29 April 2015

Wyoming Wilderness

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

We met a great couple this time last year, Linda & Alex who invited us to stay with them in Wilson Wyoming, which is about 12 miles out of Jackson Hole. There are lots of ranches out here and you feel like you are driving through Horse Whisperer* country with rolling green hills all around you. We had to take the long way around to their house, as the short cut had a locked gate at the end of it that didn’t open for a few more days. Turning into their driveway wasn’t easy as it’s not meant for a 35’ trailer! cut the corner and the trailer would end up in the ditch; after a few attempts I managed to get into their property.

Not having done any walks for a while they took us on a hike up the hill opposite their valley. 7,000ft can really get your heart pumping. It was a great walk through the aspens, and at the top we were rewarded with fantastic views of the valley. And, we didn’t run into any bears on the way!

With the annual elk antler collection event approaching the locals were ready for the big day. An antler brings about US$6.00 a pound and as they can be up to 16lb’s it can add up to quite a sum of money for just one antler, with a matching pair bringing anything up to a $1,000. You can pick up any antler’s you find on your own property any time (they fall off naturally) but you can’t go scavenging on government land and hide your stash to collect later on opening day– although people do! Big fines for getting caught! The boys’ scouts collect them from the Elk Refuge and sell them in the town squre with the proceeds going to charity.

big horn sheep calf running over the cliffs

On opening day we took a drive into the Grand Tetons and saw lots of people on horseback going into the backcountry to look for antlers. We heard that there were a large pack of wolves in there too but they were twenty miles beyond a locked gate. Locked gates are normal around here, not only to keep people out of an area but to also to keep them away from the wildlife. Wildlife was very scarce throughout the Tetons compared to other years; we only saw some big horn sheep on a steep cliff. Everyone was saying it was due to the mild winter – the snow melted early and the animals have gone to higher ground, because they can.

Lindsay, Linda & Alex

It was Jane’s turn to do some photography so we got up early and headed for the Mormon Row barn. We miscalculated how long it would take to get to the barn as the area was covered in fog and we got stuck in a traffic jamb at 5:45am going into Jackson! - we made it with a few minutes to spare before sunrise. The first barn didn’t light up as well as it did last time but it still gave her some great shots.

There was a bit of excitement on the last day as someone had seen a cougar cross the road in the morning. Everyone locked up their pets and horses for protection! Linda & I managed to see it later in the day but it was too far away to photograph. Their pet cat is an inside cat because an owl attacked it once and it won’t go outside anymore, I’m sure a cougar would like it too.

Winters are harsh up here, there are times when you can’t get into town, so you better have a good supply of, well everything. A lot of the corners going back to the town are called so & so’s corner, which is where they slid off because of the snow. Life is different around here.

Our time has come to an end in Wilson and we need to move onto Yellowstone. Linda & Alex, thank you so much, it was great catching up again. The south entrance is closed for another week, so we need to head to the west entrance.

* movie with Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas and Scarlett Johansson

This post was a combined effort!

23 April 2015

Campground Review - Provo UT

Utah Lake State Park Campground

Why we chose here? seemed a nice place to stop while waiting for some parts from Campingworld in Draper

Location: Utah Lake, Provo

Sites: 55, 40' max RV length. Back in and pull through's

Facilities: Showers, Electric and Water hookup, Dump station, Grill,

Groceries: Provo

Reservations: Yes, only one site available before May 1, all others first come first serve

Cell Coverage / WiFi: Verizon

Price Paid: $30

Date of visit: April 2015

Would we come here again? Sure, it's nice and quiet

18 April 2015

Island in the Sky

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

We moved north onto the other part of Canyonlands passing through Moab and picking up some groceries and fuel along the way. It rained most of the trip.

Mesa Arch
The Island in the sky is a high mesa about 2,000 feet above the junction of the two rivers. The trees here are resilient as the rainfall is low, the junipers are twisted and stunted, and they shed their limbs when water is scarce. Canyonlands National Park was created in 1964 to preserve the colourful landscape showcasing cayons, buttes and mesas.

Thousands of years ago, the Puebloans lived here, though any items or tools are long gone, newspaper rock shows some petroglyphs and some of their dwellings still remain.

Winter is back!
There was one BLM campground Horsethief just outside the park that allowed trailers up to 35’ so that was where we headed. Being Friday, I was hoping there would be spaces available. The campground is half a mile off the bitumen and while there are many small sites, there are a number of larger ones, you just have to be able to back into them or hope they are free. Number 25, the last one was perfect and now our truck and trailer were covered in nice red mud, if nothing else it looked good against the snow. There was much more snow here than we had the night before. We only got as far as the visitor centre in the park as visibility was reduced to a hundred metres due to the fog. Lindsay asked the ranger if they had had any sunrises and sunsets lately to which she replied. Yes, the sun rises and sets here everyday! Okay smartarse, with pretty colours.

These rocks only lit up for 5 minutes

There was still fog as we went into the park the next day but it burnt off by about 11am. The views from The Green River overlook and Shafer Canyon are magnificent, this is what I expected Canyonlands to look like. We did a couple of walks to Wave Rock and Upheaval Dome Overlook which felt like they were longer than they were as they were uphill and we are at 6,000 feet.

Green River Overlook

Our plans for shooting at sunset were shelved as the clouds rolled in and lightening spread across the sky, this is not a place you want to be out in when the weather is suspect. Then the sun came out, so we decided to go. We headed to the Green River Overlook that we had seen earlier on in the day, the closer we got the sun started to go behind the clouds but we kept on going anyway. At the overlook a photographer had been there during the storm which included hail and a wonderful rainbow but as he sensibly stayed in his car, he didn’t get any photos. Just before sunset, the sun shone through the bottom of the clouds. On the way home the storm resumed and we had a wonderful lightshow behind all the clouds. We saw one bolt of lightening so stopped to try and capture more, but all we got was rain!

We set our alarm for 5:30 the next morning. Lindsay got up to check outside and said it was very windy, so we decided to leave it until the next day as the forecast was for intermittent fog as well. Bed felt so lovely. Fifteen minutes later he says, com’on let’s go! It’s a half hour drive to the Mesa Arch and then a 15 min walk over sand and rocks to the arch. We got there in time but there were thirty other photographers there too! We nearly didn’t get a car spot nor did we get the best spot to take the photo. The iconic shot is when the sun lights up the underneath part of the arch which happens just after the sun has risen. You can also get some good shots as the sun rises and if you have your aperture set to above f/11 then you will get a star burst, but you can also get lens flare. After the sun was up I took my camera off the tripod to get some other composition

The following morning we were up before 5:30 and still there were many photographers already there. A few had very wide angle lenses and had selfishly positioned themselves very close to the arch which reduced the line as a whole, not allowing as many people to have the same opportunity.

Position position position

Being here reminded me of a movie we saw a few years ago called 127 hours. A very fit young man came to Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands to ride his mountain bike and do a bit of hiking. Unfortunately for him he hadn’t told anyone where he was going. He liked to take risks, and he fell into a crevice and wedged his arm between two rocks. He had to endure rain, sun, heat and cold for five days before he decided that if he didn’t do something drastic, he would die. He amputated his arm with his pocket knife! He then had to get himself back to civilization, he was 30 miles from the nearest highway in a remote part of the park that not many people go to.

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Horsethief BLM Campground

South is the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park

In between the Needles and Island in the Sky sections of Canyonlands is Arches National Park

South of Needles is Monument Valley

Campground Review - Canyonlands

Horsethief BLM Campground

On the road into the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands

Site 25

Why we chose here? The closest campground to Island in the Sky (Canyonlands) that allows RV’s over 28’

Location: Just outside the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands and just before the road to Dead Horse State Park

Sites: 56 sites of various sizes, up to 35’ RV allowed. Nicely spaced out.

Facilities: Vault toilets and rubbish dump, Fire pits with BBQ grill, metal slotted table/bench seats

Groceries: Nearest town is Moab (60 miles) and there is a City Market grocery store there

Reservations: No, first come first served

Cell Coverage / WiFi: Yes we were able to access Verizon at the campsite, but not on the road in

Price Paid:

Date of visit:
April 2015

Other: Nearest dump station is at the Maverick Gas station in Moab or RV parks

Would we come here again? Yes

Looking down the campground road to other sites

Site 25 from the back

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16 April 2015

Campground Review - Needles Canyonlands

Needles Outpost RV Campground

Our site near the Juniper Tree

Why we chose here? The National Parks campground only allows 28' RV's, this park allows larger RV's

Location: Just outside the Needles section of Canyonlands

Sites: 26, don't drive around the group tent section (on the right) in an RV, there is a big dip!

Facilities: Dry Camping - no hookups. Showers, Food - fresh and cooked, Dump, Water - but as they have to truck it in, don't fill up your tanks, fire rings

Groceries: Monticello or Moab

Reservations: Yes

Cell Coverage / WiFi: No

Price Paid: $20

Date of visit: April 2015

Would we come here again? Yes

Looking back towards the group and tent area

Needles of Stone

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - The Needles

There are four parts to Canyonlands divided by the Green and Colorado Rivers, so it's not possible to drive from one part to the other. The most visited areas are the Island in the Sky and The Needles. There is also the Maze and the rivers themselves. We decided to concentrate on the first two.

Coming from Monument Valley we ignored Tom Tom’s suggestion and came up the 191 and apart from a few bumps which made most of our clothes come off their coat hangers, all was fine. We had left behind 40 mph winds from the night before and traded it for lower temperatures. It feels like winter again. The campgrounds in both parts of the park we wanted to go to have a campground but they won’t allow anything larger than 28’, and we are 35’. So the next closest campground in the Needles was the Needles Outpost, which for $20 a night gave us a nice spot but no hook ups, just outside the National Park. All water is carted in, so they would not have been happy if we had refilled our tank. They offer showers for $7 and food for your BBQ if you didn’t bring enough food such as steak and chicken filets. If you didn’t want to cook, they sold, you guessed it – hamburgers!

The Needles area has red and white banded pinnacles which tower 400 feet over grassland and sheer-walled valleys. The best photograph that I saw of this area would have taken six hours to get to, I'm not sure if that was return, either way, I wasn't going. Apparently there are arches in this part of the park but they are only accessible by long hikes or 4WD. While we have a 4WD, the descriptions of the roads (read steps) made us think that our wheelbase would be too long and that we might get stuck. After last week, we didn't need any more drama with our truck.

the Needles are at the back, better get back to the truck, those clouds look nasty

With the cold temperatures came clouds which ruined any chance of a sunset but we went out anyway. Then overnight it snowed! The morning was overcast so we didn’t need to head out for any sunrise shooting. 

Newspaper Rock

During the day we decided to do all the easy walks which totaled 6.5 kms. During our second walk we started talking to an English couple. Derek told us that he normally photographs wildlife, Sally said their favourite place was Kenya. Do you know Brian Freeman? Lindsay asks… yes, that’s where we go! It just shows what a small place the world is, people from two different countries knowing the same person in a third country. And what were the odds that we even started talking to them as we didn’t speak to anyone else on our walks that day!

As we were doing our last walk we could see the dark clouds rolling in, we were a little bit worried about being caught in a storm.  When we were a few hundred metres from our truck it started to snow. We passed three couples who were just starting their walk - when it was snowing on them!

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15 April 2015

Hi Ho Silver

Monument Valley, Arizona

When you see the Mittens at Monument Valley, you think of Western Movies. Actors like John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Tom Hanks worked here. Movies such as Stage Coach, the Lone Ranger, Forrest Gump, Easy Rider, How the West was Won were made here.

Monument Valley was under the Gulf of Mexico 570 million years ago. It started it’s life 65 million years ago as the Pacific and North American tetonic plates off the coast of California collided sending shockwaves to the east. Erosion by water, wind and ice has chiseled the rock formations over thousands of years into what they are today.

Showing the road around the buttes

There is a 17-mile valley drive which can be undertaken between 8am and 5pm October to April in winter when sunrise is between and 6am-8.30pm May to September in summer. Sunrise and sunset never occur within these times anytime throughout the year, which makes it very difficult to get a good photograph. We went back to the drive at 10 to 5, so that we would be through the gates before they shut, but they didn't shut them that night as we found out on the way out.

the Mittens

The day we arrived there were 40 mile winds and considering the whole area is fine red sand, it made a very unpleasant experience. The dust storms caused fatal car crashes in other states. The sun is on the Mittens in the afternoon. At sunrise you get a colourful sky, but the Mittens are in silhouette.

You have three main options for camping in an RV. Two are outside the park, so you need to take into consideration the $20 entry fee if you want to do a night then a morning. Or the campground owned by the View Hotel. Dry camping for $41.95 a night for two people (winter rate) which apparently goes up in summer. Way over priced but you are in the park which makes it easier to make multiple trips. On the upside, you get a fantastic view of the Mittens outside the back window and the showers are wonderful. The free wifi didn't reach our trailer and our Verizon was very slow.

This is Navajo land, so while parks passes don't apply, daylight saving time does - which is very important for knowing sunrise and sunset times!

12 April 2015

Campground Review - Chinle AZ

Cottonwood Campground in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ
Chinle, AZ

One of the larger sites
Check with the visitor centre on arrival as they have ranger programs and a free walking tour. There is only one walk to the White House Ruins that you can do on your own. The other options are private walking tours, 4WD tours or horse trail tours

Why we chose here? There are only two campgrounds in Canyon de Chelly (pronounced shay), one near the visitor centre - Cottonwood and another – Spider Rock, a fair way in on the south rim.

Location: Drive to Chinle, AZ, then drive east. Coming out from the visitors centre, turn right, then turn right, then the campground will be on your left.

Sites: 92. Up to 35’. Most of the sites are difficult to get in to if you are large. The entries seem to be in the opposite direction than you are supposed to be driving. Lots of small sites. There is a dump, but no water in winter – they take the hoses away. There is only one tap in the middle of the campground. Ridiculous when the daytime temperatures are in the 70’s. 3 loops, but loop 3 is closed in winter.

Facilities: 3 restrooms, but only restroom in loop 1 is open in winter

Groceries: Shop before you come, nearest main town is Holbrook.

Reservations: not sure, we didn't

Cell Coverage / WiFi: 3G on Verizon wifi

Price Paid: $14 cash self-registration, Spider Rock campground is $10

Date of visit: 27 March 2015. The weather is beautiful, the days are sunny in the low 70’s, nights are chilly, around 40F. Warmer outside than in the trailer!

  • This is Navajo country, so you can't just go off walking by yourself
  • To make the most of your visit do one of the tours, then do the north rim drive and the south rim drive.
  • Unlike the rest of Arizona, they go onto daylight savings time
Would we come here again? Yes, if we wanted to see Canyon de Chelly again.

view of the campground

View of the campground

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700 year old Fixer Upper

Canyon de Chelly National Park, Arizona

When we arrived in Canyon de Chelly (d’shay) two weeks ago there had been a ranger talk that night and a ranger walk the next day, but because we couldn’t drive our truck we missed out on both of them. Now the next ranger walks are not for two weeks due to staff shortages, so we miss out again.

This national monument is on Navajo reservation land and observes daylight saving while the rest of Arizona does not. So we were a bit confused as to the right time to see sunrise and sunset. My photography app showed nearby towns with and a different current time and a different time for sunrise and sunset to what we had been told. Reality was somewhere in between.

People have lived here for over 5,000 years. The current inhabitants are the Navajo, who first arrived in 1700 only to be captured or killed before or during the long 300 mile walk of 1863 when the land now known as Arizona and New Mexico was taken from the Mexicans and became part of the US. In 1868 after internment in New Mexico they were allowed to return to their land only to find everything gone; crops were destroyed and animals had been killed by the US army. Trading posts helped them recover, giving them guidance and a place to trade their wares.

Between 750-1300, the Pueblo changed housing from dispersed hamlets to villages. These are the ruins that are still found here today. They raised turkeys, grew cotton and made beautiful pottery. Villages allowed social interaction, trade and ceremonies to take place.
There are two drives here. The North rim drive, which is better in the morning, takes you to Antelope House overlook where you can see the Ledge Ruin, Antelope House Ruin and the Standing Cow Ruin. Further down the 17 mile trip is Mummy Cave Overlook where you can see Mummy Cave Ruin and Yucca Cave Ruin. The Mummy cave was inhabited up until the 1300’s by the Puebloan’s that came from the Mesa Verde about twenty years beforehand. They built the tower complex on the central ledge. Another road takes you to Massacre Cave where the Navajo were killed in 1805 by the Spanish.

Antelope House Ruin overlook
The South Rim Drive, which best in the afternoons, covers 19 miles with stops at Tsegi Overlook, Junction Overlook, White House Ruin and Spider Rock. We managed to find and photograph the ruins at Junction Overlook as they had metal tubes pointing us in the right direction. Spider Rock is an 800 foot sandstone spire at the junction of Monument Canyon and Canyon de Chelly. 

White House Ruin

We had heard there were no walks that you could do on your own but there is one that takes you down to the White House Ruin. A pleasant one and a half mile walk down and a tiring one and a half mile back. Any sound near the ruins echoes back at you; this would have given the inhabitants of the village ample warning of danger arriving. The ruins are in two parts and the bottom rooms used to reach the bottom of the upper ones, then a ladder would have been used to enter.

Spider Rock is 800ft tall

On the way back from the canyon we spoke to one of the rangers which really helped the climb uphill as your mind was elsewhere. It can snow right up until April, which then feeds the rivers and streams running through the canyon in spring. They had some rain and snow a few weeks ago; which is probably why the area is so green. There are small farmer’s houses dotted around the canyon floor, which look abandoned but are not. There are about one hundred farmers who still use the land down here raising sheep, planting corn and growing peaches. Every now and then, they complain that the wild horses are raiding their orchards, so the horses are rounded up and taken elsewhere. The farmers live above the canyon floors where their houses have electricity and running water and come down to work on their land during the day, it is all accessible by vehicle as there are tracks everywhere. The younger generation are not interested in working the land, so it won’t last forever. At all the stops along the rims there are people selling their art work, mostly pictures on bits of rock and jewelry despite the signs saying no vendors allowed. Down near the white house there was also pottery similar to what the Puebloan’s made centuries ago. 

These dwellings are high up the cliff face

On the way up we passed a group of people with shovels, racks and other implements and we asked them if they were the gardening party, but we didn’t get a straight answer. The ranger said they were volunteers from all over the country. Here to maintain the trails and cover the shortcuts children take that cause erosion etc. 

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2 April 2015

Lightroom processing for newbies

You've taken some photos, now what?

Adobe Lightroom is a lot cheaper and less complicated than Photoshop and will give you great results. I put off changing from Camera RAW to Lightroom for years, I am so glad I changed. I still find Photoshop better for cloning and removing unwanted items, but the majority of work can be done in Lightroom.

A great learning tool are You Tube clips. Just type in what you want to know e.g. Lightroom catalog. You will learn a lot.

The Catalog
The hardest thing to come to terms with is the Catalog - it is where all the information regarding your changes are held. The Catalog files are located under Pictures/Lightroom and will start with the words: Lightroom 5 Catalog unless you have given it a unique name.

The first task is to import your pictures. When you open Lightroom, click the Library tab. Then click the Import button at the bottom left hand side of the screen or choose file/import photos or videos.

Then you need to work through the top bar:

  • Start at the far left From- under Source - drill down and find the folder where the files are - they can be on the hard drive or an external drive - USB, CF or SD card
  • In the middle is the How, choose 'move' or 'copy as DNG' to put the files on your C drive in the right place


  • Far right is the To. Click on the arrows and choose a folder, you can create a new one on the fly, otherwise they will all be put under Pictures and this will become a unmanageable mess.
  • In the bottom right hand corner click the Import button
  • On the top toolbar, click Library, then click on the first photo you want to process
  • Press D or Develop on the top toolbar
  • Work your way through the tabs, for ideas see my development process below
  • If you work on multiple computers, you can export your catalog to an external drive - File/Export as Catalog. Give it a name and choose a location. If you want do this, I would recommend creating separate Catalog's as it exports all the photos related to the catalog.
  • If you move these files in finder, Lightroom won't be able to access them. You will need to go into the Library, right click on the folder and find where you moved the folder to. If the folder is there but you can't see the photos, right click and choose synchronise.

My normal workflow is something like this:

  • Download all the RAW photos onto the laptop. RAW allows you to get back data otherwise lost in a jpeg file. Jpegs have already been "processed" by your camera. RAW allows you to create your own personal interpretation. New camera phones are now giving you the option to take pictures in RAW too.
  • I rate them in Adobe Bridge - 1 for delete 3 for keep, then filter all the 1's and delete them from disk. Don't keep them or you will end up with millions of photos you never go back to. Be ruthless! If you don't have Bridge then just import them straight into Lightroom.
  • Depending on how many there are, I will either convert them to DNG with Adobe's DNG program (free) if I have a lot or import them into Lightroom as DNG's if I don't have many as they take longer this way.
  • Process each photo (see Developing process below), saving and changing the rating to 5* when they are finished. If a photo needs extra editing in Photoshop, I will make the original file a 2* and the Tif file it creates a 5*. Any photos that I decide are not worth keeping are given a 1*. I then set the filter to show all the 1*'s and press x for reject. Then delete all the rejected ones from disk. (see below)
  • Add metadata - if I remember!
  • Because there are two of us, I colour code all mine to blue and green to the others to make it easier to allocate the correct signature when making web files
  • Filter all the 5*'s and select them all, rename the photos to reflect the collection they are part of.
  • I have three saved export presets. One for iPad size files, one for the Web - both of these are saved as sRGB with a size of 1024px limited to 150kb; the web ones include a signature. The last one is for full size Jpegs.

My normal Lightroom Developing process:

  • From the library, press D to Develop (to work on the picture)
  • If it needs cropping, do the Lens Correction first (see below). Then crop it. It is the broken lined square above the basic tab.
  • Using the Basic tab, check the white balance with the eyedropper, choose one of the presets (cloudy) or just move the temperature. Depending on the picture, decrease the highlights, increase the shadows, while holding down the alt key, increase the whites (slide it right) until some colour shows through the black. Do the same with the blacks (but slide left).
  • If the sky is too blue, go to HSL and increase the vibrance of the blues or maybe decrease the saturation or see "bringing back a sky" below.
  • Go to Lens corrections and on the basic tab, click enable profile correction and remove chromatic aberration. If the picture is wonky, click "auto" to straighten and transform. If this doesn't work, try the manual tab.
  • The Detail tab is where you sharpen. Depending on the amount of cropping you have done, slide up to 90%. Move the Luminance noise reduction to about 10%, then while holding down the alt key, move the masking slider to the right until you see a fair amount of contrast between the whites and blacks.
the original photo was taken to preserve the highlights

  • Save (Cmd S) and press 5 to give it a 5* rating, reminding you that you have completed it.
  • Go back to the workflow instructions above to add metadata, rename, export.

Bringing back a sky

  • Process the photo as normal (see Lightroom developing process above)
  • When using a graduated filter (4th one along above the Basic tab, it looks like a rectangle) to reduce the exposure on the sky, you probably will darken other things such as mountains. 
  • Drag the graduated filter just down from the top to the bottom of the sky 
  • Increase the shadows while still editing the graduated filter to bring some light back. Add contrast, saturation, reduce highlights etc as needed.

If any of this doesn't make sense, please let me know so that I can change it.