Watch your step

This probably is not news to anyone who is an experienced visitor to our National Parks but, these places are NOT  theme parks!  I was totally amazed to see that except for a few spots at Visitors Centers, there were no railings or other barriers keeping us off the edge of sheer cliffs and other life-threatening situations.  I saw numerous instances of tourists perched on stone walls at a canyon’s edge to take a selfie.  One wrong step and off they would have gone!  Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to scare anybody away from these gorgeous parks. I was simply speechless at how the majesty of nature is on display without being “baby-proofed”.

This was day two of our visit to the parks in Utah – Canyonlands National Park.  To give you an impression of how big this park is and how vast the canyons are, all I can do is repeat what I kept saying to my wife.  “If this ain’t the Grand Canyon, that other one must be a REALLY BIG hole!”

Canyonlands is actually divided into two pieces.  The area we visited is called “Island in the Sky” because the central part of this park is a huge plateau surrounded by canyons.  Another section of the park called “The Needles” is to the south and is about a 2 hour drive away.  Again, it’s a big park…

RMNP_May 08 2016_0825The first place we stopped, after the Visitors Center, was Shafer Canyon.  The canyon itself was quite a sight but almost as stupendous is the road that leads down to the bottom.  The winding dirt road snakes through the canyon and is well used by automobiles and bicyclist.  I can imaging riding a bike down that slope is quite an experience but, you would have to be quite the ironman to ride back up!  I didn’t see anyone trying that.

Shafer Overlook_Panorama.psdYou really have to see this place to know what I’m talking about.  The vastness is something that really can’t be described in words.  The image above, is the view from the other side of Shafer Canyon overlook.  Almost too much to take in and this was just our first stop.


Dell of the War Woman

After visiting Black Rock Mountain for sunrise pictures, the group from North Georgia Photography Club went out to find Becky Branch Falls.  This beautiful little waterfall is part of the Warwoman Dell Recreation Area, located in the Chattahoochee National Forest, just east of Clayton, Georgia.Black Rock_May 28 2016_0094

Warwoman Dell is named for a Cherokee woman from this area, who was respected by Indian and settlers and advised to the Cherokee tribal council on war and peace.  From Warwoman Dell, we followed the Bartram Trail in search of Becky Branch Falls.

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William Bartram is known as the first native-born American naturalist/artist.  At the time of the American Revolution, Bartram made a journey throughout the Southeast – from the Carolinas, through Georgia and into Florida and also west through Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana as far as the Mississippi River.

Our group made the way up Bartram Trail up a short switch back path which then crosses over Warwoman Road to get to the falls.  After crawling over a four-foot in diameter tree that is fallen over the trail, we arrived at the falls.Black Rock_May 28 2016_0139




The falls cascade down a rocky slope surrounded by native azalea and rhododendron and towering pine trees.  There is a small bridge over the creek that was ideal for getting images of the falls but could only accommodate 4 or 5 photographers at a time.Black Rock_May 28 2016_0115

This was a lovely outing and I really enjoyed meeting and getting to know the members of the North Georgia Photography Club.  A wonderful group and excellent hosts – Thanks to all of you!!

Once again, all of these images were taken with my new,
Tamron SP 10-24mm  f/3.5-4.5 Di II.


Blue Ridge exploration

Although there are things about Facebook that I don’t like, the ability to keep in touch with people who share the same interests is a wonderful plus of participating in this social media application.  I saw an event posting from the North Georgia Photography Club for a sunrise shoot at Black Rock Mountain State Park.  Since the club is located in Dahlonega, Georgia which is an hour or more drive for me, I hadn’t joined them previously but I knew some of the members so, I contacted my friend Mike Sussman and got the OK to join them.

Black Rock_May 28 2016_0001-001We met at a church just outside the park entrance and, by special permission, were able to get in the gate before the official opening time.  It certainly was a privilege to be able to drive in and have the whole place to ourselves!

We went in to a nice platform that was set up as a scenic overlook which gave us a wonderful, panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains even if it was a little crowded with photographers and camera equipment.

Outings like this are such a fantastic way to visit a location that you haven’t been to previously.  The park is within an hour of so of most of the club’s members, many of them had been here before and knew their way around.  Since the group was also composed of photographers, there was a wealth of experience on the best place to shoot and what settings work best.

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North Georgia Photography Club members at overlook

The group next moved on to the Visitor’s Center and wandered about that area to get another view of the mountains and enjoy the natural beauty of the park.

From here, we all went out for breakfast at Granny’s Kuntry Kitchen in Clayton, Georgia before going on to the next part of our outing.

I will continue the story in tomorrow’s post.

All of these images were taken with my latest lens acquisition: Tamron’s nice ultra-wide angle beauty, the SP 10-24mm  f/3.5-4.5 Di II.  So far, I’m getting great results with this lens.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find that it has a minimum focus distance of just under 10 inches which I think will make for some neat close-up wide-angle opportunities!




Rocky Mountain Workshop – before and after

Above: A fly fisherman prepares his bait with the Rockies all around

The focus of the workshop that I went on was Night Skies Photography and as you have seen from my post a couple of days ago, that was amazing.  Of course, Rocky Mountain National Park has so much more to offer and I was able to grab some glimpses of the grandeur of this wonderful place before and after the workshop.

Immediately before the night shoot, we did some sunset shots with beautiful mountain streams leading the viewer to look at the majestic peaks covered with snow.

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After our short rest, we also got a few sunrise scenes like this one of the Aspen trees in the clearing where we did our night shoot.

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When all was said and done, it was a fantastic experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Nikon D7000
Nikkor 18-105mm (fly fisherman)
Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD (other 2 images)
Processed with Adobe Lightroom


Rocky Mountain workshop – Part II

After spending most of the night shooting the stars, the group returned to the YMCA of the Rockies for a short nap and then… back to the Park.  The sunrise brought a whole new dimension to the beauty of the mountains.

The site we were at provided two different views of equal value.  On one side the sun was rising and you saw the traditional light on the horizon growing in brightness and color.  On the other, all the reflected light.  Not quite as bright but easily just as stunning.  I am coming to appreciate how David Akoubian takes this into account when scouting a location and how he teaches students to “always look both ways” when shooting a scene.  Great advice in any situation.  Always plan for the image you want to capture but never miss an opportunity!

Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 15-30MM F/2.8 Di VC USD  @ 30mm
f/11    1/2 sec   ISO100
Processed with Adobe Lightroom


Rocky Mountain Night Skies Workshop

I’m not sure why I didn’t do this post as the first images from my National Parks trip.  The main thing that got my wife and I to schedule this trip was to attend the Night Skies Photography Workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Moon rising at Moraine Park

The group went out to RMNP at sunset and watched as the evening sky slowly got darker and the stars began to pop out in the night sky.

Clouds floated about on the horizon which made for some interesting patterns even if we would have wished for a completely clear view.  The moon was visible early on which again, is not ideal for the Milky Way sightings we all wanted but, you have to take what nature gives you and the moon is a beautiful sight itself.

We hit a couple of sites for sunset and dusk shots before moving to West Horseshoe Park for our star-gazing.

One thing to know: if you go to the Rocky Mountains in May you need to be prepared for COLD weather.  Daytime temps were comfortable but being out overnight from 7PM to 1AM with wind and snow blowing at you is bone-chilling!!

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Workshop attendees adjusting settings

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Milky Way over the Rockies

I still can’t believe how absolutely packed the sky was with their lights.  It is absolutely amazing to see the night sky in the mountains in an area that is far from the city lights.

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I can’t imagine how anyone could possibly get better instruction for such a reasonable price.

Dave Krause and Rob Wood of National Park Trips Media took great care of us and Tamron’s Image Masters: David Akoubian, Ken Hubbard and Andre Costantini gave us classroom instruction and a whole night of in-the-field tips, guidance and insights.

For those who can’t wait to try your had at this kind of photography.  The biggest thing to remember is, you need a place that is REALLY dark and a good tripod!  An out-of-the-way corner in your backyard won’t do.  You need to be somewhere seriously remote from city lights.


Now here’s the secret formula that works well for camera settings:

  • A good wide-angle lens
  • ISO: 1600 – 3200
  • Aperture: Wide open  f3.5 – f1.2 if you can get there.
  • Shutter speed: 15-30 seconds (If you go longer, you may start getting star trails.)

All images in this post were taken with:

Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 15-30MM F/2.8 Di VC USD
Processed with Adobe Lightroom


Where does Santa Claus go to relax?

Alberta Falls
Rocky Mountain National Park

I am not an experienced hiker but it seemed like 0.6 miles was not at all unreasonable to go have a look at Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Then again, things change when your path is covered with snow!

Everything looked dry and clear when we parked the car and started down the trail but as we proceeded upward, it became obvious that Spring was only partially in effect here.

RMNP_May 11 2016_0314Aspens and pines in the snow

The way was challenging since everything was on a slope and the snow was often slippery since others had hiked the same trail and the sun was out and warming things up.

When we finally got to the top, there was this older, white-haired gentleman sitting on a rock – contemplating the beauty of the falls.  He told me that this was his therapy to come out to places like this and soak in the peace and beauty of nature.  I asked if I could take his picture and he said to be sure to tell everyone that we saw Santa in the Rockies.

As we looked around, other hikers began to appear and I noticed that the quiet remained even when more people arrived.  Seems the majesty of this place awed everyone.

RMNP_May 11 2016_0325-001Awed by nature’s beauty



Chapel on the Rock

On the way both in and out of Rocky Mountain National Park, we took Colorado Route 7, which winds through the area west of Boulder.  I noticed a historical marker on the way up but didn’t really see this amazing stone structure until we were headed back down toward I-70.

Completed in 1936, the St Catherine of Siena Chapel stands atop a large rock outcropping at the foot of Mount Meeker near Allenspark, Colorado.  The site was discovered in 1916 by a Catholic priest – Monsignor Joseph Bosetti, who was searching for what he thought was the impact site of a falling star.

RMNP_May 12 2016_0005Mount Meeker seen from St Malo

It took him 20 years to see the church completed.  The land on which it sits was donated by a wealthy Denver businessman – Oscar Malo.  A Catholic retreat center was built on the land surronding the chapel and is known as St Malo.  The chapel which was designated a historic site in 1999, has had its ups and downs in recent years.

In 1993, the chapel was visited by Pope John Paul II  during his visit to Denver for World Youth Day.  The pope prayed in the chapel and blessed it, which is good because it has since been ravaged by fire, flood and mudslides.  These natural disasters have left the immediate landscape looking like a war zone and caused the closing of the St Malo Retreat and Conference Center.

RMNP_May 12 2016_0004Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel
Allenspark, Colorado

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

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On our last full day in Colorado, we had made plans to visit relatives in the Denver area.  The trip from Rocky Mountain National Park to Dever is less than 2 hours so, we had some extra time and decided to make a side trip to see where my wife’s great-grandparents lived.

Silver Plume is a small mining town a bit west of Denver.  It’s pretty much a ghost town now, population – just under 200.  One of the few things that is still up and running is this narrow-gage railroad that runs between Silver Plume and it’s slightly larger neighbor, Georgetown.  On the day we arrived, the railroad was not operating.  (Most things in Silver Plume are only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day.)  It was fun though, to watch the maintenance crew work on two of the locomotive engines.

There’s always something interesting to see even when it’s not what you expected.

Georgetown Loop Railroad
Silver Plume Station

Georgetown Loop RR website

Desert flowers

Claret Cup

Claret Cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus var. melancanthus)
Dead Horse Point State Park

The areas we visited in Utah are all locations that are considered high-desert but that does not mean that there are no plants.  This cactus was blooming at all three parks we visited (Arches, Canyonlands and Dead Horse – where I got this image.) along with numerous other wildflowers.

With an average annual rainfall of 10 inches, the plant life has to be adapted to the hot, dry climate and if you visit this area in the summer I’d be surprised if you see alot of flowers.  Since our trip was in May (Which appears to be just the beginning of Spring in this area since we got snowed on several times!) we, and the plants, were treated to a fair amount of rain.

Good side of visiting this time of year – No crowds in the parks and not too hot.
Down side – Fair chance of rain and possibility of cool/cold temps

Nikon D7000
Nikkor 18-105mm @ 66mm
ƒ/10.0    1/250 sec   400 ISO
Processed with Adobe Lightroom