Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Monument Valley

This past fall I took a road trip out west and visited some amazingly beautiful places that were very inspiring. I spent a lot of time in central and northern Arizona visiting national forests, parks, and wilderness desert areas. Sedona was beautiful, and the Grand Canyon is one of the most amazing natural wonders on the planet. As I moved north into southern Utah, I had been longing to return to a place I had briefly visited on a family vacation a very long time ago. Monument Valley.

Hwy. 163 coming into Monument Valley from the North
If you have ever watched the movie Forrest Gump, the scene where he stops running across the country was shot in this exact spot in the photo above. Highway 163 running south from Mexican Hat UT. into Monument Valley. In my opinion, one of the most iconic scenes you will ever see while driving on a road trip.
Massive Sandstone Mesas and Buttes rise from the desert floor

This area is a place you may feel very familiar with, and yet you have never been there. This area was discovered by Hollywood director John Ford in the late 1930's and there have been parts of over 70 major movies filmed in the area, along with countless television commercials and videos . So in your subconscious you have been here many, many times. But I highly recommend that you visit it in person. Like the Grand Canyon, this place must be visited in person to truly appreciate the stark beauty of the landscape. I spent three days here and wished I had at least a week.

Massive Butte with a daylight moon
For a landscape photographer this area is a pure paradise. Monument Valley lies within the 16 million acre Navajo Indian Nation

Along HWY. 163 south of Monument Valley
There are only a few options for lodging in Monument Valley. I stayed at The View Hotel, owned and operated by the Navajo Indians. This is the only hotel located inside the tribal park, and I highly recommend staying there. A bit pricey, but the view from your balcony is just amazing.

View from my hotel room balcony of the Mittens and Merrick Butte
If you just do a Google search on Monument Valley, you will find many links with all kinds of information you would need to learn more and plan a trip. My goal is not to rehash all that information here, but to inspire you to really consider visiting this place with my photography.

The North Window

I also highly recommend signing up with one of the local Navajo Indian guides for a tour. You can drive much of the area on a rough dirt road, but they have access to areas that are restricted unless you are with a guide. They provide great insight and information you would not get just driving it yourself.

The View Hotel, Monument Valley UT.

Three Sisters Rock Formation

The tough part of visiting Monument Valley as a photographer is trying to photograph as much as possible in the limited time you have. The desert light is extremely harsh within a couple hours of sunrise so starting very early is a must. Sunrises and sunsets there are spectacular if the weather cooperates.

Clouds add dramatic textures to the sky
A Monument Valley Sunset

I found a real sense of peace and rejuvenation in Monument Valley. While I was wandering alone in the early morning darkness or late afternoons looking for the perfect landscape photo opportunity, The desolate beauty and remoteness of this place are inspiring. I just wish I could have captured it better than I did on this trip. I know I will be back again.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is That A Flamingo?

Roseate spoonbill -  Platalea ajaja

 Is that a Flamingo you are taking pictures of? That is a question I hear on a regular basis every time I visit the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida. What makes Ding Darling NWR such a great place is that it is a drive through wildlife park, and this allows many people to drive up and be very close to the many species of birds that are found in the refuge.  With Sanibel Island being a prime vacation spot, you have quite a few visitors to the refuge that might otherwise not be inclined to visit a wildlife refuge. With a polite smile and a suppressed laugh I say "No, those are Roseate Spoonbills". While many species of the birds have grown accustom to the human presence, Spoonbills are much more leery and tend to stay farther away. So I and many other photographers need to use some pretty big lenses on our cameras to bring them in close. This attracts attention and brings out the questions when they see the pink plumage. So for someone that is not familiar with birds, they assume the birds are Flamingos.
Spoonbill at Ding Darling NWR
Once you identify the birds as spoonbills, you can usually count on numerous followup questions. While I am at times amazed at some peoples total lack of knowledge, I do enjoy helping people out and giving them some useful information.  When you tell people that Flamingos are not really native to the U.S. they don't want to believe you. They just assume that since they have seen millions of the plastic ones in residential yards, they actually are native residents here.

Captive Caribbean Flamingos in a preserve
When you look at the birds plumage you can see how people can make the assumption that they are Flamingos. But that is where the similarity ends. One look at their overall body structure and beaks makes identification easy. In my recent trip Ding Darling NWR I spent five days there photographing birds. I was asked at least a dozen times. "Are those Flamingos?" While I was photographing birds one morning I was talking to one of the numerous volunteers who help assist people with information and show them birds through spotting scopes. I asked him how many times he is asked about the Flamingos. He laughed and said at least 10 times a day.

Caribbean Flamingo

Roseate Spoonbill
Both Species are beautiful birds in there own uniques way. Many species of birds look very similar, and many times it takes an expert to make an identification. But in this case, even I know the difference between a Spoonbill and a Flamingo.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Scenes from the Grand Canyon

A cold and cloudy morning hike

Many people visit the Grand Canyon, and if you have never had the chance to visit, put it on your must do list. I had visited a very, very, long time ago as a youngster on a family vacation. As an adult I had always wanted to go back, but it just never seemed to work out. I had flown over it many times on trips out west and watched countless programs on television. It does not matter how many films, television programs, or amazing photographs you see of the Grand Canyon, they do not begin to convey the size and beauty of one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. You must see it in person to truly be awed.
Sunrise on the South Rim
As a photographer I was hoping for Mother Nature to give me some ideal weather condition to try and create some amazing photographs. But one of the few things you cannot control as a photographer is the weather. I struggled with some very cloudy and overcast skies much of my short three day visit. If I am anything, I am persistent. I was out shooting as long as there was light, and I took every advantage when there was some breaks in the clouds that allowed some good light to come through.
A Mix of Sun and Clouds Create Amazing Patterns
I spent all three days on the South Rim area and plan to hit the North Rim on my next visit. One could easily spend at least a few weeks here just hiking all the trails and being rejuvenated by the beauty and peacefulness you find here.

Amazing South Rim View

Building Clouds In The Late Afternoon

Heavy Clouds Obscure The Setting Sun

I will not give you any facts or information on the Grand Canyon. There is more than enough of that available from  hundreds of sources. My goal is to inspire you to go if you have never been, or make you want to go visit again.
 I still have a few hundred photos to sort through and process from the trip. I will be back, but I can now say I have been and experienced and fully appreciate what a truly wondrous place the Grand Canyon is.