Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Drive Home from Moab...through Northwestern New Mexico

Leaving Moab was bitter sweet.  Such is the case with most travel--you love being where you are, and you treasure returning to the place you call home.  But well before getting there, our journey still has some pleasant surprises ahead as we venture the 7 hour drive back to Albuquerque.  This of course is the home I grew up in, but as a Southern California transplant, I'll still have an airplane ride ahead of me to what I now call home.

Our return road trip deviated from our way up to Moab, this time passing Shiprock New Mexico and then dropping in to Gallup New Mexico where we picked up Interstate 40 for our final leg into Albuquerque.  That last leg was not without its photo opp as we passed a vista of Laguna Pueblo, accessible from a raised turnout from the highway….but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our first stop was in Monticello Utah.  This is one of those necessary stops prompted by drinking too much morning coffee...  Anyway, to a photographer, any stop is a photo opp, and while wandering around the filling station, I noticed a scene out back that beckoned for the creation of a photograph.  A church, surrounded by trees, cast against a mountain with snow--does it get any better than this?  For a photographer sitting in a car itching to press the shutter release, NO!

Ok, on to Shiprock...  The town of Shiprock is named after the nearby Shiprock rock formation, and is home to the annual Northern Navajo Fair, held every October.  Shiprock is a key road junction for truck traffic and tourists visiting the Four Corners, Mesa Verde, Shiprock and the Grand Canyon. The town lies at the intersection of U.S. Route 64 and U.S. Route 491 (formerly U.S. Route 666).  We stopped just long enough to get a couple of photos of the famous rock formation.

A short distance down the road, there was another amazing rock formation--and only the most discerning eyes will recognize that it's not Shiprock--it's Cathedral Cliff!

This area of New Mexico is vast, and it's barren.  It's a part of the country that gives one pause...why would people live here...what do they do...what are their stories...  So many questions, and from the highway, so few answers.  Yet, there they are, there they live, and a photograph forms the question...why?

Finally we hit Interstate 40 and Gallup New Mexico.  Gallup was founded in 1881 as a railhead for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and is known as the "Heart of Indian Country" because it is in the middle of the Navajo reservation and home to many tribes.  This town has a rich cultural history and is a destination unto itself, but for us today, it would only be our lunch stop.  A quick search of special spaces to eat took us to a local café mostly frequented by the locals—Jerry’s Café.  I was in the mood for the quintessentially New Mexican green chile cheese burger.  I was not disappointed!  Will our bellies stuffed, we were prepared for the next, and almost final leg of our journey.

One very special photograph remains to be captures...  A year ago I had been on a drive to Albuquerque from the west coast and nearing Albuquerque noticed a small town on a hill just north of the highway.  Sitting prominently was the church…I learned later that this town was Laguna Pueblo.  At the time, I wanted to stop and create a photograph but I happened to be in the left lane and was blocked by a truck from escaping to a pullout that I was unprepared for.  Today’s trip would be different as I was on the lookout for this same pullout, and I stayed in the right lane so as to not miss it.  As I could see the pueblo appear, I was  excited to be finally getting a second chance…  After satisfying my last photographic interest, we dropped in to Albuquerque along its famous “nine mile hill”… 

There is no real summary for this amazing trip other that the fact that with travel comes adventure, and if approached right, involves some amazingly positive experience.  This was one of those trips that allowed me to enjoy the company of a very old friend (i.e., I've known him for a long time) and enjoy some amazing photography and scenery with him.  A week is a short time, but the memories will last my lifetime.  Moab awaits my return!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is also near Moab, but rather than the two-mile drive out of town to Arches, Canyonlands is about 20 miles away.  Canyonlands is approximately five times as large at over 500 square miles and preserves a landscape of canyons, mesas, and buttes created by the Colorado River, the Green River, and their respective tributaries. Legislation creating the park was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on September 12, 1964.

The park is divided into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the combined rivers—the Green and Colorado—which carved two large canyons into the Colorado Plateau.  The Island in the Sky district attracts the majority of park users and is the most accessible by automobile. The Needles district is the second most visited. The rivers within the park and the remote Maze district each only account for 3 percent of park visitation due to its remote and vast network of unimproved roads and trails.   The Needles, Maze, and Rivers districts are all generally visible from the Island in the Sky district.

Our trip exclusively explored the Island in the Sky.  From the many turnouts, panoramic vistas of different landscapes were enjoyed and gave understanding to the vastness, scope, and variety of topographies that make up the park.  As far as the eyes could see in many directions…rivers, monoliths, and earth’s surface scared by desert storms, winds, and time...  As magnificent and grand as these vistas were, there were also many beautiful details.  Rocks, plants, birds and other details competed for attention with the more dramatic scenery on the horizon.

As we arrived at the rather unassuming park entrance (sans the normal visitors center), we saw a couple getting ready for their own exploration on mountain bikes.  The Islands in the Sky would be an enjoyable biking experience for most people due to its relatively flat paved roads.

Although Arches National Park boasts having the majority of arches in this part of Utah, Canyonlands is known among photographers for another very special and scenic arch--Mesa Arch.  What gives Mesa Arch such an avid following is its combination of stunning vistas through the arch as well as its orientation to the rising sun.  We were content to arrive just after sunrise, but it not atypical for there to be as many as 20 or 30 photographers in a relatively confined space beginning pre-dawn, jostling for just the right spot to photograph the sunrise through the arch.  In the far distance are mountains and mesas, and somewhat closer in view is the Washer Woman Arch, named for its similarity to a woman washing garments by hand.

It was easy to be mesmerized by the sight of Mesa Arch and its surroundings.  Every subtle angle looking quite different and therefore compelling that more photographs be taken.  But alas it was time to move on and see what other surprises might await around the next corner...

Canyonlands seems more like that of a wilderness than a park, and feels much less improved and "directive", leaving the exploration and enjoyment in the hands of one's own time and curiosity.  I feel that we barely scratched the surface of the character and diversity of the park, and therefore shortchange the descriptions and narrative for those who haven't been and might consider visiting...  I can say with certainty however, that if you’re ever given the opportunity to visit the area around Moab, this park should be included in your plans.

To see my entire collection of images for Canyonlands National Park, visit my website gallery at:

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Arches--WOW! Arches National Park

The Arches area was first brought to the attention of the National Park Service by Frank A. Wadleigh around September 1923.  The following year, additional support for the monument idea came from Laurence Gould, a University of Michigan graduate. Finally in April 1929, shortly after his inauguration, President Herbert Hoover signed a presidential proclamation creating Arches National Monument, consisting of two comparatively small, disconnected sections.


In late 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation which enlarged Arches to protect additional scenic features and permit development of facilities to promote tourism. In early 1969, just before leaving office, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation substantially enlarging Arches. Two years later, President Richard Nixon signed legislation enacted by Congress which significantly reduced the total area enclosed, but changed its status to a National Park.

The colossal monoliths, outcropping, fins, bluffs, and fallen rubble are a testament to the ever-changing landscape, and their time humble the meager 80+ years that we might be around to witness it.  One can stand in front of the many iconic monuments, read their name, learn their geology, but standing there hardly allows for the comprehension of the wonders that abound in this national park.

Up high on a rock a lone individual sits in the sun, oblivious to those around him as he finds ways to connect himself to this magical setting.  From where I am I can't hear him, and that's another marvelous thing about these great outdoors...there is a solitude that blankets you.  Your eyes drink in an overwhelming array of sights, but somehow the body slows things down to give all the senses a chance to coordinate.

Everywhere one turns, a new and different experience.  On the cloudless day that we were in the park, the palette of colors was dominated by reds, oranges, greens, and blues.  Many shapes had names...Park Avenue, The Three Gossips, Sheep’s Rock, etc... and yet there were many where the imagination allowed for your own personal observations and naming.  This was part of the joy of touring the was reminiscent of those days as a child lying on your back looking up at the clouds and seeing many things...this was so similar.

A drive through this national park presents many opportunities to view spectacular geological formations from the roads and parking areas.  In addition, many miles of hiking were available to those who want to get away from the crowds and enjoy the peace and solitude that national parks are famous for. 

Our trip included a most special opportunity—a ranger-led tour through a permit-only area referred to as the Fiery Furnace.  This maze of vertical fin structures is navigable by squeezing through openings, straddling fissures and openings, and scrambling and climbing over a variety of physical obstacles.  This hike is not for the faint of heart, nor for those not accustomed to physical exertion.  It was difficult to judge one's readiness for the hike based on the video that the Park Service has on their website, and consequently there were a couple people on our group that would probably not go on this hike again given the chance.

What was supposed to take approximately three hours took nearly double that.  Yet, there was never a time when I got bored or ran out of things to look at or photograph.  The payoff for being in the Fiery Furnace is a view that few see--hidden arches, panoramic glimpses, rare plants, and an abundance of twisting and turning "paths".  That's the other thing...there are not really paths in the Fiery Furnace.  One really needs to be with a guide or risk getting lost.  What an adventure!

Arches National Park is a place I will return to again.  Like so many places one visits, a couple of days often is just not enough.  So it was here too.  Not only were there more things to see, but being the great outdoors, there are seasonal patterns that would change the conditions and present completely different experiences.

To see my entire collection of images from Arches National Park, visit my website gallery at:

Monday, February 13, 2017

Anticipating Moab, Utah

Reflecting on a fantastic week in Moab Utah, the "base camp" for photographic excursions around the area including Arches NP and Canyonlands NP.  I will share the highlights from my trip on a series of posts, beginning with this first post which will include the history of Moab.  Subsequent posts will expound on our adventures in the two national parks nearby Moab as well as “special places” that we also visited.  I drove through Moab over 35 years ago and was struck by its natural beauty.  It’s taken me this long to return…if you haven’t been, make sure it’s up on your bucket list.

This was a road trip that started in Albuquerque (after having flown in from the west coast) and headed north along Highway 550 which was quite beautiful but then quickly became a bit more treacherous with snow and slush.  I knew from having checked the weather, that our destination in Utah was to be sunny with clear skies, but how much further would we continue through this snow?  Thankfully road conditions improved after only a few more miles.  

We proceeded north, through Farmington New Mexico and into the southwest corner of Colorado.  Skirting past Durango, we turned due west and headed into Mancos where we enjoyed a lunch break.  I could have spent all day exploring this small, quaint, and very scenic town, but Moab was calling, so we hit the road... 

The anticipation was palpable as we began our final approach as we descended towards Moab. For a while now we've been seeing the La Sal Mountains on the horizon, but as they loom larger we realize we're almost there... next stop Arches and Canyonlands National Parks!

Wilson Arch located outside Moab (from the south):

According to Wikipedia, Moab is located just south of the Colorado River, at an elevation of 4,025 feet, and is 18 miles west of the Utah/Colorado state line.  Moab’s population was 5,046 at the 2010 census and attracts a large number of tourists every year, mostly visitors to the nearby Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The town is also a very popular base for mountain bikers who ride the extensive network of trails including Slickrock Trail, as well as off-roaders who come for the annual Moab Jeep Safari. 

The Biblical name Moab refers to an area of land located on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Some historians believe the city in Utah came to use this name because of William Pierce, the first postmaster, believing that the biblical Moab and this part of Utah were both "the far country".  However, others believe the name has Paiute origins, referring to the word "moapa" meaning mosquito.  Some of the area's early residents attempted to change the city's name because in the Christian Bible, Moabites are demeaned as incestuous and idolatrous. One petition in 1890 had 59 signatures and requested a name change to Vina.  Another effort attempted to change the name to Uvadalia.  Both attempts failed.  Moab was incorporated as a town on December 20, 1902.

During the period between 1829 and the early 1850s, the area around what is now Moab served as the Colorado River crossing along the Old Spanish Trail.   Later, other places to cross the Colorado were constructed, such as Lee's Ferry, Navajo Bridge and Boulder Dam. These changes shifted the trade routes away from Moab.   Soon Moab's origins as one of the few natural crossings of the Colorado River were forgotten. Nevertheless, the U.S. military deemed the bridge over the Colorado River at Moab important enough to place it under guard as late as World War II.

Moab's economy was originally based on agriculture, but gradually shifted to mining. Uranium and vanadium were discovered in the area in the 1910s and 1920s. Potash and manganese came next, and then oil and gas were discovered. In the 1950s Moab became the so-called "Uranium Capital of the World" after geologist Charles Steen found a rich deposit of uranium ore south of the city.  With the winding down of the Cold War, Moab's uranium boom was over, and the city's population drastically declined. By the early 1980s a number of homes stood empty and nearly all of the uranium mines had closed.

 To see my entire Moab, Utah collection of images, visit my website gallery at:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

When is a Full Moon a Supermoon?

The full moon of November 14, 2016 was not only the biggest, closest and brightest supermoon of the year, but it’s also the closest supermoon since January 26, 1948. This full moon instant happened in the morning hours before sunrise.  The moon won’t come this close to Earth again until November 25, 2034.

Astronomers call this sort of close full moon a perigee full moon. The word perigee describes the moon’s closest point to Earth for any given month. Five years ago – when the closest and largest full moon fell on March 19, 2011 – many began using the term supermoon, which we’d never heard before. In the following years, we heard this term again to describe the year’s closest full moon on May 6, 2012, and again on June 23, 2013, and again on August 10, 2014, and yet again on September 28, 2015.  The full moon last month on October 16, 2016 – was also a supermoon, but this November supermoon was even more super because the time of full moon fell even closer to the time of the moon’s closest point to Earth.

So when the alarm goes off at 4am you question why you thought it was such a good idea to wake up early and head out to photograph the setting of the supermoon…  But once out on the sand at the Huntington Beach Pier, it became clear…wow! 

And after the moon finished setting and the sun came up, the beach began to get populated with surfers.  I believe in Heaven, and I sometimes wonder if it’s pretty close to where I live…

To see more images from my Huntington Beach collection, visit my website gallery at:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lake Balboa--it's in L.A....ever heard of it? Me neither...

A tip from a friend led me to photograph at Lake Balboa Park, renamed Anthony C. Beilenson Park in 1998 in tribute to Anthony Charles "Tony" Beilenson, a former Democratic Congressman from Southern California who served ten terms in the United States House of Representatives, from 1977 to 1997. The park  is an 80-acre water recreation facility, with the 27-acre Balboa Lake at its center.  This artificial lake is supplied with reclaimed water from the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant.

You sure we're in the right place??

Ya, I was wondering the same thing...

Lake Balboa is a district in the San Fernando Valley region of the city of Los Angeles, California.  The 2000 U.S. census counted 24,328 residents in the 3.13-square-mile Lake Balboa neighborhood  Lake Balboa is flanked on the north by Northridge, on the east by Van Nuys, on the south by the Sepulveda Basin and on the west by Reseda.

In the short time that I was there, I discovered quite a diversity of bird life, and was treated to quite a feeding display by a cormorant “choking” down a rather large suckermouth catfish!  It took several minutes for the cormorant to grip and position the fish just right in order to swallow it without the interference of the fins.  

In addition, there were geese, great egrets, great blue herons, and hawks…

This Great-tailed grackle was a rather curious fellow as I went by...

All of this action was observed in less than a two hour walk around the lake…thanks for taking a virtual walk with me…

To see my full collection of images from this day's shoot, visit my website gallery at:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Breitling Air Show in Huntington Beach...a first since the 90'

The Breitling Huntington Beach Airshow last year featured the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the Breitling Jet Team, a variety of acrobatic planes, an F-18 Super Hornet, and sundry other demonstrations.  It is the only beachfront airshow scheduled on the West Coast. It is also the first airshow to take place in Huntington Beach since the 1990s.

And of course the named star of the show was the Breitling Jet Team.  The Breitling Jet Team is made up of seven L-39C Albatros aircraft, Czech-made twin-seater military training jets that can also be used for passenger flights.  These magnificent planes represent an excellent compromise between performance, aesthetics, reliability and operating costs.

Below are several shots of the Thunderbirds.  The Thunderbirds have the privilege and responsibility to perform for people all around the world, displaying the pride, precision and professionalism of American Airmen. In every hour-long demonstration, the team combines years of training and experience with an attitude of excellence to showcase what the Air Force is all about. As the jets take to the skies and fly only a few feet from wingtip to wingtip, the crowd gets a glimpse of the awesome skills and capabilities that all fighter pilots must possess. The solo pilots integrate their own loud and proud routine, exhibiting some of the maximum capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon – the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighter jet.

The next couple of shots are of the amazing Screamin’ Sasquatch.  The Screamin’ Sasquatch was a classic 1929 Taperwing, the plane of choice for barnstorms in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Today however, this plane has been highly modified in many ways, the least of which is  that it’s powered by two different engines.  Every control surface has been specifically engineered for the unique aerodynamic forces encountered during high-speed flight and portions of the aircraft’s structure have been converted from wood and fabric, to carbon fiber.  The cockpit has been moved 3 feet aft, in order to accommodate fuel tanks for both 100LL and Jet A fuel.  The cockpit is extremely modern and incorporates the MGL Avionics Stratomaster Odyssey touch screen system, which integrates all of the engine monitoring of both powerplants and the aircraft’s avionics systems – essentially combining a couple of dozen gauges into one screen.  The amazing thing is listening to this plane climb when the jet engine is engaged…and hence the name Screamin’ Sasquatch!

But one of my favorite demonstrations was that of a single F-18 Super Hornet.  This is the VFA-122 Super Hornet in action.  The Tactical Demonstration, or "Tac Demo" team flies as close to the "edge of the envelope" as safety and prudence allow.  The routine highlights the Rhino's maneuverability and slow-speed handling characteristics.  The "Demo" is designed to highlight the mobility, versatility, and power of the FA-18.  From the high "G" minimum radius turn to the slow speed "high-alpha" pass, the Demo flight puts the Rhino through its paces.

Lyon Air Museum’s C-47 Dakota, recently christened “Willa Dean”,  has had a long and successful service life. Transferred from the USAAF to the French in May of 1945, this aircraft continued to fly for the most part unmodified, unlike so many of its contemporaries. In 1967 it again changed ownership, this time transferring to the Israelis. There, it continued service without major modification, ultimately being sold to the civilian market where it found its way to Lyon Air Museum as one of the most complete and original C-47s currently in operation. “Willa Dean” now carries the colors of the 440th Troop Carrier Group’s 97th Troop Carrier Squadron, complete with D-Day Invasion Stripes.

To see my entire collection from this shoot, here's a link to my website gallery: