Mountains

Cedar Breaks Sunrise

Cedar Breaks Sunrise

Cedar Breaks National Monument lies peacefully under the subtle but brilliant colors of a Utah sunrise

I had seen Cedar Breaks National Monument on maps before and had been tempted to visit on prior trips to Zion National Park. Cedar Breaks is tantalizingly close to Zion but I had always been on my way further east to visit another of Southern Utah’s constellation of incredible state and national parks. Fortunately, we had actually built a visit to Cedar Breaks into our schedule this time and had scouted our shooting location the night before. As it turned out, I was really happy we had done so. The next morning turned out to be pretty cold and it was nice to know exactly where we would be setting up shop.

It doesn’t happen often, but in this case the best shooting location at sunrise was right at the visitors center in the principal overlook. We had a 270 degree view of Cedar Breaks and could quickly move from one angle to another. At one point I had a camera pointed due east and another looking almost west. Having two camera bodies and two tripods was a great luxury since this turned out to be a pretty epic sunrise and there were lots of shooting opportunities. As the sun rose closer to the horizon and eventually over, the view further down canyon and over to the distant mountains just got better and better.

As I normally do at sunrise and sunset, I was shooting series of three bracketed exposures. I may even have had to go to five shots separated by two stops for the first few series. There was quite a wide latitude of exposures needed to bring out shadow detail and not blow out the highlights of the clouds overhead. Eventually there was enough reflected light to drop to three shots and ultimately one exposure. I’m just happy that good technique and modern equipment allow me to capture these types of scenes. The camera simply can’t always capture what the eye can see without a bit of an assist in post-processing.

Cedar Breaks isn’t one of those places where I would recommend staying for a weeklong visit, but it’s definitely a place you don’t want to miss. I think our overnight stay in Cedar City with a chance to take in a sunset and sunrise was a reasonable amount of time there. I drove away appreciating our time there and ready for another visit in the future.

The Road to Cedar Breaks

The Road to Cedar Breaks

The view along UT 14 as it winds its way up from Cedar City to Cedar Breaks National Monument

Since I visit the western US to shoot mostly during the fall, I’ve had the opportunity to see the aspens at peak fall color on several occasions. It’s always a magnificent experience. While planning this trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, I hoped that our schedule, elevation, and an aspen forest would intersect at some point. While at Great Basin National Park, the aspen forest had already turned and shed its leaves. Even so, the park was fun to visit and beautiful.

But, as we headed southeast toward Cedar City, I hoped that a beautiful aspen forest at the peak of fall color would be visible along the way. About thirty minutes out from Cedar City I began to see the mountains rising in the distance. I *thought* I could see pops of yellow on the mountainsides but I convinced myself that it was simply the way the sun was hitting the mountains. As we got closer, though, it became obvious that the large patches of yellow and orange that we could see were actually huge aspen groves. Needless to say, I got pretty excited.

I became even more excited once we dropped off our bags and headed up the mountain from Cedar City to Cedar Breaks National Monument. While on prior trips to southern Utah I had heard of Cedar Breaks and its beauty but I had never visited. So, I was pretty stoked to pay it a visit. What I hadn’t anticipated was the amazing beauty of the road up the mountain. It was one of those drives where we were stopping at least once a mile, and sometimes more often, just to gape at the landscape. I had gone from no leaves on the aspen trees to grove after grove at the peak of their fall beauty. And, I hadn’t even made it to the main attraction yet!

This shot was taken during one of those stops. There was a county park where we parked the car and moved up and down the road for a while. I loved the way that he fence and the road led my eye into the mass of the aspen-covered mountain we had just driven past. The colors were amazing and there were even a few clouds in the sky to break up the otherwise perfect blue sky overhead. The scenery was so beautiful that we utterly enjoyed two or three trips up and down the mountain pass just so we could soak it all in. I hope this image conveys some sense of the beauty of the scene that we experienced.

Take the Long Way Home

Take the Long Way Home

A thirteen-mile long straight stretch of road in the Utah high desert

I’m showing my age a bit, but with apologies to 70s supergroup SuperTramp, I’ve titled this post after their famous song. I was actually in high school when it came out… It just seems appropriate given the length of the highway pictured stretching out seemingly to infinity.

As you might imagine the distance between population centers virtually anywhere in Nevada outside of Las Vegas is vast. It was not uncommon for us to drive stretches of highway where there was thirty, forty, or even fifty miles between towns. And, with few towns and relatively flat ground, the roads could be very, very straight. We finally started guessing how far it would be until we reached the next bend in the road and using the odometer to referee our guesses. As it turned out, parts of adjoining Utah were very similar.

This stretch of Utah state highway 21 was the longest stretch of straight road that we encountered. We started where the road disappears in the far distance and stopped just before a bend in the road immediately behind us in this image. That stretch of road was over thirteen miles long! While I was taking this series of shots, a car would appear and we would still literally have minutes to compose and shoot before the car came even remotely close to us. My only regret from this part of the trip was not having a supercar that we could have opened up to full throttle on these long, deserted stretches of road. Oh well. Maybe next time… Enjoy!

Great Basin National Park Sunset

Great Basin National Park Sunset

The late afternoon light filters through clouds hanging over Great Basin National Park at sunset

I’ve probably mentioned my friend Tom over the last few years. The way I describe our relationship is that he is a hiker who enjoys photography and I’m a photographer that reluctantly agrees to hike when necessary to get a great shot. Tom and I have been friends since I was in college at Georgia State and he was matriculating at Georgia Tech.

One of Tom’s bucket list items is to visit every national park in the United States. So, in the last few years we have fallen into a rhythm of taking trips that incorporate a national park that he (and in most cases, I) have not visited before. That was the case this past fall when we planned a trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona to visit Great Basin National Park followed by various other sites in those states. To be honest, I had no real desire to visit Great Basin, but after some research it certainly seemed worth a look.

I don’t know if GBNP is the least visited national park or not, but it is certainly on the low end of the list. I believe that it averages 100,000 visitors per year. It’s certainly in an out of the way location. GBNP is located almost exactly halfway between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Even more telling the road that runs to the east and north of the park is literally labeled The Loneliest Road in America on Google Maps. It’s the kind of place that you can go quite a while without seeing another person.

On our first night in the park, we set up hoping for an epic sunset looking west toward the horizon. Unfortunately, the spot we picked didn’t have a great view to the horizon. And, conditions weren’t shaping up for a blazing show in the west at sunset. However, as I looked back east, some low lying clouds caught the right amount of light and were briefly a fairly intense shade of pink. I captured this image looking out toward Utah over the Great Basin. It may be a desolate part of the world, but it is certainly beautiful in its own was as well. Enjoy.

Summer on the Big Sur Coast

Summer on the Big Sur Coast

Wildflowers at your feet, seagulls overhead, fog clinging to the coastal range, and surf crashing below make the Big Sur coast a national treasure

The drive from San Simeon to Carmel should take two hours or so. In fact it’s an all day affair because you find yourself yanking your car into every overlook to drink in yet another incredible view. Just when you think it can’t become any more beautiful, it does – and often exponentially so. It’s just incredible how the combination of the coastal mountains, fog clinging to the coast, sunlight dancing in and out, wildflowers blooming, dramatic cliffs, and often the road itself can make a million different images, all unique and equally beautiful.

Such is the Big Sur coast. There are other beautiful drives in the world and I’ve been able to experience many of them. This may not be the most beautiful stretch of road in the world, but I’d say it’s in anyone’s top ten. It’s that dramatic and beautiful.

We were nearing Carmel Highlands where we would be spending the next couple of days when I noticed wildflowers filling the fields between the Pacific Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean. I just couldn’t resist seeing what the actual coast would look like the few hundred yards away. So, my long-suffering wife patiently picked up her book and encouraged me to take a while to go scout and shoot what I saw. Have I mentioned how patient she is with my photography addiction?

Fortunately there were some well-worn paths through the vegetation leading to different vantage points along the cliffs. Apparently, this location is a fairly popular area for hikers and people walking their dogs. It’s not hard to imagine why. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to hike while soaking in the views.

Unfortunately, I was so engrossed with getting to the vistas I expected, I totally missed the abundance of poison oak that was embedded in the vegetation – and I was wearing shorts. I wouldn’t find out for a couple of days, but this would turn out to be a big problem. I’m allergic to poison oak and ivy and I acquired the worst case I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t mean a few spots that turned into a rash. I mean my calves and lower thighs were covered in a rash that ultimately scabbed over and itched like nothing I’ve ever felt. I went through an entire bottle of poison ivy gel just trying to keep the itch under control. It took a full two months for the rash to go away entirely!

But even with the future onset of a nasty case of poison oak, the hike out through the brush was worth it. I rarely have one of these moments, but when the trail ended at the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, the scene literally took my breath away. In front of me stretched an uninterrupted view of the ocean to the horizon, blue sky, a golden beach, beautiful blue water and white foam intersecting with the coast, and a steep cliff side covered with native vegetation and flowers. It’s a scene that I can envision clearly as I write this post. It was beautiful and I took a few minutes just to soak it all in.

Then, I got to work. I moved up and down the cliff-top trail looking for a vantage point that captured as many of the elements of the scene as possible while still retaining a sense of composition that would fulfill my artistic vision. I finally found it in this spot. The view is north toward Carmel and captures all of the elements I described above. Patience added a small flock of birds lazily riding the wind down the coast and into my frame. It was a perfect moment in time for a landscape photographer – minus the nasty rash to come. But, all in all, it was worth it. Hopefully, this image and my words bring you a bit closer to that beautiful place in the world that is the Big Sur coast. Enjoy.

McWay Falls

McWay Falls

McWay Falls empties directly into the Pacific Ocean along the Big Sur coast

I’ve seen much prettier images of McWay Falls, but this one isn’t bad. The scene I would have loved to capture would have been at sunrise or sunset with dramatic, pastel-colored skies instead of a contrasty, blue-sky day. But, when you only have one bite at the apple, you make do with what you have.

If you’ve never traveled up the Big Sur coast, a stop at McWay Falls is a must. The viewpoint is quite easy to access and the scene is impressive. Even with clear skies, the water color, waterfall spilling into the Pacific, and sheltered cove are a spectacular sight. Even though conditions weren’t perfect, I’m glad we stopped. Only a week or so later, fires burning down the mountainsides closed this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway for a few days. Even though I’m sure the landscape would benefit from it in the long-term, it would be a shame to see this area torched by a wildfire. Hopefully, this image conveys a fraction of the beauty of the region. Enjoy.

The Road to Big Sur

The Road to Big Sur

The last bit of straight road before hitting the bends and turns of the Pacific Coast Highway along the Big Sur coast

As we worked our way up the California coast, I was anxious to get to the twists and turns of CA-1 and the jaw-dropping views from high atop the cliffs of Big Sur. I had experienced the road a few times before and I was looking forward to seeing if it lived up to my high expectations.

Before we made it to the twisty bits, we came upon this view. Given my expectation of winding roads I hadn’t remembered this long straight stretch before we entered the coastal range. It was one of those “Wow! I’d better stop the car and capture this!” moments. I have quite a few of those as I’m out shooting. In fact, my favorite shots are often ones that I hadn’t visualized and catch me quite unawares.

So, I quickly pulled off the road, made a u-turn, and worked my way back to where I first saw the shot. I took a few different angles including these in the middle of the road. Fortunately, Pamela was there to act as my spotter. Otherwise I likely would have been so absorbed in taking the shot that I would have been struck by another photographer’s car as they soaked in the sights oblivious to my presence.

I love leading lines in my images. It doesn’t get much better than the yellow center stripe of a perfectly straight stretch of road with a scenic vista at the end. Hopefully, you will enjoy the image as well.

Cowee Mountains Overlook Panorama

Cowee Mountains Overlook Panorama

A panoramic view of the Cowee Mountains from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I was spending a few minutes puttering around in my office this morning and I came across this image. I had just posted an entry that contained another image captured during this sunset, but I’m still intrigued by this shot.

While I was waiting for the clouds to turn brilliant shades of pink, orange, and red after sunset, my friend Tom and I were standing on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Cowee Mountains Overlook in western North Carolina just waiting for things to develop. As is often the case with me the shot that I wound up with turned out to be totally different from the shot I had anticipated. Sunset that night, while not a bust, certainly was not sensational. This, however, turned out to be an epic shot. Paraphrasing John Lennon among many others, sometimes life is what happens in the meantime.

For those of you interested in the technical details, I shot this with a Nikon D800 at ISO 400 with an aperture of f/5.0 at a speed of 1/500 second using my Nikon 24-70 2.8 at 50mm. I shot on a tripod with portrait orientation taking eight shots stitched together with the panorama feature in Adobe Photoshop CC with final adjustments made in Lightroom CC.

I wish it was a sunrise shot because it would make for great commentary on how I view the new year. So, let’s just go with the sunrise/New Year analogy even though this is a sunset shot..

Here’s hoping that 2016 is your best year yet. I certainly hope it will be for me and my family. In any case, may your relationship with your family, your friends, and God who created you grow in depth and vitality in the new year. Enjoy.

Suches, Georgia Farm in Snow

Suches, GA Farm in Snow

Outbuildings in a snowy landscape in beautiful Suches, Georgia

As I sit writing this post I’m looking out from my home office at a beautiful snowfall beginning to cover my patio. It’s been an odd winter in Georgia. We started out with some of the coldest late November and early December temperatures that I can recall. Then, winter became mild and made me think we would have an early spring. Now, a fairly decent snowfall seems destined to cover us.

As the temperatures dove last week, I began to hear tales of people actually climbing giant ice formations in north Georgia. Then I saw photos of climbers with ice axes and crampons actually scaling the icy cliffs on Richard Russell Scenic Highway. I decided that I had to see that for myself. So, I drove up early last Friday morning to see the frozen landscape.

Unfortunately, despite checking the road closure list, the road I wanted to drive was closed. Anna Ruby Falls near Unicoi State Park was closed as well. But, having grown up wandering through those mountains, I had a few other locations in mind that certainly would be worth visiting. I wandered around Helen visiting the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. That was fun because the slow moving parts of the river had frozen over and made for a beautiful landscape. Helton Creek Falls near Vogel State Park had also frozen over. The road was a bit slippery down in the valley where the falls are located, but the picture more than made up for the effort.

My favorite road in Georgia, Highway 180 leading from Vogel State Park to Suches was open and beautiful. The snow from earlier in the week was still on the ground and new visual delights awaited me around every corner. At the top of Wolf Pen Gap Road, Lake Winfield Scott was totally iced over. I wouldn’t have gone ice skating on the lake, but it clearly was frozen and held pockets of fresh snow.

At Suches I planned to go back down the mountain, through Dahlonega, and head home. Fortunately for me the most beautiful part of the trip was waiting for me in Suches. Snow still covered the ground and trees were still covered in ice. It wasn’t a deep snow, but it was enough to make for a lovely scene. I found this image and spent a while composing and recomposing until I had it just right. I love the pops of color on the storage sheds and the overhanging oak with its ice-covered limbs. The background of snow-covered mountains adds to the sense of a cold winter scene. Perhaps I’ll share some of the other images soon, but I hope this one gives you a sense of winter in Georgia. Enjoy.

Swimming Hole with a View

Swimming Hole with a View

A swimming hole high above the surrounding Vermont countryside just off Turkey Hill Road in Northfield, Vermont

So, I’m not really certain this is a swimming hole, but it certainly looks like it could be one. I suppose it could be a place where a local farmer gets water for his cattle or something similar. But, a swimming hole with this view certainly sounds more appealing.

This scene is from central Vermont near the village of Northfield. I was traveling north via back roads to St. Johnsbury. I wanted to see some covered bridges that are located in Northfield. I checked those out, had lunch in a cool little diner on the square in Northfield, and set out to find Turkey Hill Road.

I had heard of Turkey Hill Road in some of the research that I had done prior to the trip. So, I decided to take a drive up and see what it looked like. I was fortunate to time my visit very near the peak of fall foliage. As you can see, the views to the surrounding mountains are spectacular from a few hundred feet above the valley. As I descended what I assume to be Turkey Hill, this unusual sight came into view. I couldn’t resist taking a few shots of a swimming hole perched high above the valley below. Well, I’ll call it a swimming hole until I find out it is something different. Enjoy.