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Sedona and the Grand Canyon

It's been a hell of a month - holidays, drama, life changes. To be honest, I can't wait for 2010 to be over. But that's neither here nor there. I'm simply trying to justify the ridiculous 3-week delay on getting these pictures up from my trip to Sedona, AZ last month. At least there's a lot of them...

It was a rare family vacation jam-packed with hiking, sight-seeing, mountain biking, photography, shopping, hanging out and a whole lot of driving. Good quality time with the brothers, parents and sister-in-law - my favorite people in the world. I had a lot of fun and I even got to see the Grand Canyon for the first time!

One of my brothers and I went to Oak Creek on our first day to enjoy the scenery and get some pictures. There was some great fall color to work with, fantastic reflections and the temperature was mild. I could have stayed down there all day. Here are the pics from that first day:

The second day was with my two brothers and sister-in-law for a full day of sight-seeing and hiking. We checked out Slide Rock in the morning where it was just us 4 out there for quite awhile until a Japanese tour bus unloaded. No pictures from Slide Rock because the light was ugly, but we did some exploring and even found a tarantula, which, I must say, was both disturbing and fascinating.

For sunset, we headed out to Red Rock Crossing for stunning views of Cathedral Rock. I originally intended to get pictures of Cathedral Rock at sunset with Oak Creek in the foreground - real picturesque stuff. I ran into a problem with that plan when I couldn't find a single composition that fit the order. The water level was too high, making it impossible to get the angle I needed without crossing the creek to the other side, which wasn't going to happen.

Sometimes you just have to play the hand you're dealt. Luckily I've made enough mistakes in my years of shooting to know that making a plan B should be step 1 when you arrive. So I moved to a meadow I'd scouted earlier and had deemed my "in case things don't work out" spot. I'm actually glad things didn't work out with shooting the creek because I really enjoyed shooting in this meadow and I think I got some great, unique shots of Cathedral Rock - even some panoramas.

Here are the results (click the panos for larger versions):

The following day's agenda would consist of a sunrise shoot in Sedona and the Grand Canyon at sunset. The Grand Canyon is about a 2 and a half hour drive from Sedona - one way. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. I guess that's why only my sister-in-law was game for the sunrise. But in the end, it worked out great anyway. The sunrise was stunning, the Grand Canyon was worth every minute of driving and we'd still have a couple more days of vacation to catch up on sleep.

For the sunrise, we went to a high spot overlooking Cathedral Rock and Courthouse Butte in the distance. There weren't too many clouds and, thus, not much color in the sky, but the sun illuminated the air in a beautiful golden glow. The layers were amazing. The following 3 shots are practically the same (subject-matter at least), but I was just diggin' the vibe and color too much to not share each composition. Click the pano for a larger version.

Once that color faded away, I turned my attention to a beautiful Utah Juniper and played with the shapes of the branches and trunk.

Then it was off to the Grand Canyon. Thank God it wasn't peak season for the Grand Canyon, because it still got a little *ahem* cozy where I'd set up for my shots once sunset rolled around. For the most part, though, the whole place felt pretty empty (uh...no pun intended).

To put it succinctly, I was blown away by the Grand Canyon. Its size is hard to grasp even when it's right in front of you. My eyes were seeing it, but it somehow felt like I was just looking at a painting, like nothing could actually be that vast. Absolutely amazing. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Loved the way the light hit the very tip of this tree

And last but not least, my favorite panorama from the trip - one compiled from 5 separate vertically-framed compositions. You'll wanna click this one for the bigger view...

Thank you so much for stopping by, everyone. It brings me so much joy to share these with you and know other people are lookin' at 'em.

Trip to Sierras – Part 4

Finally, the last installment of images from my recent trip to the Sierras! This covers our last day there, which was really just a half day as we left town by about 2:00pm. To view the previous installments of images covering days 1 and 2, click the links below:

- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3

Click any of the panoramas to view larger versions.

Mono Lake Sunrise

We got up before sunrise again and I decided to hit Mono Lake for the second time. I really just wanted to redeem my first trip there (see Part 1) and I thought sunrise and a little change in location might make the difference. My plan was to first try the main parking lot. If it was packed, I'd turn around and head down a side road to a different, lesser-visited area. Well, surprise surprise...it was packed.

With more than a hint of exasperation, I flipped the car around and headed down that side road where I found a little clearing along the brush. Apparently this was the overflow parking area for the South Tufa main lot. We were the only car there, it was well detached from the busy main lot and boardwalk, and I could see some tufas beyond the brush that looked promising. Added bonus: didn't have to pay for parking.

So I parked the car, got my gear, strapped on my headlamp and started hiking into the brush towards Mono Lake. My lady stayed back in the car to enjoy the sunrise from the comfort of heated seats. Since I hadn't scouted this area yet and there was no clear-cut trail, it was a bit of a chore getting down there. I found myself losing the "trail" quite often and having to push my way through some tall brush. But, that's part of the adventure and I couldn't complain!

After about 10 minutes of bushwhacking, I made it to the shore and looked around. Perfect. Not a soul in sight. It was the solitude I'd been itching for since day 1. Also, the tufas down here, although not quite as stunning as the main area, were still very gorgeous. The banks were much more muddy and harder to navigate, but that was a small price to pay for the privacy.

As I started planning my shots, I could hear the crowds from the main South Tufa Reserve. They were far enough away that I couldn't see anyone, but I could definitely hear them. I could also see the dirt road off in the distance that lead to the South Tufas. Every time I looked back, I'd see headlights from about 3 cars making their way towards the lot. One right after the other. Car...car...car...car. It seemed to never end.

All I could do was shake my head. There still wasn't another tripod in sight for me, though, so I was happy. I could only imagine how crowded it was getting out there. But anyway, enough about the crowds, here are my shots from the morning:

Mono Lake Panorama

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Sunrise

Mono Lake Tufas

Mono Lake Reflections

Mono Lake Panorama

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Tufa

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Panorama

After Mono Lake, some breakfast, check-out and a browse through the local stores, we headed out of town. On our way out, we took a drive through June Lake Loop. Wow. I really wish I had seen this place earlier in our trip. It was stunning. Silver Lake was so picturesque I just had to break my general rule of not shooting in the middle of the day. Luckily, this type of scenery does okay with midday light (although still not as pretty as sunrise or sunset).

Silver Lake

Silver Lake

So there it is! All 4 installments of images from my trip! I hope you enjoyed the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them (that's a tall order). I can't wait to go back. This place is absolutely jam-packed with photo ops and I can't wait to add some more of them to my portfolio.

Thanks for following along!

Trip to Sierras – Part 2

On to the second installment of pictures from my recent trip to Sierra Nevada Mountains (View Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4)... This post covers my pictures from the first half of day 2 on our trip. Click any of the panoramas for larger versions.

Lee Vining Creek

I decided to wake up before sunrise and hit Ellery Lake up off Tioga Pass. My beautiful girlfriend joined me (the good sport that she is) and we had the entire lake to ourselves. It was so peaceful being among that beautiful scenery as the sun rose. Breathtaking, really. Freezing, too, but very peaceful.

Based on its position on the map, I thought the morning light would hit the mountain peaks and reflect beautifully in the lake... I was a little bit off on that prediction. I didn't study the topographical map well enough to see that the sunrise would actually be blocked by some tall peaks off to the east. That's what I get for not scouting it beforehand. Oh, well. Before ditching this spot realizing the light wasn't going to go where I wanted it, I was able to get a few good images.

Ellery Lake at Sunrise

Ellery Lake at Sunrise

Near Ellery Lake at Sunrise

We stopped next at Tioga Lake. The scenery was stunning, as usual for this area, but I was getting really frustrated with how many signs of human existence were crowding my shots. I had to work quite hard to frame out the dam, the road, the cars parked off to the side, etc etc. And even when I did frame that stuff out, I still couldn't avoid those damn contrails from jets flying overhead. They didn't completely ruin the shot(s), but I would have preferred all air traffic just waited a few minutes, just until I was done with my pictures. So selfish...

A couple of the shots are quite similar as I working with "variations on a theme" (nice way of saying "almost the same composition") and the second shot below just looked too good in black and white to not share with you. I can't decide if I like the B&W or color version better.

Morning at Tioga Lake

Morning at Tioga Lake (Color)

Morning at Tioga Lake (b&w)

Morning at Tioga Lake

Last stop on Tioga Pass was a little creek off the side of the road in Yosemite National Park. The light was a little bit too harsh by this point for my taste, but I got a couple good shots nevertheless. I particularly like the vertical panoramic.

Creek in Yosemite National Park

Creek in Yosemite National Park

Next up was...a nap. Boy, do I hate naps. It's literally impossible for me to sleep after 10:00am without getting a pounding headache when I wake up, but I didn't want to be falling asleep at sunset. So it was either have a headache and get some sunset shots, or pass out at 6:00pm and miss the sunset. Now what kind of photographer would I be if I chose comfort over pictures?

After the nap and before our venture out for sunset shots, we went back down to Lee Vining Creek just below our motel for some quick pictures (and to wake ourselves up a bit). The shot at the top of this post and the following panorama are from that spot.

Lee Vining Creek Panorama

So there's just the first half of Day 2. Stay tuned for Part 3!