Eroded ridge and valley in the Waterpocket Fold area, Utah
This landscape could hardly be more different from the landscape in yesterday’s photograph. The earlier photograph was of Drake’s Estero, at the Point Reyes National Seashore, made on a day that was almost entirely foggy until a brief interval of filtered sun illuminated the blue waters of the estuary, a bit of green on a peninsula, and distant sky and water. None of those things are found in this photograph.
This landscape from Capitol Reef National Park is austere, arid, and quite rugged. It has a special beauty, but it is not a beauty with soft edges, misty skies, and water. Here the land is laid bare, seeming from a distance to be devoid of plant life. (Once inside this landscape, it turns out to be a bit more alive than it might seem.) Geology and the effects of time are visible in these places with their colored layers of rock, deeply cut valleys, and rugged erosion forms. Here gullies lie below rocky ridges, and two valleys come together in a flat area laced by stream beds.
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.
Cliffs and eroded towers near Fruita, Capitol Reef National Park
I’m a sucker for juxtapositions of mountains and cliffs, and sunlit and shadowed surfaces. (In fact, “juxtaposition” is a word I think about a lot when making photographs.) This part of the world provides these juxtapositions with a vengeance. Everywhere in the red rock country of the Southwest there are sandstone walls, lined up, building one on top of the other, standing in front of and behind each other, layered with eroded rock and soil, standing above valleys and beyond lower ridges.
We had only a brief time to photograph on this first afternoon in Capitol Reef National Park. I had arrived in the middle of the afternoon and then busied myself with setting up a tent and a few other camp chores, plus catching up on the news with my friend Dave. By the time all of these important things had been taken care of the sun was rapidly dropping toward the horizon, so we quickly headed to a nearby area to see what sort of late-day light we could find. Literally within minutes of leaving our campground (which is just to the right of the shadowed trees visible in the lower part of the photograph) we came upon this intense and saturated late-day light, with shadows starting to stretch across the valley and the low foreground ridges.
Evening light on the autumn sandstone landscape of Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
I began this fall season visit to Utah in the far southwest corner of the state, making Kanab my base for the first few days. There I explored various valleys and canyons, mostly improvising an itinerary as the mood struck me. I returned there to a few places I had visited in the past and also visited a few new places. After a few days here I took a back-route up to Capitol Reef where I would meet up with my friend and fellow photographer David Hoffman.
I arrived at Capitol Reef in the afternoon, found Dave’s campsite (he had arrived earlier) and set up my tent. As I recall, we were unable to resist the lure of the nearby place selling home-made pies, and it wasn’t until late in the day that we decided to make a quick run for some sunset light. We found it quickly — the location of our campground is just out of sight to the right around the bend in the road running up this valley. Because the landscape tilts up to the west here, the sunset seems to come a bit earlier than I would expect, and we were barely in time of catch this light before the valley fell into shadow.
The Tuolumne River flows through the Yosemite Sierra Nevada high country
We had one day in the Yosemite area on the summer solstice, and we made as much of the long daylight hours as we could. We started out very early in the morning in Oakhurst, just outside the southwest boundary of the park, and then headed towards Tioga Pass Road. We took that route through the high country to Tuolumne Meadows, and after lunch we crossed Tioga Pass and headed down to Lee Vining for a brief east side visit.
While we were in the Lee Vining area we began to see interesting clouds east of the range, and it looked like lenticular clouds might form before sunset. That is my cue to find a high place with light from the west, so we headed back up to Tuolumne, stopping a few times on the way there, and finally arriving nearly perhaps an hour and a half or more before sunset. As we followed a trail out into the meadow to find foreground for photographs of the Sierra crest and the clouds I looked back to the west across the twisting river, meadows, and forests to see this scene in evening light.
This scene was a sort of visual benediction at the end of a very long June day in and around Yosemite National Park. We began all the way over in Oakhurst, on the southwest boundary of the park, where we had been the previous evening to attend the artist reception for an exhibit at Stellar Gallery that includes eight of my photographs, followed by a fun late-night Mexican food dinner with friends and fellow photographers. The next morning we got up relatively early (but not all that early by photography standards!), grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed out of town with a general plan to photograph along Tioga Pass Road.
We drove through most of the morning good light as we headed into the park, climbed up past the turnoff to Glacier Point Road, descended briefly to the Valley, climbed Big Oak Flat Road, and finally turned east onto Tioga Pass Road. We briefly stopped once or twice along the way, including a bit of photography at Tenaya Lake, and finally stopping at Tuolumne Meadows for lunch. We explored a bit up in the general area of the pass before descending to Lee Vining and then making a quick trip up Lundy Canyon before returning to Lee Vining and then heading back up toward Tioga Pass, timing this leg to arrive back in the high country at about the time that the shadows would lengthen and the color of the light begin to warm. We photographed a bit not too far below the past, but when we noticed a spectacular lenticular cloud building beyond the crest we decided to head to Tuolumne Meadows, where we though the cloud might be a bit more visible and have more interesting foreground. We photographed there until the light left the meadow, and then decided to think about starting the long drive back to the Bay Area. Not more than a couple of minutes down the road we looked back and saw what we sort of expected, namely the intense sunset color on the tops of the ridges of the Sierra crest and the spectacular cloud. What could we do? We quickly stopped, set up cameras and tripods, and spent a few moments photographing this beautiful final light of the day.
Black and white photograph of silhouetted trees and boulders and their reflections lining a flooded section of the shoreline of Tenaya Lake.
This photograph is a personal favorite for a bunch of reasons related to how the photograph came about, the experience of making the photograph, associations with the place, and a print that pleases me a great deal.
I maintain the no photographer’s work is wholly original. What comes closest to being truly original is the personal vision of the artist — that particular way of seeing that the photographer develops. That vision is actually unique, but it is built from experiences and exposure to a visual world that includes the ways of seeing of other photographers and painters and more. I acknowledge and am grateful to a wide range of photographers whose work informs my way of seeing the world.