Archive for the ‘National Monuments’ Category

Our National Parks help create our personal stories

Friday, April 26th, 2013
Our National Parks help create our personal stories

At the end of National Parks Week, when I have spent my busy week occupied with other thoughts, I had to force myself to slow down and think of how our National Park System has influenced my life over the years.  This is something we should all do from time to time, because it is likely we can all find a thread that the parks have woven through our personal fabric over the years.

The first unit of our National Park System I visited was Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming, about a decade before Steven Spielberg made it famous in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  Of course, I don’t remember the visit; I was still in diapers.  But my parents took photos to commemorate the occasion.  Fortunately, I was an infant long before the digital camera boom so many potentially embarassing occurrences from my childhood were either miniminally documented or not at all.  Except for that incident with the cat food.

The first national parks I remember visiting were those situated within an hour or so of my home town of Rapid City, South Dakota: Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Badlands National Park. In my youth, I was fascinated with rocks and geology, so these parks were such a wonder and treat to visit, from learning about the long process of forming caverns and stalagtites (I still remember the park ranger at Wind Cave NP telling us they were formed by the same acid found in Coca Cola), or the layers and weathering the created the brilliant formations of the Badlands and revealed their paleontological treasures.  And while out exploring the southern Black Hills, scouring old mines for pegmatite phosphates, garnet, and other rock hounding wonders, it was a treat to have the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln watching from a distance (several tunnels through the rocks on the road system were cut to point at Mount Rushmore).

Some of my earliest adventures as a youth or as a young man after my Navy service and college were in our national parks.  While in the Badlands as a youth, I went on one of my first solo hikes into a wilderness area and faced my first rattlesnake in the wild. Contrary to the normal reaction to such a creature, I tried to coax it out of its hiding place in a large crack in the ground. After college, I went on my first backpacking trip in Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, learning the hard way about things like breaking in hiking boots and overloading packs. But I was also introduced to the wonders of mole skin, too, and that’s a good thing.

While merely a place to explore and recreate in my earlier years, I have added an element of enjoyment to our national parks as a full adult: photography.  Somewhere in my late twenties and early thirties, I transitioned from hobbyist to serious photographer.  While my early years in the Navy and in college trained me more to be a photojournalist, my experience as a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota compelled me to embrace nature photography.  And given the wonders of our national park units, they became a perfect venue for me to develop and grow as a nature photographer, while I also grew as a human being.

Two early trips through our national parks during this transitional period stand out, and both of them were with my friend Andrew VonBank of Minnesota.  The first, originating from the Twin Cities where we both lived at the time, included Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND), Yellowstone National Park (WY), Grand Teton National Park (WY), Devil’s Tower (WY) and Badlands National Park (SD).  At that time, I was shooting a Nikon F100, and mixing negative and slide film.  By our next trip two years later, I had switched to using completely slide film (a major step in becoming a much better photographer), and I had been shooting much more after my move to Alaska. We met in Las Vegas, and, in the span of only two weeks, visited six national park units in Utah (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Canyonlands, and Arches) and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park (AZ).  And between these two trips, along with my time in Alaska’s Denali National Park & Preserve, I started to realize that I was truly seeing the world differently. I was looking beyond the things that people tpyically stopped to photograph, and learning to see and experience wild places in a more complete and holistic way. But the trips were so whirlwind, so superficial given the vastness of the landscapes before me.

And then I discovered the Artist-in-Residence program in the National Park Service.  Administered in nearly 50 units in the system, the AIR program allows an artist to be immersed in the park, explore the landscape at their own leisure, and practice his or her art. In exchange, the artist provides two public presentations at the park during the residency and donates a piece of art either created during the residency or inspired by the residency within one year of completion of the residency.  The park provides the artist a place to stay, and in some cases, a nominal stipend for food and expenses.

Starting locally, I applied for and was accepted to serve as the Artist-in-Residence for Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve – the first photographer selected for the position. I spent five days in the Arctic tundra above the treeline, exploring a wide landscape and watching hundreds of caribou migrate through a valley, followed by seven days floating on the Alatna River.  I learned to slow down more, listen, smell and envision a landscape in ways I had never before imagined.  It was my first backcountry trip in the Alaskan wilderness, my first time above the Arctic Circle, my first time in Alaska’s largest mountain range, the Brooks Range. Two years later, I served as the AIR for Rocky Mountain National Park and Badlands National Park – a special treat, allowing me to go back and explore the landscape of my youth as both a photographer and an older adult.

Now, because of my life experiences and my visual approach as a photographer, visiting national parks is a very personal experience. I have developed what I feel are intimate connections with a vast land that, while our world changes and contorts all around us, have remained steadfast in their ability to provide me solace, wonder, inspiration and childlike delight. Visiting the more-often visited parks presents special challenges as an artist because I don’t want to repeat what’s been done before, but that’s a good thing.  My national parks still help me to grow and develop as a person.

So, I challenge you to think back on your life, remember the various national park units you have visited, and think about how those have shaped your life.  And if you have not already, you must watch Ken Burns’ documentary, “National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”  It took me a while to think of all the parks I have been to (see list below).  What parks have you visited?

  • Lincoln Memorial, D.C.
  • National Mall, D.C.
  • Washington Monument, D.C.
  • National World War II Memorial, D.C.
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial, D.C.
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial, D.C.
  • Great Smoky Mountain National Park, NC & TN
  • Isle Royale National Park, MI
  • Pipestone National Monument, MN
  • Teddy Roosevelt National Park, ND
  • Badlands National Park, SD
  • Wind Cave National Park, SD
  • Jewel Cave National Monument, SD
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
  • Devil’s Tower National Park, WY
  • Yellowstone National Park, WY
  • Grand Teton National Park, WY
  • Glacier National Park, MT
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, CO
  • Arches National Park, UT
  • Canyonlands National Park, UT
  • Capitol Reef National Park, UT
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  • Zion National Park, UT
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, UT
  • Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
  • Natural Bridges National Monument, AZ
  • White Sands National Monument, NM
  • Death Valley National Park, CA
  • Joshua Tree National Park, CA
  • Muir Woods National Monument, CA
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area, CA
  • Mount Rainier National Park, WA
  • Olympic National Park, WA
  • Sitka National Historic Park, AK
  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, AK
  • Kenai Fjords National Park, AK
  • Katmai National Park & Preserve, AK
  • Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, AK
  • Denali National Park & Preserve, AK
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, AK
  • Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, HI
  • Haleakala National Park, HI

It’s impossible to state what are my favorite national parks or images captured in them, so here is a random sample, showing the wonder and diversity that they can bring to us.  For a more complete selection, visit my National Parks gallery.

The risks our rangers take

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
The risks our rangers take

In August of 2007, I was camped at the confluence of the Malamute Fork and the Alatna River, waiting for a National Park Service plane to pick me and my NPS Ranger companion, Tracy Pendergrast, up from a 12-day backcountry trip as part of my Artist-in-Residence experience in Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve.  Soon, word came that our pilot would not be picking us up; he had been retasked to take law enforcement rangers out to investigate a report of Dall Sheep poaching.  Often, these backcountry rangers receive spotty information but still have to head out quickly before the evidence trail runs cold.  It was my first exposure to the life of a natural resources law enforcement ranger.

It is so easy for those who visit our national parks or other public lands to chide those who are tasked with enforcing the law.  I  have heard many photographers complain about NPS rangers in Denali National Park & Preserve enforcing the rules of the road or distance limitations to certain wildlife, calling these rangers “Ranger Dick.”  But our rangers face so many hazards and pitfalls when performing their duties, none with more clarity than the story of Park Ranger Margaret Anderson, who was killed in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, on January 1, 2012, as she set up a road block to stop a driver that had run a chain-up checkpoint.  The driver opened fire, killing Ranger Anderson before she had a chance to get out of her vehicle.

We don’t think of the hazards that our natural resources rangers face in the performance of their duties.  Heck, in Alaska, for many of them, just getting out and doing their routine jobs can be dangerous: lots of small plane flights, heading out into hazardous conditions, heading out where there are few resources to help, facing down possible law breakers who are likely armed with some sort of weapon.  This last point is now a reality for all National Park Service rangers, no thanks to President Obama signing a law that makes it legal for people to carry firearms in all of our National Parks.  At least before rangers didn’t have to worry about that factor as much when confronting law breakers.

Natural resource rangers have been dealing with law breakers for decades, but mostly the kind that violate fish and wildlife regulations.  Snaring instead of hooking fish, taking too small of a deer or taking a moose out of season.  Using the wrong kind of traps or other methods of taking wildlife that are not authorized.  There are several great books out there in the genre of natural resources crime fighting that are a an excellent read to understand this world better.  The best one I have read is Wildlife Wars: The Life and Times of a Fish and Game Warden by Terry Grosz.  Mr. Grosz has written several books since and I will have to start getting caught up in his work.

But there is an insidious trend happening in our country where the crimes of “civilized” society are creeping their way into our public lands.  The incident with Ranger Anderson is an extreme example.  Quietly, behind the scenes and pretty much out of the scrutiny of corporate media, the drug wars have spilled into our public lands as well.  I am talking about the massive amounts of marijuana cultivation going on right now in approximately 67 national forests nationwide.  There is story after story of these grow sites being found from the northeast to the southwest, with the enormous costs (up to $300,000 per acre) of restoration not to mention the incredible risk of rangers encountering armed individuals tending to these marijuana fields.

It’s hard to imagine a world where our park rangers have to face deadly armed gunmen on a shooting spree or drug cartels in the performance of their duties.  Our public lands are supposed to be places of solace and refuge from the darker side of our world.  Rangers should be able to spend their time offering interpretive lectures, answering silly questions about natural features, showing visitors all the wonders that await them in our public lands.  I cannot recall the number of times I have been impressed by the kindness, courtesy and knowledge of a park ranger.  Entering into a dialogue with them is always one of my favorite parts of visiting our national forests, parks, monuments and wildlife refuges.  Yet, increasingly, they face these outside threats and do so with an ever-decreasing budget, slashed by politicians in Washington, D.C. who rarely visit our national parks and don’t see the value in continuing to fund them what they need.

So, in honor of Ranger Anderson and all other natural resources rangers who protect us and our public lands, I hope that you will consider what you find valuable in their work and the places they protect, and contact your Congressional delegation and tell them how you feel.  Also, to honor Ranger Anderson, I am posting some images from the place she died serving: Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.  And next time you visit a national forest, park, monument or wildlife refuge, please thank a ranger for what they do.

 

At Arlington, a place for serious reflection

Sunday, May 1st, 2011
At Arlington, a place for serious reflection

Michelle and I made our way on the blue line of the Metro today over to Arlington National Cemetery, just on the other side of the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.  Visiting Arlington is quite unlike visiting any other location in Washington, D.C.; at least it should be.  Visually, Arlington was everything I expected it to be, with endless possibilities for composition, the beautifully laid-out lines of rows of headstones, giving testament to those who have served our country in the Armed Forces and in various federal offices, from President to Supreme Court Justice.  Psychically, for me, it was also everything I expected; a somber, humbling location, recalling the history of our nation through names, words and phrases describing the contribution of our countrymen throughout history.  I was appalled, however, at how many people visited Arlington and treated it as simply another stop during the visit to D.C.

A prime example of this phenomenon can be illustrated in recounting a conversation between a young boy and his mother, shortly after watching the changing of the guard and laying of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  Boy: “Mom, why do they snap their shoes like that?”  (During the regular patrolling of the grounds in front of the Tomb, the U.S. Army guard on duty will snap his shoes together after completing an about-face or when making any turns.)  Mom: “It’s just pomp-and-circumstances.  They just need a reason for a ceremony.”  I had to keep myself in check, as I am not sure I could have been diplomatic with my response.  “The snap,” I should have told her, “is meant to emphasize the precision of the movement.”  As for needing a “reason” for a ceremony, I could have said, “These guards are honoring a person who, although we don’t know his name, died serving his country.”

I am not one to get jingoistic or nationalistic.  But, I am a veteran and have tremendous respect for all who have served, whether in the Armed Forces or in some higher office.  They have all done something that so few Americans have; they have sacrificed a term of years, or even their lives, to ensure that the greater good that is our United States continues to move forward, continues to fulfill the ideals set forth by a group of men in Philadelphia in the late eighteenth century.

When visiting the grave of John Fitzgerald Kennedy to pay respects and see the eternal flame, I had to wait for a while to get a view, as a dozen or so teenagers were crowding the front, taking snapshots with their iPhones and turning to each other to chat about all matter of things … other than JFK and his legacy.  I wondered to myself, then shared with Michelle, whether these kids had any appreciation for whose grave they visited given the current state of public education in the U.S.  What did they learn about JFK?  Was it just that he was assassinated, and that his brother, interned about a hundred feet away and marked by a lone cross on the hillside, was assassinated a couple of years later?  Did they have any understanding about the change that these men represented and how forces gathered to make sure that their change never occurred?  Did these kids have the capacity to consider what our country could have been had John and Robert Kennedy lived to die of old age?  Unfortunately, I am sure they did not.

As I stood at the Tomb of the Unknowns, simply watching the member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or “Old Guard,” stand guard over the tomb, I pondered and reflected on who was interned inside, what sort of life he lived, who he was, how he died.  Unfortunately, many of the other dozens of people standing nearby watching and waiting for the change of the guard were not so reflective.  Despite the many signs requesting quiet and respect, these visitors were being neither.  I gave a little “hoorah” inside when the soldier came out of his guard shack, did a sharp right face, snapped his boots, and rather forcefully but diplomatically reminded people to be quiet and have respect.  With message delivered, he returned sharply to his station.  That soldier gets it; of course he does, there is a reason he is serving in the most revered post available to any member of the U.S. Army.  And I think it is fair to say that anyone who has ever served in uniform gets it.  Perhaps that is another reason why the United States should have compulsory service like so many of its allies; at least its citizens would then understand better the meaning of sacrifice.

Moment after moment, so many people who were at Arlington today were simply there to catch the highlights.  Crowds flocked at the Kennedy family plot and the Tomb of the Unknowns, but no one stopped to visit the grave of Earl Warren, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who authored so many of the decisions that make up the foundation of criminal procedure rooted in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments.  Or how about the many chaplains who ministered to the fighting, the dying, the serving; men and women far from their home churches who needed to be comforted by a man of God in some rather trying times.  From presidents to senators to associate justices or even private first classes, so many men and women in so many ways had so many stories, represented so much history, and yet remained so lost and unheard of to the many crowds who flocked to Arlington today.

I suppose I should not be surprised.  When visiting national parks in general, tourists tend to stay to the road system and only stop at the pullouts because anything else just takes too much time and effort.  National parks are merely destinations, places to see with things to do.  Most people do not take advantage of the chances for reflection and exploration that await them.  Arlington is no different.  For most people today, it was a place to see a military ceremony – like the 3rd Infantry changing of the guard of laying of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns – or visiting the burial sites of famous historical figures.  But, what it really offers is a chance to reflect on the meaning of sacrifice, on the meaning of service, of the lasting impact that every person can have on the lives of others and on the shape and direction of a nation.

Memorials and monuments

Friday, April 29th, 2011
Memorials and monuments

It seems like everywhere you turn or face in Washington, D.C., there is a monument or memorial.  Of course, it is no accident; the city was designed that way.  The original part of the city now known as the National Mall was based on a 1791 plan for a “grand avenue” designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant.  His plan was supplemented by landscape architect Andrew Francis Downing in the early 1850s.  Then, in 1901, the McMillan Commission, inspired by L’Enfant’s plan, finalized the vision of what is the National Mall today.  Standing on the western side of the mall, where the Lincoln Memorial stands, you can look east, lining up the reflection pool, the Washington Monument and the Capitol building.

Several monuments and memorials have risen to join the main features of the mall in the last thirty years.  In 1982, the Vietnam Memorial was installed on the northwest side of the mall near the Lincoln Memorial.   Standing south of the reflecting pool, the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial was dedicated in 1995.  Both the Vietnam and Korean War memorials are easy to miss, nestled in the grand trees that surround the reflection pool area.  In contrast, the World War II memorial stands out in the open on the far east side of the reflecting pool, with lit columns and brightly-lit fountains making it stand out as a new, dominant feature on the Mall.  It was dedicated in 2004.

I had a grand vision for a morning photo, looking east from the Lincoln Memorial, with the colors of dawn and the Washington Monument reflecting in the reflecting pool.  When I arrived at 5:30 in the morning, about a half hour before sunrise, I realized instantly that my vision would not come to pass.  There was no reflection pool.  That vision of Jenny running into the water during a Vietnam War protest, yelling “Forrest! Forrest!” would not have happened if they were shooting “Forrest Gump” now.  They would have had to rewrite the scene.  The pool has been emptied in order to conduct repairs and renovations to the foundation.

So, I turned my attention toward Abraham Lincoln. I managed to capture a few images before people started to arrive; about eight or so photographers, working their way around the memorial, doing various hand-held captures at the memorial.  I thought perhaps they were all part of a local camera club.  It turned out they were all taking part in a National Geographic photography workshop.  What?  A National Geographic workshop and nobody – not a single one of the participants – is using a tripod.  I cannot think I have ever attended a photography workshop where there was anyone in the group not using a tripod.  Tripod use is a cardinal rule in photography, especially shooting in low-light conditions.  Sure, you can crank up the ISO and open up the aperture to do hand-held photography, but you dramatically increase the noise in the image and lose the depth of field that is crucial for architectural photography.  But, hey, it was not my workshop.

Sage Creek Wilderness – Day Three

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009
Sage Creek Wilderness - Day Three

Realizing that the light would not hit as early here as yesterday, I sleep in – 5:15 a.m.  I get up, get the gear together, then make breakfast while waiting for the sun to come up.  I look around and realize that the three groups of bison I saw yesterday have now seemed to form one large herd.  They are just on the other side of a large mound about a quarter of a mile from my location.  Although not on the way I need to go, I decide I will take a small detour to that hill and try to photograph them closer.  But, then the sun comes up and I go to work.  The formations on the far side of the wilderness area to the south are first to get the light, with my small formation to the north the last.  Again, it is a clear morning with nary a sign of clouds.

By 7:05, I have struck camp and am back on the trail, heading toward the Sage Creek Campground.  I do not detour to photograph the bison because they have moved on, and rather quickly at that.  I saw them start to move, then to pick up the pace, and it took me a while to understand why.  A couple of rather gutsy if not suicidal coyotes decided that they would try to get some action.  Or, maybe this is how young coyotes entertain themselves out in small pack Badlands.  Certainly a lot more exciting than tipping cows.  I stop a couple of times along the way to set up the tripod and photograph the Middle Fork of Sage Creek, which I will be following mostly on my way into the campground.  There is one particular bend with some rich pink and gold hues, much like the colors in the Yellow Mounds area.

Following the bearing I have chosen on my compass, and some mule deer and bison trails, I am within about two miles of the campground when a couple of unexpected things happen.  One happens as I am looking to my left at some bison with spring calves on a nearby hill.  I am making sure they are aware of me and are not interested in me, and I look back to the trail ahead of me to see two coyotes peering right at me.  They are probably about 150 feet away.  As I pull out my camera from my HoldSLR, they both take off, doing an about face and disappearing completely.  When I get to the point where they were standing, there is no sight of them.  The other thing happens about a hundred yards later when, as I am on the north side of the Middle Fork, I find what looks like the remains of an early twentieth century automobile, back when they were calling them horseless carriages.  The undercarriage looks odd, as well as the fenders.  One of the fenders has a symbol that I photograph.  But the key clue that this is something really old comes in the form of the seat for the contraption, which looks a lot like a modern bicycle seat, but solid metal.

Within a mile from the campground, I stop for a snack and to take a drink.  I notice after I have selected the spot that I am looking down on a rather large prairie dog town.  I don’t notice it at first visually – I actually thought it was probably a high volume area for bison since there was hardly any plants growing at all.  No, what clues me in is the various chattering going back and forth among the mounds.  After my snack, I pass through the town and notice that one of the prairie dogs must have picked a bad time to come out of his hole – a set of bones is scattered all around an opening.  I take some photos, and am then on my way to a small grassy hill, where I spook several groups of grouse.  Talk about a well-camouflaged bird; I could not see them at all until they flushed and headed out to the southwest.  But finally, I am on my final approach.  There is a hill I have been hiking toward for the last few miles, a hill I had decided was the last rise before the campground.  I am about to find out how accurate my navigational skills are.  I tell myself that when I get to the top of the hill, I should be able to see the campground off to the left, about a quarter of a mile away.  One of my key navigational aids I have been using is the aptly-named White Butte (funny, you cannot see the white part of it from the road, only from out in the wilderness area).

So, I get to the top of the hill and look down and to the left …. and see the campground right where it should be.  And, right in the middle of my path to the campground are two large bulls, hanging out in the open field.  Now, if I were a bison, with a thick, dark fur, I would sit under a nice juniper on a hot, sunny day.  But that’s just me.  I take a large arc around them, keeping an eye on them as one of them keeps an eye on me, then cross the creek – using the game trail that just so happens to cross in the shallow, gravel bar area.  I notice that someone is camping here, one tent, but no one is home – they must be on a day hike.  It is now 11:30, a full two and a half hours before my arranged pick up by one of the rangers.  I settle in at one of the sheltered picnic tables and give the ranger a call on the radio I have been carrying; he has actually just started his patrol and will be along shortly to pick me up.  The campers come back from their day hike, so I go over and make contact.  Having gone on a couple of backcountry ranger patrols in Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, first as an artist-in-residence then as a volunteer, I am accustomed to making contact with visitors to learn how their trip is going.  It is a man about my age and his son (I would guess his age at around 12).  They have been there for the weekend and are staying another night.  They seem to be enjoying the quiet that this part of the park has to offer.

My ranger, Greg, arrives and I hop in to come back and download.  Along the way he tells me about a call they received from a visitor about a sick bison.  Apparently, the bison was sitting on the ground and panting, said the visitor.  The call reminded me of a chapter in the book I am reading, and how people are sometimes clueless about wildlife.  It did not occur to the visitor that 2,000-pound animals with thick dark fur need to sit down and pant to cool off.  Along the way back to my Jeep, and all the way back to my apartment, there is simply an explosion of visitors, the most I have seen at the park yet.  The summer is on its way, but unfortunately, this residency is winding down.  Well, unfortunate from the artistic standpoint.  Not unfortunate in that soon I get to be back home with my wife, Michelle, whom I have missed incredibly on this trip.

Last morning

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

After somewhat of a blitzkrieg trip it seems like, I have had my last morning shooting on the road trip leading up to the NANPA summit.  I am glad I arranged to have the gate opened an hour early at the park.  It allowed me to get into position and be selective in where I would be when the first golden light from the rising sun washed across the landscape.  There is a certain peace knowing that you are the only soul in a particular location, able to take your time and work in the still silence of the morning.  The only thing missing from the morning was having Michelle with me to enjoy it.  Sure, it’s great to be out there by yourself sometimes, but other times, I wish that she was here with me to share it.

Windy evening

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

I got into the park this afternoon well before I knew I would want to shoot, as the sun was too high, and the light too harsh.  But I wanted to scout out some locations for this evening and for possible spots for tomorrow.  I was concerned, though, as I approached the entrance to the park on Highway 70 and saw a thick cloud of sand filling the air in the vicinity of the dunes.  The wind had picked up a bit by the time I left in the morning, and had really kicked into high gear in my absence.  The radio said that sustained winds were 25 mph with gusts exceeding 40 mph.  The sand storm was so thick, the San Andres Mountains to the west were almost completely obscured.  Not deterred, I headed out into the wind and sand toward an area I hoped would provide some good opportunities.  I stuck around and shot for a while even well after the sun had gone down, not attempting sillhouettes, but rather capturing the dunes and ripples in the light of dusk.

The challenge of White Sands

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

In Alaska, it is pretty easy to find the landscape.  From a photographic standpoint, the photographable scene is pretty obvious.  All the spaces are open, whether in a coastal area or a glacial valley.  In White Sands, it is rather challening to find the scenic shot.  The sand dunes essentiall serve as mini mountain ridges, and you have to climb them and get over the next wave of sand dunes in order to see what’s out there.  In addition, you just cannot count on early light for great photos.  The angle of the light is the key to a great landscape photo in White Sands.  The ripples in the sand almost run parallel to the angle of the sun, pretty much after about 8:00, making impossible to capture the shadows in the individual ripples.  I am thinking that the afternoon will have a better angle of sun for those photo ops.  And even the big landscape photos, with the shadows casting from the dunes themselves, are generally not present much after sunrise.  Fortunately, I have made arrangements to be let into the park an hour before sunrise tomorrow, so I will be in better position to capture as much as possible.

Quick trip into White Sands

Monday, February 16th, 2009

So, I made it to White Sands National Monument.  I had to find a hotel to stay in, then set up and download the photos from earlier in the day.  Those things took a while.  Even though I got a late start in White Sands, making it to the main gate only an hour before sunset, I found out quickly how easy and how hard it is to capture  photo in White Sands.  The easy part is the dunes come right to the main road, almost jumping out at you.  The hard part is the tracks from all the visitors, all over the place, making it challening to find an unblemished dune.  And the sand dunes go everywhere.  It’s not like most places you go to photograph where the photo spots are obvious.  The dunes just keep going, rolling over one another, meaning you have to walk over each dune and keep going over the next to find what else may lie out there.

Tomorrow morning, I will be at the gates when they first open at seven, with the sole mission to scout the dunes, explore and see what else lies among the dunes.  And fortunately, I will have much more time in the afternoon to find the photos that await me.