Travels and Stories

Into the High Sierra

Mist, peaks, and creek at sunset, Sierra Nevada, CA, USA

Mist, peaks, and creek at sunset, Sierra Nevada, California. I made this photograph on our second evening in camp, as the rain finally stopped, and we were treated to a wonderful sunset (see the last two photos below).

Long before the Oak Fire, Claudia and I had planned to go on a trip into the Sierra backcountry with some photographer friends. We would be using mules to transport our gear into a remote campsite, staying for six nights, and making day hikes to nearby photo locations.

The fire threatened to disrupt those plans, but once we were able to return home, and our power was restored, it seemed possible that we could make the trip. It meant we had to pack rather hurriedly, but it was doable, and seemed like the perfect getaway.

It turned out to be quite an adventure. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the mountains on our first day, and soon after we set up camp that afternoon an intense thunderstorm developed overhead. We all huddled in our tents, pummeled by torrential rain and hail, while lightning struck all around us.


On the Side

Reflections in a limestone canyon, Grand Canyon NP, AZ, USA

Reflections in a limestone canyon, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona

Between the rim and the river in Grand Canyon lies a vast wilderness. A few trails traverse this region, but most of it is trail-less, and seldom visited by people. This immense, empty land contains innumerable side canyons filled with treasures to discover: waterfalls, narrow, twisting slots, fern-filled grottos, Ancestral Pueblo ruins, rock art, sculptured rock terraces, and on and on.

The easiest way to access many of these side canyons is from the river, and we got to visit some of them on our journey down the Grand Canyon in April. I wish we’d had time to explore each and every side canyon, but of course that’s not possible on a ten-day trip. In the winter of 1976 a party of six people set off from Lee’s Ferry, and pulled out 103 days later – the longest Grand Canyon rafting trip ever, as far as we know. That’s enough time to truly immerse yourself – to explore as many side canyons as you want, or just relax and enjoy a spot for awhile. I’d love to do something like that (though unfortunately the Park Service doesn’t allow trips of that length anymore).


River Light

Winding river, Grand Canyon NP, AZ, USA

Winding river, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona. 78mm, 20 seconds at f/11, ISO 100, 10-stop ND filter.

In 1540 Spanish Conquistadors became the first Europeans to ever see the Grand Canyon. They greatly underestimated the scale of what they were seeing. Looking down from the rim they thought the river was six feet wide (the average width is actually 300 feet). Rocks that they thought were as tall as a man turned out to be 300 feet high.


Oak and Eclipsed Moon

Blue oak and eclipsed moon, Sierra Nevada foothills, CA, USA

Blue oak and eclipsed moon, Sierra Nevada foothills, California. 122mm, 1 second at f/11, ISO 6400.

On Sunday a total lunar eclipse was visible in many parts of the world, including our corner of California in the Sierra Nevada.

I’ve photographed many lunar eclipses before. I like capturing sequences of the moon above a landscape in various eclipse stages – if possible. But for this eclipse I couldn’t think of any nearby spot that would add a compelling foreground while looking in the right direction (southeast) for a sequence like that, plus it appeared that clouds might interrupt any attempt at capturing a long eclipse sequence.

Instead, I thought of a lone oak tree in the Sierra foothills that might lend itself to a different treatment: a telephoto view of just the tree and eclipsed moon at dusk. I had photographed this tree before, and it looked like the tree and moon would line up well. Using a long lens would make the moon look larger, plus capturing a single frame like this would require only a brief cloud-free interval to work, while a sequence would need several hours of clear skies.


Views From the Canyon

Dappled light along the Colorado River, Grand Canyon NP, AZ, USA

Dappled light along the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park. Watching the cloud shadows move across the canyon from this spot was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Most people make their best photographs of places or subjects they’re familiar with.

In landscape photography, it helps immensely if you know an area well, and know what spots might work best under certain conditions, so you can put yourself in the right place at the right time.

I think it’s also natural and inevitable that we’re going to make our best and most meaningful images when we feel a connection with the subject or place. You can often trace a direct correlation between the depth of that connection and the depth of the imagery. And making those connections takes time.


Through the Grand Canyon

Ribbon of water, Colorado River, Grand Canyon NP, AZ, USA

Ribbon of water, Grand Canyon National Park,

Claudia and I just emerged from the Grand Canyon on Thursday. What an incredible journey.

This was my second raft trip down the canyon, and it was just as wonderful as I remembered. Maybe even more so. As beautiful as the Grand Canyon is from the rim, the river is the beating heart of the canyon. We were deep in that heart for ten days, getting doused by the river’s (very cold) water in rapids, bathing in it, drinking it (filtered of course), and lulled to sleep at night by the roar of nearby rapids.

What made this trip even more special was the people we shared the journey with, including my amazing co-instructor, Jerry Dodrill, our wonderful guides Ed, Ellen, and Boh, and a super-nice group of photographers, who I’d now call friends for life. We couldn’t have asked for better companions.