Monday, January 31, 2011

Canyon de Chelly

The cliffs of the Grand Canyon dropped mostly at an angle formed of a series of steps, vertical cliffs and slopes.  Canyon de Chelly, near the eastern edge of Arizona, is a red rock canyon that is more manageable in scale but has sides that tend more toward the vertical.  The bottom of the canyon is almost flat, giving the canyon a rather boxy shape in cross section.  Through the bottom of the canyon runs a stream that contributed to the forming of the canyon.

Thousands of years ago, this canyon was the home of the Anasazi people.  They had some cluster homes set against the cliff face, such as Antelope House.
The cliffs loom 600 to 800 feet above the community house, providing shelter and seclusion.

Antelope House gets its name from the art on the cliff wall nearby.  The art dates back perhaps 150 to 200 years, and is attributed to an artist from the Hopi Nation.  Set above a ledge perhaps 50 feet above the canyon floor, the art is drawn, life-sized, from a precarious perch that most of us would feel uncomfortable getting to, much less working on.

Those vertical walls became home to the Anasazi people.  Just east of Antelope House is a formation called (if I remember correctly) Fortress Rock, on the left side of the photo below.  On its face are holes into which wooden stakes could be placed.  The Anasazi could then climb these stakes, removing them as they go, providing escape and shelter from their enemies.

The canyon floor was not the only area used for living.  There were many places on the cliffs themselves where the foundations and some walls of these community homes remain.

To give you a sense of scale, that house is located in a horizontal seam midway up the cliff face.  The image below is a base-to-top view of that wall with the dwelling remnants in the center. 

Imagine having to climb that wall to get to your home, carrying all your food, water and fuel.  I guess you would get irritated if you forgot something...

I think I will return to Canyon de Chelly.  First, I want to get some early morning and late afternoon shots from the rim.  Second, there is a jeep tour through the base of the canyon.  I want to do that.  It leaves at 9:00, and when I was there last week, I just was not about to get up early enough to be ready for a jeep tour at 9.  As both MacArthur and Arnold S. said, I'll be back.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Grand Canyon

This was hard. 

First, the Canyon is big.  Really big.  Grand...  I was at an exhibit at Grand Canyon Village and a tourist wondered where Skywalk was.  When I told him it was 200 miles and a 5 hour drive to the west, he didn't believe me.  It took reinforcement by a Ranger before he began to have a sense of scale, and we were near the center of the Canyon, not at its easterly limit.

Its scale means that when you look at it, you cannot see all that is before you.  Your eye picks out a succession of formations, taking in the view a piece at a time.

The camera does not do that.  It will either grab a wide angle image of multiple formations, a series of cliffs and chasms, or it will select a small component.  Shadows are black if you expose for a sunlit wall, and my strobe is just not strong enough to light a ravine a few miles away.  The sunlit areas bleach out if you expose for shadows.

My shooting was an evolution.  First, I tried for big views, using an exposure tending toward the lit areas and using post-production to bring up the shadows.

Next I tried to capture prominent features and colors set against the far expanses.

I tried using natural features to frame the canyon.

I tried selecting prominent natural or unique features.

Layers -

Whatever you shoot, you are shooting down - way down - unless you are able to descend into the Canyon.

Finally, I accepted that the Grand Canyon is too grand for me to capture with my little camera and lens.  I picked a few points that allowed me to show them confined in a way that I could grasp the image with my eye.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Grand Canyon sunrise

This morning I got up early to watch the dawn in the canyon.  I was VERY glad I knew how to dress.  I was wearing 4 layers of fleece and poly.  Even so, the pre-dawn temps and the wind at the rim made it cold, though tolerable.

Join me to watch the dawning sunlight drop into the canyon.
 Moment by moment, the light changed, bringing points and walls out of the shadow, lighting them crimson and yellow in the rising sun.

Once the sun was up a bit, it lit, beautifully, the buttress upon which I was standing at Mather Point.
The daytime colors of the canyon began to emerge.
Cool stuff!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Red Rocks and Energy Vortexes

I am revisiting Sedona, AZ and am joined by my brother and sister-in-law.  I am doing some photography, but I am more focused on hosting their visit.
While here, I have asked about, and thought about the phenomenon known as "energy vortexes" for which this area is so well known.  As explained to me by a resident and guide, the energy vortexes are concentrations of energy that are focused upward by the shape and substance of the rocks here.  In places, erosion has formed domes.  At many of these domes the earth's magnetic field is focused by the domes to create an upward flowing vortex of energy that infuses visitors with a sense of energy and well-being.
The domes, and indeed all the rocks around here, contain concentrations of iron that turn the rock the distinctive red color.  Above the red is often a layer of orange or yellow rock with varying concentrations of iron and other minerals which provides striations in the formations.  Sculpting by wind and water produces the remarkable shapes that we see here.
The red rocks do contain relatively high concentrations of iron.  Such does affect the earth's magnetic field.  Any concentration of iron does so.  In this area, however, the earth's magnetic field is primarily horizontal.  A dome may alter the field somewhat, but far more effect is imposed by a pair of spires upon the channel between them than is imposed at the top of a dome.  The tops of the domes are places where the iron-bearing rock has been removed, thus reducing the effect upon the magnetic field.  The domes do not, can not, act as "lenses" redirecting the earth's magnetic field upward.  Their effect is far too small.
 We contain iron in the form of hemoglobin.  Do we affect the earth's magnetic field?  By some minute amount, we do but that is so small as to be unmeasurable.  We do know this - our ferrous content is so small that a magnetic field a million times the concentration of the earth's has no noticeable effect on us.  If you have ever had a MRI, you have experienced such a field yet your blood flow was unaltered.

Magnetometers can measure the earth's magnetic field with great precision, thus can measure differences in the magnetic field.  So can a compass, but with far less precision.  A compass is, however, much more sensitive to the earth's magnetic field than we are, which is why we have them and use them.  The variations in the earth's magnetic field near the red rocks are not enough to noticeably affect a compass.  Further, any such shift would be to the horizontal nature of the field.  It is certainly not turned vertical by such minute amounts of iron, regardless of the shapes of the rocks.
When I stood on top of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite my spirit was infused with peace and joy.  When I stood in a grove of Sequoias, I again was infused with peace and joy.  I have felt this in many places I have visited - a spring in Missouri or Florida, a waterfall in North Carolina, a tidal basin or pond in Maine, a powerful river racing through a gorge in Oregon, an unbelievably blue lake atop an extinct volcano in Oregon…  I think we all feel that outflow of tension and inflow of peace when we allow ourselves to rejoin nature, whether for a minute or an hour.  It renews our spirit.  I doubt, however, that each of these places was an energy vortex.  They do help me set aside the troubles that normally rest upon all our shoulders and bear us down.

That does NOT mean that it is a force of nature, an energy vortex as it were.  I think it is a life force within us, which gets trapped by the trammels of our culture and civilization.  If we hear about, and believe in such things as energy vortexes, and we travel to a place like Sedona, then climb to the top of a dome hoping and expecting to experience an energy vortex, we will feel a flowing of energy and we will believe that it comes from an external source, perhaps the realignment of the earth's magnetic field.  Our psyche will assure that our expectations and preconceptions are fulfilled.  If we have a basic understanding of science and come to Sedona with no expectations of energy vortexes, we can still climb to the top of a dome and sit and allow ourselves to feel renewed without the need for an imaginary energy vortex.  I believe that that such renewal comes from inside, not from external energy vortexes.

Are there energy vortexes here?  Science can almost never prove a negative, so I can not say no.  All I can say is that there is no indication, at least to me, that there are such, either here or anywhere.  Maybe someday, science will find some measurable force that travels upward through the earth, and is focused into a vortex by a dome of red rock.  Until then, I will be content with simply enjoying the beauty that is around me, without the need to invest it with some supernatural energy fields.

If you want to feel renewed, get out to nature and immerse yourselves in it.  If you want to experience a more intense concentration of the earth's magnetic field, get in your car.  That, at least, has enough ferrous concentration to affect a compass needle.

Me?  I will just relax and enjoy the beauty.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Reminiscences - Half Dome

Many years ago, I was given a book titled "Mountain Light" by Galen Rowell.  He immediately became a favorite of mine and I bought a number of his books.  In them, he described some of his techniques for photography.  I studied those techniques and tried those that I could.  About 12 or so years ago, I was at Yosemite.  Galen Rowell had a cover photo on one of his books showing the face of Half Dome lit a burnt orange color by the setting sun.  I wanted to try and capture a similar image.

The actual color of the rock in Yosemite is a light to medium gray granite.  The face of Half Dome has a dark streak from snow melt.  Other than that, the face has little color.  Alpenglow can, and does, change that.

Alpenglow is the creation of a ruddy tone caused by reds and yellows playing an increased role in lighting a subject.  It is most noticeable at higher altitudes.

Two evenings, about two hours before sunset and full of optimism, I set off to try to see and photograph alpenglow.  I know that I took photos from Glacier Point and from the top of Sentinel Dome.  I wish I remembered which one was the location I used in the shot below.  I do remember this - I thought my effort was a failure.

Our eyes "see" light differently than slide film.  Slide film is chemically balanced to give good color rendition (the way we see it) midday with daylight film and under incandescent light with indoor film.  Our eyes, however, change depending on the color balance of the light we are seeing.  When we are in an environment lit by incandescent lights, our eyes adjust almost immediately so that colors look normal, but a photograph of such a setting using daylight film looks tinted yellow or orange to us.

So - I hiked to my spot, sat, looked at Half Dome, swatted mosquitoes and waited for the view before me to turn orange.  It didn't.  At one point, it did seem to have a bit of a yellowish cast to it that looked interesting.  I bracketed my shot and hoped for the best.  Weeks later, I got my slides back and found this.

Thank you, Galen Rowell, and we miss you.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reminiscences - Tom and Ann

This blog started as a means to let friends and family know where I was and to let them see, through the eye of my camera, some of what I was seeing.  It has evolved into something with more of a photography emphasis.

Before I retired, I managed to capture some nice shots, ones that I think are worth sharing.  In lulls between shooting and sharing new photos, I have decided to post some of these reminiscences.  Many of these have stories associated with them.  One such is about Tom and Ann.

I used to own a timeshare on Bonaire, a small island in the southern Caribbean near Aruba.  Being there the same time every year, I got to see the same people over and over.  One such couple was Tom and Ann.  To me, then, they were an older couple.  I did not socialize with them but we would smile and say hello when we met.

My thing on Bonaire was scuba, underwater video, and photography with a photo emphasis on (can you guess) sunsets.  Every evening I was out with my camera.  I noticed that every evening, Tom and Ann would be sitting on the swimming dock, holding hands and watching the sun settle into the sea.  One evening the sky was rich with color and I set up my shot using them.  They are the couple on the right.

The next day, I went on a dive boat with friends and did a morning dive.  When we returned to the resort, we heard that a diver had had a heart attack while on a dive.  His wife brought him to the surface and he was raced to the island's hospital, but there was nothing that could be done for him - he was probably dead before being brought to the surface.  It was Tom.

I didn't see Ann after that, but when I got home and saw the photo, I was moved by the realization that this was probably the last photo of the two of them.  It became (and still is) one of my favorites.  While I had a home, it held a prominent place on my wall.

Sometimes chance or fate gives us the opportunity to do a good thing.  The next year, I was delighted to see that Ann, now with her brother and sister-in-law, had returned to Bonaire. I got her address and sent her a copy of the photo, matted and framed.