Antelope Canyon Photo Tour

Sunbeams. Antelope Canyon

On July 3 I found myself touring Antelope Canyon with camera and tripod in hand.

The slot canyons of the Southwest provide some remarkable photo opportunities. These canyons are often deep and narrow with red sandstone walls eroded into fantastic shapes by wind and water. Antelope Canyon is one of the more famous canyons and you need to book a tour with one of the tour operators that provide Navajo guides. We booked our tour several months ago through Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tour. The cost for the tour was $195 for a tour of two canyons; well worth the money. You can book a regular tour in which case you are limited to a hand-held camera or you can book a photo tour which requires a camera and tripod. Joann booked a regular tour for herself and a photo tour for me.

My photo tour started at 9:00 AM, and we were instructed to be at the tour headquarters 45 minutes early. For the regular tour no bags or backpacks are allowed, likewise for the photo tour you can take a camera and tripod, again no bags or backpacks. Some of the canyons are quite narrow and having a backpack would hinder movement. There is also a concern of scratching the canyon walls and leaving marks if you are carrying a backpack with a tripod. I arrived at the headquarters with my backpack, Nikon D800, and two lenses, a 14-24 and a 28-300, and a water bottle. I opted to shoot with the 14-24 on the advice that wider is better. I also had my little Sony RX100 in a holster on my belt. At 8:45 we climbed into an Hummer for a 15 minute ride up a sandy wash. A rather bumpy ride. Our first stop was Rattlesnake Canyon. I left my pack and water bottle in the car and grabbed my camera and tripod. Even if I had taken my second lens, changing lenses in the canyon is not advisable. There is a tremendous amount of dust, and the risk of getting dust on the sensor is quite high.

In the canyon the guides were very efficient at helping us get into position, a challenge with multiple photographers in the tight confines of the canyon. They broke us into groups and placed us in different rooms, while making sure we had time to capture a few images while they controlled the visitors on other tours.

It wasn’t far into the first canyon when I dropped my remote cable in the sand, and at that point it stopped working properly. I was able to get it to work off and on, but it was a bit frustrating. With the tour operating as it does, you have a limited time to capture images. Be advised to make sure you know your camera well and that your equipment is in good order with fully charged batteries. You will have little time to fiddle with camera once you are in the canyon.

Once we had traversed Rattlesnake Canyon we hiked over the canyon rim back to the Hummer and headed for Upper Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a very busy place with many tourists traversing the canyon with their guides. Even so, the tour operators all seem to cooperate to give the photo tour access to some of the more interesting rooms. They will put the photographers in position, halt traffic through a room and give you a couple of minutes to shoot. As noon approached the shafts of light beaming down into the canyon became the focus of the tour. The guides would throw sand in the air to help accentuate the shafts of light. A very dusty experience. Several of the photographers had wrapped their cameras in plastic bags to protect them from dusk. Probably a good idea. Next time I might take my camera raincoat for that purpose. This tour is best done close to the summer solstice when the sun is high in the sky, creating vertical shafts of light deep in the canyon.

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Taliesin West

Our travels took us to Taliesin West today. We had purchased tickets ahead of time since we were planning on being in Phoenix today for a family reunion. We booked the “Details Tour,” which was a two hour tour covering some of the details of the architecture. Photos are permitted on this tour, so it as a treat to capture photos with my little Sony RX100.

Frank Lloyd Wright established Taliesin West in 1937 as his winter home and school in the desert. Today it is the main campus of the School of Architecture at Taliesin. I was surprised to find that the buildings seem to be a bit rough hewn, which seems appropriate since the location was a laboratory for design and experimentation and much of the facilities were built by Frank Lloyd Wright’s students. The location was very remote at the time it was built and the design reflects Wright’s love of nature and philosophy about how design should interact with nature.

For anybody interested in architecture, design and nature this tour is a must.

 

 

Island in the Sky

Juniper and sky at Island in the Sky. Canyon Lands National Park.

I captured this image a couple of days ago, close to sunset at the Green River Overlook, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park.

“All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.”– T. K. Wipple, Study Out the Land

Up the Creek

On Sunday February 20, I paddled my kayak up San Rafael Creek, launching from Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor. The original plan was to meet with a number of fellow paddlers for a paddle across the bay.  With high winds predicted, crossing the bay did not sound like a wise thing to do, so I cancelled the organized paddle. Being the trip initiator though, I thought I should show up at the launch site to intercept anybody that might not have gotten the word about the cancellation.  No other kayaks showed up. From the launch site it’s just a short distance to San Rafael Creek, and for the most part, staying close to shore provides protection from the wind. I decided I would go on a solo paddle. I was wearing a full dry suit for protection should I end up in the water, my personal flotation device (PFD, lifejacket), and I had a marine VHF radio and cell phone which I keep in a Lifeproof case, along with my trusty little Olympus Tough TG-4 waterproof camera which has become my go-to camera for paddling. I was also curious to know how my new boat, the Pygmy Ronan, would handle in the wind. So I put my boat in the water, climbed in and took my time paddling up the creek as far as I could go. Being solo I was able to poke along and explore the yacht harbors and boats without having to keep up with the gang; free to do my own thing. Here are a few photos I captured along the way. Happy to report that the boat handled the wind better than I expected. Many kayaks tend to “weathercock” meaning they turn into the wind, which adds to the effort required to get the boat to go in the direction you want. Skegs and rudders are often used to correct for this. I’m thinking I may be fine without any modifications. Shortly after I returned to my launch site the wind picked up and I was happy to be off the water.  A round trip of 5.5 miles. If you are curious about just where it was I was paddling you can see my track here.

Paddle On

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Here’s a photo I captured yesterday at Horseshoe Bay as the morning fog was starting to dissipate. The three kayakers in the foreground were part of the Paddle Golden Gate Symposium, and event sponsored by California Canoe and Kayak. I participated in a workshop on “Forward Stroke Refinement.” When paddling with others recently, I’ve marveled at paddlers that can go great distances without their arms falling off, and I’m motivated to learn how to do that. Who would know how much technique can go into making a kayak go forward smoothly and efficiently?  On the very basic level, you just put your paddle in the water, use it as an anchor and drive the boat forward with your feet, using your hamstrings and obliques to power the boat. Sounds simple right?

Our class had 11 participants, with folks from Boston, Port Townsend, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and three world class coaches, Sean Morley, Chris Hipgrave and Marcel Bieg. I took a quick tally of the class rosters and figured there were well over 100 boats on the water with paddlers participating in 13 different workshops. Quite an amazing event. I’m off today, catching up on some work projects, and back tomorrow for “Traditional Skills & Rolling.” I may get wet tomorrow. Stay tuned!

 

Arches of the Alabama Hills

Following up from my previous post, after our Christmas morning breakfast of quiche, we broke camp and went about to explore some of the arches in the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills are  a collection of rocks and hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of the town of Lone Pine just off of US Route 395. The rocks here have eroded in such a way as to form some fantastic shapes and arches which lend themselves to some amazing photo opportunities with the background of the Sierra. This was a popular spot for filming movies in the 1940s and 50s and there is a Museum of Western Film History located in Lone Pine.

Our explorations took us on a short dog-friendly hike that went past several arches including the Mobius Arch, perhaps the most notable arch. This is an ideal location for early morning photography, with the morning light catching the Sierra.  By afternoon when the sun crosses the crest of the Sierra the mountains are back lit making photography more of a challenge.  If you wish to visit the arches you can find an on-line map here.  There are apparently hundreds of arches scattered throughout the area, but a handful are easy to access. A Google search also found a guidebook to 72 of the arches. You can also view more of the photos I captured here.

Christmas in the Alabama Hills

Christmas eve found us in the Eastern Sierra setting up camp in the Alabama Hills. There were four of us and two campers. Our son Aaron and his wife Serena joined us for the overnight camping trip, about 45 minutes south of their place in Big Pine. Part of our mission was to see if we could create a photo of our two campers worthy for Truck Camper Magazine’s calendar. It will remain to be seen if our photos make it into the calendar but we had fun scouting a location, setting up camp and creating photos. The location we picked had a view of the crest of the Sierra’s with the peak of Mount Whitney visible to the west and an outcropping of granite boulders to the east, hiding some of the other campers in the area.

The Alabama Hills is a recreation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Open to camping year round. Dog friendly and free of charge. There are no facilities though, so bring your own water.  Inclined to be hot in summer, we had mild winter temperatures, with the thermometer recording a low of 39 degrees overnight.

We’ve recently discovered Dutch Oven cooking and we put our oven to use cooking a savory Christmas eve dinner of chicken and rice. with chunks of chicken breast wrapped in thinly sliced ham and bacon. Breakfast was quiche with ham left over from an early Christmas dinner a couple of days earlier when our daughter and her husband rendezvoused with us on their way to Utah.