About once a quarter I pick a destination to shoot. There isn't a whole lot of thought process behind it other than "That would be a cool place to visit" and I try to pick places I haven't been before, which means I have a lot to choose from. Last year I Monument Valley, the Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountain National Park. Earlier this year I was in Big Sur and it was a fantastic trip. But, now I needed to find a unique place that I hadn't even been close to and something was pulling me towards Washington state.
So, I boarded a flight from OKC to Seattle and arrived a little after 9 p.m. pacific time and that was a little tough to start off with because of the two hour difference in time that my body clock was used to. I had about an hour drive to my hotel in Olympia so by the time I got to my room it was after 1 a.m. Oklahoma time, well past the time I usually head to bed.
I got some sleep and woke up early the next day ready to hit the road. I chose to drive west on my first day to get coastal shots, I didn't want to be too obvious and drive directly to Mount Rainier which would have been the easy thing to do. I went through the town of Aberdeen then headed for the coast up Highway 109 finding Roosevelt Beach along the way. I was there fairly early in the morning so there was no one else on the beach and it gave me a lot of time to explore. The scenery was pretty nice with the forest coming up to the shore while fog made its way inland. I love shots like these because it's not an obvious subject and can easily be overlooked. But, not this time.
I found a few more interesting subjects along the beach including a sandpiper asleep along the beach and a makeshift wedding alter made of driftwood. I'm sure if you've seen this stuff a million times it's easy not to give it a second thought, but since it was all new to me I think it comes out nicely in the photos.
After spending quite a bit of time on the beach (it felt amazing) it was time to head inland towards the rain forests. It took exactly five minutes once I was out of Moclips to leave the coastal scene and get into dense forest lining each side of the road, which felt a little spooky especially with the fog lingering in the low lying areas.
After about an hour drive I arrived at the Quinault Rain Forest and it was a pleasure to explore the area. The temps were warm and it was as green as I've ever seen any place. Fog obscured the higher altitude views so I focused on the immediate area to shoot in and stumbled upon a couple of nice waterfalls, including the impressive Merriman Falls. I almost missed seeing it, in fact I drove right by it and didn't know it was there until I saw another visitor stopped on the side of the road looking upwards at it. It was such a beautiful waterfall with the lush vegetation all around. I may have been pretty upset knowing I missed a place like this.
After exploring the rain forest I headed back out of the park to get some lunch. It was time to travel up the coast further north as far as I could go for the rest of the day. The fog had pretty much lifted for the day so as I traveled west the views became amazing especially as I drove north on Highway 101 right along the coast. There are several stops along the way where you can get out and walk down to the beaches, aptly named Beach One, Beach Two, etc. The views were incredible and getting to shoot the forest leading right up to the coast was a real treat.
I finally stumbled across a gem of a beach called Ruby Beach. There I would find seastacks like you see in those classic beach scenes and knew it would make some great photography. Unfortunately, sea fog had developed and rolled in making the rest of the day a wash as far as capturing anymore photos. So I jumped back in the car and headed back south, but only for a bit. I stopped at one of the numbered beaches and got out just to soak up some beach life before I headed back to Olympia for the night. I was incredibly lucky because gray whales (at least that's what I was told they were, I had no reason to doubt the info) had decided to make their appearance, but again the fog and rain was a factor. I was fortunate enough to capture a couple of shots with my camera although they were more for personal enjoyment more than anything.
The fog and rain intensified and I called it a day and drove back to the hotel. My first day in Washington was incredible and the next couple of days held lots of promise and I couldn't wait to see what else I would find.
Be sure to check back for my Day Two post very soon.
If you ask me every year where I want to go on vacation almost every time I will choose to go to the mountains. It's not that I have anything against anywhere else, but when you're deep in the middle of summer in Oklahoma that usually means the heat has set in so you're seeing 95-100 degree temps on a regular basis. And what better way to beat the heat than to head to the mountains. Not only are they incredibly beautiful, but you get the added bonus of cool weather (for the most part).
This year we did a little something different and chose to spend our summer vacation down along the Gulf Coast in Florida near Destin. At first I thought we might be staying in Destin but we actually ended up in a condo down the road about 8-10 miles in the area of Santa Rosa Beach. I didn't know it at the time, but the 30A road looks to be pretty popular so I'm just now catching up on it. I was pretty happy that we weren't actually staying in Destin because I may have lost my sanity with the traffic along Highway 98 into town. It was tough enough coming in because it was the 4th of July weekend and it appeared half the nation had the same idea we did, so it was slow going getting onto peninsula initially. Once we arrived it was a blast from the get-go.
We spent a lot of time on the beach of course, and the first day the beaches were full of people and the water was full of some kind of sea moss so it stuck to you as you walked in or out. If you got out far enough, you were able to move into clearer waters where the water was warm and so enjoyable. The second day out the water was full of waves. I'm assuming storms further off the coast were pushing water in, but at any rate the turbulence moved all the plant life out and the waters were crystal clear. From further back the Gulf appeared to have a teal color and couldn't have been more visually appealing. The sand was so soft it was pretty much perfect to walk in, and it stuck to your feet pretty well too so thank goodness for the water hoses at the beach entrances.
Later we went on a Dolphin cruise with Flipper's Adventures in Destin. They took us out on a decently sized pontoon boat and provided free beer to the adults and soft drinks for the kids. We were happy because we not only saw dolphins, but we also saw a sea turtle swimming in the open waters which from what I understand is pretty rare. The ride lasted a couple of hours and they made sure we got to see dolphins even though it meant searching a little longer than normal.
Another highlight of the trip was eating Elmo's Grill in Santa Rosa Beach. Although a bit pricey (which all seafood seems to be that way) it was outstanding.
We also went back with Flipper's Adventures for a 3 hour snorkeling trip later in the week. Back on the same boat, they took us to a beach with a nearby reef where we all jumped off and snorkeled for a good hour on the first stop. It was so incredible swimming with the colorful fish, seeing the hermit crabs and getting a view of sea life I'd never experienced. After the first stop, we went to a second stop along a remote beach with abundant sea life and although it was for a shorter time we had a blast. We finished the trip up with another dolphin hunt, and came away with an even better view of the dolphins than we did in the first trip.
Before we left, we took a 6 mile hike around the Top-Sail wildlife refuge. It was hot, around 93 degrees and the humidity was in the upper 80's, but we made it and felt quite accomplished after it was done.
Overall, it's an area I'd definitely recommend visiting at least once especially with a family. I had a great time, and being a mountain guy that's quite an achievement. Here's a few of the shots I captured along the way while we were in the area. All of these photos are available as prints or canvas in the store.
When I think of landscape photography in Oklahoma I see a picture that's mostly sky and a little bit of landscape. Finding beautiful untouched spots in Oklahoma is a challenge and you have to be really resourceful and have a good eye to frame things in ways that look totally natural (if that's what you're going after, which I am). One of my favorite places to visit and photograph is the Wichita Wildlife Refuge located just west of Lawton. It's a pretty large preserve that has abundant animal life including buffalo and longhorns, and the occasional elk that I have yet to see myself. It has several places to stop and check out the history of the place, and it also has some scenery where the plains rise and give way to low level granite mountains.
I spent an evening there in the fall and I was fortunate enough to capture a couple of scenes that I thought turned out out pretty well. I ended up using one of the small lakes as somewhat of a mirror of the incredible sky (see, I told you) but kept the focus on the landscape and the scenery of the area.
Here are two shots from the evening. I think they do Oklahoma proud and I can't wait to spend some more time down there (it's to the south of me, so it's down) and see what the area has in store.
Both of these photos are available for purchase as prints or canvas in the store.
Recently I traveled to Page, Arizona to spend some time out west and do some photography in an area that I've never visited before. It was an amazing experience and I thought I would jot down some of the things I experience in planning the trip out there that someone else might find useful.
I chose Page because there are several locations that are very photogenic and easily within driving distance. I usually choose a location as my home base for a few days and set out from there rather than staying near a location each night. This allows me to get to know the area a little better so if I return I'm familiar with most everything and spend less time trying to figure out things.
My first stop was in Monument Valley along the Arizona/Utah border north of Kayenta about 20 miles. I've always had it in my head that Monument Valley was some huge open valley in the west that a highway happens to run through, mostly because of the many westerns I've seen that showcase this landscape, but many times what we see in our head and what is reality is usually much different.
As you travel north from Kayenta there are indeed formations that can take your breath away. I was entranced by the sight of Agaltha Peak just north of town along the highway. There are a few places you can pull over and get some good shots, but there are houses along the way that can get in the shot if you aren't careful, but I was able to find some areas where human activity wasn't evident in the photo. Finally you get to the area of Monument Valley but it's not entirely evident you are there. There are signs about the visitors center, the hotel and restaurant, but if it weren't for that you'd easily drive right by. Long story short, follow the signs to the visitors center because this will take you to the valley, as it isn't right along the highway. If you visit during business hours, you will be charged $20 to enter. I traveled back to this place to capture a few sunset shots after business hours (later than 5pm) and with the booth being unmanned drove right in for free. It's a beautiful place, with dirt roads that take you down into the valley and around the area, which if you take your time can easily take up a couple of hours. Along the way there are a bunch of Navajo vendors ready to sell you their wares, so if you're looking for an inexpensive gift to bring home for others this is a cool way to do it.
After my visit to Monument Valley, I traveled on to Page which is about 90 minutes away to the west. Page is a small town which fits me perfectly, as I'm not one that enjoys a lot of traffic and overcrowded restaurants and such.
Just to the south of Page, about two miles or so, is the world famous Horseshoe Bend. It's shaped exactly like its name where the Colorado River runs through it. There is a small sign along the highway that tells you where it is, and there is a parking lot. You don't see the canyon as you walk from the parking lot, as it's a nice little hike up a sand laden path, then about another 5-10 minute walk to the canyon itself, which luckily is downhill most of the way. The canyon itself is spectacular. There are no barriers, no fences, nothing that would keep you from going over the edge so you have to be extremely careful as you approach. It took me a good half hour to get comfortable enough to approach the ledge to get a wide angle shot that didn't include a good portion of the ledge. I went several times to this area to try to capture the best shots, but it seemed that the sunset hour was the best time to capture the colors. The day I went there were no clouds whatsoever, so it made it tough not to get a blown out shot with the sun setting in the west, so bracketing your shot is recommended when this is the case. I believe if I were luckier I would have captured at least some clouds in the sky, but in the two days I stopped by this wasn't the case.
My next stop was a tour of Upper Antelope Canyon west of town. You can't just show up at the canyon and walk through, you must book a tour with one of the companies in the area where they will bus you down into the canyon. I booked my tour with Chief Tsosie's Antelope Slot Canyon Tours. The tour I booked was not the normal tourist tour where you are with a large group, but I had booked the photographer's tour which is a bit more pricey at $90 or so but well worth the extra money. After meeting at the tour's central location in town, I rode in a van with my assigned tour guide (Vera, who was awesome btw!) out of town and to the canyon. With the photographer's tour, I was given ample opportunity to capture shots within the canyon, and although it was very crowded in the canyon, they give the photographers time to take their shots and in many cases hold up other groups from traveling through so it's possible to capture shots without people in them. There isn't a ton of time to set up or adjust your settings, so you have to be quick. But, they help you with the best settings ahead of time so you are able to go in with your tripod and shoot away. There were only two in my group that afternoon, so I felt like I had VIP treatment and came away with some amazing shots. I didn't travel to the Lower Antelope Canyon, so I guess that's for another day, but the Upper Canyon was awesome.
My last day I traveled down to the Grand Canyon south rim, which is about 2 hours and 30 minutes away. The highway that travels west to the canyon was pretty light on traffic so that was nice, but I wasn't terribly excited about visiting the canyon for the first time. The canyon itself is impressive, and of course is always north of the road not very far away, but once you stop at the first few pull-offs along the way you feel like you've seen most of what there is to see already. I've never been one for tourism and like to get to know places much more intimately, and this is what I would recommend if you are going to spend time there. I think I spent a couple of hours there, and came away thinking "that was cool" but without getting deep into the park and getting to know the parts that aren't as visible I felt mostly empty from the "tourists" trip in.
A bit of advice and a couple of places I would recommend. When you book your Antelope Canyon tour, do it as soon as possible so you aren't scrambling at the last minute, especially if you are wanting to capture sunbeams in the canyon. Horseshoe Bend in the evening, preferably with some sparse clouds. If you're into night photography, book when there is no moon. The Milky Way Galaxy viewing is awesome here. Days Inn in Page is very nice and accommodating. Slackers is a great place if you want a burger or beer in an informal setting, especially when you're out shooting photos at sunset and you want to eat a little earlier.
Here's a few photos from my visit:
Late last year I took some time to travel north to South Dakota and visit Badlands National Park. I wanted to do some photography in the area and get to know the landscape intimately, and at the same time scratch an itch to visit since it had been about 30 years since I first visited and I didn't have a lot of memories from the time.
I drove north on the first day, working my way up I-35 from Oklahoma and most of the way through Kansas, and made it to Grand Island where I was greeted by construction along I-80 and a round of thunderstorms moving through the area. After staying the night I woke up early and drove northwest through Ravenna and Broken Bow, moving into the Nebraska Sandhills. I really enjoyed this area, especially around Valentine. It's very beautiful if you're into rolling hills and sparsely populated areas that aren't developed, which fits me to a T. I was also really intrigued driving through the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations and observing life as I drove through the towns of Mission and Wanblee. I've always been interested in the history of the area, studying and reading a lot about Wounded Knee and the relationships between the Plains Tribes and the U.S. Government.
As I drove to the east towards Wanblee, the landscape began to change and I was super excited to see the first signs of the barren desert of the Badlands. It's amazing how you can go from a beautiful sea of buffalo grass to a landscape void of any plant life in the blink of an eye.
Along the way it was really amazing the amount of round hay bales that dotted the landscape, and if you're a photographer and you're missing the standard round bale photograph in your arsenal, this is the place to capture it. Of course, I had to stop and get mine. I also made it black and white for art's sake.
I arrived in the Badlands around 11am after about a 5 hour drive and stopped in the very small town of Interior. With the main stop in the town being the gas station/convenience store, it serves as a gateway into the park from the south entrance.
As you enter the park from the south towards the east, you have a restaurant and souvenir shop that appear to stay pretty busy during the day even in the off-season and nearby there is a campground for those who are traveling via RV. The road then forks two ways, one to the northwest that takes you through the park, and one that takes you to the northeast that clips the park's east side. When I first arrived there was no doubt I was going into the heart of the park. The road winds through the park with many unique views and seemingly unending vistas. Being there in the middle of the day for me though was a problem with the harsh sunlight that is not conducive to great landscape shots, so after scoping the area out I went to the KOA that was south of Interior about three miles and checked into my cabin. By the way, this KOA was top notch and the cabin I stayed in was very well kept. If you looking for a place to stay in the area for a night or two I definitely recommend.
Later that evening I ventured back out into the park for evening and night sky shots, and it was amazing because most of the tourists had left the park for the night and it seemed like I had the whole park to myself. The feeling that came with this was awesome, and the photos that it allowed me to compose I felt came out as well as I could have ever hoped for.
Wildlife was abundant as well as I traveled through the park the next day. Bighorn sheep and prairie dogs were the main attraction as I drove through, and they were very accessible for photos.
Overall, I spent three full days around the park, which ended up being a little much even with the goal of doing strictly photography. It takes about an hour to drive through the park and for a tourist most of it can be experienced in a day. I spent a good half day though to the west of the park in the vehicle accessible grassland getting off the highway and spending time well off the beaten path. This is a great way to get to know the land and have a little fun along the way if you're staying the area for a few days.
Here is a collection of shots I captured from the trip. It's a beautiful place that will feed the soul. Prints of these photos are available in the store.
Kansas is known for its agriculture, small town life, and of course Jayhawks basketball. It's also a land of beauty and ever changing scenery. These five photos showcase the beauty of the Sunflower state. All photos can be purchased as prints through my store.
The sky is painted in brilliant hues in this photo near Sanford, Kansas.
The Kansas prairies are ever changing and can offer the most amazing scenery in the world.
Captured near Great Bend.
Scenery can appear as if it were straight out of the Wizard of Oz.
Captured near Oakley.
Rain on the plains brings sculpted clouds that can rival any artwork, like this photo from Smith Center.
From its bustling cities to the harvested fields, Kansas is a place of wonder and beauty.
First, let me just say that New Mexico is a beautiful place. No matter whether it's the open plains where the horizon seems forever away, or in the mountains where the smells and sounds can transport you to another place and time, or in the desert where one can spend time alone with Mother Nature, it's is a state that is full of views, vistas and wonder.
I captured "Mountain Stream" on the way to Taos Ski Valley. It has a beautiful mountain stream that runs along the highway almost all the way up, and there were a few opportunities to take my time and capture a few shots along the way, so I did and this is the result. I really have fun trying to capture the water flowing in a way that helps give a photo character, and I think I captured this one just right.
"Mountain Stream" is available as a print in the online store.
It is also available as a framed print, canvas or greeting card at Fine Art America.
Part one can be found here.
After a long and busy day one, day two looked to be just as active, if not more active than the day before. After sleeping in a bit and getting some much needed rest, the first stop of the day was the Rio Grande Gorge State Park just to the west of Taos. When I arrived I was met by a deep chasm in the Earth that was a lot deeper than I initially expected. I stopped and walked out across the bridge, holding on to the rail as I went because I seem to lose all sense of balance in high places. My wife and oldest daughter got quite a kick out of watching me walk like I was taking a sobriety test, and quite literally it felt like if I was to let go of the rail I'd stumble like a drunk. After making it to the middle of the bridge I was greeted by quite a view, as the Rio Grande flowed below.
A quick look to the side saw a mountain sheep blended into the wall of the canyon and it was a really neat sight. I've never seen mountain sheep before and was really surprised to see them hanging out here.
After enjoying the gorge, we stopped for a bit of lunch and headed to the south of Taos to do some river rafting on the Rio Grande. We went through Cottom's River Rafting and they did a great job guiding us down the river through rapids and we even got to do some floating on the river outside of the raft.
The river was really a blast, and it was a fun diversion during the day during the direct sunlight. Once the sun went down it was time to get the camera back out and capture some more of the beautiful New Mexico countryside. I really wanted to focus on getting shots in the golden hour, then get some night shots with starts in the night sky.
It was a great night of shooting the stars although I could have lived without the full moon that was out, which made everything look like it was daylight outside.
The next day after we woke up we decided to take a 2 mile hike to Williams Lake above the Taos Ski Valley. The trail took us to an elevation of 11,020 feet to a beautiful mountain lake. I'd be lying if I said that we didn't stop more than a few times on the way up. The trail was a pretty gentle rise in elevation and at times went a little steeper, and it seemed much more when on the trail and not being used to the mountain air. We arrived a little after 11am and it was fairly warm with the lack of a breeze, but the hike paid off in a big way.
It was a really great trip, offered up a tons of photographic opportunities and I added some nice images to my portfolio. I can't wait to make it back to this beautiful place soon.
I hadn't been much of anywhere since storm season came to and end. It was a pretty busy spring and it came to an amazing conclusion in Canadian, Texas with a large picturesque tornado just outside of town. I spent some downtime in June, paid off a few bills and enjoyed not having to go anywhere for a while. It doesn't take me long to get antsy though, so I though a trip to New Mexico would be nice. I didn't have any photos in my catalog from this beautiful state, and I knew it's wide open vistas and gorgeous mountain scenery would be a nice retreat from the blazing Oklahoma summer sun.
We got up early on Friday morning, 4 am to be exact and got on the road by 5 am. I always love driving in the early morning because there isn't much else you'd be doing so early except sleeping (which isn't a terrible thing), and everyone else is still either getting up or still sleeping, so low traffic is always a win for me. One thing you have to watch out for that early in the morning is the animals, and it didn't take long for me to encounter a coyote with a prize in it's mouth in the left lane of I-40. He hesitated in the road for just a second, not sure which way he should go with a mouthful of something that looked like the size of a large racoon. Luckily I was able to hit my brakes in time and gave him just enough time to cross the road and live to enjoy his meal.
As we crossed the Texas panhandle I came across a peculiar sight, at least in my experiences in the panhandle it was much different than the normal flat landscape. It was a field of pure pink, flowers that had bloomed in a wetland that was either from natural springs or remnants of flooding in the area. Either way, it was quite a sight to see and I had to capture it.
Later that morning we had crossed into New Mexico and you can tell the difference in landscapes as soon as you cross over the border. Passing through Clayton, we made our way west and I began to see the wide open vistas that I was so eager to get a view of. These types of scenes are some of my favorites, mainly for what you don't see. You don't see traffic, urgency, development, stress or any other man-made things. Just the land being what it is, and always has been.
A few hours later, near Springer I stopped to get some photos of the mountains nearby, but what really caught my eye were these cone flowers and their bright colors. This photo I named Happy.
Driving west out of Cimarron we worked our way up into the first wave of mountains east of Eagle's Nest, then past Angel Fire, eventually making it to Taos. Total population listed for Taos is just a tad less than 6,000 but the small town has some serious traffic and lots of visitors (like me) in the summer season, so I wouldn't be surprised if the town had anywhere between 12-18k people in it at any given time. It didn't take long for me to want to escape town for the quiet solitude of the mountains, so as we headed up into the Taos Ski Valley we stopped by a mountain stream and had an impromptu picnic.
After getting checked into our lodge for the weekend and catching up on a little sleep from leaving so early in the morning, we ventured out in the evening and captured some great shots of some monsoon storms that had developed along highway 522. This one was taken north of Arroyo Hondo and is called Desert Rain.
We traveled a bit further north hoping to get some open views of the open desert, but trees kept a lot of the views from being as good as I had hoped. It finally opened up just enough to get a shot of the mountains with rain falling on them near the town of Lama. This one is called Enchantment.
Finally we finished up the day and made it back to the lodge by nightfall. It was an incredible first day in New Mexico and there was much more to come in the next two days. Check back soon for part two of my photo expedition into Northern New Mexico.
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