Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘Desert Southwest’
Last Fall myself and a handful of my Photo Cascadia peeps headed down to the desert southwest region. I had only been down that way a couple times before, the only longish trip before I had the knowledge and desire to create art like I do today. Needless to say I was very eager for the trip not only to travel with great friends but also in hopes coming home with a few images for the portfolio and experiences to last a lifetime.
Although this time of year normally consists of chasing scenes with yellow, red and other similar hues that are planted in the ground, this was not that trip. In fact I came home after 9 days with over 2,300 files and no fall color in any of them. Beyond that it was likely one of my most productive trips of this length that I can recall. What I have in this post is a healthy dose from that trip yet it’s a series of folders I will dive into periodically to find more nuggets to process for years to come.
David Cobb and I touch down in Las Vegas. Grabbed the rental car and headed to eat. I am always hungry for those that don’t know me well. David tells me if we were stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean he would throw me over before he started to look like my next meal. I can’t blame him. We scarfed down lunch sitting outside right next to the sports car race track. Damn those cars are loud in this setting. After raising our voices just to talk over lunch we get on the highway, we leave behind Vegas in search of tranquil nature scenes.
We meet up with Chip Phillips and Zack Schnepf as they were just wrapping up a couple days in Zion National Park. After a quick pit stop for supplies in St George we decided to make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We planned to camp on the back roads outside the park yet seeing many of the backroads with head lights for the likes of hunting season, we opted for the modern day comforts of a hotel. We will camp this trip, just not here.
We head out before day break because well that is what we are here for. It’s a long haul from where we lodged to the rim but sunrise doesn’t disappoint. We stand along the edge at Cape Royal. I don’t really care how amazing the sky is or isn’t, it’s simply a great feeling to stand here. The warm light hitting the rocks and first time in over a decade to the area was a reminder why it was worth coming back to. After the sunrises we stop in a turn out along the road and eat a tailgating breakfast of champions.
After a few hours back at the hotel we cruise back to Cape Royal for sunset. This is a beautiful spot and conditions prime that evening with dappled light and showers rolling through. Complete with colorful rainbow and moody storm clouds, and of course among great friends. The light fades away into darkness; the photos will be here to keep the memories in the light.
I am thankful for this time of year with less daylight and more opportunities for zzz’s between sunset and sunrise. This morning we head to Point Imperial. We pull in to a quiet parking lot. We are the only cars here. Any noise we hear is us and a gentle breeze.
As we setup the sky and steep jagged cliffs glow every shade of red I can remember seeing in nature over the years. We tell stories, we shoot, and we laugh. We shoot some more and more laughs. You don’t want it to end. Until for some reason while I am packing up I open my wallet and realize I am missing my credit card. Doh!
I didn’t mention it earlier but we are here for the last few days the North Rim is open for the season. The droves of tourists have long departed and the visitor center’s shelves look like a department store that had long been out of business, empty. It’s the right time to be here for photography, except the warm monsoon summer season which is too warm for me.
When we get back Zack walks out from the restaurant holding my credit card in the air. Whew! I had left it at the restaurant the night before. The cars are packed and it’s time to head to the next location.
After a decent drive we make it to a location of Grand Staircase Escalante that we had hoped to get to. There were a couple water crossings that fortunately were running low for David’s new favorite vehicle in the whole world could make it through, our rental Jeep Compass. And to think it didn’t even have a compass. Huh.
We do some scouting and find a good place to put our tents down to call home for the next couple nights. All we see is openness and desert cliffs from camp. It’s a great place to park it.
The next couple days here are an all you can eat buffet of scrumptious light, flavorful skies and delicious scenes. I told you my mind can revolve around food.
This day brings more good times, good shots and good camp food. By the afternoon we see a trail of dust off in the distance slowly barreling our way. Erin has joined us for a few days of this desert adventure.
We leave Grand Staircase Escalante behind for a bit to check out another spot. The Coal Mine. With no camping nearby we find a hotel to crash at after visting the location for sunset. We cross the street for dinner. Here we learn time is an hour forward from where we stood across the street. What?! It’s hard enough that Arizona doesn’t change their clocks for daylight savings yet some reservations do recognize it while others don’t. In this case the restaurant was on the reservation land and the hotel was not. We almost missed sunrise one day having our heads flopping back in this mini time warp.
After peaceful and majestic sunrise at the Coal Mine, back at the hotel we say good-by to Chip and Zack who start their journey back to the Pacific Northwest. David and I had a few more days before heading back home via Sin City.
Erin, David and I make our way to one of many slot canyon options in Grand Staircase Escalante. The day is late and we know better than to hike miles upstream and come out in the dark. We explore enough to know it’s worth a full day.
We come back to the same canyon from the prior day. We arrive just after sunrise. Spending all day exploring, photographing and crisscrossing the water with my water logged boots. We hike out and make back to the car just after sunset. The dim light almost calling for a headlamp, I enjoy dusk and let my eyes adjust instead.
Erin needs to start her long drive back this morning. We part ways and now it’s down to David and me for the final couple days. Being in Page this day we decided to visit this little known place called Horseshoe Bend. Besides visiting The Grand Canyon during the off season with few people around, we have tried to avoid iconic landmarks. I don’t mind photographing them, and I will, yet I don’t seek out trips that I am simply trophy hunting. To me there is no fun in that. A sense of exploring places with few others around is part of the thrill of nature photography.
As you can imagine Horseshoe Bend was not a quiet spot. Mind you I have never been here and I show up in the dark before sunrise. I find what looks like a decent spot (can’t really tell) and setup more to enjoy the scene but do plan to take a photo or two. As dawn breaks on a gray day as if I brought it with me from Oregon, I hear another couple photographers pass behind me on the trail. One of them says “That guy is in my spot” and I turn to realize the only person he can be talking about is me since no one is next to me. Really!? This solidified why I am not drawn to visit the icons on a regular basis.
As I pack up David and I connect again. I realize I lost one of the feet on my Gitzo tripod. I was sure I had it on when I was photographing that morning. I have no extras this trip and thankful we are near the end and I can make do. Hiking the ~1 mile trail out about half way up I just happen to look down and I see a dark object. I bend down and pick it up. It’s a foot that fits my tripod perfectly! Whether it truly fell off my tripod or I picked up someone else’s I can’t say for certain. Either ways it worked out.
David and I start our trek back in the morning. We settle on the last night camping at Valley of Fire. We make it there in time for some brief photography before the ranger comes barreling down the road at dusk ensuring everyone is out.
Up at sunrise we head back into the prime area of the park that is closed at night. We photograph The Wave while exploring other areas until the light is harsh and photography at this point is small scenes requiring the use of my t-shirt as diffuser. It’s November and for my Pacific Northwest body is downright hot outside. How folks living down here deal with this in the summer I have no idea. I love it down here yet my body prefers cold over hot. It’s easier to layer up; you can only remove so many layers before it’s an issue in multiple ways.
We enjoy our nice little camping spot for the morning and head into the city that never sleeps. I know David as our main driver was sad to say goodbye to our gutless and compass-less Jeep Compass.
Leaving I already make plans in my head when I want to return, both for a family trip and photography. I can’t wait another decade without a decent trip down here. If you have not been and wonder why, just try reading the work of Edward Abbey or newer work from Guy Tal. There is much to ponder, dream and explore in this area to fill a lifetime.
“In my mind these experiences are a kind of retirement savings – the moments and memories I will someday recall with the same bittersweet joy and immense gratitude I felt experiencing them, and I will know that I truly lived”
– Guy Tal, More Than A Rock
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Lucky number seven in 2016 for Photo Cascadia. Seven for the first full year with seven team members and seven for the number of years Photo Cascadia has been around. Speaking of luck it was honestly mostly luck in the beginning that this specific team of photographers formed, have become good friends and enjoy sharing experiences and knowledge with all of you for as long as we have. During this time we have seen similar groups form and fold. We hope this seven year stretch is only the beginning of our journey as you join us along for the ride. In the end it’s you, the readers, that continue to provide energy for what we do at Photo Cascadia. For this we are extremely grateful and thankful… thank you!
Where did 2016 take you for adventure and photography? I am sure it was similar to many on the Photo Cascadia team where we spent time in our own backyards, crossing state lines as well as some continent hopping. If you have been watching our blog for more than a year now you will know that mid December is when Photo Cascadia takes a break from our weekly posting until mid January. It’s our time to step back and reflect on the year that has past while winding down with family and friends.
As we reflect on things it’s a good time to remember that all the places we get to visit should be available for those that come after us. It seems 2016 we unfortunately saw a rise, at least in the media if not reality, around people doing permanent damage to places we all want to enjoy and photograph as well as companies and political forces looking to seize locations set aside for long term preservation. Now days, perhaps more than ever, we all need breaks into nature whether some of us realize it or not as the number of us living in a concrete jungle grows. With that I leave you with one of my favorite quotes.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
We take this time to provide a year end visual show of where we have traveled with some behind the scenes clips. Take a four minute break and check it out.
May your year close out with many lasting memories and the new year start with a trail full of endless possibilities.
I did a blog post a number of years back on abstract nature photography yet it’s been a long time and thought I would revisit this topic. I really enjoy this type of photography especially when you find hidden gems that others may not have seen or might have passed over many times before you. Often what ends up being the final photo doesn’t jump out at you without surveying a scene for potential compositions. Sometimes I dig in and strike it rich finding those gems and other times I come up empty handed which is part of the fun.
Rather than a lot of typing for this post I will let the video do most of the talking this time around. I am not normally the video tutorial kind of person yet I am getting myself to branch out into this type of work. Below is the video and three photos I discuss in greater detail. For each scene I show several compositions I took leading up to the final to help understand my thought process to build a compelling abstract or intimate nature photo.
Standing Tall – In cold wet forest of the Columbia River Gorge in early winter
Desert Lizard – In the dry cool desert Southwest in Fall inside Zion National Park
Final Flames of Fall – Above a forest in the Columbia River Gorge during the final days of fall
Video covering the three photos above in much more detail. Happy viewing!
An Interview with David Thompson by David Cobb
1. Tell us a little about yourself David.
I was born in Las Vegas, and I consider myself an
ordinary guy. Both my parents were in the military and I’m the only child. From Vegas we
then moved to New Mexico. While living in New Mexico I spent quite a bit of time in the
outdoors. I use to hike and ride my bike in the deserts, and also did some camping and
fishing in the nearby mountains. From New Mexico, we moved back to Las Vegas in
1993. I’ve lived in Vegas ever since.
2. When and how did you get your start in photography?
I got my start in photography in 2004. My father gave me a Pentax ZX 35mm
film camera. I didn’t know anything about compositions, exposure, or how to use the
basic functions of the camera. After many months of failed attempts to take a decent
picture, and the high costs of film development, I gave up. In 2008, when my son was
born, I got my first digital camera which was a Canon Rebel XTI. I started with just family
pictures at first, and honestly I wasn’t good at that either. During my travels, I
would constantly see these amazing sunsets/sunrises and I wished I could capture what I
was seeing. One day I decided to go online to do some research on landscape
photography. Once I saw all the fantastic images online……..I was hooked! I had to
learn more! From there, that’s where my photography journey began.
3. Much of your landscape photography is centered in the America Southwest. What do you love about this area, and what keeps you coming back?
What I love about the Southwest, is all the amazing landscapes here. What
keeps me coming back is the landscapes are constantly changing. The light is never the
same, the atmosphere is always different, there are so many different variables that make
photographing these landscapes interesting.
4. You recently travelled to Iceland, tell us how it is similar and different from the
stark landscapes of the desert southwest?
Iceland……the landscape of Iceland is beautiful and unique in its own way.
Iceland is very similar to the deserts of the southwest, particularly the areas around Death
Valley National Park. The landscapes are very similar in terms of their otherworldly/lunar
features. They are also similar with their rugged appearance and treeless vistas. Where
they differ, obviously the climate is different, but in Iceland there is water everywhere.
Waterfalls flowing from every cliff in sight. You will see random tarns amongst
the volcanic landscape. Another feature that was very different from the deserts of the
Southwest, was the contrast in colors. There were so many color variations throughout
the landscapes in Iceland.
5. When you’re not photographing the desert southwest, where do you like to travel and photograph and why?
When I’m not photographing the deserts, I like to photograph anything that is the
complete opposite of the desert. Whether it be the lush canyons of the Columbia River
Gorge, or the shores of the Pacific Ocean along the southern California or Oregon coast,
anything that is different than the desert works for me. I love shooting all landscapes. I’m
not too picky.
6. What are your top three personal favorite images and why?
“Hoodoo Magic” With this image, I have seen virga numerous times here in the
desert. But this display of virga was something like I had never seen. On this particular
evening in the Bisti Wilderness area of New Mexico, my buddy Paul and I were just
watching this storm develop for about 45 minutes. The sun eventually broke through the
clouds giving us an amazing display of light. The sun really brought the landscape to life.
“Nuclear Dunes” (see top image) The light I witnessed on this evening was in my top three
sunsets I’ve seen in my photography journey. I had gotten off work late that afternoon.
My plan was to drive to Lone Pine, California for sunset on my way to the Eastern Sierras but
there was no way I was gonna make for sunset, so I went with my alternative plan, and hit
the Mesquite Sand Dunes for sunset instead. I remember complaining to myself because
the sky didn’t look like it would have any potential, but I hiked out onto the dunes
anyway. I sat there for a little while contemplating if I should leave or not. As I started
packing up my gear I saw a little glimmer of light creeping through the clouds on the
horizon. I didn’t think much of it, until I saw a little glimpse of pink in the clouds. I turned
back around, and within seconds that sky was ablaze with color. That light lasted a good
hour after sunset. I only saw one other person shooting that evening. Talking
about that image gives me the chills.
“Peeled “ This small scene is one of my personal favorites. A couple friends and I
stumbled upon this area while exploring a section of the Painted Desert in Arizona. This
section of cracked mud was very interesting to me because of the peeling features of the
mud and the natural gradient in colors. I waited about 25 minutes before sunset for the
sun to get lower to the horizon. The timing couldn’t have been any better. For me, the
mix of golden light and shadows looked incredible on these cracks.
7. Explain your nickname D Breezy, and what it means to be D Breezied?
The name D Breezy is a name I came up with some time ago when I initially set
up my account on Flickr. It’s basically D, for David, and Breezy for my easy going
attitude. I’m the type of person that just goes with the flow. For some reason the name
has kinda stuck with me over the years. It’s funny because I never thought that the name
would stick like that. What it means to be D Breezied is when you miss great light due to
daily life, family, or sitting at home instead of being out shooting. I seriously can’t believe that the
term D Breezied is being used on a regular basis now. It started off as a joke years ago.
8. What is the most important piece of photo equipment you can’t live without?
The one piece of photograph equipment that I can’t live with out with would have
to be my Really Right Stuff TVC33 tripod. It took me some years to understand how
important a sturdy tripod is. Once I got the RRS legs, I was thrilled to have legs that I
could use in any type of shooting situation. Probably the best piece of photography
equipment that i’ve purchased.
You can see more of David’s outstanding images at: davidthompsonphotography.com/