Maybe "rare" isn't the right word, but unusual certainly is. Last Thursday, 22 January, the southwestern Texas border city was hit with a substantial amount of snow. It doesn't stick around for long but while it was falling, it looked like a full-fledged New Jersey blizzard. I photographed some of the scenes from around El Paso, as this part of the country doesn't always see snow. Here is the snowy pictorial:Read More
Landscape Photographer / PhotoJournalist / Travel Writer
My second travel article for the week is up in the 8 January 2015 edition of the Fort Bliss Bugle. Fort Bliss is within driving distance to a lot of spectacular places in the American Southwest, like the famous Antelope Slot Canyon. The link to the article is online here, or you can pick up a copy of the Fort Bliss Bugle on post.Read More
This is an experience I had on New Year's Eve in which I went against every safety rule I believe in, especially when traveling alone. Am I nuts, compassionate or just lucky he wasn't an ax murderer??Read More
It's hard to believe that 2014 is almost gone! I went through a lot this year both personally and professionally. I didn't accomplish all I wanted to, not by a long shot, but I pray in 2015 God will give me the opportunities to serve Him well in 2015. Here are some of my favorite shots from each month of 2014....
Hey, folks! My 2015 American Southwest Landscapes calendar is here just in time for the new year! Feel free to browse the pages of this beautifully photographed 12 month calendar below and let me know what you think.
Well, now I feel special! Yes, I've photographed the same Antelope Slot Canyon but haven't had a payday like that. Aussie photographer Peter Lik reportedly just sold a black and white shot of light streaming into the upper Antelope Slot Canyon in Page, Arizona for $6.5 million to a private collector. Here is his now famous shot:
Peter Lik has a reputation for being a self-promoter, a great salesman and the master of promotional hype but not everyone is impressed. Guardian newspaper art writer/critic Jonathan Jones calls the picture "hollow, cliched and tasteless black and white shot" resembling a "hackneyed poster in a posh hotel." Ouch. Jonathan Jones has other issues, apparently with photography itself, saying,
"Photography is not art. It's a technology. This record-setting picture typifies everything that goes wrong when photographers think they are artists. It is derivative, sentimental in its studied romanticism, and consequently in very poor taste. It looks like a posh poster you might find framed in a pretentious hotel room."
Whoa! Perhaps Jonathan Jones was traumatized by a photographer as a child but that's taking it a bit far. Say what you will about photography enhancement, but photography is indeed art, and photographers artists. There are varying levels of expertise but that doesn't take away from a photographer who is able to take a well composed image from RAW image to gallery allowing the viewer to see it as he saw it in his heart through the lens. Peter Lik's image is black and white, which is even a more primal statement than HDR or other forms of post-production photography.
But I digress. I say "Well played Mr. Lik!" Art is subjective and obviously someone really appreciates your interpretation of the Antelope Slot Canyon.
Visit my Arizona Gallery for my Antelope Slot Canyon images.
Last week's article in the Fort Bliss Bugle:
By Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:
As an Army wife of more than 21 years, I’m always looking to make memories at each new duty station. Some wives call their new home their “Army base,” others their “home base,” but I refer to it as our “forward operating base,” or FOB. It is the new location from which to launch fresh adventures and to start yet another chapter in the pages of my family’s story.
As it turns out, Fort Bliss happens to be a great FOB. I was skeptical at first and had heard things here and there that weren’t flattering to the base. I rejected those critics, however, understanding that things are subjective and sometimes life is what you make of it, and I decided to see for myself what this part of the country has to offer. And I hit pay dirt.
Fort Bliss is just a day’s drive from some of the most spectacular spots on Earth. One of those just may be the most beautiful place in the United States. I’m talking about Zion National Park in Utah, often referred to as “the Promised Land.” It is jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Nestled in Springdale, Utah, Zion National Park is just under a 12-hour drive from El Paso and located in Utah’s southwest corner. That may sound like a long drive, but you’ll pass through some gorgeous scenery, including the Grand Canyon, so you may want to divide the trip up to see that iconic location as well. If not, you’ll nonetheless get some good quality time with your family.
If road trips aren’t for you, it is a short, inexpensive flight from El Paso International Airport to Las Vegas. With a round-trip ticket in coach costing between $212 and $250 with two to three hours in the air, depending on whether it’s a direct flight or with a stop through Phoenix, this is a great option for the single Soldier or unaccompanied family members looking to maximize the time in Zion. It’s a perfect trip for the next four-day weekend. Zion is only a two-hour drive from Las Vegas with a great midway stop at the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
Why Zion National Park? Three million visitors a year is a hint: It’s spectacular! This national park claims some of America’s most breathtaking scenery with a wild array of highs and lows, mountains and valleys, colors and bizarre natural wonders. This is the sort of place that you’ll regret not visiting while stationed in this part of the country.
November through March may be the best time to visit. Summer months pack between one and two million tourists, and the crowds and weather are far more tolerable in the off-season. No automobiles are allowed in the park from April through weekends in November, so you must ride the shuttle bus. That means you don’t have the same freedom to drive into the park or go where you want to go until the off season.
Hotels are much easier to book November through March and nearly impossible during peak months. In fact, unless you book months in advance if you are visiting between June and September, don’t count on getting a hotel any closer than 35 minutes away in the town of Hurricane, because everything in Springdale is likely to be booked solid.
Entrance fees to the park are $25 per private vehicle, $12 per motorcycle and $12 for individuals (say if you’re walking into the park to hike) and are valid for seven full days. The national parks of Utah are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so if you enter after hours they put you on the honor system and hope you’ll pay the next day. I love the fact that they let you in at all hours because, let’s face it, these are your parks, America.
If you have military identification, you can request an Annual National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass at the entrance, which gives you free access to all national parks, forests and monuments anywhere in the U.S. This is a very valuable benefit to Soldiers and family members and you’ll find you will use it frequently!
Entrance through the southern gate of the park leads right into the famous Virgin River and onto Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. You could spend weeks exploring just this small area of the Scenic Drive. There, you’ll find the Emerald Pool Trails, the Grotto, Angel Landing, Weeping Rock and the Temple of Sinawava, “the Narrows,” and the Virgin River. Other parts of the park include the curvy, steep Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This will take you meandering through Zion’s heights, through tunnels and amazing scenery, which in turn leads to the Checkboard Mesa and some weird rock formations, along with a good lot of wildlife. Automobiles are only allowed on this highway during the off season, which is another reason to consider going during those months.
Literally weeks could be spent exploring Zion National Park. It truly is a national treasure. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime places that anyone would want to explore, so your time stationed at Fort Bliss makes it a perfect FOB for the Soldier or military family.
Visit www.nps.gov/zion for more information about this amazing park.
My weekly article for The Fort Bliss Bugle posted this week. It came out early for Thanksgiving, of course. Here's the virtual copy!
By Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:
The Franklin Mountains are arguably the most identifiable geographical feature in El Paso, spanning about 23 miles from the south-central corner of El Paso north into New Mexico. In it lies Franklin Mountains State Park, the largest urban park in the U.S., surpassing even New York City’s Central Park.
Well known for its many hiking trails, bike paths, camping areas and picnicking, Franklin Mountains State Park has been a popular spot for Soldiers and their families at Fort Bliss for many years. It presents an opportunity for them to escape the confines of the installation and explore a wide variety of activities that can be both rejuvenating and challenging.
Single Soldiers with a sense of adventure will be enticed by opportunities for mountain climbing with designated climbing areas in McKelligon Canyon as well as mountain biking trails throughout the park. Families with children can enjoy daylong or short hiking excursions meandering through the mountains. The Franklin Mountains State Park map given to visitors at the park’s entrance can help pinpoint the most appropriate hikes, from easy loops to strenuous climbs.
Those wishing to get away from it all need not fear hiking alone, as the park hosts several weekly events to accommodate them. Individuals can reserve a spot on the Women’s Beginner’s Hike, fitness challenges and guided mountain biking excursions, to name a few. This is a great way to experience the uniqueness of El Paso’s outdoor life with no excuses or fear … a readymade group will be there waiting to enjoy the adventure alongside those who have to go without family or friends. There is no fee to participate in these frequent group activities, except for the cost of park entrance, which is $5 per person over the age of 12.
A quick Internet search of the Franklin Mountains State Park will pull up the official Texas Parks and Wildlife Division’s website from which the Events page for Franklin Mountains can be found (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/franklin-mountains/park_events). Upcoming activities hosted by the park are quite fun with a variety of holiday activities, such as the Thanksgiving Turkey Trail Trilogy, “T’was the Hike Before Christmas” and Jingle Dog Hikes, as well as holiday mine tours and mountain biking. Again, there are usually no fees to participate (occasional $3 activity fee depending on the activity) but an RSVP is required.
For those not looking to hike, bike or climb, the state park offers a place to relax, picnic and enjoy the great outdoors with its scenic vistas and vibrant colors.
Things to know:
– The main entrance into Franklin Mountains State Park-Tom May’s Unit is 20 minutes from Fort Bliss. There are two easy ways to find the park: Travel west on I-10 past the Sunland Park area taking the Transmountain Road exit. The park entrance will be 3.5 miles on the left. Traveling on US-54 East and making a left onto Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road will be the scenic route, meandering high through the mountain pass for 6.5 miles until the entrance is seen on the right.
– The entrance fee for Franklin Mountains State Park is $5 per person per day, with children 12 and under admitted free. Groups are $2. The Texas State Park Annual Pass is $70 and covers up to 15 people per vehicle of an annual pass holder. Passes can be purchased at the park entrance.
– The entrance station is usually unmanned Monday through Friday so visitors are on the “honor system” and envelopes are available at the booth for self-payment. The envelope can be deposited into the designated area.
– Bringing water is a must. There is no water or electricity provided within the park.
– Pets are permitted on leash only.
Call 566-6441 or visit http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/franklin-mountains for more information.
I'm happy to announce that I am now writing travel articles for the Fort Bliss Bugle, the army post's official newspaper. The crew at the Fort Bliss Bugle and Laven Publishing Group are a wonderful bunch of folks. My first article on the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico was published yesterday. The online version is HERE.
White Sands National Monument offers breathtaking glimpse of natural wonder
By Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle
When a Soldier or military family assigned to Fort Bliss is ready to look beyond El Paso for adventure, one Southwest destination stands out. It’s a perfectly ethereal place that attracts visitors from around the world wanting to play in one of the Earth’s most unusual natural spots: White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
Described as being “like no place else on Earth,” the monument is in the center of the Tularosa Basin, surrounded by the San Andres Mountains and is the world’s largest gypsum dune field. That means it is the biggest white-sand dune area on earth, making it one of the world’s great natural wonders.
It’s a very tolerable 90-minute drive from Fort Bliss to White Sands, New Mexico – a ride on US-54 East toward Alamogordo, New Mexico, with only one left turn onto US-70 West. It really is that easy to get to this amazing location.
The dunes are accessible by automobile on Dunes Drive into the park. It’s about an 8-mile drive to the end before it loops around for the return trip, but along the way there are a variety of nature trails, a boardwalk, picnic areas, spots for horseback riding, places to sled, and of course, lots of white, sparkling dunes. Most amazing is the perception that a blizzard just swept through the park as everything is covered in white sand. The sight is surreal, particularly when the weather is warm, making what the eye sees so completely different from what the senses feel. The dichotomy is quite fun.
One of the best features of the park is its tangibility. Visitors are not discouraged from hiking or walking on the dunes. To the contrary, they are encouraged to explore, walk, play, ride, hike and climb. You can sled down the dunes. These white hills of sand don’t need to protect the locals from an impending hurricane or the shoreline from erosion, so there is freedom to wander without worrying that the human impact is destructive. Whatever footprints are left behind will be taken care of by the strong winds.
Things to know:
– There is a visitor’s center at the entrance, but the area is quite secluded. There are no restaurants or gas stations before turning left onto US-70 West from US-54 East in Alamogordo, which is about 20 minutes from the park’s entrance; consider turning right onto US-70 East where you’ll find fast food, grocery stores and gas stations. At the very least, bring food and drinks from home to last the day. The center does have a small snack store next to the gift shop, but you won’t find enough food for a decent meal.
– There is no water inside the park except at the visitor’s center, so it is a good idea to stock up at home or bring a Camelbak, especially if hiking is on the agenda.
– Pets are allowed, but they must stay on a leash the entire time.
– Bring a camera. The photo opportunities are incredible, particularly at sunset.
– Bring a compass. It is possible to get disoriented in the middle of the white dunes as everything begins to look the same.
– Sleds can be rented from the visitor’s center.
– The entrance fee is $3 per person ages 16 and older and anyone under 15 is free, but anyone with a military ID gets in free with a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass. They are available upon request at the fee station and are good for any national park, national forest or other federal recreational areas in the United States.
Visit www.nps.gov/whsa for more information, including park hours, special events and map information.
This is what South Korea calls "Colorful Daegu". This city of over 2.5 million is, in my opinion, one of the most under-appreciated travel destinations in the world. This south-central city is bustling, full of culture, color and history. Like Seoul, it has a skytower (called the Daegu Tower), mountains to climb, religious sites, the arts and high tech colorful cityscapes. But unlike Seoul, you don't have nearly the congestion or traffic.
There's a lot more to Daegu but this is a good start!
If you've ever wanted to visit the iconic location of Monument Valley in Arizona just over the Utah border, you'll have to do some preparation. There's only one hotel in Monument Valley; The View.
Monument Valley is in Navajo Nation and The View owned and operated by the Navajo. The hotel is careful to respect the culture and people of the Navajo and therefore is unobtrusive... it fits very naturally into a corner of the valley as a mountain descends next to it. While out in the valley, you won't even notice the hotel because it's color and formation blend right in with the rock it is built upon. That really gives it a very natural, respectful feeling making it more experiential than touristy.
Since Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park, there is a $5 entrance fee per person to enter and there is no alcohol permitted. But it's okay. You'll be intoxicated with your surroundings and won't even miss that nightcap.
Last year, my road trip out west took me to Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona. Monument Valley, with it's famous buttes and reputation for famous western American movies, is less than 2 hours south of Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, and about 2 hours east of the Antelope Slot Canyons in Page, Arizona. It's an easy shot from Moab down Rt. 191 to Rt. 163 with a couple easy turns and you're there.
I went in early November and the rooms at The View were nearly sold out, even though the high season had ended. The double-edged sword in visiting during the low season, which is typically November through March, is that you have a better chance of getting a room but if you don't book far enough in advance the locally run dive hotels will all be closed until late spring and you'll be out of luck. Unless you don't mind camping. I'll get to that in a bit.
Booking for The View must be done months in advance during May through September. Prices are higher and being the main (and in the off-season the only) gig in town, chances of availability are slimmer. I planned on being there in October but because of the government shut down last October I had to redo my schedule (what with National Parks closed and all) so I was able to book two weeks out, but I checked before my arrival just for kicks and the rooms were completely sold out.... in mid-November. So planning ahead is vital. I would leave at least a month to book in The View at Monument Valley from November - April and 2-3 months during the summer peak season.
As for rooms and pricing, in the off-season they range from $179 (after taxes) to $303 per night. Although in the dead of winter, December through January, you can book a room for $123 to $258 per night. Imagine pricing for the high season........ if you're lucky enough to get a room in say August it'll run you $236 to $371.
The rooms, from top to bottom, are the Premium Star View (3rd floor), Premium Valley View (2nd floor) and Valley View (1st floor) rooms. The higher you go, the higher the price, but the truth is that even the "worst" room has the best view. All rooms are basically the same but for the level and price. Each room comes with a fabulous bathroom, nice bed(s), space and a private balcony overlooking the valley. I'm not the only one saying there's no need to pay $300 for a room on the top floor when the ones on the first level have nearly the same spectacular views.
The View Restaurant is just down the hall and I admit I only ate there once but was happy with it. The service was so-so but I ordered take out, so I could eat from my balcony overlooking the buttes as the sunset. The Navajo Taco is huge... it's 2 meals for a single person... and it was fantastic. By far the best taco of any kind I've ever had. And the Navajo soups are fabulous so don't be afraid to sample. But if the restaurant isn't to your liking... you don't have much choice because there are no other choices! So make the best of it. :)
Just outside of the restaurant is the observation deck, which wraps around to the side of the premises. This is where many famous photos of the valley are taken and serves as a photographer's camp at sunset and sunrise. I was up before 5am to set up my equipment and it took perhaps a minute to get from my room to the observation deck. No need to get up super early to get great shots.
Now if the only hotel in the area has no rooms, the park does allow for camping. Monument Valley's Campgrounds allow you to pitch a tent or park an RV (recreational vehicle) for a reasonable fee (fee list here). There's a store in the registration office, located in The View, for water, ice and other supplies to make your stay more comfortable and a nearby bathroom with shower. Who knows, it might be a more memorable experience to sleep in the valley's floor rather than a hotel, anyway. Certainly less expensive.
So remember..... if you want to visit this iconic location in America's great southwestern desert region, book early! The View is the only show in town and fills up fast!
The U.S. Forest Service has proposed restrictions on filmmaking and commercial photography that is alarming many photographers, with fines for not having a license to shoot in National Forests $1000 if caught. Pop Photo puts it this way:
"The rules would require members of the media, commercial outlets and non-profit groups to apply for special use permits (which could cost up to $1,500) except in cases of breaking news. Photographers and filmers shooting without a permit could be fined up to $1,000."
The U.S. Forest Service has always required a license for professional filming within it's borders, but the gray area worrying independent and professional photographers refers to "commercial photography". So if you are doing a portrait session or plan on selling your images, or are taking images for a client, you will need a pricey new permit to do so.
The U.S. Forest Service insists that "the proposal does not change the rules for visitors or recreational photographers. Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs."
On the other hand, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell tried to reassure those concerned that “The fact is, the directive pertains to commercial photography and filming only – if you’re there to gather news or take recreational photographs, no permit would be required. We take your First Amendment rights very seriously.”
So... then..... an independent freelancer such as myself would only need a pricey permit if I were using a prop or working with a model or actor, yet the directive pertains to commercial photography, which essentially refers to work done for a client or that is meant for profit.
Yes, it's a bit confusing.
The question I have not been able to find an answer to pertains to the proposal itself. My assumption is that any "proposal" from federal agency such as the U.S. Forest Service would require Congressional approval before implementation. Surely a Federal Agency cannot simply issue edicts at will without oversight and accountability. Although, now I'm recalling some of the actions of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and I'm starting to wonder...
The bottom line is that it if you didn't need a permit before, you probably won't need one now. The difference is the hike in price.
The frequent traveler already knows that most airlines have small, packed seating which can be tolerable if you only have a short flight. If you get claustrophobic, however, you might be in trouble. The need to recline in flight for some is a no-brainer.
But there is a debate as to whether its appropriate to recline the seat in flight. Of course it is. You paid for that seat and that tiny bit of plane space and the seat does come equipped with a reclining button, and it's not as if the recline is all that spacious anyway. Yet if you're like most people, you'll worry about the person behind you losing their space because of your desire to recline. And we are all so polite after all that we really do care.
I tend not to recline for short flights but on an 11 hour flight from Seoul to Auckland or a 13 hour flight from Atlanta to Seoul you'd better believe I'm reclining. It's usually the larger planes that make those international flights so reclining isn't as impactful an issue... Korean Air and Delta are great for those long flights... but domestic flights with smaller cabins or smaller leg room are trickier.
I choose not to recline on smaller planes for shorter flights, unless there's a vacancy in the seat behind me. On longer flights a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do and I recline if I need sleep. It's always good to keep the peace with the other inmates, so to speak, so I let decorum be my guide but I also reserve the right to recline if I need the rest.
To recline or not to recline... what do you do?
When in El Paso, be sure to check out the vintage Desert Thrift Store on 1821 Hunter Drive on the southeastern part of the city. This little eclectic shop has great prices for some really old time collectibles. An unopened Lucille Ball Barbie-type doll for $20? Shaun Cassidy records for $5? It's a really fun story.
Love this place!
My daughter and I happened upon a wonderful vintage thrift store in El Paso, Texas and found this little baby:
Unfortunately, the film was discontinued in 1973 (I believe it was) but it can still be bought on eBay, with an expiration date. Isn't she a beauty?
As a newbie to El Paso, I've been warned by a local photographer to "avoid Juarez at all costs". It is easy to get funneled into Mexico with the road system and if I happen to have a shell casing in my car, it'll mean "serious trouble". Apparently just accidentally cross over the border can be a scary ordeal.
That said, with ISIS reportedly planning a potential terrorist attack on Ft. Bliss from Juarez, security has been stepped up on post. The Department of Defense is denying that the increased security measures have anything to do with an ISIS threat, it's just there to keep family members and visitors safe (from???? And why start strict security measures on post only after the report on ISIS in Juarez surfaced? I hate it when the DOD isn't honest. It's not like they're fooling ISIS or deterring an attack by denying why security is ramped up).
The 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 is tomorrow. I am of course hoping it will come and go without incident but this border town is particularly vulnerable, as are border towns all across the south in which the government is not taking seriously this threat to our nation.
Additional images will follow. If need be. Hopefully there will be no need.
Verses a flash (such as a Canon Speedlite), an LED comes in the handiest in low lighting situations. The darker the better. While that may sound obvious, LED has its limitations, which is why its important to know what your intent is in a particular photo shoot.
For example, I used my Manfrotto Continuous LED Light when shooting my model in natural light. When natural light is not enough, you'll need to rely on an alternative light source to fill in the shadows to adequately illuminate the subject.
In the shot below, the model was too far away for the lights in the LED to be of any consequence. She was perhaps 8 feet from the camera. I simply used auto ISO in this instance instead of a flash. This was not a good instance to use the LED light because of the distance and brightness of the natural light.
However, the LED is perfect for close-ups. In this natural lighting, my model needed just a bit of illumination and since I was 3-4 feet from her, it did the trick perfectly.
I shot some behind-the-scene footage at the Traditional Latin Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Savannah, GA in July. The sacristy of the Cathedral is dim but with some natural lighting... again, the perfect scenario for an LED light.
I highly recommend an LED continuous light such as the Manfrotto for low light situations when a flash and diffuser is overkill. The LED gives the photography the ability to control the light brightness manually and it can be hand held as well. At about $330, it's a pretty good deal.