Hi, and welcome to my blog.  It occured to me that when you view the images in my galleries, that you would like have some idea as to the how, when and where.  Therefore, through this blog, I will attempt to provide some background and detail about the photo trip that resulted in the images posted on my site.

Year's End

November 06, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

This travel year has come to an end.  For the last few remaining months of 2021 Jane and I have been staying close to home.  In early October we ventured out to enjoy the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  This year we did not get tickets for the event, but watched the mass ascension from the “side lines” east of the venue that provided a different perspective.  There were some special shape balloons this year that we had not seen before.  It was a different, more distant, view but we didn’t have to deal with traffic and crowds getting to the balloon park.

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In mid-October we were getting “cabin fever” and opted for a short road trip to Ruidoso, a small town located in the Sierra Blanca Mountains, in central New Mexico.  With peaks at nearly 12,000 feet, the mountains around Ruidoso provided a pleasant respite from the low lying Rio Grande valley back home.  Before starting on this outing, Jane had found that there was a very nice and modern theater, the Spenser Theater for the Performing Arts, located near Ruidoso.  This $25 million gem was just fifteen minutes from our hotel and we enjoyed a performance by the Brothers Four, singing old favorites from the distance past.  The Spenser Theater also hosts a collection of colorful Chihuly glass sculptures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were three nights in Ruidoso and spent some time exploring the surrounding area with a brief stop at historic Fort Stanton.  The fort was established in 1855 to control the then warring Mescalero Apache Indians.  Eventually the Mescalero Apache were relocated to a reservation just south of Ruidoso where we enjoyed a lunch and beer at their Inn Of The Mountain Gods Casino.  During our forays around town we discovered that Ruidoso is home to herds of elk that roam the back roads and like to forage on grasses at the golf course and school play fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon returning home from our short trip to Ruidoso, we found that the cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande had started their fall display of brilliant yellow foliage.  Jane and I took the opportunity to make several trips to the open space corridor along the river to hike among the colorful trees.  Overhead we heard the gravelly calls of the sandhill cranes as they migrated back to their winter stomping grounds along the Rio Grande.

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Armendaris Ranch

September 02, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

 

In the early 1800’s New Mexico, and most of America’s southwest, was still part of New Spain with the governor of the Northern Provinces of New Spain located in Santa Fe.  It was the custom at that time for the governor to award land grants as a favor for political or military service.  In 1918, Pedro Armendariz applied for a land grant, citing his military service and loyalty to the King of Spain and in late 1919 was awarded the Armendariz Land Grant consisting of 397,235 acres.  During the ensuing decades, first Mexico in 1821 and later the United States in 1848 controlled the New Mexico territory.  Throughout these governmental and subsequent ownership changes, the Armendariz Land Grant remained pretty much intact.  In 1990, the last owner of the land filed for bankruptcy and in 1994 Ted Turner purchased the property and established the 362,885 acre Armendaris Ranch. 

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The huge ranch, with a landmass greater than the city of Phoenix,  is located along the Rio Grande River in south central New Mexico near the quaint town of Truth Or Consequences (T or C).  The landscape is semi-desert grassland of the northern Chihuahua Desert. Since 1994 Turner has allowed the previously overgrazed land to regenerate and has established a number of environmental initiatives to restore native species.  One of those initiatives was protecting the Mexican free-tailed bat population at the Jornada Bat Caves located on the Armendaris Ranch.  I convinced Jane that we needed to photograph these bats and that is how we ended up at the Sierra Grande Lodge in T or C for a two night stay.

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About 761,000 years ago a shield volcano erupted and spewed out a large basaltic lava flow.  As streams of hot lave flowed, the top crust cooled creating lava tunnels.  Centuries of erosion later, some of the crust lava, the roof of the lava tube, gave way and collapsed into the tube creating caves.  Some of these lava caves are on the Armedaris Ranch and from June to September, several hundred thousand female Mexican free-tailed bats migrate from Mexico to utilize the lava tube caves as their nursery. 

When tens of thousands of bats emerge from the cave each evening around dusk, Swainson’s hawks gather in the sky to prey on the bats.  This was a wildlife event I wanted to try and photograph.  I scheduled two tours to the bat cave to maximize the opportunity to capture some keeper images.  The bat tour departs from the Sierra Grande Lodge, a Ted Turner Preserve property, at 3:30 PM and requires a two and half hour drive across the ranch on dirt tracks to the bat cave.  We left home around noon in order to check into the lodge well before the 3:30 PM departure.  Our guide for the tours was Ken, a retired biologist and accomplished photographer.

Unlike last year, this summer New Mexico is experiencing a more normal monsoon season with clear skies in the morning transitioning to huge cumulus clouds with extensive lightning and dark ominous cumulonimbus clouds by late afternoon with cloudbursts following in a random pattern.  That was the scenario when we arrived in T or C that afternoon.  By the time Ken picked us up for the drive to the bat cave, threatening clouds were all around.  Ken checked his weather app that showed the storms were concentrated to the west and east of our trajectory and we pressed on.

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The contrast between the lush grassland vegetation on the Armendaris Ranch and the overgrazed conditions we had seen in southwestern New Mexico during our trip to Silver City was astounding.  By not grazing cattle or sheep on the ranch and allowing nature to restore the land, a healthy diversity of thriving plants and grasses abounded.  As we traversed the extensive ranch property there was a sense of isolation and returning to nature.  Along the way, we encountered a number of desert species I had never seen, let alone, photographed.  The western desert tarantula was one that Jane discovered as we were waiting for the bats to emerge.  The white lined sphinx, a type of hummingbird moth, we found pollinating and feeding on evening primrose flowers.  Ken nearly ran over a prairie rattlesnake that was sunning itself in the middle of the dirt track.  I also give Jane credit for spotting a tarantula hawk, although Ken had to tell us what it was, a spider wasp that preys on tarantulas.

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Photographing the bats, however, proved problematic. The bats normally emerge from their roosting cave around dusk, a half hour before sunset.  We arrived at the cave at 6:30 PM and storm clouds to the west were obscuring the sun creating early dusk conditions.  The bats must have sensed that conditions that night were different and decided not the leave their shelter until nearly sunset.  We did see a string of bats fly out to forage for insects on the prairie but by that time it was too dark to attempt photography. That is why, as a form of insurance, I had scheduled two tours to the bat cave. 

The second night we arrived a bit earlier, but the weather was also a bit more threatening.  Ken had brought folding chairs so we would be more comfortable while waiting for the fly out.  We had barely set out the chairs and gotten cameras ready when it started to rain.  By the time we reached the shelter of Ken’s truck, a hundred yards off, we were pretty much soaked. This time the rain cells were right over us and Ken had to drive two hours on the water logged dirt track back to the paved road with torrential rain pelting down.  We made it back without incident but it was a scary ride.

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So, photographing Swainson’s hawks preying on bats was a bust but we experienced other photo ops during our two tours into the pristine grassland prairie of the Armendaris Ranch and the stay at Sierra Grande Lodge with its friendly staff was most enjoyable. Jane and I made a pact to return again to The Armendaris Ranch in the future to do more sightseeing in the area.  Of particular interest is a tour of the New Mexico Spaceport located not far from T or C and, of course, another chance to photograph Swainson’s hawks going after Mexican free-tailed bats.

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Glacier National Park In 2021

August 12, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicted a robust return of vacation travel this summer with nearly fifty million travelers forecast to take to the roadways and skies.  Jane and I were willing participants in this enormous bubble of holiday travelers.  Our destination, along with throngs of other vacationers, was Glacier National Park.  In anticipation of record high visitations, the National Park Service limited visitors to the park by instituting a new ticket requirement for access to the Going-To-The-Sun Highway, the primary entry into the park.  We did not learn of this restrictive entrance requirement until it was too late for us to obtain a special ticket.  The only way for us to gain entry into the park by way of the Going-To-The-Sun Highway was to pass the park entrance station before six AM.  That meant getting up at 4:45 AM and hustling out of the cabin.

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We were a week at our time-share cabin at Glacier Wilderness Resort and only made the super early run into the park twice.  Each time the objective was to reach Logan Pass in time to obtain a parking spot before rangers closed the parking lot.  The Hidden Lake Overlook trail that starts at Logan Pass has always been a good location for spotting the park’s varied wildlife.  This time was no exception as we enjoyed watching and photographing bighorn sheep, mountain goats, hoary marmots, Columbia ground squirrels and the ubiquitous golden mantled ground squirrel.  Being on the Hidden Lake Overlook trail in July provided us the chance to observe some animal family interactions.  I was photographing a large, adult hoary marmot when I noticed one, then two and eventually three pups cavorting around the area.

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There are two areas on the east side of Glacier National Park that can be visited without the special ticket required for the Going-To-The-Sun Highway. So, after checking out of our time-share, we moved for a couple of days to the Glacier Park Lodge, built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railway, on the east side.  Two Medicine and Many Glaciers on the east side were inundated with visitors, who like us, did not have a special ticket.  We were turned back by park rangers during out first attempt to enter the park at Two Medicine because there were no parking spaces left.  It was suggested we arrive at this entrance early in the morning and that is what we did the second time.

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One of the scenic locations at Two Medicine is the Running Eagle Falls, a short walk from the parking pullout.  We made that our first stop and because we had arrived early, there were only a couple of cars there.  While photographing the falls, I noticed an American dipper flying along the water flowing from the waterfall.  Dippers are somewhat difficult to find because of their high elevation, clear stream habitat.  Obviously, I had to spend some time locating and photographing this bird.  It was “eagle eye” Jane, however, who spotted them first and had to point me in the right direction.  Eventually I was able to get some good images of the dipper, including a recently fledged immature bird being fed by an adult.  By the time we left Running Eagle Falls the parking area was full and numerous cars were parked along the shoulder of the road.

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From the Glacier Park Lodge to Many Glaciers is normally a little over an hour’s drive.  This year, however, the entrance road from Babb to the park entrance station, an eleven mile stretch, was under construction, making this section of the route dusty, bumpy and slow.  When coming to Glacier National Park, we usually include a visit to Many Glaciers because we have had fairly good luck in finding large mammal wildlife there. 

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Fishcap Lake, a short hike from the Swiftcurrent Lodge parking area, is where moose are frequently seen and that was our objective.  We checked out Fishcap Lake for moose twice.  The first time, we got there mid-morning and it started to rain shortly after we arrived.  We were not prepared for rain and settled ourselves under the protective canopy of trees along the shore of the lake and waited, and waited.  We were far from being the only moose watchers along the edge of the lake.  Other likeminded visitors were practicing patience waiting for one of the big animals to appear.  Finally after more than an hour of waiting, the call “moose” went out from somewhere among the spotters along the lake. A female moose and calf had come out of the forest at the far side of the lake.  She and her newborn scurried along the edge of the lake for a few seconds and disappeared from view among the willow bushes.  Only if you happened to have your camera pointed in the right direction could a shot be obtained while the moose was in the open.  Fortunately, my camera and I were looking where the moose appeared and was able to get an image of the adult and calf trotting along the edge of the lake.

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We arrived in the early morning for our second visit to Fishcap Lake.  It was a gorgeous sunny morning with brilliant reflections in the lake water, just the kind of morning you would love to have a moose walk into the lake.  Well that did not happen.  I waited and waited for more than three hours before my patience ran out.  Jane had the good sense to leave long before I did to relax at the Lodge.  The only distraction that occurred while waiting for a moose to appear was that a large spotted frog had jumped into the lake right in front of us.  It had been startled by a hiker passing by and offered some photographic relief during an otherwise boring morning.

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Glacier National Park is a special place and we enjoy every visit.  This July visit was unique.  Most of our visits to the park have been in late September.  Turned out that one of our neighbors also has a time-share at Glacier Wilderness Resort and we traded our time in September for their time in July.  This visit provided us a different view of the park with colorful wildflowers, instead of the golden aspen trees of fall, and young baby animals, instead of the larger grown up animals intent on bulking up for the winter hibernation.  I would be remiss, however, if not mentioning that this visit in July was hampered by extremely smoky conditions from the many wildfires in the west.  We felt sorry for first time park visitors who were not being able to clearly see the grandeur of the peaks and valleys of the great Rocky Mountains.

Other images from this trip have been added to the Glacier National Park sub-gallery in the National Parks and Monuments main gallery.

 


Crested Butte

July 18, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

After our nearly two-week, high desert adventure in May, Jane and I set our sights on a shorter, cooler trip to the Colorado Rockies.  At the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains, spring wildflowers arrive in late June so we planned this new adventure to coincide with the wildflower bloom in the Rockies.  We chose Crested Butte, “the wildflower capital of Colorado”, as our destination and rented a condominium apartment for five nights to serve as our home-base for exploring the high alpine meadows of the Elk Mountains.

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Crested Butte, established in 1878, was historically a coal mining town.  With the decline in the need for coal, mining operations closed down in the early 1950’s and in the 1960’s Crested Butte re-emerged as a ski destination.  During the summer, Crested Butte is a haven for dirt bike enthusiast with dozens of bike trails through the Gunnison National Forest.  Of course, we were there for the wildflowers and were not disappointed.

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Colorado Highway 135 dead ends at Crested Butte and from Crested Butte there are only dirt roads leading west and north.  I had consulted a guide book to Colorado’s best wildflower photography locations around Crested Butte by Andy Cook, a well known Colorado photographer.   So, Jane and I traversed all these roads in our quest to locate wildflowers locations mentioned in the guide book.  Each day we selected a different track to explore and we discovered the vast aspen forests and scenic backcountry of the Rocky Mountains around Crested Butte.  Jane’s favorite was the Ohio Creek Road with its stunning vistas and majestic mountains.  My favorite was Gothic Road that yielded vast alpine fields of wildflowers.

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In addition to the colorful displays of wildflowers, we also encountered a variety of wildlife, including mule deer, yellow bellied marmots, the ubiquitous golden mantled ground squirrel, a lone sandhill crane, and a fox.  Since my selection of camera equipment was based on flower photography, some of the wildlife, particularly birds, was too far away for my shorter focal distance lenses.  Nevertheless, some good images were acquired.  I will place the photos from this trip in a new gallery titled “Crested Butte, Colorado”.

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Jane and I so enjoyed the beauty of these high alpine mountain settings that we are committed to returning to Crested Butte for a future fall foliage photography expedition.

 


Déjà Vu

May 28, 2021  •  1 Comment

One of Yogi Berra's famous quotes is, “It’s déjà vu all over again”.  In 2008, Jane and I had traveled to Page, Arizona, and now thirteen years later we were back, " all over again".  This was our third road trip of 2021 and I had developed an adventurous itinerary for this return to Page, including tent camping, hiking and a scenic flight.

The adventure began with our drive to Page through the Navajo Nation.  At more than 27,400 square miles, it is the largest reservation in the U.S. and bigger than ten states. We stopped at Window Rock, the capitol city of the Navajo Nation, and made a short visit to the Window Rock Tribal Park and Veteran’s Memorial.  We then followed Highway 264, the Navajo Code Talkers Highway, past the Hubbell Trading Post where Jane and I had stopped in 2008.  It is now a National Historic Site and, unfortunately, we found it closed due to covid restrictions.  Highway 264 changed to the Hopi Code Talkers Highway as we entered the Hopi reservation.  The Hopi reservation is totally surrounded by the Navajo reservation and only about a tenth its size.  In 2008 we had toured Second Mesa, the center of Hopi culture, with a Hopi guide.  This time we merely reminisced as we drove through the reservation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our destination for this first travel day was the Cliff Dwellers Lodge near Marble Canyon in Arizona.  The Cliff Dwellers Lodge was the launching place for a three day photo tour of White Pocket in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.  This was no run-of-the-mill photo tour.  To reach White Pocket, there was a two hour ride from the Cliff Dwellers Lodge with at least half of that on unimproved House Rock Valley Road and other 4-wheel drive dirt tracks with deep sand sandstone slick rock.  When Jane and I were at White Pocket in 2008 it was only for a few hours.  This time it was two whole days and that meant camping out on the remote Paria Plateau.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The photo tour was sponsored by Arizona Highways PhotoScapes and the camp outfitter was Kanab, Utah, based Dreamland Safari Tours.  They set up our camp, provided tents, sleeping bags, mats and meals.  It had been literally decades since either of us had slept on the ground in a tent.  In anticipation of this adventure, camping out under the stars far from civilization was expected to be an incredibly exciting experience.  In real time, however, we found it to be a struggle squirming into sleeping bags in the confinement of a small tent.  Mother Nature also dealt us a nasty blow by offering night time temperatures well below normal.  We were pretty uncomfortable that first night.  The second night was much better because Dreamland had communicated with their office in Kanab to dispatch extra blankets to the camp.  All in all, however, camp life was enjoyable and we had seven other good-natured photographers to share the ambiance of camp life.

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White Pocket is an intriguing photographic destination of multicolored Navajo sandstone formations.  A grayish white sandstone layer covers red sandstone creating cross-bedded, twisted, swirling, multicolored formations creating a fantasy landscape. The whole colorful outcropping is only a couple of miles long and the sandstone provides a gritty surface for boots to cling to making traction easy on the undulating terrain.  Camping out provided the opportunity to photograph the fascinating White Pocket formation at sunrise and sunset.  As a bonus, I was also able to practice some night sky photography, with mixed results however.

Images of White Pocket are located in the National Parks and Monuments Gallery under Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

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The photo tour ended at the Cliff Dwellers Lodge where it has started.  After gathering our gear and bidding adieu to our fellow photographers, Jane and I headed to Page for a good long shower and a much needed nap.  I had scheduled three nights in Page and Jane had made reservations for a king room at the Hyatt Place hotel, a smart, modern, new facility.  We thoroughly enjoyed the space of a king room after two nights in a small tent.  The next morning was a sleep-in and the day was set aside for some shopping in Page.  The pandemic, however, had caused many shops to close or go out of business.  We did manage to do some browsing and found the same Mexican restaurant, Fiesta Mexicana, where we had dined thirteen years ago.

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That evening, around sunset, I had scheduled a scenic flight over Lake Powell with American Aviation Air Tours in Page.  A scenic flight was something we had not done on our previous trip to Page and something new to look forward to.  It was an old, well worn, Cessna that transported us upward and around Lake Powell.  Covid protocol imposed by American Aviation prevented Jane from occupying the co-pilot seat and required both of us to sit in the narrow back seats.  That meant that I could not move back and forth between windows in order to have the sun at my back for proper photographic lighting.  For this flight, however, photography was a secondary consideration and enjoying a scenic flight over an extremely scenic lake was the prime objective.

Images from the scenic flight can be found in the National Parks and Monuments Gallery under Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

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My diverse itinerary had us up early the next morning for a hike into Buckskin Gulch, reportedly the longest and deepest slot canyon on the Colorado Plateau.  I had arranged for a guide with Seeking Treasure Adventures, out of Kanab, to lead us to the slot canyon.  There are two primary trails to Buckskin Gulch, the Middle Route and the Wire Pass trail that was described as the moderate approach.  We met our guide, Hunter Bell, at Big Water, Utah, and he drove us to the trail head.  I had assured Jane that the Wire Pass trail would be easy and that we could always turn back when we had reached our hiking limit.  What I failed to understand was that the two trail heads do not start at the same location and that Hunter, not realizing that we had opted for the easy route, had taken us to the Middle Route trail head.

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After some discussion about the difficulty of the Middle Route, Hunter assured us that we were in good enough condition to take on this more challenging approach.  Of course how Hunter could tell we were in good enough shape, I don’t know.  In the end, we trusted his instinct as a guide and proceeded toward Buckskin Gulch.  In actuality there is no defined “trail” and Hunter guided us across open desert terrain.  The Utah tourist office web site describes the middle route as “a short, no-nonsense approach to the lower reaches of Buckskin Gulch – a cross-country and wash route - good route finding ability required - very strenuous - Class 3 and Class 4 down-climbing to enter Buckskin Gulch”.

After about an hour and half of hiking cross country we reached Buckskin Gulch.  The slot canyon appeared right in front of us one hundred feet below.  This is where all of Hunter’s encouragement, enthusiasm and guiding skill was needed to get the two of us down that last, extremely steep, one hundred feet.  He helped us find hand and foot holds carved into the sandstone centuries before by indigenous people that had used this exit from the slot canyon as an ancient trade route.  I don’t know how we managed, but with adrenaline flowing Jane and I both made it to the bottom and into Buckskin Gulch.  After spending some time exploring and photographing the slot canyon we returned to the dreaded one hundred foot cliff to start our ascent back up.  Our hearts were still beating by the time we returned to Hyatt Place.  We were full of excitement about what we had accomplished and surprised that we had the stamina and courage to do it.  Hunter had been correct that we were in good enough shape.

Images from this adventure can be found in the Buckskin Gulch Gallery.

 

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Fortunately my itinerary called for a late start the next day and we savored relaxing as we packed our bags.  Early that afternoon, the plan was to meet guides from Action Photo Tours at Big Water for an overnight trip to Alstrom Point on the north shore of Lake Powell.  In 2008 Jane and I had driven the 4Runner to Alstrom Point but only stayed a few hours.  We did not want to traverse the four-wheel drive track to return to Page in the dark.  This photo tour would allow us to be at this popular scenic location overlooking Lake Powell at both sunset and sunrise.  The downside was another night in a small tent.  We were rewarded, however, with the classic panoramic view of Gunsight Butte and Navajo Mountain at sunset.  I also got some good tips from the guides about night sky photography.  All I have to do now is learn Photoshop, not an easy task.

Images from Alstrom Point can be found in the National Parks and Monuments Gallery under Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

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The Alstrom Point photo tour returned us to Big Water mid-morning the next day. From Big Water we drove back to Hyatt Place to retrieved our stored bags, had lunch at our now favorite Mexican restaurant, and started our way back home.  On the way home, just before reaching Farmington, New Mexico, we achieved yet one more significant travel milestone.  To be correct it was the always faithful and dependable Toyota 4Runner that achieved this milestone as it clocked 225,000 miles on the odometer.  Since 2004 the 4Runner has been our companion on many memorable adventures.

 

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