My Top Ten Images for 2017

Another year is in the books, as 2017 has come to an end and we begin 2018. The past 12 months weren't some of my most productive photographically, at least in terms of quantity of images captured and locations visited. A look at my Lightroom catalog shows exactly 14,000 images for the past year. Of course, that doesn't count several thousand that were taken for use in time-lapse videos, which aren't in the catalog. My guess is the number for the year is closer to 20,000.

The quantity of images, however, really isn't any way to measure the success for the year. Taking lots of pictures can be a good thing, but it certainly doesn't mean that any of them are going to be any good. Instead, I like to look back at some of my favorite photos and the great memories attached to them. 

The year started off with a bang, with a trip to Maui the first week of January. A week in the tropical island paradise provided numerous photographic opportunities, and you'll see a few images from that trip on this list.

Shortly after the Maui trip was a quick trip to LeClaire, Iowa to photograph bald eagles along the Mississippi River. The number of eagles was down compared to the previous year (which was my first), but the trip was a blast and I came away with a few 'keeper' images. 

In March, I attended the Improve Photography Retreat in Phoenix. I made the decision to make it a road trip with intentions of a few side trips on the way there and back. That turned out to be a great decision. One of my favorite Milky Way images was created in Kansas on my way down there. While in Phoenix, there were plenty of opportunities to shoot as well, which resulted in a couple more images in my Top Ten list. Then, on the way back, I spent a couple days with Aaron and Brendon of Photog Adventures fame exploring in and around Zion National Park. There was a ton of driving involved, but that trip was ever so worth it. 

The rest of the year was kind of quiet, with most of my shooting done close to home. There were no other photo trips planned, which was kind of a bummer, since there were still a lot of months left in the year. It's not surprising that what I feel are my best 10 images were taken in the first 3 months of the year. It is kind of disappointing that the other 9 months didn't yield anything that made this list. I'm not complaining though; it was still a very good year with the camera. 

Without rambling on any further than I already have, below are my top ten images for 2017. These are in no particular order. It's hard enough narrowing it down from 14,000 to 10, so I decided there was no need to rank them. Let me know if the comments which one you like the best.

"Island Dreams" - Night time on the beaches of Maui, captured on January 4, 2017. Not a bad way to spend some time in January. 

"Twin Falls" - Captured on January 6, 2017, along the Road to Hana. 

"Are you squawking to me?" - The image was captured along the Mississippi River just south of LeClaire, Iowa. January 21, 2017.

"A Whale of a Tale" - On a whale watching cruise while in Maui. Captured January 4, 2017.

"Bamboo Forest" - On the Road to Hana, while in Maui. Captured January 6, 2017.

"Monument Rocks Milky Way" - This is a panoramic image created at Monument Rocks, about 30 miles south of Oakley, Kansas. This was early in the season (March 8), so this was captured very early in the morning, not long before sunrise.

"Kanarra Creek Falls" - Located just outside of Zion National Park, this is a fabulous short hike into the canyon, with the reward of waterfall scenery. Captured on March 13, 2017.

"Picketpost Mountain Milky Way" - This area just east of Phoenix offered some surprisingly dark night skies for capturing the Milky Way on March 9, 2017. This was less than 24 hours after spending the night at Monument Rocks. 

"Canyon Overlook Sunset" - A wonderful view of the canyon in Zion National Park. Captured on March 12, 2017.

"Kolob Canyon Sunrise" - Captured on March 12, 2017, after doing some night photography and catching some sleep in the car while waiting for the sun to come up. Another of the amazing locations in Zion National Park. 

So, there you have it! My 10 best (and favorite) images of 2017. Hope you all enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed capturing them. Part of this exercise is to reflect on the year and to also look back to see how (or if) my photography has improved from previous years. I feel that it has. There is still much room for improvement. I look forward to 2018, and the adventures that are in store. My goal is to bring my camera along on the journey and share it with you. 

Thanks for reading!



The Wildflowers of Capitol Reef National Park

When driving through southern Utah, one thing that is really striking is the desolation of that land.  There aren't many trees; not much green of any kind.  Every direction is mainly reddish-orange rock or soil of some type.  It's a place that receives very little rain.  A place that is hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  It is a harsh place, as evidenced by the sparse population of the area.  Although Utah has a population of nearly 3 million, the majority of those live in the northern part of the state in the area centered around Salt Lake City.  

With the abundance of sandstone and apparent lack of water, you might not expect to find much life.  And certainly not much color.  However, getting off the interstate and taking the time to explore reveals surprisingly abundant life.  A diversity of life...and plenty of colorful scenery.  

I've always enjoyed taking pictures of wildflowers.  Seems that on a hike, I'm always way behind everyone else as I stop along the trail to capture images of the flora along the way.  It's something about the intricate detail and the inherent beauty that catches the eye and begs to be recorded on the digital sensor.  I wrote an article a couple of years ago for the Improve Photography website about flower photography.  Go check it out for more information.  

Now, back to Utah.  You may have been following along with my previous posts about my trip to Capitol Reef National Park.  I'm still working through the images from that adventure and enjoying every minute of it.  I thought it would be interesting (well, interesting to me anyway) to show the wildflower images from the trip.  Just to prove that they are there.  Even in the desert. Take a look.

Tansyleaf Aster

Central Prickly Pear

Utah Daisy


Claret Cup

Utah Daisy

Cliff Rose

Basin Blanketflower

Tufted Evening Primrose

Golden Mariposa

Harriman's Yucca

Dwarf Lupine

Scapose Greenthread

Prince's Plume

Rough Mulesear

Life finds a way

Cathedral Valley

There are two main reasons why I share these blog posts and images from my photography adventures. First, I enjoy sharing with others, and hope that doing so will provide a brief glimpse of the incredible beauty of our natural world and maybe even provide some inspiration.  Another reason is more self-serving, in that I want to document and remember the places that I've been and the amazing things seen along the journey.  

On our first full day in Capitol Reef National Park, we ventured into Cathedral Valley to see what we could see.  Cathedral Valley is a great place to get lost, and perhaps a place to find yourself. After driving 15 or so miles to the southeast on Highway 24, we turned onto a dusty, gravel/dirt road that would eventually lead back into the park.  There are no traffic stops, or traffic for that matter, out here.  Just miles and miles of rocky terrain, sandy soil, and roads that change their personality with the seasons and the occasional torrential downpour.  This is no place to be without a high clearance vehicle, and no place to be if there is a threat of rain.  

After driving for about 26 miles, we arrived at our destination for the morning.  The Temple of the Moon and Temple of the Sun are sandstone monoliths towering above the valley floor, emphasizing our smallness in the grand scheme of things.  A variety of scrubby vegetation, some wildflowers, and an occasional juniper tree litter the valley floor.  Sand created from erosion of the native bedrock is pervasive.  Although we were there in late May, the sun was still powerful overhead.  One could only imagine the proverbial oven this place would become in July and August.  However, despite the harshness of climate and the desolation (or maybe because of it), life thrives here.  

In the couple of hours we were there, we each went our separate ways.  Soaking up the scenery and the carefree breezes was a delight.  This place is not just peaceful, but ever so quiet.  The stillness is immersive, and such a welcome attribute in the otherwise non-stop hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Walking in the shadows of the sandstone giants and up one of the numerous washes, as sporadic desert lizards flitter to the safety of the nearest brush at my approach, my mind is filled with imaginings of what it must have been like for those who first explored here. Pleasant thoughts abound and are not quickly forgotten.  

Eventually, we felt the need for a hasty exit due to threatening clouds moving into the area, but not before capturing a few memories on the image sensor.  A few of those memories are here and I hope you enjoy them....   

Temples of the Sun (left) and Moon (right) 

Somehow, life finds a way

Geology Layer Cake

A Trip Through Capitol Reef National Park

In a few short days (Thursday, June 9 to be exact), my fifth article will be published on the Improve Photography website. The article will be titled "A Photographer's Guide to Capitol Reef National Park". You may not have been to, or even heard of Capitol Reef National Park, but take a look at this article. If you are travelling through Utah, take the time to stop at this amazing place. The history, geology, and just sheer beauty is worth the trip. I'll be posting more about this trip on my blog over the coming days and weeks as I get around to processing all the images. Here are a few to whet your appetite.

House on Fire Ruin

Wrapping up the trip on our last full day in Bluff, our goal was to make a visit to one more of the very popular and fantastic Anasazi ruins.  House on Fire ruin is one of many located in Mule Canyon on Cedar Mesa to the north of Bluff.  This is another very well preserved ruin and is located a short approximately one mile hike into the canyon.  

This ruin gets its name from the unusual erosional patterns in the sandstone roof that appear as flames when illuminated by reflected sunlight.  We arrived here in the late afternoon, but I'm thinking that the early to mid-morning might be a better time to get the best light for this effect. Nevertheless, as the sun ducked behind the ridge to our backs, this was still a spectacular scene.

The hike in was quite scenic, as the trail followed along a small stream.  Lots of wildflowers and other vegetation complemented the rock formations along the way.  Fall color was also apparent in some of the leaves along the trail.

If you look carefully, these handprints in the sandstone can be seen near the ruins.  Luckily, Bob knew just where to look.  Otherwise, we may have never noticed these.

One last look down at the trail before heading back to Bluff for our last night.  Our trip was almost over at this point.  I hope you have enjoyed reading along and seeing some of the images I captured along the way.  Check back for a final wrap-up and to see what's next...

Fallen Roof Ruin

Cedar Mesa Plateau is home to amazingly well-preserved and the largest concentration of Anasazi ruins in the Four Corners region of the Desert Southwest.  The last leg of our trip was spent in the small town of Bluff, Utah, with numerous easily-accessible sites nearby to visit.  We started our first full day there with a trip up Highway 261 through the Valley of the Gods, to the top of the mesa, and on to Cigarette Springs Road where we would eventually park at a trailhead for a short hike to Fallen Roof Ruin.  

Sometimes referred to as Three Room Ruin (for obvious reasons), this site has really withstood the test of time as well as the numerous visitors over the years.  One of the most striking features, and the origin of its namesake, is the large slabs of sandstone that have peeled off from the overhanging canyon and fallen to the ground below.  

Upon close inspection of the site (actually when Bob pointed it out), one can see handprints on the sandstone roof left behind by the former inhabitants.

It was a perfect day for the hike into Road Canyon for our visit to these ruins.  After paying the requisite day-use fee, the hike begins in a pinyon and juniper forest, and slowly descends to the canyon floor.  There was no shortage of beauty along this trail, and plenty of stops were made to grab some shots along the way.  

This cactus seemed to be growing right out of the rock

After spending a little time at Fallen Roof Ruin, we made our way further down canyon along the cliff face.  A number of ancient granaries and small rooms were visible in alcoves eroded into the Cedar Mesa Sandstone.  

Face Rock & Honeymoon Arch

It seems that every rock formation in the Monument Valley area has a name.  Now, a few weeks later, it's difficult to remember them all.  Harry, our guide, for the tour, could rattle them off easily, having long ago committed each one to memory.  The passage of time, and the forces of wind, water, and ice, have left their mark on this grand landscape.  I felt it a privilege the opportunity to experience it first-hand, taking in these iconic views and making a few images, both in the synapses in my brain as well as the card in my camera.    

There's certainly no shortage of interesting shapes that have been carved into the Shinarump and Moenkopi Formations, the de Chelly Sandstone, and the underlying Organ Rock Shale.  Oh yeah, the rock formations have a unique nomenclature as well.  Those crazy geologists...!  Enjoy some images of a few here, and don't forget to click on the image to see it full size.  All of these were taken on our tour of Mystery Valley.  Glad to have you along for the ride...

Face Rock

As soon as you see Face Rock, there's no doubt why it is named as such.  Whether from a distance or up close, the unique shape of this rock is quite telling, having been carved by the hands of a great Sculptor.  The mid-afternoon sun was harsh, but a few nice puffy clouds in the deep blue sky made a nice backdrop for these images.  As I hiked up close to the base of the rock formation, I noticed a particularly wispy cloud taking shape right overhead.  From this angle, the cloud gives the appearance of smoke coming from the top of the rock.

Face Rock Smoking

Being a sucker for lots of vivid color, I don't do a lot of black and white conversions of my images.  However, I thought this one might be a good candidate.  The blues have been toned down in this one to provide a more dramatic scene and make the rock and 'smoke' seem to pop off the page.

From the images above, you can see that vegetation is sparse in this arid climate.  Believe it or not, the image of this colorful leaf was taken near the base of Face Rock.

Touch of Color

There are several natural arches in this area and we got to visit a couple of them.  I'm sure there is a story behind the names for these, but I'm not sure how that story goes.  Both of these are known as pothole arches, formed by chemical weathering from water that accumulates in depressions on top of the formation and gradually eats through the underlying layers of sandstone.  

Stout Arch

Honeymoon Arch

As the day drew to a close, we were sure to set up on a bluff overlooking Mystery Valley to capture a sunset scene of this vast open space.  From the petrified dunes capped with saucer-shaped rocks in the foreground to the buttes and mesas in the distance, there is little doubt that we were in the backcountry.  

Mystery Valley Sunset

And another black and white of this great landscape...

The sun had long settled down for the night, but the high clouds were still showing some nice color that just begged to be captured in this image.  

More to come...

Mystery Valley

Our second day in Monument Valley was spent on an all day tour of the area.  The first part of the day, we visited some of the well-known areas in Monument Valley by way of our excellent guide (Harry).  In the afternoon, we left Monument Valley and entered into Mystery Valley to continue our tour.  There is no public access to Mystery Valley, so a guide is a must, and Harry was up to the task as he expertly navigated the deep sand and rough roads to take us deep into the backcountry.  Mystery Valley is known as a former dwelling place for the Anasazi, or "Ancient Ones", as there are some remains of their homes as well as centuries-old rock art.  As with Monument Valley, the desert landscape is a vast and harsh, but beautiful place.  Sandstone rock formations abound, and we got the chance to explore a few of them.

Our first stop was at this skull along the 'road', which makes one wonder what is in store for the day...  

Harry referred to this tree as the 'broccoli tree', indicating that vegetables do grow in the desert...

Vegetation in this region is sparse, and what little there is has to adapt to extreme conditions and have a deep root system to reach moisture.  Notice in the image below that the grass has formed concentric circles as it blows in the wind.  

I like looking for opportunities to capture a starburst in my images, and the broccoli tree was the perfect subject.  Just place the sun so that it just peaks around the edge of something, stop down the aperture to f/22, and give it a try sometime.  Of course, care should be taken to not look directly at the sun through the viewfinder. 

Another skull!

Hope you enjoy the images.  Don't forget to click on them to see them full size.  Come back later as I continue on the journey...

Tour of Monument Valley

Well, it's been almost two weeks since we were in Monument Valley.  How quickly time goes by!  As expected, I fell behind in posting about our trip to the desert southwest.  With being so busy every day out shooting and with limited internet access where we were staying, there was just no way to keep up.  Now that I'm back home, my plan is to slowly make my way through all the images, selecting my favorites to process and share with you here.  Post-processing is part of the fun of photography, and gives you an opportunity to express yourself artistically.  

For our second day in Monument Valley, we had booked a guide to drive us to some of the more remote areas of the park.  Since the park is located on Navajo reservation land, most of it is inaccessible to the public without a guide.  So Wednesday morning, we met Harry of Navajo Spirit Tours in the hotel lobby, piled our gear into his Suburban, and began our journey into the backcountry.  There is so much to see here that there is no way to do it all in one day, but we would do our best to take in as much as possible.  The image below was taken from my hotel room balcony just before sunrise.  With views like this, it's pretty easy to get inspired.  

Monument Valley Sunrise

There is a 17 mile dirt road through the park that visitors can travel on their own.  We started our tour on this road, stopping along the way for some iconic views and to make some images.  Even if you've never been to Monument Valley, it may still look like a familiar place.  That's because of the large number of movies that have been filmed here.  These sandstone rock formations may be some of the most recognizable in the world, made famous by so many movie sets that have used them as a backdrop.  The opening scene of Mission Impossible II, with Tom Cruise scaling a sandstone wall, was filmed here.  Indians on horseback chased Marty McFly in Doc's souped up DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future III here.  And who can forget Clark Griswold wandering through the desert after his unfortunate accident in National Lampoon's Vacation.  That was here too.  We set off in our own version of a 'family truckster' to see the sights.   

Monument Valley Tour

The Mittens and Merrick Butte

Mitchell Mesa and Sand Ripples

The weather was perfect for the day.  A few high clouds, lots of sunshine, and lots of photos captured of this amazing place.

It turned out to be a long day, with the tour starting at about 9 AM and staying out until well after sunset.  But what an awesome experience it was.  There are so many more images of the wonderful places we visited, and I will be posting them here as I get to them.  Check back for more...

Monument Valley Adventures - Day 1

Monument Valley is a magical place.  Who would think you could say that about a place in the middle of the desert, far away from any sizeable city?  But it is.  Maybe it's the scenic vistas and vastness of the land or perhaps it's the majestic sandstone formations that tower above the desert floor, seemingly standing guard over the landscape.  Whatever it is, millions of people flock to this place each year.  It has become one of the most photographed locations on the planet.   

Driving into Monument Valley from the south on U.S. Route 163, a peculiar formation will quickly come into view that rises over 1,500 feet above the surrounding terrain.  This is El Capitan, or Agathla Peak, and one can't help but wonder how this huge monolith got here and what forces were at work to create it.  This is just one of many geologic wonders dotting this region, which is more broadly a part of the Colorado Plateau.  This mountain, considered sacred by the Navajo, is a volcanic feature formed by a breach of the earth's surface by magma and the resulting gaseous explosions.  

El Capitan

Arriving in Monument Valley, we proceeded to check in to The View Hotel, which would be our home base for the next couple of days.  It is a beautiful hotel, and situated at the entrance into the valley, certainly lives up to it's name.  The view from this place is spectacular.

Room With A View

By the time we arrived and got unpacked, it was getting close to sunset.  We decided this would be a great time to capture some images from one of the most iconic settings in the park. This is a scene that has been photographed countless times and seen in magazines, books, on television, and in several movies.  Regardless, it was awesome to experience it in person.

East Mitten & Merrick Butte

Monument Valley Sunset

The familiar scene in the image above shows the West Mitten (on the left), the East Mitten (center), and Merrick's Butte (on the right).  This scene and the surrounding area has served as a backdrop for a number of movies that have been filmed here, beginning in 1939 with John Ford's Stagecoach, starring a young John Wayne in his breakout role.  Over the years, John Ford returned nine times to film westerns in Monument Valley.  Other more recent movies filmed at least partially in Monument Valley include National Lampoon's Vacation, Thelma & Louise, Back to the Future Part III, Forrest Gump, Mission: Impossible II, The Lone Ranger, and Transformers: Age of Extinction.  The exposure provided by the many films, television, and commercials really put this place on the map and people from all over the world come to see for themselves this amazing location.

Having a room with a balcony overlooking this iconic landscape, as well as clear skies and a meteor shower means that night time is an opportunity to make some star images.  Lots of photos, not much sleep.  The Orionid meteor shower was peaking early the next morning, so I set up the camera on a tripod on the balcony to see if one would pass through my frame.  It's not very prominent, but it's there in the bottom left of the image below.

Monument Valley Meteor

That's all for now...more to come.