Dappled light, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona
“We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks to insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders. We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not.” — John Wesley Powell
Powell wrote those words to describe the challenge facing he and his eight companions as they began their epic journey through the Grand Canyon in 1869. They had already been traveling for two-and-a-half months down the Green and Colorado rivers, through territory that was almost completely unknown to Europeans at the time. They were low on food, their clothes had been worn to rags, and their boats were battered an in constant need of repair. Somehow, Powell and five of the men made it through the Grand Canyon, becoming the first to ever do so – as far as we know. (The three others decided to hike out of the canyon, and were never seen again.)
Of course the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is well known now. Every mile has been thoroughly explored and mapped. But rafting down the river is still a great adventure.
Last light on sand dunes, Mojave Desert, California
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I love sand dunes. Dunes make great photographic subjects, but it’s more than that. I love just being in the dunes. When walking out to the Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley, there’s this moment when you move off of the surrounding salt crust and onto the sand, and suddenly it seems as if you’re in a different world – a special realm that’s magical, beautiful, and a little surreal.
Children also love sand dunes of course. What kid wouldn’t love playing in a giant sandbox? When our son Kevin was little we took him to sand dunes whenever possible – not just in Death Valley, but to the Oceano Dunes along the California Coast, to the Kelso Dunes, and to the Imperial Dunes near the border with Mexico. He loved playing the sand, and when he was old enough we took him up the highest dune in the Mesquite Flat Dunes, which was a great adventure, and big accomplishment for him.
Frosted aspens, Colorado
When posting my nominees for best photos of 2021, I realized that I hadn’t posted some of my favorites before. That’s especially true for images I made this fall. We traveled to Yellowstone, Colorado, Utah, and the Oregon Coast, with little break in between trips, and not much time to process everything and post the images.
For me, one of the special treats this autumn (among many!) was the opportunity to photograph autumn aspens with snow. I did write about our brief trip to the eastern Sierra in early October, where I got to photograph some colorful aspens coated with snow. And then we got to do that several more times in Colorado.
Aspens and pines in a snowstorm, Inyo NF, California. 141mm, 1/250 sec. at f/16, ISO 1600.
In early October Claudia and I traveled to Utah and Colorado, and on our way we made a brief stop in the eastern Sierra.
Forecasts predicted a cold storm with low snow levels (for early October). That meant we might get to photograph aspens in snow, with autumn color, if we made it over to the eastern Sierra before the storm. So we packed hurriedly, hoping to make it over Tioga Pass before the road closed – which we did, with about 30 minutes to spare.
Oak and maples, southern Utah. Wandering down a wash, I came around a bend and immediately noticed this patch of color. But color is never enough by itself; you have to find a way to organize that color into a cohesive composition. Luckily the yellow gambel oak provided a clear focal point to build a composition around. I used a long lens (168mm) to isolate the most interesting parts of the scene, and compress the branches into patterns of color. 168mm, 3 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, focus-stacked with Helicon Focus.
Claudia and I have had a busy autumn. We went to Yellowstone in early September, then made our way to Colorado and Utah in October, and just got back from the Oregon Coast yesterday.
I’ve made a lot of photographs, so it’s been a challenge to edit and process them all, and put them into cohesive groups. But looking back, one group of images that stands out to me is this one, of autumn color in the canyons of southern Utah.
Misty sunrise, Yellowstone
I usually talk about photography as an art form – a way to express yourself and your vision, and to communicate with others through this wonderful medium.
But photographs also have an amazing ability to evoke memories. Sometimes a well-executed image made by someone else will resonate with us because it stirs a memory of a past event in our lives.
Naturally though, photographs from our own lives can be even more powerful in evoking memories from our past. Most of us have had the experience of looking through old family photos, and suddenly having a vivid recollection of an event we hadn’t thought about in years. It doesn’t matter if the images themselves are mediocre; they still have tremendous power to stir recollections.