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. 🙂

Columbia County Courthouse, Magnolia, Arkansas

The Columbia County Courthouse in Magnolia (1905)

Union County Courthouse, EL Dorado, Arkansas

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!

Windmill with barbed-wire fence

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!

Heart-shaped prickly-pear cactus

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.

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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!

Wandering to New Orleans, and back.

This post was going to take in the whole trip, but it started getting way too long, and it was delayed by the efforts around my first show, so here’s the trip to and through New Orleans…

When my Father called up and said “Let’s meet in New Orleans,” we said “okay.” It was halfway between our wedding anniversaries and halfway between our houses (or thereabouts) so we went down to celebrate! My wife and I were married by the river in New Orleans, so it was special to us.

But first…it was a chance for me to drive the small roads between Dallas and New Orleans! One of my favorite things to do is wander through the small towns in Texas and neighboring states

So, we got away from Dallas and jumped off the interstate as quickly as possible. Driving down the small roads, our first stop was in Crockett, Texas. Crockett is the seat of Houston County (not to be confused with the city of Houston which is, of course, in Harris County…).

The statue of Lightnin' Hopkins in Crockett, TX.

But the town’s namesake, Davy Crockett, was not the main reason I wanted to stop there. Camp Street, specifically the Camp Street Café in Crockett has a bit of Blues history. In its honor they have a lovely statue of the great Lightnin’ Hopkins. That’s right across the street from the café. Alas, the café was not open early on a Tuesday afternoon.

Just a little way up the street they also have a nice mural on the side of a building. That’s Lightnin’ Hopkins in the middle, along with Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, “Blind” Lemon Jefferson, “Big Mama” Thornton, and others.

Mural in Crockett, Tx

After paying homage to the Blues greats, we strolled down the block to the site of the Tennessean’s camp as Crockett led his men to San Antonio to fight for Texas’ independence. Naturally, to honor Crockett the city installed a…drinking fountain. That doesn’t work any more. Okay, it is (as you see in the picture) “The Davy Crockett Spring” so I guess it really does make sense. 🙂

The David Crockett Spring in Crockett, Tx.  Near a place Crockett and his Tennesseeans camped on their way to the Alamo.

There wasn’t much else going on in Crockett that afternoon. We looked around a bit and saw a fair number of empty storefronts on the main streets, as you do in a lot of small towns these days. We headed out and drove the little roads down to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and took the big road to Lafayette for the night.

The next morning we drove down the interstate to pick up my folks at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. We were a bit late, because All-Knowing Google didn’t mention the traffic delay through Baton Rouge. Fortunately, they waited for us!

My un-slapped mother at Willie's CHicken Shack

I won’t include a whole lot about New Orleans, because pictures of the city abound. We did a fair amount of tourist-type stuff, starting with Lunch at Willie’s Chicken Shack, where the chicken was good, but not that good…

Jackson Square, with a statue of a well-known military leader.

We took a bus tour that hit the high spots, including the obligatory cemetery and Jackson Square. The driver was great, knew a great deal and had some rather harrowing stories about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The obligatory New Orleans cemetery.

We also took a cruise on the paddlewheeler Creole Queen, up river to the site of the famed “Battle of New Orleans” and back. The battlefield is mainly a large empty field, not the most stimulating I’ve visited, but the park ranger’s narration of the battle was quite good!

The Creole Queen.

Mom & Dad aboard the Creole Queen

An impromptu shot of my folks here shows why I’m not a portrait photographer, but we had a good time!

The Domino sugar refinery

Among other sights we passed the Domino sugar refinery, one of the largest, over 100 years old. And of course, the U.S. 90 bridge over the Mississippi River:

Across the Mississipi
All of us at the Court of Two Sisters.  Your Humble Narrator on the right...

The night before we left we had dinner at the Court of the Two Sisters, the same restaurant where we ate the night we got married!

The next morning, Leigh and I dropped the folks at the airport and went back to town to wander for a while, mostly strolling through the French Quarter. Even in the daytime, Bourbon Street has the entertainment!

And so we bid a fond adieu to the Big Easy…

Sorry, I’ve been watching old travelogues, they’re most amusing. I will regale you with the trip back to Dallas next time out. And speaking of getting ready for shows, I’ll be at the ArtMart in Dallas next month, at the Bathhouse Cultural Center by White Rock Lake!

Carlsbad Caverns: The next National Park over…

We spent a week in the campground at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but we took a day off in the middle to run up to Carlsbad Caverns. That’s just about a half-hour drive north, just into New Mexico. It’s actually still part of the Guadalupe Mountains, just a different national park!

There are two ways to get into the cavern. One is to take the elevator down from the Visitor Center. The other is to walk down through the Natural Entrance. We’re hikers, of course we walked! The entrance is through the amphitheater where they watch the bats emerge in the evening. We were there early in the day, so the only bats we saw were sleeping.

The walk in is something over a mile and descends about 750 feet in that distance. The whole way, you’re surrounded by rock formations ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre. It’s difficult to imagine what it was like to find this cavern as a 16-year-old cowhand carrying a lantern! Texas-born Jim White first entered the cavern around 1898. He may not have been the first to enter, but he was the first to explore extensively.

Carlsbad Cavern is not the largest cavern in the world, or even the country ( I think Mammoth Cave is bigger), but it’s beautiful and full of fascinating formations. The main cave (the Big Room) can be toured on your own, other side caverns require a tour with a ranger. We did both and I didn’t take good notes on where I took pictures, so I’m just going to throw them out there and not worry about which cavern they were in :

Perhaps the coolest part of the tour (which is at a constant 56ºF (13ºC) year-round) was when we went off into a side cave with a ranger who told a tale of Jim White being in the cave and having his lantern go out. Then the ranger turned off the lights. That’s DARK! Here’s what it looked like with just the ranger’s lantern, which gives you some appreciation of how crazy…I mean courageous the early explorers must have been. 🙂

And, of course, Those tourists were following us around again! This one was taken in the Big Room. We really enjoyed our visit and look forward to seeing different side caves on our next visit.


As some of you are aware, the delay since my last post is largely due to my efforts to get ready for my first show! Also there was a quick trip to New Orleans, details in my next post… If you’re in the Dallas area next Friday or Saturday, come join us at the Urban Artist Market at the Addison Conference and Theatre Center! Use the discount code URBAN35 at urbanartistmarket.com.


Hunter Peak: Our last hike in the Guadalupe Mountains

Frijole Trail, Hunter Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, sunrise, hiking, texas, mountains

Well, we had one last day to hike before we had to take the camper back, so we thought we’d do Hunter Peak. It’s not quite as high as Guadalupe Peak, but it’s a fun, challenging hike – and frankly, the views were better! Of course, you know I love that early-morning light. 🙂 This photo is near the beginning of the trail. Neither of the high points you see are actually Hunter Peak – the trail goes up Bear Canyon (well, I assume that’s why that part is called the “Bear Canyon Trail!”) over to the right.

Hunter Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, sunrise, hiking, texas, mountains

Of course, leaving from the campground you begin on the Frijole Trail, relatively flat and easy, with nice views ahead and behind! Here you see El Capitan over the shoulder of Guadalupe Peak, with the shadow of Hunter Peak.

You follow Frijole Trail around the base of Hunter Peak until you reach the entry to the Bear Canyon Trail. At this point, you turn uphill and the trail becomes more challenging. Going up the canyon you climb from near 6000 feet to over 8000 feet. About 2/3 of the way up I took these shots trying to show how far we had come and how far we still had to go:

 Hunter Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, sunrise, hiking, texas, mountains
 Hunter Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, sunrise, hiking, texas, mountains

The trail was fun and not crazy-steep. It was good to be there relatively early in the day as we were in the shade much of the way up the canyon. As you can see from the photos, not a lot of trees in that canyon. Here and there were what seemed to be small rockfalls, but nothing that blocked our way.

And when you get to the top of the ridge, you enter a whole ‘nother world. One minute you’re hiking in the west Texas desert, next minute you’re in an alpine meadow! This is an area known as “the Bowl,” and following that loop was a pleasant interlude before heading up to the peak. We even saw deer off in the distance.

 Hunter Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, sunrise, hiking, texas, mountains

Coming back up onto the ridge, we turned back toward the peak. It’s only about another 300 feet of climbing, much of it trail but some rock climbing. It was well worth it for the view from the top!

 Hunter Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, sunrise, hiking, texas, mountains

That’s Guadalupe Peak to our right (your left) and El Capitan just beyond. As I was enjoying (and photographing) the views, my wife looked down and saw some passing wildlife – Barbary sheep, descendants of escapees from ranches a century or so ago.

 Hunter Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, sunrise, hiking, texas, mountains
 Hunter Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, sunrise, hiking, texas, mountains

The descent was relatively easy and uneventful, though no more shade trees than the way up. At midday you don’t get the shadow of the mountain! Here you see some of the Tejas trail, which was the way home.

 Hunter Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, sunrise, hiking, texas, mountains

More of the Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe Peak viewed from Hunter Peak

Although dawn at El Capitan was the photographic highlight, and Guadalupe Peak was the geographic highlight, we spent several more days around the mountains anyway! Staying at the Pine Springs campground put us at (or near) a number of trailheads and other points of interest.

For example, a short walk from the Pine Springs Visitor Center stand the remains of an 1858 Butterfield Stage station where the eastbound and westbound Butterfield Overland Mail Coaches passed (as honored by the marker at the top of Guadalupe Peak). Most of what’s left is stone walls like this:

Butterfield STage Station in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Smith Spring near Frijole Ranch in  Guadalupe Mountains National Park

A little way up the road is the Frijole Ranch, whose history begins in the late 1800’s. Water was plentiful, due to a number of springs in the area. The Ranch Museum was closed (and unattractively fenced in!), but we had a nice hike up to Smith Springs. The trail is fairly easy, with less than 400 feet of elevation. There’s a nice pastoral scene at the top with a bench to rest on.

Devil's Hall Trail in  Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The next trail we hiked was the Devil’s Hall Trail. This is a fun, relatively flat trail with lot of boulders to clamber over and around. Or onto, if you’re trying to get the shot… 🙂 And you will definitely want to wear good hiking boots or shoes, you’re walking on rocks and gravel most of the way.

The trail runs parallel to and then in a stream bed. It was July so the stream bed was dry as a bone. A few miles in, you come to a “gateway,” a formation known as the Hiker’s Steps. Aptly named, as you can see below. You need to watch your step on these, especially if it’s wet, the stairs are pretty steep.

The Hiker's Stairs on Devil's Hall Trail in  Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Devil's Hall Trail in  Guadalupe Mountains National Park

A little farther down the trail, you come to the actual Devil’s Hall, a narrow corridor running between two sheer cliff faces. It’s about 200 feet long, 100 feet high, and 15 feet wide. It’s interesting looking up and thinking that all those rocks laying around you used to be part of those walls above you.

Devil's Hall Trail in  Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Devil's Hall Trail in  Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Looking up, hoping the rocks don’t come down!

Just to see the world from their perspective we climbed up to the top (around the outside, not up the cliff!) and looked down. My wife suggested to me that getting closer to the edge of the cliff might be unwise.

Devil's Hall Trail in  Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The official trail ends a short distance from here, though for much of the year you can continue up into the mountains. However, the area beyond is closed from March to August due to sensitive habitat. So we turned around and went back the way we came.

The Top Of Texas:The Guadalupe Mountains

El Capitan, sunrise, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

In keeping with the National Park theme established in my previous post, I thought I’d talk about the origin of the featured photo on my blog’s home page (above is another shot from a little bit later). That’s El Capitan, in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, here in Texas. Don’t confuse it with that other El Capitan in that other park… 🙂

Camper, Pine Springs Campground, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a good 500 miles from home and the nearest hotels to the park are up in New Mexico, so we drove out to El Paso and rented a camper trailer and camped in the park. The trails we hiked all began at the Pine Springs campground.

Eric and Leigh atop Guadalupe Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Naturally, the first hike we did was to the Top of Texas – Guadalupe Peak at 8751 feet (plus a six-foot aluminum pyramid at the top)! From that trail we got a top view of El Capitan, but that’s not a very exciting angle. The hike itself is wonderfully challenging. You gain about 3000 feet in altitude from the campground, but a lot of those feet you climb more than once! And, of course, there’s no water anywhere, so we carried (and drank) a lot. The view from the top is very cool, even under the noonday sun.

El Capitan with Agave, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The next day we went to get a closer look at El Capitan. The El Capitan trail is less challenging hiking, but it has almost no shade. The water situation was no better and the constant sun was rather draining. I had hoped that this trail would give me a good angle on El Cap (we’re good friends by now) but most of the trail is too close to get a nice photo. When we branched off onto the Salt Basin Overlook trail, we got some better angles, but by then the sun was pretty high and the light was not optimal. However, as we were hiking with El Cap on our right, I was looking left.
There was a lower peak there that looked like it would have a great view of the cliff.

There didn’t appear to be a trail going up that hill. I couldn’t tell what was at the top. I wasn’t even positive which one it was when we were looking at a map. Later on we went to the Visitor Center to talk to the Park Rangers. We figured out which one it was on the map (at one point I walked outside with one of the volunteers and pointed to the peak I wanted – the one on the left in this picture).

El Capitan and friend , Guadalupe Mountains National Park

I asked the rangers how they felt about going off the trail. They said basically “just try not to create a new one.” Looking at the map, we decided the best approach: not from the campground by the trail, but from a rest stop on the highway about a mile down from the park entrance!

So I said to my wife, “to get the beautiful morning light that I want, we need to be up on top…before sunrise…” I know she loves me because she said, “let’s do this thing!” That may not be an exact quote. 🙂

Unnamed hill, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

We went down and scouted out the spot. There’s private land next to the rest stop, with a permanent ladder installed over the barbed-wire fence, but we decided to skirt that and go about 75 yards up to the corner of the fence, then along it on park land. Then you reach a (in July, anyway) dry stream bed. We followed the stream bed to the base of the hill and looked up. “How long do you think it would take to get up that?” “Oh, I dunno, maybe an hour? ” “So, let’s see, sunrise is a little before six…”

We decided that getting up around 4 would get us to the top in time. We were right. In fact, we could have slept a while longer! We got up appallingly early the next morning, drove down to the rest stop, and got off the trail. With flashlights in hand (and on my head) we tried to avoid tripping over cacti, rocks, and coyotes. Mostly successfully. And we made the summit almost an hour before sunrise! This gave me plenty of time to get set up and get some starry shots!

El Capitan, pre-dawn, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Just after dawn, the light on the cliff face was a gorgeous rosy glow. And that’s about when I got the shot on the home page.

And then I turned around and looked the other direction:

Which is why, no matter how much beauty is in front of you, it’s always a good idea to turn around!

Climbing Half Dome: Yosemite 2015

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

I was prospecting through the archives today when I ran across photos from a trip we took a few years back – I knew there were gems in there! In late summer 2015, my wife Leigh and I decided we wanted to make a quick trip to Yosemite shortly after school started, hoping there would be less of a crowd. The primary goal: Half Dome. (If you don’t know Half Dome, check it out here, I’ll wait). So we entered, and won, the permit lottery (tip: weekdays are a lot easier!).

This was a last-minute trip, so there was no chance of staying in the park. We got a hotel as near the park entrance as we could. Not the best situation if you’re planning an all-day hike, but what can you do? We were about 20 miles from the park gate, which is yet another hour from Yosemite Valley. Half Dome, from the trailhead in Yosemite Valley, is a 10 to 12 hour hike (14-16 miles round-trip, 4800 feet of elevation). So we were on the road at about 4AM to get on the trail around sunrise.

Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park

It’s a beautiful hike. The trail was clear and not too steep, but some of the “steps” are pretty high. It was mostly gravelly and I slipped once or twice on the way down (hey, I was tired!). While late September is not the best time to see waterfalls, or much water of any kind, the views are still spectacular. As you can see from this picture of Vernal Fall, water flow was less than overwhelming – so don’t forget to carry plenty of your own. I hear it’s much wetter in the springtime and we intend to investigate!

After three or four hours on the trail, you reach a sign that says you need to have a permit to keep going, so I checked my pocket to make sure I still had it. I did, so we kept going.

And then you come to this:

Cable Ascent, Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

This was what we had been training for! Running across this picture in the archives is what prompted this whole post. I was trying to capture the sheer verticality of the cable ascent. From farther away it almost looked like people just going up a hill. It’s not quite straight up, but it’s not all that far off. We were encouraged by the National Park Service pointing out that “relatively few” people had fallen off the cables and died! 400 feet of almost sheer rock is quite a climb, and I needed a breather once we finally got to the top.

But the view is spectacular…

Leigh and Eric atop Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

What’s going on here?

Greeting and felicitations!

My name is Eric Scott Sweeney and I’m the ESS in ESS Images. I’m coming to you through this blog because I have been asked to share the stories behind some of my images. Before I do that, I thought I might share some of the stories behind me!

My wife and I love to travel. From our National Parks to the Camino de Santiago to Machu Picchu and more, new sights and new people, we’ve been going almost since the day we met. And my camera has traveled with us the whole way.

A few years ago I was persuaded to share the best of my work with a wider audience. I created my website and began printing some of my photos on different media. In a couple of months, I will be participating in my first art show (Stay tuned for a discount code for admission!).

And, a few minutes ago, I started this blog.

Here I’ll be talking about trips we’ve taken, trips we’re going to take, and the background of some of the photographs you’ll find on my website. I will be sharing photographs, old and new, and I hope to give some insight into my thought processes and my photographic processes. The comments section will be open if anyone has any questions!

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