When I saw this sunrise at Badlands National Park during my recent road trip, I knew it was going to be impossible to take only one photo that would take into account the bright and colorful rising sun shining intensely over everything, and the hills that were only a third as bright. So I took three shots: overexposed, underexposed, and normal. Today, using Photomatix HDR software, I got the following result.
Following is my entry to this challenge: nighttime photo of Bixby Bridge on Highway 1 south of Carmel, CA.
The link to the challenge is: http://abstractlucidity.com/2015/10/28/shannons-creative-photo-challenge-nighttime/
This is the last of the “Additional Photos” posts on the road trip I undertook in September and October. It is fitting that it covers Mesa Verde National Park, near the town of Cortez, CO. The park is not about scenery but about the fascinating history and archaeology of those who lived in the area before the arrival of the white man and western civilization.
A variety of people have lived for 13,000 years in the Mesa Verde area. They started as small groups of nomadic hunter gatherers, but around 1000 BCE they began cultivating corn to supplement their hunting diet. They weaved baskets and dug into the earth to build pithouses. Agriculture allowed population to increase, and by 750 CE the ancestral Puebloans (the politically correct name for the Anasazi) began building entire pueblos above ground with houses, some with many rooms, and kivas or ceremonial rooms.
However, Mesa Verde is better known for the cliff dwellings which the ancestral Puebloans did not begin to build until the 12th century. They only lived in those cliff houses for about 100 years, abandoning them at the end of the 13th century, following extended periods of drought that led to warfare and forced people to emigrate or die from starvation. The descendants of the ancestral Puebloans now live in Southern Arizona and New Mexico.
Ancestral Puebloans cultivated their lands on the top of the mesa above their houses. So how did they go from their cliff dwellings to their fields, or move from one level to another? They used ropes and ladders, or carved climbing steps in the sandstone. At the new Visitor Center of Mesa Verde, there is a statue by sculptor Edward J. Fraughton depicting an “ancient one” descending a narrow column of sandstone while carrying a basket of corn.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison near the town of Montrose in Colorado only became a National Park in 1999, but it has been known over a century for its rugged features, steep and narrow walls, and impassable nature.
In 1853 Captain John W. Gunnison led an expedition to explore it and described it as “a stream imbedded in [a] narrow and sinuous canyon, resembling a huge snake in motion.” A few months later, his party was attacked by a band of Utes, and he was among eight who were killed. The canyon river was renamed in his honor.
I took the following photos from the overlooks on the South Rim drive of the park.
The entire canyon is 48 miles (77 km) in length, but only the deepest and most dramatic 12 miles (19 km) are within the national park boundaries. The canyon is deep and steep because the Gunnison runs rather fast through it, dropping an average of 34 feet per mile (6.4 m/km) compared to the Colorado River at Grand Canyon which averages 7.5 feet per mile (1.42 m/km). Because of its almost vertical walls, sunlight only reaches the bottom of the canyon for 33 minutes a day, giving rise to the name of Black Canyon. However, the rocks on the canyon walls are varied in colors, not black.
Due to the rate at which the river cuts through the rocks, Black Canyon is also a very narrow canyon. At Chasm View, only 1,100 feet (335 m) separate the North and South rims.
Between 1905 and 1909, a 5.8 mile (9.3 km) diversion tunnel was dug to channel water from the Gunnison River to the Uncompahgre Valley. The tunnel currently helps irrigate 76,300 acres of the valley which produces fruit and many crops, including Moravian malting barley used in Colorado’s Coors beer.
As we hiked up to Warner Point, I took the following photo of lush fields in the Bostwick Park mesa with the Uncompaghre Valley and the San Juan mountain range in the background.
Final stop was Sunset View point. I had hoped for a nice sunset, but a large black cloud loomed ominously. Still Sunset View yielded an interesting shot.
Painted Desert covers an area 120 miles long by 60 miles wide (190 by 97 km) starting from Cameron, AZ, near Grand Canyon National Park, and extending past Holbrook, AZ. It was discovered in the 16th century by Spanish explorers who named it “El Desierto Pintado”.
Most of Painted Desert now lies within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. A small part of it is within Petrified Forest National Park, divided by Interstate 40 into northern and southern parts. Petrified Forest of course contains many deposits of petrified wood, although a lot of it had been looted and carried away before the place became a National Monument in 1906 and a National Park in 1962.
Painted Desert lies within the Chinle Formation which consists of sedimentary rocks dating back 200 million years ago. Its colors range from red, orange, and yellow to blue, lavender, and purple, depending on the rate at which minerals were deposited. Rapid deposits lead to colors like lavender, blue, gray while slower deposits produce the red and yellow seen in the northern part of the park.
People have lived in Painted Desert for as long as 13,000 years and have left their imprints on the landscape. Ancestral Puebloans built houses, entire villages, and carved petroglyphs on rocks. I took the following photos at Newspaper Rock, which is not one rock but several containing as many as 650 petroglyphs.
Visitors were not allowed to walk down to the rocks, and high noon lighting was not the best, but the petroglyphs were still clearly visible.
Finally, the Wigwam Motel where we stayed is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1950 and its accommodations are rather austere by today’s standards, but it was really striking and the price was right!
Canyon de Chelly (Chelly comes from the Navajo word Tseyi) National Monument is located within land of the Navajo Nation in Northeast Arizona. It is here that in 1864 Kit Carson managed to defeat the Navajo warriors and forced 8,500 Navajo men, women, and children to migrate to a reservation near Fort Sumner in New Mexico.
The Long Walk took place in the winter of 1864 over 300 miles. Some died on the way, while many others perished on the reservation due to disease, famine, and in general poor management of the reservation by the US government. In 1868 the Navajos were allowed to return to Canyon de Chelly. A few still live there, but more than 300,000 Navajos are now spread out over the 27,413 square miles (over 7 million hectares) of the Navajo Nation in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
By the time we went through Moab, UT, I had driven through two thirds of our planned itinerary, and the wow factor was slowly yielding to road weariness. We had been to the area already and knew some of the sights so we only made brief stops.
Dead Horse Point State Park is one of my favorites and you can probably see why from the following very popular shot of the Colorado River as it flows south to merge with the Green River in Canyonlands National Park. The name of the park comes from the legend that some horses corralled on the point were somehow left to die of thirst within sight of the river 2000 ft below them.
We went through the town of Moab on our way to our next stop in Arizona. Right by Highway 191, some 24 miles from Moab was Wilson Arch, easily accessible to anyone. I was told that unwary tourists have been misled by dishonest tour bus guides who took them to see Wilson Arch, since it was right by the side of the road, then told them they had been to Arches National Park!
On the way from Capitol Reef National Park to Green River, UT, we stopped by Goblin Valley State Park which merits a post all by itself. It lies north of Hanksville, UT off Highway 24. It is not a very big park as it covers only 3.6 acres (1.5 ha), but it is worth a visit. Nearby there are camping sites and even a couple of yurts. Families with young children favor this park as it is very accessible to the younger ones who can roam freely throughout the area.
From Hanksville the drive is 32 miles long to get to the park entrance where the majestic Wild Horse Butte dominates.
Inside the park are thousands of hoodoos or phantasmagorical rock formations unseen elsewhere. A movie, Galaxy Quest, was filmed at Goblin Valley because of the fantastic, out-of-this-world scenery.
This last photo helps explain where those “goblins” came from.
The hoodoos at Goblin Valley are made of Entrada Sandstone, the same rocks found at Arches National Park and in Cathedral Valley section of Capitol Reef National Park. All of these places are on what is considered the Colorado Plateau. In the Jurassic period, some 170 million years ago, Goblin Valley was the tidal flat of an ancient sea where sandstone, siltstone, and shale were deposited and transformed into solid layers of rocks. The Colorado Plateau started to be uplifted 10 million years ago, after which erosion by wind and water began carving Entrada Sandstone into goblins. Erosion is continually changing Goblin Valley and those hoodoos or goblins will continue to be born, shaped and weathered and eventually fall down to the valley.
Capitol Reef National Park, near Torrey in Utah, owes its name to two of its natural features: whitish rock formations that look like the Capitol dome in Washington, DC; and the giant Waterpocket Fold that stretches from North to South making the rock walls pushed up from the earth look like reefs. There was no easy way to cross the area from East to West until Highway 24 was built in 1962.
I drove on the paved section of Notom Road which ran for 34 miles (54 km) on the East side of Capitol Reef. That’s where the Waterpocket Fold rock wall stretching for miles was clearly visible.
Despite these geologic obstacles, Mormon pioneers began settling in the area in the late 1870’s. They established a community named Fruita along the Fremont River, planted fruit trees and raised animals. Fruita is now within the park boundaries and the Mormons have been bought out and moved away, but the orchards are still productive with about 3,000 trees. In season, visitors can pick and eat fruit for free, or pay a small fee if they take it home.
The Gifford family was the last family to be bought out by the government in 1969. Their house now serves as a museum where souvenirs, fruit pies, and ice cream are sold!
The following morning, the sun put on a beautiful sunrise. I took these photos from the hotel which was only 2 miles from Capitol Reef.
Going from Great Basin National Park to Capitol Reef National Park, I drove on Scenic Byway 12 (Highway 12) in Utah. It was one of the best drives I had ever experienced. It was 124 miles long, well paved, not too twisty, and goes through some of the most magnificent scenery in the world. We only stopped briefly at Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Boynton Overlook which was about midway, and I really think we should have spent more time and made more stops.
Bryce Canyon is one of the most photographed places on earth, and I’ve been there three times already. This fourth time, I went to Fairyland Point Overlook at the northern end of the park.
The views from Boynton Overlook on Highway 12 were simply spectacular, almost surreal.
For our visit to Great Basin National Park, we stayed in the town of Baker (population 68) in Nevada near the border with Utah. The best thing about Baker is that it is only 2 miles from the entrance to Great Basin. It has two motels, one restaurant that opens occasionally, and another one that you have to drive 6 miles to get to.
The day we arrived, a beautiful sunset put on a wonderful show.
The following day, Great Basin was in full splendor, its mountainsides covered with yellow aspens.
The Alpine Lakes Loop Trail at Great Basin takes you to two alpine lakes, Stella and Teresa. You start out at 9,800 ft (2,987 m) and climb about 600 ft (180 m) over 1.5 miles.
Bristlecone Pines are trees that live at high elevations, as high as 11,200 ft (3,400 m), in extremely harsh conditions with little rainfall, and can be thousands of years old. The two oldest trees are 5,065 and 4,847 years old, and their exact locations in the White Mountains of California are kept secret to prevent damage from vandals.
We saw Bristlecone Pines at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in Inyo county in California and at Great Basin National Park in Nevada. Both locations required arduous hikes, especially at Great Basin where the trail kept going up and up the slope of Mt Washington for 1.3 miles! However, it was all worth it.
While hiking the Discovery Trail at Schulman Grove, I saw a group of Japanese making a clothing commercial under a Bristlecone Pine.
At Great Basin National Park the Interpretive Trail at Bristlecone Pine Grove had signs explaining how the trees grew and died.
Bristlecone Pines do not hold the record for the oldest living trees. That honor belongs to a group of aspen trees cloned from a single tree, known as Pando or The Trembling Giant near Fish Lake in Utah. The clonal colony covers 106 acres (43 hectares), contains 40,000 trunks, all cloned from the same original tree. Its roots are estimated to be 80,000 years old.
Crater Lake near Klamath Falls in Oregon, is a lake confined within the caldera formed by the collapse of an old volcano, Mount Mazama, in the Cascades mountains. The lake has no river flowing into or out of it, and all the water it contains comes from rain and snow melt. Its current depth is 1,949 ft (594 m) making it one of the deepest lakes in the world. Its water is famous for its blue color, purity and clarity. By the way, they say the volcano under the lake still could erupt again.
The lake itself is at an elevation of 6,178 ft (1,833 m) while the caldera rims range from 7,000 to 8,000 feet (2,100 to 2,400 m). Driving to Crater Lake, I couldn’t help but notice that for the last 100 miles (160 km) or so, it was all uphill.
Because of a bicycle event on the day we visited Crater Lake, we were confined to about one quarter of the eastern rim drive, and thus lots of photo opportunities were lost to us. So I don’t have too many interesting additional photos other than these below.
Looking away from Crater Lake, I saw Mt Thielsen to the north. At 9,184 ft (2,799 m) its peak has been hit by lighting so frequently that it has earned the nickname “the lightning rod of the Cascades”.
Leaving Crater Lake after our shortened visit, we stopped at nearby Annie Creek Canyon to take a look. Almost immediately, a flock of Gray Jays, cousins of the Blue Jays we see in the East, mobbed us, perhaps looking for some food handout.
One of the nicest place I visited during this recent road trip was Kootenai Falls near Libby, MT. It was easily accessible, and the falls wild beauty was unmistakable. Parts of the movie The River Wild, a drama involving whitewater rafting, were filmed on the Kootenai River near the falls. Kootenai Falls drop 90 ft (27 m) in less than a mile, and their height is 30 ft (9 m), so rafting over the falls is not encouraged, but some kayakers have gone over them at their own peril.
As I walked along the falls, I saw something very appealing: Mountain Bluebells in a narrow crevice in the rocks.
In all the Western states we traveled through, the ubiquitous sagebrush grew along highways and everywhere else where most plants would not survive. I had to capture this sturdy icon of the West in the following shots.
Windmills too have sprouted in the wild, at places reputed to be windy, although I saw very few blades rotating when we passed by them.
A friend asked me whether I saw Mt Rainier and I said yes. However, on second thought, I never actually saw Mt Rainier because it was always shrouded in clouds both days we were there. I drove up twice to Paradise which was a mere 5,000 ft (1,500 m) from the summit, but it did not make any difference. All I saw were clouds.
However, the drive passed by Reflection Lakes, which made for wonderful photography. Here’s one of the lakes you can see from the road.
Another look at Reflection Lake, from a different angle.
We spent a total of a day and a half at Glacier National Park, not nearly enough, but we did manage to visit Two Medicine, Many Glacier, and drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road which roughly divides the park into northern and southern halves.
Our first afternoon was sunny but windy, with constantly shifting clouds. Aspens were near their fall colors peak.
The following day started with thick fog and a colorful sunrise near the town of St Mary, the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park.
In the Many Glacier area, the only decent shot I got was one of Lake Sherburne.
Going-to-the-Sun Road was a nice drive, despite the overcast sky. The following two shots give you a taste of what the scenery looked like from the road.
There were many waterfalls along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Even though they did not have as much water as in the spring, they still provided interesting views more appealing than the gloomy sky.
Finally, the highest waterfall in Glacier National Park: Bird Woman Falls. It is named not for Sacajawea, but for the wife of either Old Sun or Lone Walker.
A sign said Bird Woman Falls was 492 ft (150 m) tall, but the World Waterfall Database puts its height at 960 ft (293 m). That height includes an upper drop of 175 ft (53 m) seen near the top of the above photo, a larger tier of 560 ft (171 m), and a number of cascades between the two.
Here are some more photos I took at Badlands National Park near Wall, SD in early September.
The Badlands consist mainly of sedimentary rocks deposited from 26 to 75 million years ago. Erosion from rivers and streams began 500,000 years ago and is occurring at the rate of one inch per year. So this area is constantly changing from one year to the next, and it is estimated that it will be completely eroded in another 500,000 years.
Sedimentary rocks are friable. When you walk on them, it feels like walking on compacted sand that crumbles under your feet. People do hike trails that go up ridge lines so that they can explore and view the area from some height. Many fossils have been found in the various rock layers, and more fossils continue to be discovered as erosion uncovers them.
From September 7 to October 10 of this year, a friend and I completed a road trip that some have qualified as “lifetime”.
Over 33 days, I drove 9,714 miles (15,633 km) through 21 states. We successively visited the following places, and I’ve added links to the posts related to each so that you can click on them to view the photos taken at each location.
- Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water house in Mill Run, PA.
- Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.
- Shirley Welden Butterfly House (Calkins Nature Area) in Iowa Falls, IA.
- Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
- Mt Rushmore National Monument in South Dakota.
- Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.
- Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, Montana.https://neihtn.wordpress.com/2015/09/12/a-full-day/
- Glacier National Park in Montana.
- Kootenai Falls, in Libby, Montana.
- Mt Rainier National Park in Washington.
- Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
- Bodie in California.
- Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.
- Great Basin National Park in Nevada.
- Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
- Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.
- Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.
- Arches National Park in Utah.
- Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah.
- Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
- Canyon De Chelly National Monument in Arizona.
- Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
- Four Corners Monument in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado.
- Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.
- Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.
I took 3,021 photos and my friend probably took about the same number. Now that we are safely back home, I will go back through my files and comb through them for the more interesting shots worthy of being posted on this blog.
On our last day at Great Sand Dunes, a Bluebird flew and perched on an electric wire near where I stood. I had never seen one before, either back in New Jersey or out West, so I promptly pulled out my camera and took the following shot.
Today I spent from sunrise to sunset revisiting Great Sand Dunes National Park and taking photos to record what I saw.
From the Great Sand Dunes Lodge where we stayed, I went out before sunrise and saw the dunes in semi darkness. They were stark, almost uninviting.
Soon enough the sun rose over the Sangre De Cristo mountains, setting clouds (it had rained the night before) on fire.
Finally sunlight fell on the dunes, a scene I won’t ever forget.
Later on I went on a short hike up to an overlook point on a nearby hill. Clouds filled most of the sky, but once in a while enough sunlight came through to illuminate parts of the dunes.
As noon approached, the dunes revealed more and more of their beauty.
Later in the afternoon, I went back and walked toward the dunes, following hikers of all ages.
There were hikers on their way up to High Dune (650 ft) or even Star Dune (750 ft).
Some even ran down the slopes leaving trails of dust behind them.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is a very family friendly park. I saw parents with kids hiking along the mountain trails around the dunes, or running up the dunes and sliding or simply rolling down the slopes. In the spring and early summer, snow melt produces enough water for Medano Creek which runs right next to the dunes. The creek, with about a foot of water, is then a great playground for youngsters.
Today we went from Cortez to Mosca, both cities in Colorado, to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park, our last stop before heading home. It rained almost all the way, the first rainy day on our road trip. Up high in the mountains I could see aspen trees, their fall foliage muted by rain clouds and fog. As we came near Mosca, the sky brightened a bit. I saw two big fields of canola with yellow flowers stretching to the horizon.
Looking back the way we came, the other field was more subdued against a backdrop of rain clouds.
We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon and lost no time in going to the Great Sand Dunes. We got some maps, attended a ranger geology briefing, watched a movie, and still had time to take pictures of the dunes.
Mesa Verde National Park, near Cortez, CO, is different from all the other national parks I have visited up to now. It does not have dramatic scenery or breathtaking vistas. However, for the whole day today it has drawn me into the ancestral Puebloan architecture and their history of survival in one of the harshest environment of the American Southwest. They lived in Mesa Verde some 700 years from 550 to about 1300 before moving on further south. They left ruins of houses and sometimes of entire villages that archaeologists are still studying today.
I took over 200 photos, not all perfect mind you, and I hope the following will give you a taste of Mesa Verde if you haven’t been there yet.
We arrived at the Visitor and Research Center early to buy tickets for a ranger guided tour of the Balcony House.
Square Tower House, the tallest at Mesa Verde.
Miles driven to date: 7,370 miles.
Today we reversed our route and went from Montrose, CO to Cortez, CO in preparation for a visit to Mesa Verde National Park. What should have taken less than 3 hours became a more than 5 hours drive as we kept stopping to marvel at the fall colors and take pictures along Highways 550 and 145.
Trout Lake at 9,802 ft elevation, about 15 miles from Telluride, CO.
Historical footnote: Trout Lake is a natural lake that was dammed in the late 19th century to provide additional water for the Ames Hydro Electric Power plant near Ophir, CO. It became part of the AC/DC war between Thomas Edison, an advocate of DC current, who lost to George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla who were AC current promoters. Today we all use AC electricity.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison owes its name to the fact that its gorge only receives 33 minutes of sunlight each day. It is not as massive as the Grand Canyon, nor as deep. It is very narrow and its walls are the steepest of all the canyons I have ever seen.
There is no way to hike down from the rim to the bottom. One could drive down a steep road, with a 16% grade, to the east end of the canyon, but there is no trail there to hike into the canyon. So we confined our visit to driving on the south rim and we hiked short trails to 12 overlooks to take pictures.
The patterns in the above photo look to me like giant petroglyphs carved by nature. However, they were created a billion years ago when molten lava inserted itself into cracks in the pre-existing rocks. It then cooled and became like 3-dimensional paintings.
We left Holbrook, AZ to go to Montrose, CO for a planned visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. I drove over 400 miles, with a detour to the Four Corners Monument where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. Not much to see there.
Here’s one family posing for a photograph, with each person seated in one state.
The drive got really serious in Colorado between Cortez and Montrose, with many hairpin turns and a steady climb up the mountains. Fortunately aspens were at their height of fall colors and I stopped a couple times so that we can take pictures.