Thursday, September 27, 2012

Along the Rio Chama

I went for a drive the other day.  A friend recommended that I take the drive to a nearby monastery, so I did.  The dirt road followed the Rio Chama for much of its course.  The changing leaves and the far cliffs set me up for a few nice shots.

On the way out, with the sun behind me, some of the formations became really nice.

A bit later, the skies became stormy.  The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds.  When it was out, the light was a real treat.

 Red rocks against a white and blue sky - gotta love those colors!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Welcome to Abiquiu

After I left Heron Lake, I headed south for a 2 week stay at Abiquiu Lake.  Abiquiu gained some notoriety from one of its residents - Georgia O'Keefe.  I can't say for sure that this is right, but I understand that the photo below is of the cabin where she stayed.

The surrounding land is characterized by the iconic sandstone, shaped by wind and water, set amid high desert.

I can only imagine sitting in that cabin and watching the dramatic sunsets that have been such a rewarding aspect of my stays in New Mexico.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On The Edge

First, there was "Travels To The Edge with Art Wolfe", a PBS series in which Art Wolfe, a master photographer, is accompanied by a film crew as he goes to, and photographs, marvelous places.  More recently, a knock-off of this idea, "Beyond The Edge with Peter Lik" was done.  Art Wolfe tells an entertaining and informative story in each half hour segment.  Peter Lik shares the challenges and frustrations involved in trying to get that "gallery shot".

So, here is my version of "edgy" photography.  I am at Heron Lake in New Mexico.  The Rio Chama flows out of the dam that forms the reservoir, into a canyon 430 feet below the rim that is perhaps a half mile south of where I am sitting at this moment.  I hiked to that edge yesterday.

Approaching the edge, it is a very sharp lip of hard, tight rock, tilting slightly away from the chasm.

Some great views are available of the river below and the canyon formed by it.

The area near the edge is decorated with vegetation, including wildflowers.

Looking carefully (and when you go, alone, to such places you ALWAYS need to look carefully) that solid, tight edge looks a little less secure.  First, it tends to be undercut, so the rock right at the edge is resting on air.

What is really unsettling is that there are often fissures near the edge.

These fissures are being enlarged by moisture that penetrates the cracks, filling them with ice in the winter.  The ice expands and pushes the crack open a tiny bit more each year.  In places, these fissures can be all but invisible, marked only by a line of vegetation whose roots find moisture below the rock surface that underlies a thin film of dirt. 

Some are easy to spot.

Others are harder.

With some, a faint crack here and there in the rock, and a line of trees, may be your only warning.  Instinct is your friend (and no, they do not come with nice, neat red dashed lines marking them)

In places they can be deep, pronounced and unmistakeable. 

Here is what it looks like BELOW that fissure.
I tried to be sure that I did not walk on the edge side of any fissures, whether subtle or obvious.  In geological terms, these overhangs are about to drop into the canyon.  Maybe it will happen in 10,000 years, or 100 years, or maybe tomorrow.  All I know is I do not want to be standing on the edge when it decides it is time to drop.

So - why go to such places?  For the view, of course.

Even the walk back on the flats can be nice.

Adios Colorado

She treated me nicely, but it is time to ease on down into New Mexico.  So, here are a few parting thoughts and images.

Driving from Ouray to Silverton was a pretty amazing experience.  The road is steep, two lane, winding, has no shoulder or edge protection and is a LOOOOONG way down.  From the cab, I could see nothing but air beyond the edge of pavement.   I am very glad I did it, but I don't think I will plan that route again.

After Silverton, I wound up in Durango.  I had a time constraint while there so I did not get to see the steam train that goes from Durango to Silverton.  Perhaps I will manage that another time.  I DID get to see the Cumbres and Toltec train.  It does a sightseeing run from Chama, NM up into Colorado, then back.  I caught it right at the State line.

After getting a few minor vehicle problems taken care of, I went exploring.  A Forest Service road took me high into the mountains.  There, I got to see many of the trees that gave Aspen, CO its name.  They were crowned in autumn gold, held up by their white legs.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Colorado Gold

I spent two days in the western range in Colorado.  On one of those days I drove up to Cottonwood Pass, over 12,000 feet high.  Part way there, the road led through an arid, relatively flat valley.  Perched on a hill overlooking that valley was a beautiful hawk.

He only allowed me a few minutes of looking before he took flight.

He did grace me with a fly-over as he floated toward the hills in the distance.

Heading down the hill, the sun lit up leaves that were beginning the Autumn change.

Even marsh grasses were turning gold.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison


I have seen the vastness ot the Grand Canyon, the depth of Hells Canyon, the narrowness of Antelope Canyon, the vertical walls of Canyon de Chelle, but nothing has compared with this.  At 2300 feet deep, the Black Canyon is not as deep as the Grand Canyon or Hells Canyon but with them, the bottom is waaaay over there.  At the Black Canyon, it is straight down below you.  Canyon de Chelle has vertical walls, but they enfold a flat plain that has been farmed for centuries before Europeans found it.

The Black Canyon took my breath away.  The far side is perhaps a thousand feet from you as you lean over and look down nearly half a mile to the river squeezing its way between boulders that choke its path.

A few miles to the north and south the land is underlain by soft shale.  Millenia ago, the Gunnison River began its cutting in this path.  As it encountered a metamorphic rock strata, some of the hardest rock known, it was locked into its bed.  As the land rose, the only direction it had was down, and so it began to cut its way, deeper and deeper into an incredibly hard surface.
No Native Americans called this rugged Canyon home.  There is no sign that they even had trails through it. 

The overlooks place you right at the edge, with nothing but air between you and the river far below.

Seams allowed intrusions of even harder rock (pegmatite, if I remember right).  The lighter colored material forms stripes in the wall.  The far wall in this photo is named the Painted Wall, and rises 2300 uninterrupted feet from the Gunnison River.

Its name comes from its depth and verticality.  Sunlight almost never reaches the bottom in many places and except at the few times when the sun falls upon the walls, the Canyon has a dark, almost brooding feel.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Rifle Falls

I spent three days at Rifle Falls State Park in Colorado.  Just above the campground is a triple waterfall. 

I could hear it at night with my windows open.  Sweet.

Flaming Gorge

After leaving the Tetons I stopped at Flaming Gorge for a few days.  I did one short hike there.  So - which way would YOU go? 

There was no sign.  I picked right - the left.

Accessible from the road is an overlook at Red Canyon.  It is 1300 feet down to the water.

That overlook must be stunning at dawn. 

A few random shots

I usually try to weave my photos into a mini-story, sharing the experience with those who check out my blog.  Sometimes that doesn't work.  Here are a few isolated images from the Tetons.

A doe and fawn

Colter Bay


Teton morning

In and Near Gros Ventre CG

I found that I did not have to hike to see critters.  Pronghorn antelope were a common sight driving to and from the campground.

Moose frequented the area.

Sometimes they wandered right through the campground.

One encounter was unnerving.  I had parked the car and walked along the road to check something out.  A few hundred yards from the car, I turned around and started back.  Two bison emerged from a hilltop and crossed the road in front of me, between me and the car.  I stopped and waited until they were well down into the Gros Ventre River area, then continued.  About a hundred yards from my car, a really BIG bison crested the hill.  I stopped.  He stopped.

And thus we stayed for about 10 minutes.  I had no shelter behind me.  I was too far from the car to reach it if he became upset with me.  He clearly wanted to follow the others but was waiting for me to be gone.  If I continued to the car I would pass him about 50 yards from him - too close for safety.  So we stood there.

Eventually he disappeared back over the hill.  I beat feet to the car and left.