First Trip Of 2024

April 25, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Finally!!!  It has been a long time between photo trips and so, at last, here is my first blog of 2024.

A few months back, after previously having decided not to photograph the 2024 total solar eclipse, I had a change of heart and made arrangements to travel to San Angelo, Texas, for this extraordinary event.  In 2017, Jane and I had traveled from San Diego to Idaho to witness the total eclipse.  Having experienced the spectacle in 2017, I had decided we did not need to do it again.  But as April 8 drew closer, the challenge of photographing another eclipse got the better of me.  Jane was not as keen as I was to go again, so we decided that I would ask my photo buddy, Bruce Hollingsworth, to join me for a photo trip and that Jane would make arrangements to visit her friend Gigi Alpers in New York City.  And that is what we did.

Bruce drove from San Diego to Albuquerque and from there we started a week long, two thousand mile, photography road trip.  The venture started, of course, with a drive to San Angelo, Texas, for the eclipse.  As part of the trip planning, I had chosen several alternative viewing locations from San Angelo in case weather became an issue.  And weather did indeed, become an issue.  According to weather reports our original shooting location in Llano, Texas, was going to be socked in with over 90% cloud cover.  We opted for an alternative location, Evant, Texas, where the cloud cover was projected to be only around 45%.  It turned out to be a good decision.  Bruce and I had a good view of the eclipse where as in Llano, we learned, the overcast sky blocked the eclipse.  Unfortunately, shortly after “totality” clouds moved in over Evant and we also lost sight of the ongoing eclipse.

 

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Based on my experience returning from the eclipse in Idaho, I fully anticipated heavy traffic and long delays driving back from Evant to San Angelo.  But, fortunately, those stressful driving conditions did not materialize.  Instead we enjoyed a leisurely drive on rural “farm to market” roads with occasional opportunities to photograph roadside wildflowers along the way.

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Our next objective on this photo journey was Carlsbad Cavern National Park in New Mexico.  The drive from San Angelo to Carlsbad routed us through the oil patch of the Permian Basin.  The barren, oil well studded landscape was a dramatic change from the pastoral ranches and orchards of the Texas hill country.   For hours we dodged 18-wheeler semi-trucks loaded with heavy equipment to service the myriad oil wells scattered throughout the prairie.

As is the case now at most national parks, timed tickets are required to enter the Carlsbad Caverns.  I had acquired our timed tickets a month before starting the trip.  That turned out to have been a good strategy since there were no tickets available for the days we were at caverns.  Bruce and I spent two days photographing the speleothems in the cave.  I was certainly challenged to find compelling compositions.  Inside the cave, the main cavern, the “Big Room”, is huge and I found it difficult to convey the size and complexity of the cave photographically.  But I tried.

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From Carlsbad we traveled to the Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Site, a private preserve some fifty miles north of Santa Fe.  Bruce and I had visited Mesa Prieta in 2022, so I had arranged for private tours in new areas where we had not photographed before.  As before, our enthusiastic and energetic guide was Cathy Benthagen.  She overwhelmed us with stories and anecdotes about the spiritual aspects of the many petroglyphs we encountered.  Trails on the private reserve are fairly steep and not well established.  Bruce, being from sea level, was struggling a bit at 7,500 feet.

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After morning and afternoon petroglyph tours with Cathy, we continued on our photography road trip, driving past the communities of Abiquiu, Coyote, Regina and Cuba, to our next destination for a three night stay in Bloomfield. The Best Western Hotel in Bloomfield served as our home base for two exhaustive days of photographing the San Juan Basin Badlands.  Although Bruce and I had photographed portions of these badlands before, I had learned about other sites with intriguing erosional features that I wanted to photograph.  These unique formations came with fascinating monikers like Alien Throne, The Sentinel, King of Wings, The Castle, and The Guardians.  With names like that, who wouldn’t want to photograph these eroded hoodoos.

There turned out to be a small problem.  The San Juan Basin Badlands is a vast, treeless plain cut by broad east-west trending valleys.  Ownership is mostly divided between federal lands, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and Navajo Nation lands.  The road system throughout the badlands is a spider web of rough graded tracks and two-track dirt toads with little or no signage.  I was very concerned that we would not be able to find our way to the trailheads, nor find the trails, in this desolate area without a knowledgeable guide.  Fortunately, I was able to find just such an experienced, knowledgeable guide.

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Kialo Winters, Owner/CEO/Tour Guide of Navajo Tours USA, was our guide for the photo adventure in the badlands.  As we bounced along the rough rutted dirt tracks to the various trailheads, Bruce and I would frequently confide that we would never have found our way without Kialo.  In order to be in place for photography by sunrise, we met up with Kialo each morning at 5:30 AM at a Sinclair service station, about thirty miles south of Bloomfield.  That also meant getting up by 4:30 AM in order to be on the road by five for the thirty minute drive to the Sinclair station.  By late morning, around 10:30 or so, we would head back from the photo locations driving laboriously on those deeply rutted, washboard roads to the Sinclair station and from there back to Bloomfield for lunch and a short nap.  Then, we would meet Kialo again at the Sinclair station around 3:30 PM for the afternoon excursions and sunset photography. By the time we left the field and drove back to Bloomfield we would arrive there around 9:30 PM just before Blake’s Lots-A-Burger fast food establishment closed.  That was our routine for two days.  After that, it was happily back to Albuquerque for a satisfying, tasty meal and long, sound sleep.

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