21 June 2012

Black Canyon National Park, CO

The only reason we visited this park was because it was on the way and as it was up high we thought it would be cool, not so. While we were cooking dinner, a white tail deer came through our campsite and started eating a few metres away from us, which was pretty special. 

The campground was pretty full as a touring/camping group of motorcyclists were on their way for a monthly reunion, they come from all around the country.

We did one of the drive loops the next morning, but the scenery wasn't very photogenic. The canyon walls are black/grey of course which makes it very boring.

Back down to normal altitudes and it's 40ºC at 7pm. It's too hot for us.

We had heard that there was a balloon festival in Panguich, so we headed over there. Unfortunately though, it was too windy and they weren't able to fly. Apparently, the best balloon festival is in Albuquerque, New Mexico in early October where there are hundreds of balloons of all shapes and sizes. We camped in King Creek campground, a state forest park near the Tropic Reservoir. It's a lovely campground but a bit of a hike from Panguich so we had to get up early to be there at 6am for the balloon take off. We found where we needed to be but it was cancelled due to the winds picking up, it has to be very still.

This was just the show and tell part of the festival

12 June 2012

Skyline Drive, CO

We were feeling a bit hot so decided we needed to head to higher altitudes, so we found a drive that headed north: the skyline scenic road in Colorado. From the Mesa Verde, you head east to Durango, a really pretty town with a lovely French bakery. We found a campground in the San Juan National Park at Haviland Lake, which is a very pretty area but the mozzies are ferocious at night! It might have have had something to do with the creek that ran behind our campsite… gee, do you think?

The drive from Durango to Silverton is spectacular, if a little scary. The road has no shoulder and the drop is steep and long. Along the way we read about the avalanches valleys they have and how the road can be impassable in winter. They liken it to a mini Switzerland with the mountains and pine trees.

you could be in Switzerland!

Silverton is an old wild west town that used to be full of saloons and bordellos for the miners. We boondocked at South Mineral a few miles out of town for a couple of days and went back in on Friday night to watch the Gun Fight and have dinner. We met an 80 year old woman travelling alone in her Class B motorhome, we were impressed!

The section between Silverton and Ouray is called the Million Dollar Highway because of the 25 miles of steep twisty road. Ouray is also a pretty town nestled in between steep mountains.

9 June 2012

How they lived 700 years ago

Mesa Verde National Park, CO

This park showcases the dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans who made this place their home for more than 750 years, from A.D. 550 to A.D. 1300. The first afternoon we drove the Wetherill Mesa and took the “tram” which has tyres not metal wheels! around to some outlooks that allow you to photograph some of the cliff dwellings from across the other cliff. Mesa Verde (may-sa ver-dee) means green table.

The following day we took the Mesa Top Loop road and toured the Spruce Tree house and the Cliff Palace, the later is a ranger led tour that you pay for in advance. There are two other ranger led tours, but we felt that one was enough and had given us an insight into how these people had lived. Not much is known about them as they didn’t leave any written records, so much of what they know is a guess. These communities were built high above the valley floor for security against attacks, all food and water would have had to have been carried in. They had a bush fire here about 20 years ago and the area still has not recovered, the trees here take hundreds of years to grow.

Cliff Palace

There are hundreds of these dwellings but not all have been preserved

4 June 2012

Arches National Park, UT

We got in quite late and the sign at the front gate said “Campground full”. We enquired and were told that there might be a few spots left but we better go straight there. The campground is right at the end of the park, some 17 miles in. Luck was on our side and there was one spot left. Arches for me is all about the photography at the right time of day and the park brochure actually lists what is good in the morning and what is good in the late afternoon. So after marking my map with AM’s and PM’s we headed off to the Devil’s Garden. Lindsay didn’t want to come, in fact he went back to sleep, so I went by myself. It was a fair walk in to Landscape Arch which has the longest span in the park and is quite thin, it will probably break soon. I started to walk to the next one Double O arch, but the trail seemed to disappear up some rocks, so I turned around. I came across a sign that I hadn’t noticed before that said – primitive trail – difficult! Back along the trail are Tunnel and Pine Tree arches. A hot air balloon passed over me at Pine Tree and the moon could be seen through the Tunnel arch, so I was able to get a couple of good shots. We went back to our campsite for breakfast before heading out again to scout some locations for the afternoon’s shoot.

Landscape Arch

The afternoon’s agenda was Skyline Arch and Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is the most well known arch from this area. The walk there is quite tough, long hot and uphill, 4.8 kms. Unfortunately there were no clouds in the sky and as expected a lot of people were there. Most people want to have pictures of themselves standing under the arch, but of course there are a lot of us that don’t want anyone in our pictures. Lindsay asked people to move so that we could get some good shots. The sunset wasn’t spectacular and as the good light comes onto the arch, a shadow comes up from the bottom which makes it difficult to get a good shot. I suspect a different time of year would be a different story. We had eaten dinner at lunchtime, so luckily we didn’t need to cook when we got back to camp.
Delicate Arch
We got up before sunrise again and concentrated on Turret Arch and Double Arch in the Windows area. Stephen, whom we’d met the day before while scouting for subjects, showed us a viewpoint that meant I had to scramble up some steep rocks to photograph Turret through the South Window Arch. Luckily I have Lindsay to take my camera for me as I’m definitely not a tom boy! Double Arch already had a section of light on it and we decided that we would come back tomorrow when it was all in shade. The campground was getting very hot during the day and seeing as we had “done” the top half of the park, we decided to stay down in Moab. We called into a couple of photography galleries to see how the locals view the area. You can appreciate that knowing a place, the seasons etc can have a huge impact on taking a good picture. You just can’t be in the area at the right time, all of the time. October is a good time for Arches. September is a good time for Grand Teton…. April is also a good time for the deserts, but you can’t see them all at the same time!

The afternoon’s shoot was focused on Balanced Rock and Turret Arch from a different perspective. We met up with Stephen again at Turret Arch and he really made me think more about composition that I had before.

Balanced Rock 

The final morning for Arches was even earlier than the morning before and we had to add on extra time to come into the park. We arrived at the Courthouse Towers first, then to the Three Gossips, then moved onto Double Arch again.This whole area is shown in the opening scene of Indiana Jones – The Last Crusade. They go past the Courthouse Towers, The Three Gossips, Balanced Rock and Double Arch and then show Indie coming out of one of the caves next to Double Arch.

Courthouse Towers
Three Gossips
Double Arch

3 June 2012

Yellowstone National Park, WY

The day we headed up to Yellowstone it was snowing which made it difficult to stop off at some of the places on the way. The roads in Yellowstone form the figure eight and for some reason we always seem to do things anti-clockwise, so we went up the right hand side. After visiting the information centre where we joined a ranger talk on bears which was very informative, if not a bit intimidating. As we hadn’t got around to buying any bear spray we decided that we would not do any hikes.

West Thumb geyser basin
First point of call was the West Thumb geyser basin, our first look at the thermals in Yellowstone and full of tour buses and tourists. These are mainly just hot mud holes. It was mid afternoon so we just drove around Yellowstone Lake to come to our campground at Bridge Bay. The next morning we visited the Sulfur Caldron, the Mud Volcano, Upper and Lower falls around Artists Point.
Artists Point
Artists Point is my favourite, beautiful coloured rocks with a waterfall flowing down into a canyon. Lindsay was worried about getting a camp site up at Tower Fall so we drove straight there not stopping at any more spots. Tower Fall campsite is quite a small camping ground closest to the Lamar Valley – the other campsites in the Lamar don’t open until about mid June. On our first afternoon there we saw a black bear and her two cubs. We drove along the Lamar Valley and saw herds of bison. We had to laugh about how we had been so excited to see them in the Grand Tetons that we had walked in a wet paddock to still be so far away that I doubt the pictures will come out. Now they were everywhere with their calves.

We stopped off to catch up with Michel and Carole and while we were talking Michele noticed a grizzly coming down from the hill towards us. I got a few shots before I decided he was getting a bit too close. He then disappeared into the sage bush – all eyes were trying to see where he went and about five minutes later he crossed the road about 30 metres away – completely circumnavigating us all. Over the next couple of days we saw coyote, wolf, some more black bears, big horn sheep, red fox, squirrels, badger and deer. It is an amazing place and we will definitely come back. It is very hard not to get lens envy around here with so many people with 600mm lenses. We should have bought my other camera along as it would have extended my lens further by 1.6x. We know for another time. The best animal viewing time was when the weather was horrible and it rained nearly every day around 7pm which made if difficult to cook dinner. When the weather started to fine up, the animals seemed to disappear. The deer move up the mountains and so then do their predators.

big horn sheep
red fox
black bear
Moving on around our circle we went to Mammoth where we saw some Elk by the side of the road. Mammoth has some hot springs and you walk around the terraces, only the ones on the right hand side are worth looking at. The town of Gardiner is to the north and a good place to have a shower at the local Laundromat, we used the disabled one so that we could shower together. Lunch was at the local pub. Michel had told us to stop off at Sheepeater Cliff if we wanted to see some marmots. After walking in a fair way, we gave up and the skies had started to blacken and we could hear thunder. On our way back out, there was one marmot sitting on a log! Not the group that we had hoped for, but a marmot none the less. I was happy.

We got a camp at the Norris campground just in time to make a cup of tea before the rain really set in. The final day in Yellowstone was spent seeing the other geysers including the famous one “Old Faithful”. Our plan was to camp back at Gros Ventre in the hope that we would see some moose. But they hadn’t been sighted for a few days. We got up before sunrise to photograph the barn on Mormon Row which has a beautiful back drop of the Tetons.

Because of our booking in Yosemite we hadn’t finished the deserts in Utah on my list, so back we went.