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.
Borrowing words from a Willie Nelson song, late August 2022 saw me “on the road again”. This late summer road trip was with my San Diego photo buddy Bruce Hollingsworth. Bruce had driven from San Diego to Albuquerque for a week of photography in New Mexico. It had been three long years since Bruce and I had hit the road together. (See the 2019 “October’s Whirlwind Tour” blog for that trip with Bruce.) I had picked a handful of New Mexico locations for this photo adventure. After three years of not photographing together, we easily fell back into our normal travel routine with lots of humorous conversion along the way. I should not forget to mention that my trusty and reliable Toyota 4Runner also thoroughly enjoyed being “on the road again”.
Bruce and I started this journey literally in my backyard with a short walk to the community gate into Petroglyph National Monument. Two species of wren forage among the lava boulders scattered along the mesa escarpment, the rock wren and the canyon wren. In the past, I had had success with calling the birds using an app on my phone. It worked this time as well and we were able to obtain images of both birds. After photography, it was a short hike back home for lunch.
Shortly after lunch we headed west on Interstate 40 to El Malpais National Monument. Not quite in my backyard but only about an hour and half up the road. I had planned two photo objectives at El Malpais. First, to photograph Mexican Short-Eared Bats as they emerged en masse from their lava tube cave, and second, some night sky photography with the Milky Way rising over the ruins of the historic Garrett Homestead. Both these objectives were achieved.
After a sleep-in the next morning, the plan was to drive to the small town of Truth or Consequences (referred to as T or C locally) and stay at the Sierra Grande Lodge for guided tours onto Ted Turner’s Armendaris Ranch. Frequent blog readers may recall my September 2, 2021 blog where I had attempted to photograph Swainson’s Hawks preying on bats as they foraged for bugs on the Armendaris Ranch. That was the plan also for this trip with Bruce. Unfortunately, the plan did not work out. Resent monsoon rains had made the dirt tracks on the ranch impassable. Consequently, I had to improvise an alternative objective. So, instead of touring the Armendaris Ranch, we scouted the area around T or C for a night sky photography opportunity. Fortunately we discovered an old steel windmill within easy access of the paved road that made a great foreground for the rising Milky Way. So, all was not lost at Truth or Consequences.
Out next photographic target was the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. Bruce and I had been there thirteen years ago, about the time we first started photographing together. At that time we spent all our time on the lower portion of the petroglyph site. This time, however, we concentrated our efforts on the “upper trail” where we had not photographed before. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of petroglyphs pecked into the boulders at the Three Rivers site and we found and photographed many new and fascinating panels.
After our morning shoot at Three Rivers, we turned north towards the small village of Mountainair where we planned to have a late lunch. As it turned out, much to our chagrin, there was no restaurant in Mountainair for lunch. We did find a deli counter hidden in the back of the grocery store where cold cut sandwiches were available. The visitor center for the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is situated in Mountainair and that is where we photographed next.
There is little light pollution at the remote location of this national monument. As a result, I included this location on our itinerary with the intent of getting images of the Milky Way with the Abó Pueblo Mission ruin in the foreground. Night access for photography required that I obtain a Special Use Permit from the Park Service. During the process of obtaining the necessary permit, the park ranger suggested that if I volunteered to be a guest night photography instructor they would waive the permit fee requirement. That was all arranged, Bruce and I would volunteer to assist with photography and the Park Service would arrange a night sky astronomy event at Abó for the evening we arrived. I estimated that about 25 people participated in the night sky event. Not all were photographers, but Bruce and I assisted those that were. The evening turned out to be highly successful. The Park Service was happy, Bruce and I were happy, and event participants were happy.
We spent the night in Mountainair at a funky roadside motel with few amenities and the constant rumbling of freight trains going by. Needless to say, that was not a happy night. We headed back to Albuquerque after that for a more restful night. The next morning we were off again, this time north to the Santa Fe and Taos areas. We photographed at a couple of other petroglyph sites. The first was the La Cieneguilla site near Santa Fe, and the second was the Mesa Prieta site near Taos.
The Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project (aka The Wells Petroglyph Reserve) is on private land and only accessible with a tour. The site has an extensive collection of unique, undamaged petroglyph panels and I had wanted to photograph them for some time. Fortunately, private tours were being offered again after a two year Covid hiatus. Tours consisted of two hour hikes over boulder strewn hillsides. I had arranged for two private tours, one in the afternoon and one the following morning. Our docent guide was Cathy and her knowledge of local pueblo history and insight of the petroglyph panels made the tours very special.
We concluded our week of New Mexico photography by visiting the Highway 64 steel bridge over the Rio Grande Gorge for some panoramic compositions. Also open again after two years of Covid shutdown was the Taos Pueblo were we spent an hour or so as our last photography location. After learning about the pueblo and its people, we packed up the photo gear and set the GPS for 9104 Lake Isabella Way Northwest. Early the next morning, Bruce slid into his German made luxury sedan, set the cruise control for highway speed, and enjoyed his ride back to San Diego. In retrospect, it was totally sweet for me to be back “on the road again”.
Steer wrestling, calf roping, bronc and bull riding, barrel racing, what could be more exciting? These were the rodeo events at the Gallup, New Mexico, Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial. The last rodeo I attended was in my teen years at the Salt Lake County Fairgrounds in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had read about the Ceremonial in New Mexico Magazine. Founded in 1922, the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial is one of the oldest continuous celebrations of Native American culture and heritage. This year was the event’s centennial celebration and I thought it would provide an interesting photo opportunity.
The Ceremonial was a ten day event but I attended just Friday and Saturday of the last weekend. Gallup’s Red Rock Park, with its outdoor arenas and amphitheater, was the venue for the celebration. Besides the rodeo, there was a parade showcasing the various tribes and pueblos participating in the event. For me, highlights were the traditional tribal dances that are normally performed only at special tribal or pueblo holidays and ceremonies.
The entire experience was engrossing and most enjoyable. I certainly gained a greater appreciation of Native American traditions. Similar to the Gathering-Of-Nations Pow Wow I attended in the spring, the Ceremonial was a celebration for and by Native American families.
You can see more images from this trip in the New Mexico Gallery, under Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, on the home page of the website.
Planes, trains and automobiles provided transit for our month long excursion to the Swiss and Italian Alps. It was American Airlines that transported us from Albuquerque to Amsterdam, KLM that carried us to Zürich, then, the ever efficient and punctual Swiss train system glided us to Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn, and back to Zürich, from where Swiss Air took us to Venice and a rented car got us to the Italian Dolomite Alps. Along the way, we used trams, funiculars, cable cars, cogwheel railroads, and chair lifts to reach some of our destinations, not to mention shanks pony.
It all started on Memorial Day, May 30th, when our neighbor gave us a ride to the Albuquerque airport. With our TSA PreCheck boarding passes, security was a breeze and we were soon on our way, via DFW, to Amsterdam, very much enjoying the comfort of our Business Class cubicles. A visit with my older brother Dick is always an included stop when traveling to Europe. This trip was originally planned for 2020 the year Dick turned 95, so this year he had turned 97 and we were certainly looking forward to seeing him.
Our nephew Wim picked us up at Schiphol and being a very tall person, he was easy to spot in the crowded arrivals area. Wim lives with his girlfriend, Marina, in Middelburg, a small picturesque town about two hours south of Amsterdam. On the way to Middelburg we stopped in Spykenisse where Dick lives, still in his own home. At 97, Dick still looked good, a bit frail and using a walker, but mentally sharp and a good sense of humor. After our visit with Dick we continued on to Middelburg where we stayed three nights at the Fletcher Hotel near the city center. Wim and Marina entertained us with walks along the North Sea dunes and a sail on De Arne waterway in a rented motorboat.
On June 4th, we had a morning flight from Schiphol to Zürich. In order to avoid any potential traffic problems driving from Middelburg, we spent the night before the flight at the airport Citizen M Hotel. By this time we had become aware of the extreme labor shortages at Schiphol, including baggage handlers. So that night, at the Citizen M Hotel, we repacked our bags making sure we had all essential items in our carry-ons. We also took time to walk from the hotel to the departing passenger check-in counters so we would know exactly where to go in the morning. We also decided to leave plenty early in the morning to battle the long check-in and security lines. During our reconnoitering, we had observed insanely long lines of people queued up to check-in.
We left the hotel at 5:30 AM with our bags in tow. When we approached the long queue, we were directed by a friendly KLM staffer to follow the signed priority path that bypassed the long line of disgruntled travelers. It turned out that Jane had had the foresight to purchase the priority boarding option that came with the economy ticket. That saved us hours of waiting in line. Instead, we got to wait several hours at the departure gate, but we were able to relax a bit in the crowded gate area and read our books. The wait at the gate turned out to be a bit longer than expected, however, because the KLM flight to Zürich was delayed an hour. That created some anxiety because we had only a short window of time to catch our train from the Zürich airport to Zermatt. But it all worked out fine. Our single checked bag was the very first bag to arrive on the baggage carousel. After quickly retrieving the bag, we hustled from the baggage claim area down an escalator to the train platform and were comfortably seated in a designated first class quiet car with time to spare for our journey to Zermatt.
In 1865, the British mountaineer Edward Whymper became the first person to scale the Matterhorn. This feat turned Zermatt from a small agricultural village into a Mecca for climbers, skiers, and hikers. For me, the objective was to photograph the iconic, pyramidal peak of the Matterhorn. Geologists call this unique shape a glacial horn. Originally, when collision of the African and European tectonic plates created the Alps, the Matterhorn was a dome shaped mountain. Subsequent ice ages covered the dome shaped mountain with glaciers. These glaciers eroded cirques on three sides of the mountain creating the unique shape of today’s Matterhorn.
At 14,690 feet, the Matterhorn creates its own weather and is often shrouded in clouds. We were fortunate during our five-night stay in Zermatt with the photogenic mountain being visible about half the time, mostly in the mornings before obscuring clouds would form. From Zermatt, there are several ways to traverse higher up the mountain to obtain different views of this glacier formed horn. Not all the lifts were operating yet during our stay, so some of the photo locations I wanted to visit were not available. However, the Gornergrat cogwheel railway was available to take us up to 10,000 feet in elevation. We used this unique train several times to take us to different trailheads along the route.
Jane had gotten us a fantastic accommodation in Zermatt, a two room suite, with balcony, at the Perren Hotel, very close to the train station. Some of our best views of the Matterhorn were from the balcony. Lifts going up the mountain did not start running until about 8:00 AM well after sunrise at 5:30 preventing alpenglow photography. Early on several mornings, however, we watched sunlight descend on the rocky face of the mountain from the comfort of our room. Of course, I was out on the balcony with my camera.
From Zermatt, we trained back to Zürich for a five-night stay at the Marktgasse Hotel in the city’s historic old town district of Niederdorf. We explored much of old Zürich on foot. The hotel was near the Zürichsee, a large lake in Zürich, where throngs of people gathered to stroll along the waterfront and frequented sidewalk cafés. The opera house was also located near the lake and provided free performances on an outdoor screen where people gathered with folding chairs and spread blankets to watch an opera. We actually had tickets for an indoors performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Ballet at the opera house. It was a non-traditional, avant-garde, production with colorful costuming, great choreography, and superb dancing. During our stay in Zürich we also enjoyed a day-trip by train to Bern, the capital of Switzerland.
Our time in the Swiss Alps ended when we packed our bags, boarded a tram to the bahnhof (train station), trained to the Zürich airport, and flew via Swiss Air to Venice to start the next phase of our European excursion. At the Venice airport we rented a Fiat 500, stick shift, compact car with just enough trunk space to hold all our bags. With the help of Google maps Jane navigated us through the maze of airport roads to get us to the autobahn and on our way to Cortina d’Ampezzo, our first destination in the Italian Alps. Jane had rented us an apartment in Cortina d’Ampezzo for five nights and we day-tripped from there.
The Dolomites are part of the Southern Alps and are uniquely different from the rest of the Alps due to the lighter color of the dolomite base rock. When the Alps were formed, millions of years ago, this area of uplift had been coral reefs in a tropical see. Like the Matterhorn, ice age glaciers eroded the uplifted mountain range into the spectacular peaks, pinnacles and escarpments visible today. Elevation wise, the highest peaks in the Dolomites only range just over 10,000 feet or so. At approximately 5,500 square miles, the Dolomite area is about one and a half times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
I had done my research and developed a detailed itinerary of places to photograph in the Dolomites. We drove to some of location, including some picturesque lakes, but mostly we used cable cars and chair lifts to reach the higher alpine valleys where the bare Dolomite peaks and massive cliffs were impressively close. Although the trails are well marked, the trail markers are not always easy to spot. We found ourselves turned around and going somewhat it circles at times, but we were never really lost. The trails were well groomed and easy to navigate but I found that, no matter where you started or what your destination was, there was always an uphill grade to conquer.
After our stay in Cortina d’Ampezzo, we moved to Ortisei for a five night stay at the grand Hotel Stetteneck. We found the Stetteneck more conveniently situated than the apartment in Cortina for walking into the village. Ortisei is a very popular destination and we observed many groups of hikers, young and not so young, walk through the pedestrians-only village to the chair lifts. The age range of hikers we passed on the trails was amazing, from young families with toddlers and baby-carrier backpacks, and a dog, to men and woman obviously at least my age, or older. The Dolomites are riddled with cable cars and chair lifts. Every high alpine meadow we visited had numerous lifts going in all directions on the mountain. I told Jane that if we were to ski here, we would need a GPS to find our way off the mountain. We enjoyed Ortisei a lot and had some wonderful day-trips from there with amazing mountain views.
From Ortisei we traveled to Corvara for our last four nights in the Dolomites. We stayed in the Hotel Italia where we also had a two room suite but the décor was very stark and we did not “warm up” to the suite. One of the longest and steepest cable cars we rode was in Corvara and the views at the top were spectacular. I spent a lot of time working on panoramic compositions there. Also, there was a regional “Bike Day” while we in Corvara where cyclists were given free reign and roads were closed to vehicular traffic. That day we embarked on long hike and ended up in the village of Colfosco where we took a cable car to an alpine rifugio for a much needed lunch break.
Like the Swiss Alps, the recreational infrastructure in the Dolomites is exceptional. There are cable cars and lifts everywhere. Trails are well maintained and signed. Signage in the Dolomites, however, can be confusing. A trail or roadway sign may appear to indicate direction to three different locations when it fact it is only one location in three languages, German, Ladin, and Italian. At the top of every lift there is a café or rifugio offering food, drink, and often rooms. Roads throughout the Dolomites are steep, narrow and winding. They are a magnet for speeding sport cars and daredevil motorcycles. We encountered those continuously as we traveled to our photo destinations, not to mention cyclists slowly peddling up the steep grades or coasting extremely fast downhill.
On our fifteenth day in the Dolomites we left Corvara, turned south, and headed back towards Venice. That night we stayed at the Marriott Hotel at the Venice Airport. We repacked our bags again for the journey home. On the morning June 28th we boarded our American Airlines flight back to Albuquerque, again enjoying our business class cubicles, and arriving in Albuquerque near midnight after a twenty hour travel day. It is always good to be home again.
To see some additional photos of the Matterhorn and Dolomites, return to the homepage and go the Europe Gallery to Switzerland and Italy.
Our travels for 2022 started in February with a fantastic private photo adventure of Costa Rica that exceeded expectations (See previous Blog). This spring, our travels continued first with an attempt to escape Albuquerque’s cold weather followed by a trip to actually embrace the cold. In mid-March we ventured south hoping for warmer temperatures. That did not happen but the conditions were much better than in Albuquerque where it snowed while we were gone. One of our “Friday Happy Hour” neighbors, Jim Barnes, had gone out after the snowstorm to take some pictures around the neighborhood, including one of our house.
The objective of our trip south was to photograph spring wildflowers at various locations. Unfortunately the continuing drought in the southwest spoiled that. We did stumble upon some early blooming trees that were host to swarming pipevine swallowtail butterflies feeding on the blossom’s nectar. During our random motoring along country roads we were also able to photograph some unidentified flowers growing along the shoulders of the road along with some birds and a field of cultivated bright yellow flowers that we assumed to be rapeseed. So, all was not in vain for this short trip south.
Continuing our Spring 2022 travels, in early-April, Jane and I ventured to Fairbanks, Alaska, to observe and photograph the Aurora Borealis. We knew it would be cold and it was very cold. Fairbanks had endured more snowfall this winter than it had for several decades and massive drifts of snow had been plowed along sides of the roads. I had signed us up for three consecutive nights of aurora watching. As it turned out I did not need the “insurance policy” of three tours as we watched in awe at the spectacular display of the aurora each night.
For three consecutive nights, the routine went like this. Dinner around six (fortunately there were several restaurants to select from around our hotel, including a Japanese restaurant where we had dinner several nights), then back to the hotel where we would receive an email around seven each night letting us know at what time we would be picked up by the tour guide. The pickup time was usually sometime just before ten o’clock. We would grab a short snooze between seven and nine each night before bundling up in our cold weather gear. And bundle up we did with multiple layers of warm clothing topped with heavy parkas and chemical warmers in our gloves and boots.
Each night there were ten clients in the van heading out for the aurora. Before starting, our guide would check the weather cams located around Fairbanks to find where there were clear skies. Then we would set out driving about sixty miles or so out of town where there was no light pollution from Fairbanks. The aurora is most vivid when the night is darkest and that was normally around one to two in the morning. At that time, with clear skies, temperatures ranged from 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit making us very happy with our extreme attire. We would get back to the hotel close to 4 AM each morning where we would unbundle ourselves and crawl into bed.
Jane and I rated this trip a most definite success. Images from the trip have been added to the Aurora Borealis gallery.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. It was supposed to be simple, a routine winter getaway to warm Costa Rica. Bags were packed and we were ready for an early morning departure. But then, much to our surprise, Winter Storm Landon appeared on the scene and everything became complicated. As we were getting ready to retire for the night, a text message from the airline informed us that our morning flight had been cancelled. Complication after complication followed that initial text. Eventually, in the middle of the night, we were able to purchase tickets on another airline for the next day, the day after our originally scheduled departure. But we made it to Costa Rica even if it was a day late.
In preparation for our trip, we had arranged a customized itinerary with a local tour company Costa Rica Focus, which also included a private naturalist guide/driver. The itinerary consisted of extended stays at three different locations, Manual Antonio National Park on the southern Pacific Coast, Arenal Volcano National Park in the highland rainforest, and the Sarapiqui region of the Caribbean lowlands. At each of these locations, Costa Rica Focus had arranged for private wildlife viewing and photography at various ecological reserves and private biological conservation sanctuaries. This was a twelve day, all-inclusive tour for just the two of us with Minor Hidalgo, our guide/driver, taking care of everything.
After all the turmoil dealing with airline issues it was a relief to settle in at the Hotel Playa Espadilla adjacent to Manual Antonio National Park. We were more than ready to enjoy the warm humid air, appreciate the remote jungle setting, and marvel at the diversity of wildlife. Most of Costa Rica’s wildlife consists of birds with 850 species. During our travels, Minor Hidalgo helped us locate and identify 155 species and I was able to photograph more than a hundred of those, with about half being species I had not photographed before.
Arrangements for this Costa Rica adventure were made well in advance of the actual trip. So it came as a bit of a surprise to us that the trip coincided with my 83rd birthday. We celebrated with dinner at El Avión, a very unique eatery at Manual Antonio where a C-123 Fairchild cargo plane had been converted into a pub and restaurant. Now the pressure is on me to contrive a similar birthday experience for Jane.
At Manual Antonio, Costa Rica Focus’ itinerary included a private mangrove boat tour. This excursion was tide dependent and required a pre-dawn departure from the hotel. Jane and I had kayaked through a mangrove before in Baja California but that was nothing like the Costa Rica mangrove. Here the various mangrove tree species were huge with a dense jumble of tangled roots reaching up from the water. The narrow water ways gave the impression of boating through a jungle. We encountered several new bird species including the diminutive American pygmy kingfisher and the very large bare-throated tiger heron.
Our next destination was Arenal Volcano National Park where we stayed four nights at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Outings from here included Ecocentro Danaus, a private ecological reserve, Mistico Hanging Bridges, with its 16 bridges suspended through the rainforest canopy, and Arenal Natura, where we were able to photograph tropical frogs and reptiles. All these were private visits for just the two of us and our own guides. We also spent a lot of time searching for and photographing birds around the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Playing birds songs recorded on the Merlin app on his smart phone, Minor was able to entice small songbirds to approach close enough to be photographed.
Ara Ambigua Lodge, a friendly family run hotel, was our last accommodation. In addition to photographing birds feeding on melons and bananas provided by the lodge staff, Minor also led us on explorations of area pastures to locate other Costa Rica birds including macaws, parakeets, tanagers, woodpeckers, and flycatchers. One morning was spent at the La Selva Biological Station, a world renowned research facility. La Selva was the first private ecological conservation area in Costa Rica. The trails at La Selva meander through origin old growth rainforest where we encountered a variety of exotic, colorful birds, including trogons, motmots, and woodpeckers.
Our final stop on this truly amazing Costa Rica adventure was Cope’s Garden not far from the Ara Ambigua Lodge. Cope’s Garden was created by wildlife artist José Albert Pérez as a retreat for birders and photographers. From the garden, we followed José into the surrounding forest where he cleared a trail for us with his machete. The purpose of this foray was to locate spectacled owls and white bats, both of which José successfully found for us. Photographing the white bats proved to be a challenge. These bats are very small, white fluffy mammals about the size of a ping pong ball. They are nocturnal and roost during the day under large plant leaves that are folded into a “tent” shape. I had to lay supine on my back while Minor illuminated the bats with a flashlight in order to photograph them. I would dare say that was the highlight of the trip.
The ending of an outstanding adventure is bitter sweet. To mitigate this nostalgia is to have reason to return. I have a reason to return. My primary goal for undertaking this Costa Rica trip was to photograph a mother sloth with her baby. That did not happen. Sloths were seen and photographed, even sloths with a baby were seen, but they were not photographable. So, happily I have a reason to return to Costa Rica and try again to attain my goal of photographing a sloth with baby.
To see more of the pictures from this trip to to the "Costa Rica 2022" Gallery on the home page of the web site.