The Fantastic Four Corners, Part I

Standing high above the Utah desert, eye-catching Sixshooter Peak is the calling card

Standing high above the Utah desert, eye-catching Sixshooter Peak is the calling card
of the Needles section in Canyonlands National Park.

Story & photos by Jerry Ginsberg

The Land

In only one place in all of America do four states come together. The perfect right-angled corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet at one spot in the desert of the great Southwest. That spot has become quite a tourist attraction. Here you’ll find a platform from which to take snapshots of fellow tourists straddling the many state lines, the local Navajo offer souvenirs, crafts and lots of artery clogging fry bread and Navajo tacos.

For Nature photographers like us, this little speck on the map is noteworthy because it is the center of some of the most stunning landscapes on Earth. Surrounding this tiny spot are no fewer than thirteen National Parks totaling almost 3,000,000 acres as well as many state and tribal parks.

Often overlooked Fairyland Point in snow and fog at the north end of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Often overlooked Fairyland Point in snow and fog at the north end of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The Route

A circular itinerary through the Four Corners region has long been called the Grand Circle. It’s one big loop. Since such a trip can be very extensive, you might want to break it up into bite sized chunks of more than one photo trip.

We can design a logical itinerary in any of several ways. For example, by state, by proximity or simply by highlights, while including some places and skipping others.

Just for the purposes of this column, let’s consider segmenting the whole area by state. It is certainly easy to combine portions of two or more states depending upon how much time you are able to devote to a major photo trip like this.

Your route can work equally well traveling either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Since I seem to have almost always done it in a clockwise direction, I’ll describe it that way.

One of the most stunning hoodoos anywhere, the ochre colored pinnacle dubbed Thor’s Hammer rises high above Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park.

One of the most stunning hoodoos anywhere, the ochre colored pinnacle dubbed Thor’s Hammer rises high above Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Utah

Setting out from the prime gateway airport of Las Vegas, head north up I-15 toward Zion National Park in the Southwest corner of Utah.

It’s an easy matter to loop across Utah from west to east through Zion and tiny Bryce Canyon National Parks sprawling Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument long and narrow Capitol Reef National Park (NANPA – June, 2016) and on to Moab, gateway to both stunning Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Right next to the must-see Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park is Dead Horse Point State Park, definitely worth both a sunrise and evening.

South of Moab you’ll find Natural Bridges National Monument (worthy of at least two mornings) and Hovenweep National Monument. From Natural Bridges, it’s a short drive to sprawling Monument Valley Tribal Park with its many fantastic red rock formations.

The Dilemma

If there is a problem with planning a photo trip such as this, it is one closely related to pesky syndromes such as eating potato chips or pulling weeds in the garden; it’s so hard to stop! There’s always another one – and it’s so close by.

Just past Hovenweep is historic Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, just a bit past popular Zion is isolated Toroweep Point and the spectacular North Rim of the Grand Canyon and on and on throughout all four states.

Probably the most under-rated of all the ancient structures in Mesa Verde National Park, Balcony House looks best in the first light of early morning.

Probably the most under-rated of all the ancient structures in Mesa Verde National Park, Balcony House looks best in the first light of early morning.

Colorado

A completely different option is starting from Denver and making a circuit through Colorado, a place with a look very different from that of contiguous Utah, but a land with just as much glorious natural beauty. Colorado boasts four national parks, just one less than Utah and a host of other gorgeous places to photograph.

These four parks are arranged in a virtual rectangle within the larger rectangular shape of the Centennial State.

The best fall color can usually be found here in the Front Range of the Rockies in late September and in some years stretching into early October. The area surrounding Telluride and Ridgeway is simply loaded with quaking aspen groves and stunning mountain shapes which combine for an endless variety of thrilling compositions. 

One of the real gems of Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake glistens just after sunrise.

One of the real gems of Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake glistens just after sunrise.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Closest to Denver is Rocky Mountain National Park. This great park offers many rugged mountains, sparkling Alpine lakes, rushing waterfalls and lots of wildlife. It might take months to cover it thoroughly, but with a week’s effort, you should be able to come away with many wonderful images.

To start with, Sprague, Bear, Dream and Emerald Lakes, close to the really neat gateway town of Estes Park, are all excellent sunrise locations. In Estes you can tour the venerable Stanley Hotel, scene of the classic Jack Nicholson movie “The Shining.”

The many mountain vistas of the Morraine Park section of RMNP are stunning, but for real excitement, drive the length of Trail Ridge Road, one of the highest and certainly most spectacular roads in America. The views will look markedly different when driving in both directions.

Not far south of Denver is Colorado Springs featuring the Garden of the Gods with dramatic red rocks and great views of Pike’s Peak.

After crossing the small Medano Creek bed, the Great Sand Dunes loom before you. Sunrise is the best time to capture the contrasts that make dune photographs dramatic and successful.

After crossing the small Medano Creek bed, the Great Sand Dunes loom before you.
Sunrise is the best time to capture the contrasts that make dune photographs dramatic and successful.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

In the San Luis Valley close to Alamosa in the southeast part of the state you’ll find Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. These seven hundred foot tall dunes lie just beneath the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the serrated Crestone Needles. They are wonderful right at sunrise when the play of light and shadow creates an endless variety of patterns on their sensuously undulating forms. As with all such sand forms, once the sun gets a little higher, the contrasts are lost and the scene becomes rather flat.

Once you walk across the steam bed of Medano Creek, many of the best compositions are to be found toward the left as you face the dunefield. Climbing up through the sand will certainly be your cardio workout for the day.

World famous Cliff Palace was the first of the ancient structures discovered by two cowboys in 1888. It was built around 1200 C.E. and remains the largest such complex ever found.

World famous Cliff Palace was the first of the ancient structures discovered by two cowboys in 1888. It was built around 1200 C.E. and remains the largest such complex ever found.

Mesa Verde National Park

After driving west from here, pass charming Durango for now (see below) and head for Mesa Verde National Park, the very first national park established to protect the works of man, rather than those of nature. Don’t miss touring Wetherill Mesa (road open in summer only). Buy tickets in advance for Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House. Cliff Palace photographs best in late afternoon light; the other two in the morning; the first tour of the day is ideal for both. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Take a few days to explore the many fascinating ancient buildings and communities of the long vanished Chacoan people of Mesa Verde. Then head north to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

It’s not called a black canyon for nothing. These walls with their many ribbons of stone are as close to jet black as you’ll find anywhere. This presents a challenge in resolving the resulting high contrast ratios. Bright, high overcast light that opens up the deep shadows will be a great help. Absent that, you might want to employ some HDR. Shoot a very wide bracket. There’s no harm in going to seven, nine or more frames from one end of the scale to the other; perhaps at 1.5 stop increments.

Even though today’s HDR software offers improved alignment functions, I would attempt such a wide bracket only when using a good, solid tripod in order to avoid camera movement.

When tone mapping your Black Canyon images in HDR software, try using a light touch, come away with a fairly flat image that encompasses the entire tonal range and do the rest in Photoshop. Otherwise, you risk producing files that could look over-processed and scream ‘HDR.’

Most of your shooting along the well paved south rim park road will be from the many overlooks. Make sure to stop at the Painted Wall. A couple of trails start right along the road and descend into the canyon itself.

When exploring the unpaved, but maintained road along the north rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, don’t miss shooting as late in the day as possible at the spot aptly named ‘Exclamation Point!’ Seriously.

Park at the little ranger station for the easy walk of a mile or so each way.

Towering Pike’s Peak is framed by the redrock forms known as the Siamese Twins in the sprawling and ethereal Garden of the Gods right outside Colorado Springs.

Towering Pike’s Peak is framed by the redrock forms known as the Siamese Twins in the sprawling and ethereal Garden of the Gods right outside Colorado Springs.

More

In addition to these four great national parks, there are several other locations in the Centennial State that you won’t want to miss. Among these are:

* Colorado National Monument is on the edge of Grand Junction and right near the Utah state line. Be careful not to include the city lights in your composition. A little fog will help and increase the drama of your images.

* The Maroon Bells: A short drive from Aspen, CO. Be there well before sunrise, find a spot along the edge of the lake and wait for the light to arrive.

* The area around Ridgeway is chock full of spectacular scenes. Explore some of the many byways and unpaved tracks through the San Juan Mountains. Among these is Last Dollar Road. You will be rewarded with a riot of colors and forms, sometimes blending, sometimes contrasting with each other. The patchwork of quaking aspens covered with blazing fall color is an embarrassment of riches.

To travel many of these remote roads, it’s a good idea to be driving a 4 wheel vehicle with high clearance, especially after a rain when these roads quickly become very sloppy.

* Mt. Sneffels: Look for the great pullout right along the northbound lane of Rt. 550 south of Ridgeway. Shooting from this pullout, especially when the autumn color is at or near its peak, is so easy, it can make one feel guilty. Almost.

This stunning Colorado fourteener is a great mountain to climb and is very popular with peak baggers and highly skilled heli-skiers.

* Crested Butte – Wildflower Capital of Colorado. July is best. Bring lots of insect repellent.

* The Durango-Silverton Railroad.  If you have never enjoyed this fun experience, board the historic steam powered train in Durango for the full day roundtrip to Silverton. Better yet, try to be there during the few days in autumn, generally the third or fourth week of September, when this venerable line offers special photography trips.

On those runs, the engineer stops the train several times at spots along the route featuring maximum color, photographers disembark and set up a short distance from the tracks. The railroad crew then runs the empty train back and forth a bit with the funnel spewing steam and ash with the autumn foliage as a background.

It can be glorious!

These special outings are held on just two weekends per year and usually limited to just 70 folks so reserve early.

That pretty much covers the highlights of Utah and Colorado. We haven’t even touched on the best of enchanted New Mexico and spectacular Arizona. Let’s save that for another day.

Each of the tourist friendly towns mentioned offers a wide variety of lodging and dining options. Some of my favorite Mexican food is in Crested Butte.

 

Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published photographer whose landscape, Nature and travel images have graced the covers pages of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. He has been awarded Artist Residencies in several National Parks and his works have been exhibited from coast to coast and have received numerous awards in competition. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.

More of Ginsberg’s images are on display at www.JerryGinsberg.com

Or e mail him at jerry@jerryginsberg.com

Season of the Cherry Blossoms: Creative Ways to Photograph One of the Crown Jewels of Spring

 

Cherry Esplanade, "Kwanzan" Prunus Serrulata, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, NY

Cherry Esplanade, “Kwanzan” Prunus Serrulata, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, NY

Story & photos by F. M. Kearney

To celebrate the nations’ growing friendship, Japan gifted the United States with a little over 3,000 cherry blossom trees in 1912. Considered the national flower of Japan, these trees were planted in New York City and Washington, DC. Since then, thousands of other trees have been planted in several other cities – delighting millions of admirers in annual Cherry Blossom Festivals across the country.

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Beneath the Surface: Photographing Texas Wildflowers

Bluebonnets, Terry Hershey Park, Bee

Bluebonnets, Terry Hershey Park, Bee.

Story and photos by Theresa DiMenno

In the natural world, beneath the surface speaks to what is concealed or goes unnoticed. It bestows a sense of wonder, reverence or deep connection. In photography, it refers to moving in closer and being intimate with a scene. Observing a monarch butterfly emerge from a chrysalis is a transformative experience. Watching a bee extract nectar from the wing petal of a bluebonnet is an exquisite example of the interconnectedness of life. Look closely at the veins of a flower petal. Notice the gentle arc of prairie grass swaying in the late afternoon light.

I’ve been aware of the power of nature since I was a three year old, lying on my back in the gravel driveway of our San Antonio home, watching clouds pass across the sun. I knew with certainty when the daylight changed its tone that it would return with a profusion of light sweeping across the landscape. I didn’t know why, I just knew the light would return. I’ve been watching clouds and light ever since those very early beginnings.

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Cruising Along The Eastern Sierras

The highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, at 14,496 feet, serrated Mt. Whitney rises among the mountains of the Eastern Sierra.

The highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, at 14,496 feet, serrated Mt. Whitney rises among the mountains of the Eastern Sierra.

Story and photos by Jerry Ginsberg

Overview

When most of us think of the spectacular Sierra Nevada range that forms the spine of east-central California, we tend to visualize the towering gray granite peaks and domes of Yosemite National Park. For a long time, my association was no different. It took several years, but eventually, I discovered the many facets of the Sierras beyond Yosemite.

Running on a north-south axis through the Golden State, the eastern escarpment of the Sierras provides a stunning backdrop to some of the finest photography in the West.

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Winter in Yellowstone with Daniel J. Cox

2019 Winter in Yellowstone Photography Tour – Photograph the “Winter Wonderland” of Yellowstone National Park in the comforts of a private luxury snow coach with wildlife photographer Daniel J. Cox.

Along the snowy trails, we’ll stop to photograph the beautiful landscapes and mountain vistas surrounded by steamy geysers, along with a variety of wildlife, including the majestic elk, mammoth bison, coyotes, swans, and bald eagles. These creatures, big and small, find warmth near many of the thermal areas, creating unique and stunning imagery. We’ve had some years with great wolf viewing and hope to have similar opportunities again in 2019.

In the Frame of Things: Using Natural Frames to Emphasize Your Subject

Snow-covered branches frame urban landscape of Central Park, New York, NY.

Snow-covered branches frame urban landscape of Central Park, New York, NY.

Story and photos by F. M. Kearney

Making a subject stand out is the primary goal of all photographers. There are a number of ways to accomplish this and your subject matter will usually dictate the best method. Common techniques may include special lighting, subject placement, extreme angles or contrasting colors. If you delve into the world of digital imaging, your choices will be virtually unlimited. But, if you prefer to keep your images looking as natural as possible, you may want to stick with the in-camera methods.

One of my favorite ways to highlight a subject is to place it within a natural frame. This might consist of leaves, flowers, bushes … just about anything nearby that you can find to encircle your subject. In the opening photo above, I used the snow-covered branches to frame the distant buildings in this Central Park winter scene. Besides serving as decorative foreground elements, they were a great way to cover up the dead space of a white, featureless sky.

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Photographing the Canadian Rockies

Just one of Canada’s innumerable peaks, the last light of day shows this one to its best advantage.

Just one of Canada’s innumerable peaks, the last light of day shows this one to its best advantage.

Story and Photos by Jerry Ginsberg

Overview

Our American West is sprinkled with many spectacular national parks. Even a quick glance at the map will reveal that these preserves of nature are just islands in a sea of a burgeoning population surrounded by spreading towns and cities that often press against many of the parks’ very borders.

In sharp contrast, our Canadian neighbors have a nation of almost exactly the same size as the U.S., but with only about one tenth of our population. As a result, they enjoy roughly ten times more elbow room. With the exception of relatively small pockets of people, western Canada enjoys lots of wide open spaces. As long as we bring our passports along, those fine folks will let us share their pristine parks and vast wilderness.

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The Color of Winter: Techniques to Enhance Winter Photos

The Pool frozen over at sunrise Central Park New York, NY

The Pool frozen over at sunrise, Central Park, New York, NY (HDR compilation of 5 images).

Story & photography by F.M. Kearney

That time is quickly approaching. That time of year when many photographers will pack away their gear and patiently wait for the first colorful blooms next spring. Yet, winter isn’t completely devoid of color, as some might assume. In fact, if you carefully plan what you shoot and when you shoot, you may be surprised at the amount of color you can coax out of this often-overlooked season.

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From the Archives: Add Scale to Your Grandscapes by Kerrick James

© Kerrick James

This story was originally published in 2015.  Good advice for today!  DL

Story & Photography by Kerrick James

 

Like many of us, my love of photography began with the wild landscape. My early years were spent emulating icons like Ansel Adams, David Muench, and Eliot Porter. I followed the grand landscape dream all over the American West, and after years of chasing light and doing “pure” landscapes with no signs of humanity whatsoever, I began to feel a little boxed in, as if I was repeating my favorite lighting formulas everywhere I went, and missing something I could sense, but not see. Continue reading

From the Archives – On Screwing Up by Gary Crabbe

From the Editor:  As pointed out in Gary Crabbe’s post on making mistakes, this is something that we all do.  With the myriad of settings available on today’s sophisticated digital cameras, it’s easier than ever.  This post appeared four years ago, and the lesson is as relevant today as it was then.  DL

Story and Photograph by Gary Crabbe

Morning light on sandstone cliffs reflected in the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend, near Pag, Arizona

Morning light on sandstone cliffs reflected in the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend, near Page, Arizona. © Gary Crabbe/Enlightened Images

Even professionals screw up every now and again. We may not brag about it in public, but rest assured, we make mistakes just like everyone else.

The photo above may not look like a total screw-up, but it is. It’s a multi-row, nearly 40-frame panoramic image shot with my Nikon D800. Continue reading