the local scene and I have some things I want to share. See you soon!

Thanksgiving Weekend, Sonora, Texas

The week before Thanksgiving, Leigh looked at me and said, “So, where are we going?” We hadn’t been anywhere for a while, between work and family and my shows (that many of you were kind enough to visit), and it was time for at least a quick getaway. So while everybody else was watching football on Thanksgiving, Leigh and I took a road trip! Around halftime in the Cowboys game we headed for Sonora, Texas to do a little hiking and a little caving. We had a great time!

Of course, first we had to get there, a quick 5-1/2 hour drive from Garland. I do like to stay away from the interstate if I can, so out past Fort Worth we took a left and hit the smaller roads. It was cloudy and dark so we didn’t really stop to see the sights as we passed through the small towns, we were in our room in Sonora by 11.

When we left on our journey, the forecast for Sonora and points south was for the clouds to break up late Friday morning. A slight drizzle as we headed out for the Devil’s River State Natural Area was not a concern. The drizzle went away but the grey did not, and it was cloudy all day.

After about 45 minutes we got to the Dolan Creek Road turnoff from Highway 277 and headed for the Devil’s River HQ. From 277 it’s about 22 miles of dirt road to the Headquarters. An adventurous drive, I was glad we were in the Acadia though my sedan has done a lot of dirt roads in its time! This is all through ranch country, but we only had to stop once for the cattle. We also saw a number of deer running across the road. And several of the classic windmills, pumping water, not those newfangled electricity-generating types!

After signing in at the HQ and getting a briefing from the Park Ranger there, we headed down to the river, another 3-1/2 miles of dirt road followed by an easy one-mile hike from the parking down to the riverbank.

The Devil’s River runs wide and slow through this area, though there are rapids and falls both above and below. It is popular with canoes and kayaks, or so they tell me. We didn’t see any on this day, perhaps a little cool. We hiked and waded about a mile upstream to a spot where 12 or 13 springs feed into the river. That’s about as close as I could get – the area is habitat, protected by Law and Poison Ivy!

After drying our feet we hiked back up past the parking lot to the 12-mile loop. The Ranger had said that the loop took about 6 hours, but I’m sure he was reckoning with lesser hikers than us! 🙂 However, as it was already almost 1:00 in the afternoon (with sunset around 5:30) we decided to just do part. If you look at the trail map on the Texas Parks website linked above, you see “point of interest” number 8, a windmill. That’s it in the shot at the very top of this post and this one here with the barbed-wire fence. We hiked out that far, past the (very!) primitive campsites ( flat spots just off the trail), up, over and along a couple of ridges. If you like the grey, dry, windswept look (okay, I do…), this is the place and time for you!

I spent some time shooting around the windmill, then we retraced our steps. On the way back we noticed some “Heart of Texas” cactus by the trail, though the actual Heart of Texas comes later in the trip… Back to the truck, twenty-odd miles of rough dirt roads, then back up 277 to Sonora. We ate at a local Mexican restaurant and went back to our room.

The next morning as we left the hotel the clouds started breaking up, but it wasn’t going to help down in the caverns. It appears that there was a museum of some sort next to the hotel. It was locked up when we were there.

So we left and went to the caverns. Caverns of Sonora is just a few miles up the interstate from Sonora, and then a few miles down the road. Peacocks and guineas wander the grounds, though nobody was showing off. This trip is really a scouting trip – you can’t take a tripod with you on the regular tour so I improvised, bouncing a flash to try to keep the pictures from being too dark or noisy.

I’ve been to a fair number of caverns, large and small, and I have to say I have not seen anything that compares with this one for sheer concentrated beauty! Much of what you see is amazingly close and intimate. The tour is about 2 miles and involves 360 steps down 155 feet, but it’s not strenuous. It is, however, warm – the cave is a steady 72 degrees (that’s 22C) and 98% humidity so it feels like 85 (29)!

Our guide, Levi Garrett, was excellent, pleasant and informative. And patient with the photographer and his wife ( a.k.a. my voice-activated light stand) who kept falling behind… 🙂 I believe he said that the opening was originally discovered in 1905 but it was not really explored past the Devil’s Pit until the 1950s. And that’s where the amazing stuff is! I won’t waste much more space talking about it, except to say that I hope to do better on my next tour, which will be the photo tour and I’ll have a tripod and some better ideas…but I hope the pictures speak for themselves!(The pictures with more color were probably taken by my wife!) (Did I mention I was experimenting with lighting?) (Excuses, excuses… 🙂 )

I had to duck on several occasions because I didn’t want to break any of the formations with my skull.

After the tour, and a little time in the gift shop, we hit the road. We went back home mostly by the same route, but this time we could actually see what was around us!

I thought this shot was classic West Texas – windmill and water tank in the middle of a cotton field. Texas produces more cotton than any other state.

We passed through smaller towns and countryside and stopped a few times. I like to check out old county courthouses (in spite of missing the one in Sonora!). In Eldorado we saw the Schleicher County courthouse, built in 1924 (on the right). In Brady was the McCulloch County courthouse, from 1899. You may notice the “Heart of Texas” sign – Brady is the town closest to the geographical center of Texas.

It was a pleasant drive home and a nice couple of days. When we come back, we’re going to actually see some of Sonora. The courthouse and old depot, for example. But the most important thing will be a long photo tour in the caverns!

And I did run into an old girlfriend…

Fortunately, my wife trusts me. 🙂

The Road Home…

Here’s part 2 of our journey (Part 1 is here) to meet family in New Orleans. Now we’re taking the long way home…

We left New Orleans and drove north across Lake Pontchartrain – mostly because I had never crossed the Causeway before, but also because it was the fastest way to get to Covington, Louisiana.

When we arrived in Covington, they were beginning an Octoberfest celebration down at the Covington Trailhead, but that’s not why I wanted to visit. I just wanted to see the World’s Largest Statue of Ronald Reagan. Of course it’s in a small town in Louisiana! And there it was 10 feet tall and looking trim:

By the way, the “Trailhead” is a former railhead, a 31-mile stretch of track converted to a trail called the Tammany Trace. Check out the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy for more info on that and many other trails all over the country.

As the sun was going down, we set our sights on Natchitoches for our nights sleep, it was a pleasant few hours on the smaller roads in Louisiana. Natchitoches, pronounced “nack-a-tish” according to the locals, is the oldest town in Louisiana, beginning as a French frontier fort bordering on Spanish territory.

It has a couple of attractions worth seeing. The first one we headed for was the “Steel Magnolias House.” IF you’re not familiar with the movie, check it out, it’s worth seeing. And it appears to be a nice house, it’s a Bed and Breakfast now. We didn’t ask for a tour… 🙂

The other place we stopped was Fort St. Jean Baptiste Historic Site. That’s a reconstruction of the original 1716 fort, based on original drawings. I found it interesting in part because the frontier forts in Texas are from the mid-to-late 19th century, 150 or so years after this one. Surprisingly little change in 150 years, except in the medical arena – the hospitals in the 19th-century forts are slightly less frightening… or more frightening, depending how you look at it!

From there we visited Natchitoches’ historic Front Street, along the bank of the Red River. Yes, the Red River that forms that squiggly border between Texas and Oklahoma! It winds a ways through Louisiana and runs into the Atchafalaya. At any rate, they have some nice old buildings, as you see here. I believe the purple flags are for the Northwestern State University Demons!

When we left Natchitoches, we headed for the first capitol of Texas: Robeline, La.! Yes, that was while it was a Spanish province: 1721 until 1772. Then they moved it to San Antonio for a while. Robeline is about 30 miles east of the Sabine River which forms much of the border between Texas and Louisiana.

From there we crossed the aforementioned Sabine into Texas and passed through the Sabine National Forest. Then we headed up past Henderson to Joinerville, TX, where we found Joe Roughneck waiting for us! Well, a monument to that oilfield mascot, anyway. The pipe that Joe’s head is mounted on, so to speak, is a time capsule dedicated in 1957. Provided by Lone Star Steel, a company that made (and I think still makes) a lot of the pipe used in the industry. I’m not sure if they made the pipes used in the drilling rig covers over the nearby picnic tables…

This oil-themed rest stop is only a few miles from the location of the”Daisy Bradford #3″, the first producing well in the huge East Texas Oil Field, completed in 1930. That field still produces today.

Our last stop was a somewhat less historic site – The “fly-through” Beer Barn in Longview! Most people just drive through…

After that it was getting late so we headed for home!

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