Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ric's Epic Adventure - Epilogue: Parting Thoughts and Shots

Almost two full weeks.

7 National Parks if you count my short jaunts through The Capital Reef and Canyonlands.

Thousands of snaps of my shutter…

And not nearly enough time.  I could have easily spent a week at any one of these great parks.  Still, I’m amazed and thrilled at all that I saw.  It truly was the photo adventure of my lifetime.

Some random thoughts…

People are friendly.  I had a slight bit of trepidation going out on this trip alone.  Yes, I figured I would speak to my wife every evening if I was getting cell service, but, for the most part I’d be alone.  That could not have been further from the case.  Photogs always seem to congregate at the best spots and most are often willing and delighted to share their love of the hobby and or profession with others.  I would be out at 4 or 5 in the morning and there would always be a few folks to share the time with.  I would join strangers for a drink or dinner after a day of shooting.  It was not a lonely endeavor.  Some of these folks I hope to keep in touch with.

They come from all over.  Everywhere I went, but I noticed this especially on my trip down into Bryce Canyon, I heard a myriad of languages.  Some I could identify… German, French, Swedish, Italian… many I could not.  I think at least a few were from off-world.  It made me feel glad that folks would come from far off, just to see the wonders of this great land. 

 Don’t forget the sunblock, water or the hiking shoes.  Hey, most of the time I remembered 2 out of 3. 

 Sirius-XM Radio kicks serious ass!  During the first week of my travels I had a rental with this amazing collection of stations and I wasn’t sure I could ever go back.  The 70’s station and one of the Blues stations were at the top of my list.

If you are on an airplane and already feeling nauseous, do not eat.  Even if it’s a four hour plus trip.

And finally, I have to go back to Arches.  Especially to conquer that one hill!

Ric's Epic Adventure - Part 12: Sunrise at Mesa

Thursday morning I got up at about 5:30 and headed out to shoot my final Arch.  Mesa Arch is actually in the nearby Canyonlands National Park and I had heard it was a good subject for sunrises.

When I got to the parking area at the trail-head, the lot was already full of cars.  I guess other folks had heard about it too!  It was a short 15 minute walk to the arch and when I arrived, there were already a bunch of photographers that had staked out their claims with their tripods.  After asking, I was able to squeeze in between two of them to get my shots.  Unlike Delicate Arch, there wasn’t going to be any moving around for different angles.  Mesa Arch is also a lot smaller. As a matter of fact all of the photographers were planted right up next to it, so close you could touch it.  This was so they could get the angle of the sun coming up.  As the morning got brighter the under side of the arch began to glow with the warm reflection of the daylight.

I put on my wide 10-22mm lens and hoped for the best.  Luckily, I was able to get most of the entire arch in the shot.  Some latecomers weren’t so lucky.  One suggested, “Hey guys, if we all back up 10 feet we can all get the shot and get the whole arch.” 

The guy next to me said, “You’re high, Dude!  We ain’t moving.”  These guys were hardcore.  He showed the guy that made the suggestion that he was able to get the whole thing in his viewfinder and suggested to the fellow that next time he may want to come with the right gear.  Ouch.

Another guy toward the back was setting off his flash and quickly got scolded, “Hey, quit with the flashes!  Some of us are doing time-lapse, Dude!”

“Dude” seemed to be the proper way of addressing someone during this outing.

Anyway, as they counted down the minutes to the sunrise another latecomer decided he could plant his tripod right next to mine.  His camera was about 2 inches away and it was difficult for me to even adjust the controls on my own camera.  I was also worried that with all his futzing around so close to me, he would knock my camera and tripod over the edge and into the abyss on the other side of the arch.  He was Asian and did not seem to be able to speak English, so I just gave him a dirty look.  I took some pre dawn shots then switched to a brand new card (with some difficulty because of the cramped space) since the one I was using was getting close to full.

The sun came up.  We all got our shots… Then I ran into a bit of trouble. 

My camera was stuck in a “busy” mode.  Kind of like when it’s processing an image by adding noise reduction, but it wouldn’t stop.  I tried shutting the camera off, but to no avail.  The camera was still stuck in its processing mode.  Could the brand new card be faulty?  I was at my wit’s end.  I asked the crowd if they had any suggestions.  The only thing to do seemed to be to eject the card or the battery.  Either option could corrupt the data on the card, losing all the shots.  It was finally decided after about 5 more minutes that popping out the battery would be the lesser of two evils.  I took the camera off the tripod, clicked the lid open, and just before I hit eject, the camera ended its busy mode and was once again working. 

Relieved, that all was well, after checking the pictures, I took a few shots hand held and then went to put my camera back on the tripod.  The Asian guy that had been invading my personal space had moved my tripod!  “Not cool, DUDE!” I exclaimed. 

I got a “So sorry” in response.  The sun was getting higher the moment had passed.  At least I got my sunrise shot.  I took some shots of the thinning crowd and then headed back to camp, where I packed up and started the long drive back toward the Vegas airport where I would be flying out of the following day.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ric's Epic Adventure - Part 11: Redeemed!

After my humiliating defeat on the previous hike, I returned to the camp a beaten man. I saw that my loud neighbors from the night before had moved on... well at least that was good.  I took a shower, wrote one of the blogs and then tried to get in a little nap before going on the hike for Delicate Arch.  Taking a nap inside that hot tent was not cutting it, so I opted to get a little rest inside the air conditioned car.

I must’ve dozed off for a little bit, because suddenly it was 5:30.  I still had to drive back into Arches and head up the trail. It took nearly a half an hour to get to the trailhead. I asked some folks that had just returned how long it took to get to the arch and they said about an hour (even though it’s only a mile and half away.  The printed guide listed the hike in their “Strenuous Trails” category, here is part of the official description… 

Length: 3 miles round trip.
Elevation Change: 480 feet
Take at least 2 quarts of water per person.  Open slickrock with some exposure to heights and no shade.  The first half-mile is a well defined trail.  Upon reaching the slickrock, follow the rock cairns… yada, yada, yada…

I lightened my camera bag as much as I could (got rid of the telephoto lens and a few other things and headed up.  It was 6 pm. If I could make it in an hour I would get there just in time for sunset.  Hopefully.

Once again, it was hot, but at least with the sun’s low angle, it wasn’t beating down on me.  The blood was pumping as I started heading up the “Slickrock” which is essentially a giant hill made of rock.  Oh, and I forgot the hiking shoes again as well.  I had to take several water breaks as I made my way up that hill that seemed to have no end.  I also forgot my trusty sweat rag/bandana, so I had to use my hat to mop up my face!   

Finally it leveled off for a bit, but I was only about halfway there.  I was thinking that if I didn’t make the sunset I could at least get some dusk shots.  I was in a shaded area, blocked by the cliffs, so I couldn’t tell how low the sun was.

As I pushed on, some folks were already heading back.  I guess they didn’t want to get caught in the dark. They were saying “You’re almost there… Just around the bend…”  Sure enough as I rounded the corner, there it was!  The sun was still another 5 minutes or so from setting.  I snapped off a quick pick, then, chose a couple of spots to set up with the tripod.  It was great!  The arch is massive!  I’m including a shot with some folks under it so you can get a sense of scale. 

After some coaxing from others that made the trip, people got out from under the arch so that the shutterbugs could go to town.  People applauded the sunset and started heading down.  I stuck around a little longer to get some after sunset shots and quickly debated whether or not to stay until the stars came out. 

I had serious doubts about being able to make it back on my own in the darkness.  Sometimes those rock cairns (path markers) can be pretty far apart and it probably would have been pretty easy for me to get off the beaten path coming down that giant stone hill and picking up the path again.

While up there at the top I befriended a young married couple from Indianapolis, Chris and Abby.  I think they said they were celebrating their 4 year anniversary?  Anyway, we were the last ones there and they offered to make the trip back with me… and am I glad they did!  Chris is a member of the National Guard and had been through some pretty extensive survival training.  We weren’t even halfway back yet and we were in total darkness.  Abby and I had our headlamps, Chris didn’t need one!  This guy could see in the dark.  With no moon, the only natural light was from the starlight.  It was a long but enjoyable trip back as I got to know them.  A few times we turned off our lights just to gaze up at the stars.  I am really going to miss seeing such an amazing sky at night.

Back at the bottom I thanked them for their company and we said our goodbyes, they still had a 4 hour trip ahead of them in their car.  Hope it was a safe trip, you two!

I wasn’t done shooting for the night.  I decided to drive down toward Balancing Rock where I ran into a few more nightscape photogs.  I took several shots of the rock and then did a long exposure with some star trails.   

It was really only about a 20 minute shot and probably should have been maybe at least an hour, but I needed to get back to camp so I could get up early for my final morning of shooting before it was time to start the journey home.  Anyway, I’m calling this one “Star Child” cuz it kinda reminds me of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey!

Part 10: Epic (Adventure) Fail!

When I returned from the restaurant Tuesday night, all I wanted to do was hit the hay, er, sleeping bag. Unfortunately, my neighbors in the camp right behind mine thought it was okay to party until 2:30 in the morning. The camps at this off park site, were very close together. These people were probably no more than 15 feet away from me. It was 2 guys and a girl and the longer the night went on, the louder she got. Let me tell you, you haven't heard "Hey Jude" until you've heard it with an off key drunk German accent.

In the morning I was wiped and got kind of a late start. After breakfast, I headed back into Arches and took some shots as I made my way to the end of the park, where the Devil's Garden hike begins.

About a mile into the hike is Landscape Arch...

I imagine it's called that because it kind of blends in with the landscape until you get closer to it and can see the sky through the arch. It's very long and thin and I wonder how long it will be able to defy gravity. Then it was on to the Double "O" Arch. This part of the hike is listed as "difficult with many elevation changes, rocky footing and some exposure to heights," meaning cliffs.

They weren't kidding by calling this "difficult." my heart was pounding as I gained elevation. Shortly after I started this part of the hike, I climbed a rocky hill to a point where there were some large rocks you had to climb up and around, right next to a nice little drop off....

The rock surface was pretty smooth, like an idiot, I had put on my sneakers instead of my hiking shoes. On top of this, my photo backpack was weighing me down and I was a bit off balance. With the tripod attached, it was probably close to 30 pounds. Other folks were having trouble negotiating that area, going in both directions. Some needed help. With the hot noon time sun beating down on me (unlike Bryce Canyon it was a much warmer day and there was no cloud cover), I made a decision to turn around and go back. I wimped out and was very disappointed and depressed about it.

On the way back I was muttering things like "Hikes are for people that don't have cars" and "They should either move the roads closer to the arches, or the arches close to the roads!"

I planned on hitting Delicate Arch (probably the most famous) in the late afternoon. Another difficult hike and it would be even hotter. We'll see how that went in the next installment...

- Posted from my iPad

Location:Arches National Park, Utah

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Part 8: Have a Bryce Day

Bryce Canyon was pretty low on my list. I had never heard much about it but several folks I know talked it up. And what the heck, it was on the way to Arches from Zion so I thought I should check it out.

After driving to a few of the overlooks, I decided to go for a hike into the canyon. All I can say is WOW. The place is magnificent. It feels as if there is a magic to the land. Formations and views that shouldn't really exist except maybe in a Road Runner cartoon.

I combined two of the suggested hikes. The Queen's Garden and the Navajo Loop. The park paper calls it "The World's Best 3-Mile Hike!" It took over four hours to get to the bottom and climb my way back to the top. It seemed like I had to stop every 50 feet or so to take another picture. Good thing too, because I needed lots of breaks before reaching the top. The guide listed it as a moderate hike. All I can say is good thing I quit smoking 4 years ago.

When I got to the top, I treated myself to a beer, it was bliss.

Tomorrow, I head to Arches. It was at the top of my list. Now it seems like it's got a lot to live up to after Bryce Canyon.

Right now, it's a little after 10 at night and a fellow from Germany just invited me over for a beer. It'll be the second best beer I've had all day!

- Posted from my iPad

Location:N Camp Ground Rd, Bryce Canyon

Part 9: The Road to Arches

I was on the road fairly early from Bryce Canyon... Well after breakfast at Ruby's Diner, it was probably a little after 8 am. Btw, if I didn't mention it before the "Ruby" family seems to own the whole town. What little town there is, anyway.

I decided to take the scenic route, that would bring me off the beaten path...

It also brought me through Capitol Reef National Park. Now this REALLY is Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote territory.

After all the stopping to shoot photos it probably took me about 8 hours to get to Moab where I checked into the first campground I could find (nothing was available in the park).

After that I headed into Arches National Park and after a bit of scouting, I picked out a spot to shoot my first Arch. The daylight was waning, so this was gonna be it for the day. I stuck around for about an hour after sunset for some more starlight pictures and as I walked back up the trail, I nearly bumped into another photog that was trying his hand at star trails. My headlamp pretty much messed up his shot as I headed back up the path in the darkness. We got to talking and then ended up having dinner and a beer together back in town at a fine dining establishment known as Bucks. Sorry I messed up your shot, Keith! I probably should have at least paid for his beer!

After that I got back to the camp and turned in at around 11:00... in what became a very long night...

to be continued...

- Posted from my iPad

Location:McCormick Blvd,Moab, Utah

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ric's Epic Adventure - Part 7: Zion Country and Beyond!

I'm writing this from my campsite in Bryce Canyon. This is a much quieter spot than the one I had just outside of Zion, yesterday. Guy was snoring 2 tents down and it was LOUD!!

Spent much of the day shooting and hiking in Zion. It is impossible to convey in photos just how big and fantastic this place is. Parts of it seem Middle Earth like. I wonder if Tolkien was ever here.

Around 3 in the afternoon, I decided I better start heading to Bryce. Haven't seen any of the park accept the campground yet.

After I set up e tent, and was politely told by a ranger that I had set up in an RV area (he let me stay where I was, though) I headed out to get something to eat. This "town" if you can call it that, doesn't have much. In contrast, the town just outside of Zion was a happening little place. Anyway was in a weird little restaurant that was packed to the gills with a bus load of tourists. It looked like it was gonna be a long wait. A couple came in after me and we decided to share a table. It didn't seem right me taking up a whole table by myself. They were from Oregon and were also on a photographic journey. And guess what? They paid for my dinner!

It's amazing the amount of photogs I have met on this trip. Some are professionals, while others, it is their passion/hobby. One guy in Yellowstone put it best. He said "This is my boat." All of them have been willing to share their excitement, enthusiasm and tips with me. When you are standing outside with a stranger at 5 in the morning, you both realize you're a little crazy... I mean passionate.

Anyway, the fire is dying, time to go to bed, it's gonna be a cold one... Supposed to be in the 40s tonight!

Here's a few parting shots of Zion National Park...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ric's Epic Adventure - Part 6: On the Road (and in the air) Again

Yesterday was a day of travel. It was another early start at around 4:30 am, because I wanted to get in some more practice at some star lit landscapes. This was from the same location I was at the previous morning (an area known as Mormon's Row, about 20 miles north of Jackson). I should have started even earlier. Soon dusk was approached and the stars were getting washed out. On some of the shots you can see the light from a car streaming by way off in the distance on the horizon. I'll have to see if I can photoshop those out later. I also used my headlamp to throw a little light on the buildings.

As the sun came up, I drove several miles north to get another view of the Tetons in the early morning light...

...And then just before 8 am, I got in the car and headed back to Cody. It was about a 3 and a half hour trip back up through the lower part of Yellowstone. As I drove by some beauty spots that I had missed before, I had to ignore the urge to pull over and take some more shots. I was mostly successful.

Good thing Cody has a small airport. I got there about 40 minutes before the departure and still had to turn in my rental. Flew outta there on a small commuter, connected in Salt Lake City, then onto Vegas. During that flight I met a very nice couple from Montana and we chatted for most of the short trip. I even bored them with some of my photos.

Once in Vegas, I headed to Advantage Rental Car where I let the guy convince me into getting an upgrade (10 more bucks a day) into an Altima. He explained that the compacts didn't really have any extras and with all my traveling, I would really want something more in a full sized vehicle. My last rental, a Hyundai Elantra had a Sirius-XM radio, and man, did that really spoil me. I figured I'd better get the upgrade.

To my disappointment just a regular radio. From what I can tell the big perk is keyless operation.


After about 2 more hours of driving (now with the trusty but previously neglected iPod plugged in), I got to the Comfort Inn in St George, Utah. They couldn't find my reservation. I thought I might have to be setting up my tent somewhere in the dark, and I was pretty exhausted. Luckily I had the confirmation number and they had it... Not under Easton, but under my wife's hyphenated last name... O'Connor-Easton! When I had called to make the reservation the day before, they had asked if I had used Comfort Inn before and I gave them our phone number so they could check. It was under my wife's name. I guess they didn't think to change the name to the guy that was making the reservation or the name on the credit card I was giving! I always knew that hyphenated last name was gonna come back to haunt me!

Diane... I love you and I miss you and even though you couldn't make the trip, it's like you're still with me! I just don't have anyone teling me where to drive... Except of course the GPS, which I have named "Diane 2"

Btw, when I started yesterday morning it was 28 degrees, and 14 hours later when I was driving out of Las Vegas it was 103!

So, now it's on to Zion National Park!

- Posted from my iPad

Location:St. George,Utah

Ric's Epic Adventure - Part 5: Teton Time

Spent the day on Thursday shooting the Grand Tetons from several different locations. Of course the best time is sunrise, but you can only be in one spot at a time, so many of the shots I got were from midday.

Here's a few...

And I even took some shots where there wasn't a Teton to be seen!

And ended up eating dinner in Jackson at The Cowboy Bar. In case I didn't mention it before, cowboys are big in these parts. The barstools were all saddles which gives new meaning to the phrase "saddling up to the bar." Despite the cowboy motif, my beer had a slight sic-fi bent...

That's OB-1 as in Obiwan Kenobi from Star Wars in case you didn't get it, or possibly aren't a nerd.

One last parting shot. Advice for the bathroom...

Oh, and in case I never mentioned it, you can click on any of the pix for a bigger view. The app I am using for the iPad likes to use these incredibly small thumbnails. When I tried to enlarge them a bit, the photos became kinda digitally artifacty.

And no, "artifacty" is not a word.

More tomorrow...

- Posted from my iPad

Location:U.S. 191,Jackson,United States