Death Valley Trip Part II

After traveling North in the park, we stayed the night at Stovepipe Wells. I was surprised to find a small cell tower in the parking lot, which provided the opportunity to call home and check in. The tower wasn’t very tall and when you drive a couple of miles away, you promptly loose your signal. It was nice to have the ability to call home at night and check in. We arose early with the promise of a nice sunrise and headed down the road to the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. This trail takes you off the main road West onto the Salt Flats and ends in a small parking area next to the Salt Creek. As we approached the parking area I was surprised to see that there was water in the creek. I know that sounds counter intuitive, but this area is typically very dry. The recent rains to the west setup just the right circumstances for us to have a small amount of flow heading towards the low point in the basin. I picked out a spot along the creek and waited for the sun and clouds to do their morning dance. The air was cold and there was a slight breeze. I had a few moments to enjoy the scene before me as I waited, looking out over the expanse of the basin.  After a few short minutes, the clouds began to light up & we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise. 

Daybreak - Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
Daybreak – Salt Creek Interpretive Trail

After the sunrise, we headed over to the dunes at Stovepipe Wells and parked along the road about a mile past the parking area. I wanted to hike out to the dunes into an area that wasn’t littered with hundreds of footprints. While I’m not entirely opposed to having footprints in my images, I prefer to shoot the landscape untouched by man. If I do choose to create an image that has footprints, It will likely be just a single set walking off into the expanse. We explored the area for a couple hours, climbing to the tops of a few of the taller dunes. 

Stovepipe wells sand dunes
Stovepipe wells sand dunes

The rest of the day was planned for visiting the Racetrack Playa, long on my list of places to visit & the location of the fabled sailing stones. The Racetrack is an extremely flat dry lake bed which only has about 1.5″ of elevation change over its 2.8 mile length, sitting at over 3700′ tucked up between two mountain ranges in a very remote area of the park. Short of a helicopter ride, there are two ways to get to the Racetrack: From the North near Ubehebe Crater, or the South near Panamint Springs. The Southern access is via Lippincott pass that is marked on most maps as extremely difficult true back country 4 wheeling with steep grades and very uneven terrain. I wouldn’t attempt it without a high clearance 4WD with heavy duty off road tires. We were already in the North end of the park and were not going to take the chance to see if our rental could make the South pass access, so we decided on the access road from the Ubehebe Crater. This is 27 miles of unmanaged dirt road with numerous washed out areas & sharp rocks. It took us a little over 2 hours to drive the distance mainly because you can’t drive more than 10-12 mph without vibrating your wheels right off of your vehicle. There were several areas where flash floods have washed out part of the path, but it was still passable. If you decide to take this trip, make sure your vehicle has good ground clearance to make sure you don’t end up bottomed out or with a punctured oil pan. There is no cell phone service and help can be 4 hours to days away depending on the weather. During the trip out, we only saw one other vehicle heading back. At about 6 miles away, you will come upon Teakettle Junction, which is where you can take the road due East up into the Cottonwood Mountains. At the junction, there is a sign where past travelers have been leaving their tea kettles hanging – an interesting landmark in a desolate area.  Upon arrival, to our surprise there was a minivan parked on the side of the road, but no one else around. After a short period I went to check it out and found a note in the windshield stating they would be back in a few days. Not sure if they broke down or if they were doing some real back country camping. 
We explored the playa looking for recent evidence of sailing stones but did not have any luck. This phenomenon is seasonal and the conditions need to be right for it to happen. The rains over the summer form a thin sheet of water on the playa turning the hard surface to a soft mud. Any tracks from previous activity are erased as the water evaporates and the soft mud flattens out. The playa will continue to dry where the hexagon shaped cracks will form again. The playa will remain this way until some rains, freezing temps and wind come along to get stones moving again.

Last light on hexagonal patterns on the Racetrack Playa
Last light on hexagonal patterns on the Racetrack Playa
Future sailing stone on Racetrack Playa
Future sailing stone on Racetrack Playa

We planned on camping out at the Racetrack in hopes of taking some images lit by moonlight, but the winds were so strong that there was no way I was going to get the tent setup. With a front moving in, we decided it was better to head back before it got dark, so we began the 2 hour drive back to the main part of the park. After a total of 4 hours of being jarred around in the SUV, we were both exhausted. Jenn’s fitbit logged 30k steps and 180 floors all due to the rough trip.

We stayed the night at the Furnace Creek Inn and planned the last day of the trip, which would include sunrise at Badwater Basin from West Side Road followed by another attempt at Ibex dunes before heading home. I settled on a spot a couple of miles onto West Side road and scoped out the landscape. There were no clouds in the sky facing East, so I decided to shoot away from the sun hoping that we would get some nice color on the Cottonwood Mountains. The area I stopped at had some really large hexagonal crust formations and made for a really interesting foreground. The salt deposits pushed up 6-8 inches, something I hadn’t seen here before. 

Sunrise over the Panamint Range
Sunrise over the Panamint Range

After sunrise, we headed South on our route towards the Southern tip of the park. The first day we visited, we noticed an ATV park called Dumont Dunes, which is outside of the park, but right across the road. Once we got into the area, we decided to check out these dunes to see how they would look compared to Ibex. It was largely empty except for a few campers and riders, and you could drive right up to the edge of the dunes. I decided to shoot here for the afternoon. There is something about the intricate patterns in the windswept dunes that intrigues me. I have been drawn to them since my early days with a camera. The patterns are both chaotic and systematic at the same time. I’m sure Jenn saw her fill of dunes, I could have spent the whole week photographing them.

Dummond dunes in the afternoon light
Dummond dunes in the afternoon light

After a while, the winds started picking up and we experienced our first true sandstorm. The winds were blowing so hard that I could not even get out of the vehicle and visibility was down to about 50 feet. We decided to call it a day and start heading back to Las Vegas to fly out the next morning. I was able to come away with some great shots during our couple of hours in the park. 

The trip was a great experience that I hope to repeat in years to come. I’ve logged plenty of miles and learned the lay of the land very well, which will make future visits much easier.

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed…


Oregon trip – final morning

The final morning of my trip I decided to head up to one of the lakes that surrounded Mount Hood for the morning. After doing a bit of google map recon, I decided on Trillium Lake, which was a short 45 min drive from the hotel. I gave myself plenty of time in the morning to be on-site before twilight which meant an early start for me. I got up at 4am and was on the road a short while later. As I drove on RT. 26 heading toward the park, I could see Mt. Hood in the light of the full moon towering over the landscape. It was an amazing sight in the dark of night with the moon really bright in the cool, crisp & clear Oregon air. As I drove higher into the mountains, the temp was dropping rapidly and finally leveled out at a cool 40 degrees, quite a drop from 75 in Portland. I arrived in the parking area and realized I was there all alone which was both exciting and a little unnerving. I looked around a bit and found a spot to shoot from and took in the amazing scenery before me. The conditions were just right that morning for the cold water to release water vapor in the form of fog. The only noise I could hear was a bald eagle calling as it flew around looking for food. I really can’t explain what an amazing sight this place was. To the West, the full Moon was getting ready to set behind the mountains. To the East just over 4 miles away Mount Hood loomed over the lake at 11,250 feet tall. The side of the mountain still had a fair amount of snow on it from the previous winter, which I assume is the norm. I imagine the air temps up that high are never high enough for it to melt entirely. I spent a couple of hours shooting as the sun came up, changing locations around the lake. After a little while, some campers with fishing rods started to show up and enjoy the pristine wilderness. If you make a trip to Oregon, this area should be at the top of your list to visit and perhaps spend the night. What an amazing place. Here are a couple of shots from the visit. Hope you enjoy…

Moonset over Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
Moonset over Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
Twilight at Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
Twilight at Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
© Rob Loughrey
© Rob Loughrey
The light of dawn, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
The light of dawn, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey

Captivated by the sea

The coast of California has long been on my list of places to visit. I had the opportunity to do just that last spring. A family trip took us to San Diego where we were able to see some friends and take in some of the sites. Each evening, we spent some time at one of the many places you could sit and enjoy the setting sun. The experience of the warm light on the landscape, the soothing sound of the crashing waves and the warm breeze of the ocean was truly amazing. There are so many places to see along this coast it is hard to decide where to go first. My favorite of the trip was Sunset Cliffs. The coastline is a harsh volcanic looking rocky environment that has been battered and shaped by the Pacific Ocean. The tide determines how far out you can venture onto the rocky surface. Watching the waves crash back and forth is something I could do for hours seemingly slipping into a trance. When going out onto these rocks, you have to be extremely careful to not get too close to the edge. At any time a large wave could come up and knock you over or sweep you out to sea – a lesson that I learned the hard way on my way back to the stairs at Sunset Cliffs. After the sun has set – don’t pack up your gear right away. Stay a bit and watch the light change. You can continue to shoot and capture an entirely different feel. When shooting images of the coast, a tripod, remote shutter release and a polarizer is a must. I prefer to use an exposure that will help accentuate the movement of the sea. Depending on the strength of the tide, this can be anywhere from 1/15 of a second to several seconds with an aperture of at least F/11. If need be, I will use a Neutral Density filter to help extend my shutter speed.

If you have the opportunity to visit the San Diego area, make sure your agenda includes visiting one of these areas to experience the beauty and power of the sea. Thanks for taking a look and hope you enjoy…

Warm light blankets the coast, Sunset Cliffs Natural Point, San Diego, CA © Rob Loughrey
Warm light blankets the coast, Sunset Cliffs Natural Point, San Diego, CA © Rob Loughrey
Blue hour - Sunset Cliffs Natural Point, San Diego, CA © Rob Loughrey
Blue hour – Sunset Cliffs Natural Point, San Diego, CA © Rob Loughrey

Persistance pays for sunset light

This is an image I took a few years ago while on vacation in NC. Being in the area reminded me of how lucky I was to capture this. While staying in the Outer Banks, I decided to take a ride and get some sunset images at the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is located just South of Nags Head at Oregon Inlet. At the time of this image, the lighthouse was still operational with an old style rotating light. I arrived in the area about an hour before sunset and was scoping out a few locations. This is a challenging location to shoot. The area to the East of the lighthouse is a boggy bush area that makes it very difficult to navigate. Basically it was a no go for launch as far as I was concerned. While looking around for locations to shoot, the sun dipped below the horizon, mostly obscured by a layer of clouds – making it uneventful. I did notice a strip of clouds that looked promising but was having difficulty finding a good location to shoot from. Based on the view of the lighthouse on my way in, I decided to get back in my car and go onto Route 12.  I drove south along the highway finding a spot where there was a break in the trees and brush and pulled over to the shoulder. The majority of the view was obscured with all of the vegetation, plus there were power lines right in front of me. My only option was to climb onto the roof of my vehicle, which I quickly did. Once I got up there, I had the perfect vantage point to take in this amazing display of color. Once I got setup, the only thing left to do was to time my capture so that the light from the lighthouse was lit during my exposure. My timing was just right, as the clouds lit up the sky in what looked like a fire in the sky. People passing by on Route 12 must have thought I was a bit crazy, standing on the roof of my vehicle, but it was well worth the effort. After a little work and thinking outside of the box, I came away with what I feel is a great image of an iconic landmark. Hope you enjoy…

Technical details: Nikon D200, Sigma 80-200mm F/2.8 lens @ 180mm. 1/8 sec at F18, ISO 100, Manfrotto Tripod, Really Right Stuff Ball Head.

Sunset light - Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC. © Rob Loughrey
Sunset light – Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC. © Rob Loughrey

Southwest Sunsets

Hello everyone, 

What makes up your dream sunrise or sunset venue? Is it being at the edge of the ocean, watching the colors change as the sun passes over the horizon? Perhaps at the top of a mountain where you can see for miles on end or maybe a good stretch of farm land riddled with trees and crops? For me, it is anywhere really. As an avid chaser of the light, I often find myself exploring my location for sunrise or sunset opportunities. Recently I spent some time in Arizona where you have wide expanses or flat land that go beyond your imagination. The landscape also has its share of mountains that literally jump out of the plains forming some extremely adverse terrain. One location that I visited while in Arizona was the Saguaro National Park, located just outside of Tucson. This is a unique area of the U.S. which has the distinct pleasure of being one of the sole places on this planet where the Saguaro Cactus grows and thrives. The Saguaro is an amazing plant that towers 20-30 feet up and is able to suck water out of some of the driest soil around. I was truly in awe looking at these marvels of nature. 

The park offers a wide expanse of areas to explore on foot and setup your camera and tripod to witness the light show. When shooting scenes like this, I prefer to shoot a silhouette of the scene rather than blow out the sky. With colors like this, you just can’t go wrong. The only thing that is difficult about getting a shot like this is not running into other Cacti or any of the dozens of reptiles or other occupants of the area. Wear some good hiking shoes, preferably that protect your ankles and take a flashlight to help you find your way in the dark.  There are plenty of places in the park to pull off and explore and in many cases, you have a well traveled trail to follow out into the cactus fields. During my time in the area, I made several trips to the park for sunset. During these visits, I was lucky enough to witness some amazing colors with or without clouds. Hope you enjoy…

Twilight - Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Twilight – Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Light show over the Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Light show over the Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Natures color palette - Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey
Natures color palette – Saguaro National Park, AZ © Rob Loughrey

Southwest images

During a recent trip for work, I was able to stay a weekend in White Sands National Monument outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico. The park is approximately 275 square miles of white gypsum dunes and is the largest mass of gypsum in the world. Gypsum isn’t usually found in large dunes like this because it dissolves in water. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum dunes and carry it out to sea. The reason this area is still around after thousands of years is because the rain has no where to go. The dunes are trapped in a large basin (Tularosa Basin) between the San Andreas and Sacramento mountains. Yeah, I know what you are thinking – It is strange how mountains in New Mexico are named after areas in California. Rain that falls in the park, eventually dries out and crystallizes and the process repeats. Anyway – enough of a science lesson. The park is an amazing place to visit with a seemingly endless sea of white dunes as far as the eye can see. The only thing framing your view are the mountain ranges in the distance.

Life finds a way - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Life finds a way – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

At the cost of $3.00 to enter (good for 3 or 5 days) it is one of the cheaper National Monuments to visit. Families with kids were making a day out of exploring or sledding down the steep drops of the dunes, just like it was winter in New York State. It is quite easy to get lost while walking through the dunes. I trekked out for a couple of miles searching for dunes without any footprints. It took awhile to find, but they are out there. I used the sun as my guide and drew arrows in the wash areas leaving myself a map to return to my car.  The white gypsum reflects the sun so much that it is almost blinding. The air is very dry and dehydration will set in before you realize it. Plenty of water, sunscreen and good sunglasses are a must. There is primitive camping locations in a remote area of the dunes and motorhome camping at the entrance to the park. I believe a small fee permit is required along with a tent. Once a month, the park has moonlight walks in the dunes for small groups. This can be scheduled by reviewing the park website and submitting a request to attend. The high winds in the basin are what shape the dunes and carve patterns in the sand. This is one of the things that really interested me about the park.

Soaptree Yuca plant - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Soaptree Yuca plant – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

hese patterns in nature go on forever intermingled with Soaptree Yuca, Horay Rosemary Mint or Skunkbush Sumac plants. All of these have found a way to survive in the limited water environment. If you venture out far enough, the patterns in the dunes are only interrupted by the occasional lizard foot prints or by the movement of the leaves being pushed around by the winds. It is areas like this where you can feel truly alone and miles away from everything. 

Sunset - White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey
Sunset – White Sands National Monument, NM © Rob Loughrey

This is someplace I am already looking forward to visiting again. Hope you enjoy…

Sun, fun and Tony Kuyper Actions

Back in the Outer Banks with my family for a little R&R. We have had a great time here with some excellent weather, both good and bad, but mostly good. I did my best to relax and enjoy the time off this year, only getting up on two occasions to catch the sunrise and venturing out on two other occasions for sunset over the two week period. I paid close attention to the cloud cover and weather reports and was rewarded with an excellent sunrise on this day.   I returned to an area that I had scouted out the day before and was able to catch some great light in an area of dunes on the North end of the Island. I spent a good couple of hours shooting the area with two lenses – a 24mm PC and a 17-35mm zomm. Here is one of the first images I processed, shot with the 24mm lens that I used to create a panoramic shot. I took advantage of the tilt function on this lens giving the image sharp focus from near to far with just a few degrees of tilt. Thanks to Sean Bagshaw for his tips on how to use one of these lenses.  Recently, I began to use a new approach to process my images as well. If you haven’t heard of Tony Kuyper before, be sure to check out his TK actions panel utilizing Luminosity Masking to giving yourself complete control of your image. I found his site through Sean Bagshaw’s site and subsequently purchased the actions panel and videos that were created by Sean. I have to give both Sean and Tony major props for the videos and actions. Without the videos, It would have taken me much longer to understand the concepts behind the actions. Tony is an absolute genius with these actions and the panel, giving you complete control to edit your images beyond your imagination. I have watched the videos several times and am developing my own workflow utilizing the TK Actions panel as a primary source of editing.
Hope you enjoy my first TK Action processed image…

Windswept dunes, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC © Rob Loughrey

Summer sunset

During a recent vacation to Hatteras Island, I went out on a few ventures during Sunrise, Sunset & a few all nighters out on the beach. The week we were there it was a new moon phase, which was great for night photography. The skies were clear nearly every night. It did make the sunsets a little less dramatic, but I made due the couple of nights I went out.
There are a number of places I have scoped out during previous trips that I like to go back to. One of the things I try to do each time is shoot a different angle or perspective of the scene. I am also a stickler to make sure that I don’t have intersecting lines if I can avoid it. What I mean by this is I try to make sure foregroud elements don’t overlap with middle ground elements, or that elements in the middle of the image don’t intersect with the horizon. To me, these are distractions. Maybe no one else notices it but I think it makes for a stronger image when you can accomplish this. At times I have to raise or lower my point of view, stand on a tree stump, climb on rocks …etc. Whatever I can do get the right angle. I take a test shot and then review the image on my camera, zoomed in and looking at each of the areas to make sure there aren’t any distractions.

This is a shot from the Pamlico Sound side as the sun was setting. Calm waters and a slight breeze, it was a great sunset.


Summer Sunset - Pamlico Sound - Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC © Rob Loughrey

Jekyll Island #2

Another shot from my visit to Jekyll Island. We stopped off at this pier that is on St. Simons Sound looking west. There were porpoises or dolphins that were in the area fishing, a nice breeze and a gorgeous sunset. A great place to watch the end of the day. Nikon D800, 16mm/F4 lens, Singh Ray 3 stop ND grad filter, Manfrotto Tripod, Really Right Stuff Ball Head.
Sunset - St. Simons Sound, Jekyll Island, GA © Rob Loughrey

Coastal Sunset

A sunset shot from ta trip to the Outer Banks, NC. I found this pier by searching google earth and The Photographers Ephemeris software. I have posted previously about what a valuable tool this software is. It allowed me to see that the sun would set directly down the middle of this dock while I was there. I also took some time to hop off of the pier down into the marsh to get a few shots. Something I don’t recommend unless you have some good bug spray or you are visiting in the winter time when the bugs are sparse. Looking forward to the next visit – I have already scouted out a few places to get some photos. Hope you enjoy…

Sunset over Pamlico Sound, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC. © Rob Loughrey