Tag Archives: nature

Dry Mud and Sand

Dry Mud and Sand
Dry, cracked mud on top of red sand under reflected canyon light, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Dry Mud and Sand. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. October 25, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Dry, cracked mud on top of red sand under reflected canyon light, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

I almost titled this photograph, “Another Photograph of Mud.” But I have resisted that temptation, and once again used a simple more or less objective title. But, indeed, this is almost a photographic type when it comes to the Southwest, and one that is awfully difficult to pass up. These formations come about when silt-laden water rushes down desert canyons, washes, and streams, leaving behind a layer of very wet silt. The layer may be thin, as it was in this case, or it may be quite thick. In one narrow canyon last year I slipped into such silt-mud and it almost seemed like there was not bottom!

I’m not sure quite what explains our fascination with these formations. Is it because they are among the most transient features of the physical landscape, disappearing and then reforming every time it rains? Is it the patterns themselves, which can have a wonderful geometric quality and, at the same time, embody a randomness? Is it the combination of the colors of the material, which can range from white through black with many colors in between, and the reflected canyon light? Possibly it is all of these things and more.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


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Fall Foliage, Sandstone Canyon

Fall Foliage, Sandstone Canyon
The colors of fall foliage and red sandstone canyon rock, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Fall Foliage, Sandstone Canyon . Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. October 22, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

The colors of fall foliage and red sandstone canyon rock, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

These are the kinds of Utah colors that make some of us return to California and to find that “our Sierra Nevada” looks a bit more gray than we thought! In my experience, the color season in southern Utah begins in late September with the arrival of aspen color. (I have seen it, but so far have arrived just after the peak color.) It continues later in the month as the lower elevation cottonwood trees become intensely colorful. In some places the show is still continuing in early November.

The fall color show on its own would be impressive, but place those colors against the backdrop of Utah’s colorful sandstone landscape and the overall effect is very powerful. We returned from a daytime adventure elsewhere in Capitol Reef National Park and passed through this canyon area just before sunset. The light in the areas shaded by the tall cliffs was already becoming soft and luminous, and in this light the colors can become even more intense. We stopped and more or less wandered for as the sun continued to drop, photographing in the quite evening right up until the light was too far gone.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Dried Mud, Canyon Light

Dried Mud, Canyon Light
Dried canyon mud illuminated by reflected canyon light, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Dried Mud, Canyon Light. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. October 25, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Dried canyon mud illuminated by reflected canyon light, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

There are at least two stories in this photograph. The first one can be read directly from the materials, patterns, and colors of the photograph. The location is the bottom of a wash, a shallow canyon that is often dry but which may flood during rain. When water flows everything is rearranged. Sand settles to the bottom, a fine silt may lie on top, and eventually the layers dry in this warm climate. The dried silt contracts and splits then curls into odd shapes — here some of the silt has formed small tubes and all of it has rolled up and separated from the underlying red sand. On a sunny day like this one the light strikes canyon walls high above and bounce among them, picking up the color of the red rock and softening. The red light that suffuses the scene is contrasted by a slight bluish tint that comes from blue sky vaguely reflected on smoother parts of the dry silt.

The second story involves a group of a half-dozen photographers and friends. After a rather lazy morning of breakfast and coffee and conversation, we finally set off on foot down the wash that passed by our camp. As we walked the canyon narrowed and before long rocky walls began to rise on both sides — a common story in this terrain. Rounding a bend we caught sight of… dry mud. What happened next would probably perplex or amuse any non-photographers who might have happened by. In this grand landscape of towering walls and deep valleys, we spent the next half hour earnestly bent over tripods, carefully and repeatedly photographing… dried mud.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Weathered Cliff, Evening Light

Weathered Cliff, Evening Light
Early evening light on the face of a rugged and weathered sandstone cliff, Capitol Reef National Park

Weathered Cliff, Evening Light. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. October 22, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Early evening light on the face of a rugged and weathered sandstone cliff, Capitol Reef National Park

Recently I have been thinking about where we find subjects for photographs and about the fact that they are everywhere — I could say that you don’t always have to seek out particularly “special” places, or I might instead say that if you look closely enough almost any place can be special in some way. I do understand the interest in creating photographs of recognizable subjects and perhaps even the challenge of trying to make such photographs stand out in some way. But for me it is far more interesting to use the camera as a means of focusing more closely on what I can find wherever I am, and then trying to clear away obstacles to seeing these subjects in my own way.

Late in the day we had stopped along a section of roadway in Capitol Reef National Park. We knew, of course, that red rock sandstone cliffs and autumn trees were there, but most of all we stopped because the light was so fascinating. We simply walked along the road and looked, and almost everywhere we looked we found something that seemed like it might be worthy of a photograph. There was so much to see in this small area that as fast and furiously as we photographed, we felt like the light was passing too quickly. The subject of this photograph is a rough and weathered by of sandstone cliff that I happened to notice as I looked up from another subject I had been photographing.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


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Cottonwood Trees, Gravel Road

Cottonwood Trees, Gravel Road
A gravel road passes cottonwood trees in fall color, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Cottonwood Trees, Gravel Road. Near Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. October 22, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A gravel road passes cottonwood trees in fall color, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

By the time I made this photograph, the day almost seemed to be winding down. We had gotten up before dawn and made our way to the start of a long gravel road, where we paused to photograph as the sun came up. It was one of those almost unplanned moments — no specific landscape in mind, but there was the rising sun, so we stopped and found that we could photograph a range of subjects in that light. Then we headed on down this road, eventually arriving at one of our possible goals, where we took a hike to a high place with a panoramic view.

By now it was getting on toward the middle of the day — mostly the non-shooting hours for photographers in many cases — so we headed back the way we came. As we drove we came to this flat with good-sized cottonwood trees spread along a small gravel road heading off toward the uplifted terrain of Capitol Reef National Park. The autumn color of these trees was irresistible… so we didn’t resist! We stopped, got out, photographed for a while , and then were back on the road.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


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Waterpocket Fold Terrain

Waterpocket Fold Terrain
Deep erosion gullies below an uplifted rock band empty into the valley below, with rugged terrain extending into the distance

Waterpocket Fold Terrain. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. October 22, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Deep erosion gullies below an uplifted rock band empty into the valley below, with rugged terrain extending into the distance

Until a few years ago, although I had heard the term “waterpocket fold” before, I was almost completely unaware of what this geological feature is. Since that time I have visited it several times. On the first occasion I visited the area, but I still did not understand the geology. I “got it” that there was some sort of uplift — the land rising to the west of Capitol Reef was a pretty good clue — but I did not understand or really see any of the connections. I recall stopping at one road side pullout and seeing a sign about it, registering that it is something important, but not really understanding.

On more recent visits the reality of this huge and striking feature has finally sunk in. I began to see it a few years ago on a trip that took we away from main roads and way up on a rocky ridge from which I could look down into the eastern valley and clearly see some of the larger patterns — sinuous lines of angled rock, the valley twisting gently into the distance in the south. On the most recent visit it began to make a lot more sense, as I noticed features like the shadowed cliff band across the center of this photograph, which more or less represents the remaining underside of a layer that long ago continued on up into what today would be the sky. Its edge overhangs the softer material below, though it still erodes into the bottom of the valley. Further to the east in this photograph the impossibly rugged terrain of arid strata continues, eventually rising to a mountain range in the far distance.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


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Drake’s Estero

Drake's Estero
Summer sun penetrates clearing fog over Drake’s Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore

Drake’s Estero. Point Reyes National Seashore, California. June 27, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Summer sun penetrates clearing fog over Drake’s Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore

I took my camera for a hike this week. Or at least that’s how it felt. I have to confess that Point Reyes, a place I visit somewhat regularly, has always been a photographic challenge for me. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. I certainly have good results with seascape photographs from other areas along the California coast. As I hiked today — an eight mile round trip to the entrance to Drake’s Estero* — I pondered this what might explain it. Because the point extends out into the ocean, it is often foggy. This fog is not the mysterious sort that hangs along the ground and partially obscures trees and hills. It tends to be the cold gray fog that hovers a few hundred feed up, simply blocking and flattening the light. Although I’m intrigued by this landscape, much of it can be quite barren. There are forests, but they often consist of slender trees growing closely together, often with dense undergrowth. It is difficult to find the things that attract me to the landscapes of the Sierra and the desert — rugged rocky forms, tall cliffs (there are some of these at Point Reyes), light-filled forests, bare and rocky ground. Oh, and did I mention the wind!?

But I keep going back, frequently returning with only a few photographs. This was one of those days. I very much like the place I hiked — a route that alternates between forest, tramping along the waterline, and traversing high bluffs above the estero. I walked four miles out past the end of the trail, to a place where I could walk along a narrow band at the base of cliffs that front the estero, and across the relatively still water were sandbars with birds. Beyond that the surf broke outside of the entrance to the estero. At this far end of the hike I was completely alone, and I found a rock to sit on and quietly take in this scene before turning around to retrace my steps. The photographic challenges on this walk were primarily the strong winds and the gray light. As I passed along the top of one of the bluffs, the sky cleared enough to produce beautiful, soft light on the water and the far peninsula, providing an opportunity to make my one good photograph of the day.

  • “Drake’s Estero” is, as you probably guessed, an estuary — but here I’m using the word that the park service uses for this feature.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.