I'm moving across the country right now.....Driving across the country is quite an inspiration. We're seeing all sorts of landscapes and friendly people. I love this Republic.
I'm excited that I've been asked to document parts of the Traditional Latin Mass for the last two weeks that we'll be living in Georgia. My husband is an active duty soldier and is currently stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga, but we will be PCSing (as they call it... it means moving to our new duty station) in Texas in two weeks. I'm very excited about photographing the vesting of the Priest in the sacristy before Mass, which is a beautifully meaningful ritual practiced in the Latin Rite. Also the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist has the most amazing cantors and I will be photographing them as well.
My main concern in photographing the Latin Mass is always reverence and respect. I never want to interfere with anyone's ability to assist at the Mass or experience the Mass. I wrote about how to photograph a Latin Mass in a previous entry and i will be following those same guidelines.
I'm really looking forward to this! I love documenting the beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass!
It's hard for me to believe I've only got 2 weeks until we relocate to El Paso, Texas at Ft. Bliss from our home here on Fort Stewart, GA. A lot goes into a military move... or I suppose any move... although it's old hat now since we've been doing this for 21 years. All 6 of us will be starting over again. Two of my kids will be in college, one working full time and looking into a possible vocation in religious life and the other starting high school.
And I am tidying up my portfolio, websites and plan on hitting the ground running. In the meantime, I still have some photography obligations that will keep me busy. I'll keep ya posted along the way! You can always check me out on my social sites like Facebook, Instagram and Google+.
In the meantime, here's what I'll miss most about leaving Georgia.... the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Savannah. We commute an hour one way every Sunday to go to the Traditional Latin Mass there, and it's a thing of beauty! But thank God there is a Latin Mass community in El Paso, as well.
"Wanderlust" refers to a strong longing or impulse to wander and explore. I get it. It's a disease that afflicts people with adventurous spirits to have an overwhelming urge to travel. Is it nature or nurture? Who can tell, but most photographers and travel writers have it.
I'm not judging, but there's something personally unappealing about the term "wanderlust". I'm sure it's the "lust" part because the "wander" part is awesome. It connotes something illicit or undisciplined and for me, loving travel and photography is something very good and pure. It brings out joy, which is innocent, and wonder, which is humbling.
It's also something very serious. This may sound like a judgment but I'll say it anyway. Wanderlusters choose the adventure to satisfy themselves whereas to me these adventures are about bringing a profound respect to the place being visited and to learn from it like a student from a teacher. In a sense, no matter how good I get at my craft (I understand the term "good" is subjective), I am always subject to my surroundings, to God's creation and to the history of what has brought the place to where it is today. That usually entails some sort of war, death or struggle mixed in with the beauty, so for example a to visit Vietnam couldn't be just a vacation or professional opportunity, it would be a reverent endeavor to find the truth there in that place.
On my trips to New Zealand, I experience the epitome of what I'm talking about. It isn't "wanderlust", it's something completely superior. It's about joy, happiness, giving and taking, learning and teaching, innocence and wisdom all in one. I'm more like a child looking for her long lost parent and finding him day after day, or like a sojourner who finally finds home sweet home. It's a permanent satisfaction, not a temporal one. Which doesn't mean I don't want to do it again and again and again....
It's really about discovering God, even though you believe you already know Him completely. It's about being thoroughly freed and empowered by His creation while feeling an overwhelming sense that you are, for some inexplicable reason, being permitted the privilege of entrance into the inner sanctum of some grand kingdom. It's the juxtaposition of feeling like a totally free slave.
The experience of then bringing the back-story and the photography of these mystical places to the eyes of others is one of sheer joy.
It's more a matter of enlightenment, sojourning or living the exploration than anything associated with lust, and maybe I'm too hung up on words, but I will someday find the phrase I am looking for to replace "wanderlust". I'm at a loss today, but on my next adventure? Maybe not. Maybe I'll find it there.
It's true, I am a landscape photographer, but I'm beginning to enjoy portrait photography, too. It's all about the people and the setting. I don't do studio work and try to use as much natural light as possible. Here are some examples of what I've done.... I will be available in the El Paso / Fort Bliss, TX area in July for a limited amount of portraits. See ya then!
A couple weeks ago I spent the day with some of the soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division as I photographed a combat security training exercise they were conducting on Ft. Stewart, GA. These are a few of the images from that day:
The entire gallery can be viewed here.
You may know I am a Travel Editor for Regina Magazine and Regina just published it's blog, Regina Travel Blog. My pictorial essay on the Mirinae Shrine of the Martyrs in Korea was just published. Here it is, called A Church of 10,000 Martyrs. I'm posting some more facts, or the whole story, below to give a better understanding of this amazing pilgrimage and why St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean priest and first martyred priest in Korea, is now the patron saint of South Korea. More pictures on Regina's blog...
The Mirinae Shrine located in Anseong, south Korea is renowned for having the tomb of St. Andrew Kim Taegon and acts as a memorial to 103 Korean martyrs.
Andrew Kim Tae-gon was born on 21 August 1821, in Chungchong Province, Korea. Andrew's parents were converts to Catholicism and Andrew went to seminary in Machao, China when he was about 16. Andrew's father was martyred in Korea in 1839 during a set of persecutions by the Korean government. Andrew Kim Taegon was ordained as a priest in 1845 and returned immediately to Korea. He was 24 years old and Korea's first Catholic priest. After serving Catholics in Korea with great faith during this time of persecution for nearly a year, Andrew Kim Taegon was arrested, tortured and beheaded in Seoul on September 20, 1846. At his death, he was only 25 years old.
The body of Andrew Kim Taegon was carried by faithful friends to Mirinae in Anseong, Korea, where hsi was buried in secret on October 30, 1846. The local ordinary who ordained Andrew Kim Taegon lies next to the Saint in Mirinae as was his deathbed wish.
Both Andrew Kim Taegon and his father, Ignatius Kim, were beatified byPope Pius XI in 1925. St. Andrew was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1984 and is now the patron saint of Korea with his feast day celebrated on September 20th.
St. Andrew Kim Taegon was known for his bravery which he exhibited by serving in Korea during a time of terrible persecution because his people were "sheep without a shepherd". The Mirinae Shrine is one of many in Korea that honors the thousands of martyred Korean Catholics during the persecutions, but is especially moving because it holds the body of Korea's first priest, and Korea's martyred priest, St. Andrew Kim Taegon.
Synonymous with photography are road trips, and my favorite way to make a road trip into a lasting memory is with music. There's nothing more freeing that exploring a new part of the country, or the world, with a song blaring from the car stereo and singing along.
I burned a copy of my favorite iTunes to a CD on my road trip out west in November, and it's one of the most important items I packed. Whenever I hear Paramore's "Still Into You" I can feel all the sensations that go along with zipping down Rt. 191 from Moab, Utah, to Monument Valley. And bumping along the ridiculous loop at Monument Valley with its potholes and dust comes vividly back to mind when I hear "Wake Me Up" by Avicii. Or how about "Life is a Highway", the Rascal Flats version, reminding me of the road trip into Colorado with an amazing sunset? These are all priceless memories that help keep the backstories to my photographs fresh and happy.
And at the same time, I cannot think of Arches National Park without hearing "Trouble" by Neon Jungle. Or New Zealand's Mount Cook without hearing Arvil Lavigne's "Innocence".
It's like a gift that keeps on giving. The image reminds you of the song, and the song reminds you of that place you don't want to forget.
It just makes the whole experience doubly memorable. The images capture the moment, but the music captures the spirit of getting to that moment.
I took this picture of Garden of the Gods in November 2013 as the sun was preparing to set behind Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I love this part of the country!
This image can be purchased HERE on my website.
Last weekend, the hubby and I spent a romantic Valentine's Day getaway on the riverfront in Savannah, Georgia. I must highly recommend River Street, the cobblestoned one-way riverside strip with restaurants and incredible stores that runs parallel to the Savannah River. The mix of retro, modern and classic combined with a good dose of famous southern hospitality on the River Front is really quite fun.
Savannah is no New York City, and River Street is no Times Square. You won't find glaring lights, neon signs, obnoxious drunk people, car horns or large jumbo-trons advertising models in underwear. Instead, you'll find a quaint tranquility surrounded by friendly people and a sense of time warp. Although Savannah is thoroughly modern, it also oozes an old fashionedness that doesn't rely on gimmicks and bright shiny digital billboards to seduce you. The feeling that people from 100 years ago were walking the same streets doing the same things is seduction enough. It really does take you to a kinder, gentler place.
Disclaimer: generalizations that you won't find obnoxious drunk or rude people are not binding. You may find a few, depending upon the tourists, occasions, events or holidays. I'm sure there are unruly Savannahians but I have been fortunate enough to not encounter them.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency on the waterfront. The best part of this hotel is its location, which literally straddles River Street for a block. We had a high end room, the room with a View, but the bathroom looked a bit old and there was no frig or microwave. I expected more from the Hyatt, but then we loved River Street so much that we really didn't spend that much time there. However, the room service menu is good, the interior of the hotel is gorgeous and the restaurant, lounge and shops in the lobby are a definite plus.
Now comes the fun part... leaving the hotel! River Street is old cobblestone with a set of railroad tracks running through it, sandwiched in between the Savannah River on one side and a string of shops, stores, bars and restaurants on the other. The sidewalk that traces along the river has areas for docking ferries and boats as well space for small concerts, which is always occupied by a man playing the saxaphone or another singing with his guitar. Donations appreciated! But they are singing the classics, from old rhythm and blues to memorable sitcom ditties from The Jeffersons or Sanford and Son. The air is full of character as these various sounds ring out and make Savannah what it is. You might also find artists with their easels painting the landscape or sketching people.
The shops along River Street are loads of fun. Several candy stores have barrels full of candy that can be grabbed by the handful and stuffed into bags. And these candy stores are big, complete with rooms full of retro memorabilia, working trains suspended from the ceiling, and lots of free samples. You can also watch as the candy is made fresh on the premises.
There are also plenty of cute Five & Dime stores along River Street that have great stuff like this:
The River Street Market Place is down a bit further and hosts local vendors who sell some pretty interesting things, too, most hand made in Georgia. My favorite was this:
The most charming experience of the night was a moonlight cruise and dinner aboard the southern beauty, the Georgia Queen Riverboat, which docks on River Street in the Savannah River. The Valentine's Dinner Cruise was about $135 for the two of us, but a typical moonlight cruise is less than $23 per adult. I was surprised at the level of catering the staff gave to patrons.... reservations are required and for $6 more you can reserve window seats. The experience was uniquely southern with lots of hospitality from waiters and staff.... it's not every day you can find a romantic venue for a Valentine's Day that makes you feel like you've actually had a great date night while children and babies enjoy the experience, too. There's something about the music, food and atmosphere that makes all feel welcome and like we've gotten our money's worth.
The menu was a surprising hit. I assumed it would be an overpriced buffet of cafeteria type food, but instead it was an array of wonderfully fresh salads, sea food and perfectly cooked southern gourmet dishes... my favorite was the Shrimp and Grits. The bar was great... fantastic Margaritas and a specialty cocktail called the Georgia Peach. Wow, was that wonderful!
Our personal experience on River Street aside, which was wonderful, it's hard to imagine that anyone wouldn't have as memorable a time as we did. There's a little something for everyone, and the thing that will stick with you is the charming southern warmth with a sense of stepping back into time exclusive to Savannah, where happiness comes from family and friends and a good conservation and a stroll along the river on a cobblestone street. There's something very timeless, old and classic about Savannah, and River Street captures it perfectly.
On this particular morning in November 2013 in Canyonlands, it was about 30 degrees fahrenheit as my friend Lorena and I set out to the Mesa to beat the other photogs to the site. Up at 0300, the plan was to arrive in the Mesa Trail parking lot by 0445 to claim our spot for the 0647 sunrise. We were in the parking lot first with not another car to be found. I was so proud.
It was of course it was pitch black. The Mesa Trail is actually a big circle that begins and ends at the parking lot. It's about a 25-30 minute round trip, a little more than 1/2 mile. "Well marked and easy to follow" read all the reviews I'd seen, so we put on our headlamps (along with gloves, hats, etc.) and started off along the "well marked" trail with confidence.
Did I mention it was pitch black? Even with our headlamps we were walking blindly, trusting that we were reading the signs and not missing the trail. Figuring it should take about 15 minutes to get to the Mesa, I started thinking that the trail was feeling longer than advertised. After about 25 minutes of walking, we ended up.... back.... at the parking lot. What the???
Lorena let out an audible "oh, no!" Not only had we come full circle, but the parking lot had other vehicles in it now, including a van that transported a hoard of photography students. "Dang it!" I said out loud. Actually, I said something else but I'll say I didn't. How could we miss the "well marked" signs leading us to the Mesa?
We started backtracking, rather than retrace all our footsteps from the beginning (that just meant we went left at the beginning of the trail instead of right). We could hear voices in the darkness. I was so frustrated. The voices acted as our well marked signs because honestly I wasn't seeing all that many well marked signs. After about 10 minutes we were getting close... I could hear the voices... and laughter! Were they laughing at me?? After struggling to figure out how to get to the Mesa, which was immediately off the trail's loop but unnoticeable in the darkness, we just followed the voices rather than the signs and found it.
There must have been 20 people there at least, taking the prime spots. But I'm no coward and I wiggled my way into the best area and set up my tripod. I find that overall most professional photographers are very polite, helpful and unterritorial, which is something you wouldn't except. You would think they fight to the death for "their" spot, but maybe it's because they are photographers and they see so much of God's glorious creation that they realize that spot doesn't really belong to them. So they share.
In the end, I didn't even need, or frankly want, the "prime spot" I was told I should try for. I did take some shots from that position, but moving around and getting different angles is far better in my opinion than sitting in one spot for a couple hours getting the same perspective over and over again. And it's amazing how far a "would you be willing to let me shoot from that spot for 20 seconds?" will take you.
All is well that ends well, and I got more exercise that morning that I thought I would, and even more importantly, I learned sometimes the angle you didn't want is exactly the angle you really do. This is my favorite photograph from the Mesa during the peak sunrise minutes, and it is one that I didn't think would turn out well from this angle. But I love it.
Last year I wrote about a wonderful new addition to my photo equipment; the Manfrotto Continuous LED Light. I took this along to Utah, Arizona and Colorado last November and I was pretty happy with it.
When in Colorado, I visited underground caverns and could not have gotten the shots I wanted with a normal flash. The Manfrotto Continuous LED Light allowed me to quickly adjust to very dark places in just the right increments of light... no adjusting a flash that is overpowering and then not bright enough. Especially for locations in which you need to think fast and get a quick shot, this thing is a lifesaver.
It serves some pretty creative purposes..... if your headlamp burns out or you need additional light to see where the heck you are during a night shoot, it can double as a light source, not just an alternative to a flash. If you run across someone you want to interview and didn't happen to bring your professional lighting setup with you in your backpack (right.....), you're good to go. If you're on an assignment to document some exotic place and want visitor/tourist feedback, you can flip on the LED light with a beautiful sunset in the background, the person you're photographing or interviewing for a quote with his back to the sun and get a great, dramatic result. I can just see a handsome young couple bundled in a blanket watching the sunset over the Double Arches in Moab, Utah, breeze flowing through their hair with a light glow on their faces with the sun setting behind them. Magic!
One of the best features of the Manfrotto Continuous LED Light for me is that the strength is completely adjustable, and easily so, with just a turn of a knob. It's really that easy. You don't have to struggle with washed out faces when you can simply turn the intensity up or down easily and quickly. And the light comes with several gel diffusers to soften the light even more if you need.
It's just a handy little compact item to have in a tight spot. I highly recommend the Manfrotto Continuous LED Light. You may not use it as much as you would an attachable flash, but when you need it, you'll be glad you have it.
Oh, and the LED light comes with a cable in case you want to use it as a flash. Sweet.
Manfrotto has also recently released a new line of lights called the Spectra Professional LED which are worth checking out, too.
When I travel, I try to travel light but have to pack everything I need. There's a process of examining my gear over a period of days... "Do I need this? Nah, I can leave it. But wait, if it rains I'm screwed." We women tend to overpack anyway.... it's a natural tendency.... so eventually I figure it out, am on my way and hope for the best.
When I went out West in November 2013, I did a lot of hiking, climbing and traversing. A LOT. But that's not what made me lose 10 lbs. in a week; it was that I had my gear and I hiked, climbed and traversed.
The incomparable Trey Ratcliff, HDR photopreneur genius, wrote last year that he was dumping his mammoth Nikon D800 for the smaller, mirrorless, less expensive but just as powerful Sony Nex-7 and Sony A7r . I won't regurgitate his points (you can read his thorough review of the Nikon vs. Sony HERE), but I was frequently reminded of his enthusiasm for the future of photography, which includes smaller, lighter, mirrorless cameras, on my journey. What reminded me? The stress and strain of lugging my heavy-laden backpack up the mountains in Zion National Park or the mile uphill hike to the Delicate Arch in Moab, among others.
I haven't actually weighed my huge Canon and lens, but they're beasts. It's awesome getting comments like, "Wow, what a camera! I'll bet that camera takes great pictures!" As the saying goes, "Yes, I taught it everything it knows", but what folks are really responding to is the massivity of it.
I love how it feels in my hands and the grip I can get on it's substantial body, but visions of a lighter, more portable camera danced through my head at the times when I felt the burden of my gear weighing me down. I hated the feeling that I wasn't enjoying the journey quite as much because my filters, tripod, Camelbak, headlamp, and most notably camera and lens were weighing me down. But hey, I lost 10 lbs. fast!
Perhaps if I were a true Canon junkie I would simply accentuate the positivity of Canon's involuntary weight loss program, but I can't help thinking that Trey Ratcliff is right; small, mirrorless cameras are the way of the future. My Canon still does more for me than a Sony Nex-7 or A7r in terms of HDR and motion photography, but with quickly evolving technology, most of the kinks and dislikes are being ironed out as I write. So for now I'm keeping my Canon but I'm looking forward to compare it to the next, upgraded wave of smaller mirrorless cameras.
But if I do make the switch, I know I'll miss all the comments about how awesome my huge DSLR is.
I love blogging! I was once upon a time a political blogger that had 2 million followers but I love photography even more than blogging! Photography crosses all lines... political, social, religious.... so it's less stressful, that's for sure. I have a lot to blog about, like equipment that was essential to my trip to Utah, Arizona and Colorado recent, insights into iconic photo spots and hotel/restaurant info, and I can't wait to get to it!
But for now I'm busy pursuing photography in new ways so please hang in there.. I'll be posting a new entry SOON! My time management skills haven't been very swift laterly. Check back soon! In the meantime, enjoy this:
The Virgin River in Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah.
One of the most beautiful experiences on earth is the Latin Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. The traditions go back almost 2,000 years and are steeped in reverence and meaning. Each gesture, genuflection and motion has been thoroughly vetted by God. If you Google "Latin Mass" you'll find pictures, but if the Mass is so reverent, how does anyone manage to get images during the liturgy?
The Latin Mass is different than most Protestant faiths. Picture taking is generally frowned upon and adherence to reverence is always a first priority. Although sadly sometimes priests don't enforce that in their attempts to make everyone feel like the Mass is a Protestant worship service (which is a totally different topic altogether), the overwhelming majority of the time it is inappropriate to take pictures during the liturgy. So when is the right time and how do you go about it?
As a practicing Traditional Catholic and a photographer, I have photographed the Mass during the liturgy several times. And frankly, I always feel awkward and badly about doing it. But the truth is that Traditional priests want the outside world to see the majesty of the Mass and it is the preservation of a historical practice to photograph it. So what's the best way to get it done? Here are a few do's and don't's:
DO: If at all possible, ask the priest ahead of time if he would mind you taking some discrete photos during the Mass. If you cannot find the priest, you can still take some shots but be respectful above all else. If you see the priest turning around during the liturgy or trying to tell you not to, just stop. Nothing is more important than the worship itself, not even a photograph.
DON'T: Don't get out of our pew and walk around to get a good angle. It is inappropriate to walk around while the Mass is going on, especially during the Consecration (see picture above). This is the most sacred part of the Holy Mass.
DO: Find a good seat in a front row pew if possible. This will leave your view relatively unobstructed.
DON'T: Straight on shots from behind require standing or kneeling in the middle of the aisle. While this might seem like the best angle, it is very disruptive to the liturgy. Side angles or diagonals make for great shots and you won't have to embarrass yourself by being ushered out of the sanctuary.
DO: If you need a straight on angle from directly behind the priest, check ahead of time to see if you can shoot from the choir loft. It's in the rear and out of the way, but you'll need a good zoom lens.
DON'T: DON'T USE A FLASH!! EVER!!!!! This is the most annoying, distracting things a photographer can do. If you know how to use a camera, you don't need the flash anyway. You may need to put your ISO on "auto" and set it at a decent shutter speed, but a little bit of "noise" (referring to the graininess of the image) is superior to disrupting the Mass. And frankly the images won't be as attractive with a flash.. you'll want as much natural lighting as possible.
DO: Always kneel during the Consecration. Period. This is the most holy part of the Sacred Mass and it's completely inappropriate to stand at this point.
DO: When not shooting, put the camera down and follow the liturgy! Never make the entire Mass a photo session.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: If it is at all possible, ask the priest if he and the altar servers would be willing to have a Mass during the week when there will be few people there OR to celebrate a Mass for the purpose of you documenting it. In this case you may have the freedom to move about (always kneel during the Consecration!), but you should still be respectful of the Lord's presence and the Lord's house. If this cannot be arranged, a priest may be willing to let you have a side seat in an inconspicuous location during the Mass so you can get good angles, and he may be willing to make an announcement before Mass that you are there to document the Mass, not disrupt it.
Ultimately if you are unable to discuss this with the priest before the Mass and you feel that nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach that your camera will be a disruption and you'll a disturbance, don't shoot. Instead, just experience the glory of the Mass and pray for a better opportunity in the future.
My strap of choice has always been the Black Rapid strap for women. Although I've mostly been a hand-held shooter, the trip to Utah and Arizona last month required a lot of camera use on a tripod. Shooting sunsets, sunrises and astrophotography simply requires it. The Black Rapid attaches to the camera's tripod mount making tripod + strap use impossible with the Black Rapid.
So I checked into Peak Design's "Leash". I use their Capture Clip anyway and I know they make a good solid product, so I went ahead and bought the Leash before my trip in November because it attaches to my Canon's strap mounts on the sides of the camera. That leaves the tripod mount on the bottom of my DSLR free.... actually, I was able to keep my tripod's quick-release plate screwed onto my camera's tripod mount for the majority of the time, except for when I was using my Peak Design Capture Clip to hang my Canon on (mine is attacked the front strap of my backpack). In those cases, I had my DSLR attached to my Capture Clip via the tripod mount along with the Leash.
The main reason I wanted the Leash from Peak Design was for extra protection for my camera. This was to be a hardcore expedition with a lot of hiking, climbing, steep ascents, standing in rivers and leaning over mountains. If the tripod goes, so does the camera. And I was pleasantly surprised at not only how well the Leash worked, but with how comfortable and interchangeable it was. I hardly knew I was wearing it and kept glancing down until I realized, "Ok, it's still there" and stopped double checking. I could use both strap mounts on the sides of my Canon or use two Peak Design anchors in just one of my Canon's strap mounts... that really helped with unobstructed visibility to the viewfinder.
I ended up using the Leash exclusively. There really was no need to use my "other" strap, and definitely not my annoying, nagging, uncomfortable Canon strap that leaves marks on my neck! With the Leash, I could detach the anchors from the connectors with just a snap... and viola! No strap. The variety and convenience was not only impressive, it was so helpful. And the Leash is easily adjustable from 19-60 inches. I had a lot of freedom to extend or keep my camera closer to my body depending on the circumstances.
All this is well and good, but I realized the value of my Leash when I was shooting alone at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the tail end of my trip. There was an incredible sunset I was racing to shoot. My camera was attached to the tripod in the backseat of my rental with the Leash attached. As I frantically got out of the car and yanked the camera out of the back seat, the quick release plate from my tripod actually snapped and my Canon went plummeting toward the pavement. I have no idea what actually happened except that I had the Leash wrapped around my wrist which saved my Canon from sure annihilation. The camera bounced like a yo-yo on the Leash just inches from the ground while the tripod fell to the concrete. Those little Peak Design anchors are incredibly strong!! Each Peak Design anchor is made to tolerate 100 lbs. of weight!
Needless to say, the Leash literally saved my Canon. That is exactly what I needed it for and why I bought it. That may have been most important $34.95 I've ever spent. I was able to replace my tripod's ballhead later that night at a local camera store, but I could never have replaced my Canon.
Below is a picture of the sunset in Garden of the Gods... :)
This may be the most beautiful place I’ve seen in the United States. I’m talking about Zion National Park in Utah, often referred to as “The Promised Land”. Once you go, you’ll see why.
I’d been chomping at the bit for about a year to travel far west and visit the national parks of Utah, dubbed by the tourism department as Utah’s Might Five. My plan was to photograph some of the iconic spots there, as well as in Arizona and Colorado. And I did. Taking along a photo buddy whom I mentored, we had a lot of late nights, way too early mornings and road trips with Red Bull and teriyaki beef jerky. Man was it fun.
There are several things to keep in mind when planning a visit to Zion National Park, or the Mighty Five for that matter. The most important is that these are only my opinions. You have to know what you want and why you want it as a photographer (or a tourist). You have the final say. Other things to keep in mind:
November may be the best time to visit. The park is packed with 10’s of thousands of visitors from May-September, and although the crowds thin by October it still can be a tourists nightmare. It isn’t until 1 November that the park doesn’t require you to ride the shuttle bus and you can enter at your leisure, coming and going anywhere you please. So much better than riding a crowded shuttle with a bunch of strangers and having to stop where the bus stops! Who needs that? And the weather is cool, the colors still vibrant… the freedom and independence of meandering through in your car on your terms is why I will never go during the late spring or summer months. Ever!
Flying into Las Vegas, Nevada is probably the most practical starting point. I flew into Vegas and then departed from Denver to return home, but I love road trips and didn’t mind it. In fact, I will never again be able to listen to “Life is a Highway” or Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” without feeling the warm, dry, sunsetty sensations of the open road in the deserts of Arizona and Utah. They are priceless.
But if you are interested in arriving and departing Las Vegas, which I recommend and will likely do the next time, you can hit a lot of extra hot spots only a couple hours apart. You can actually make a loop around from Vegas into Utah and Arizona back to Las Vegas while hitting the Valley of Fire, Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Antelope Slot Canyon all in 13 ½ hours of road time. It sounds like a lot but if you pace yourself out over a week, or are deliberate about hitting only a few prime locations and bypassing others, you can really get a lot of bang for your buck. (I will discuss this looped road trip in an upcoming blog post)
Getting a rental car for a week from Vegas back to Vegas is usually less than $300 unless you’re trying to go luxury or huge.
Zion National Park is only 2 hours from Vegas and at the halfway point is the Valley of Fire, an hour into the trip. It’s worth visiting and will make the trip to Zion seem much shorter.
Springdale is the cute little town you pass through as you enter Zion National Park. Hotels are much easier to book in November and December (and of course January-March) and nearly impossible during peak months. In fact, unless you book months in advance if you are visiting in June-September, don’t count on getting a hotel any closer than 35 minutes away in the town of Hurricane. Because everything in Springdale will be booked solid.
We stayed in a cute little place called the Bumbleberry Inn. It was perfect; $75 a night for a very decent double room with great mountain views and a microwave, frig and free wi-fi with an on-the-premises restaurant, gift and coffee shop. The rustic Wildcat Willies Ranch Grill Saloon is a great place go authentic southwestern food… and you’ve gotta try the world famous Bumbleberry Pie for dessert!
Now the entrance fees to the park is $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 7 full days. The national parks of Utah are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so if you enter after hours they put you on the honor system and hope that 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.
The first famously photographed site is probably 30 seconds down the road after entering through the Southern Gate. It is the bridge that extends over the Virgin River. Particularly at sunset, which in November is between 5:05 and 5:15 pm, you won’t be able to miss the bridge which will be packed with photographers marking their territory to capture the sunset over the famous river. The sun begins to dance off the mountains around 3:30 pm or so and that time is also great for getting beautiful shots.
From there you can take an immediate left and follow the Virgin River north (only in the off-season! No cars allowed during peak months, only shuttle buses) onto the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. You could spend weeks exploring just this small area of the Scenic Drive, which finishes in a dead end. You’ll find the Emerald Pool Trails, The Grotto, Angel Landing, Weeping Rock and the Temple of Sinawava, which is where “the Narrows” begins. The water was too cold when we were there and we didn’t bring a wet suit, but you can wade in the Virgin River through narrow canyons for an amazing experience.
You could also go straight after the bridge and Virgin River onto the curvy, steep Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This will take you meandering through Zion’s heights through tunnels and amazing scenery. This takes you to the Checkboard Mesa and some weird rock formations, along with a good lot of wildlife. This is also the highway you want to take when going on to Bryce Canyon.
You could also go straight after the bridge and Virgin River onto the curvy, steep Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This will take you meandering through Zion’s heights through tunnels and amazing scenery. This takes you to the Checkboard Mesa and some weird rock formations, along with a good lot of wildlife. This is also the highway you want to take when going on to Bryce Canyon.
Literally weeks could be spent exploring Zion National Park. It truly is a national treasure and a photographer’s paradise. We did hike the Emerald Pools Trails to the upper falls, which was amazing, and my main regret was that we didn’t have wetsuits to wade into the Virgin River at the Narrows.
Make sure that whomever you bring loves adventure as much as you do! You do not want folks dragging their feet or making you feel like you’re testing their patience by taking your shots. And you don’t want someone who doesn’t want to get a little dirty paired with you if you love getting nitty-gritty. A bad partner can ruin the trip.
WOW factor for Zion: 9.8
Last month I made a wonderful trip west to photograph a part of the country I've been wanting to shoot for some time. I covered areas of Utah, Arizona and Colorado.
I ran into many photo groups and workshops. I think there is a lot of value to being part of such a group... in particular safety. There are no shortage of travel buddies to have your back. But I really prefer to go it alone (with at least one buddy) and map out my own course. There's something amazingly freeing about traveling down a highway in the middle of the desert with a map, a compass and "Life is a Highway" blaring on the radio.
I ran into a lot of lone photographers at 4 in the morning and late at night, so being on location is safe enough...meaning there'd be 20 photographers together who came there individually. I had no misgivings in being at a location by 0400, it seems like the precautions need to be taken on the traveling to and fro and at lodgings.
The fact that my buddy, Lorena, was with me for 4 days allowed us to do things I probably wouldn't alone... like travel Utah's Scenic Highway at night in complete darkness... so dark that you can easily see the Milky Way with the naked eye.... or hike up to the Delicate Arch at sunset and stay for some astrophotography, meaning we had to hike down the mile long descent with headlamps (definitely a safety issue... one stumble and you're in deep!).
But I also went it alone for 5 days. I traveled during the day for the most part and knew where I was going and why, but there was one scary incident that had me wishing I'd had some backup.
On my last night of the trip I was in Denver at a La Quinta suite which had hotel doors accessible directly from the parking lot. Around 11 pm some cigarette smoking young woman pounded on my door for several minutes before giving up. Although she did walk away and then come back. I looked through the peep hole and was not about to say anything and give a clue that I was a woman alone. I grabbed my mace and then the phone in my room..... which was dead! Talk about scary.
It could have been simple mistaken identity, or a drug deal (the hotel was NOT as nice in person as it was on the website.... I clearly needed to do more research), or maybe she was a prostitute at the wrong room or something more sinister, but probably, despite my fears, it was just a spunky young chick who for whatever reason did not want to give up on her quest to awaken whoever she thought was in my room.
I admit it scared the hell out of me and I slept with my mace, but I am glad I made this journey. In the future, however, I will have a travel buddy for all the adventure. And that was really quite an adventure.
From 2005-2011 I maintained a well known political blog called Bottom Line Up Front. The main mission of my blog was to present accurate information on the war on terror and in particular the war in Iraq. Married to a veteran of that war, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, I thought it important to present an accurate representation of the military operations there against the onslaught of leftist media who maligned Pres. Bush and often times the U.S. soldier... although oddly their obsessions with Iraq and Afghanistan are now KIA what with the President Obama running the show..... sort of..... even though there are far more casualties under 4 years of Obama than during the entire 8 year presidency of George W. Bush.
But that's beside the point.
I came to know in the blogosphere a great man who runs the blog The Gateway Pundit named Jim Hoft. It came to my attention today, as I heard it mentioned by Rush Limbaugh on his show, that Jim had recently become very, very sick and nearly died. Jim wrote very early this morning, "Please Pray for Me... I am Losing My Insurance". His plea is this:
In August 2013 I became very sick with what I thought was a cold. After a few days I lost vision in my left eye and I checked into the hospital. I soon found out that what I thought was a summer cold was actually Strep bacteria poisoning my blood stream. The bacteria blinded my left eye, ate a hole through my heart, caused five strokes on both sides of my brain and forced the removal of my prosthetic left knee.
Dr. Lee was the surgeon assigned to perform open heart surgery. What was originally scheduled to last four hours ended up lasting twelve. My heart was severely damaged. Dr. Lee later told me the surgery was one of the most difficult of his career. He also said I only had a few days to live without the surgery.
Thanks to the excellent insurance I carried I was able to receive life-saving medical treatment at St. Louis University.
This week I found out I am going to lose my insurance. The company that carried me is leaving the Missouri market. I will have to find something else.
I am one of the millions who will be looking for new insurance. God willing, I will be able to keep my doctors at St. Louis University. I trust them. They saved my life. Please pray for me and the millions of working Americans who are going through this same ordeal.
Why is our government doing this to us?
This is, of course, the terrible tragedy of Obamacare. And Jim Hoft is not Obamacare's isolated victim. This is happening all over America as citizens are losing their prescriptions, being kicked off their current insurance and wondering what the hell they are going to do now that they cannot afford the 50, 100, 125% increase in premiums making insurance unaffordable and unattainable.
We have been warning Americans for years that this would happen to the rank and file, and that Obamacare is not selective in its victims. Yes, even Obama supporters are being assaulted by its brutality.
I bring this up even though I know this is a photography blog, not a political blog, because there is still time to fix this. What is the cure to Obamacare? REPEAL. And some leadership in the Republican Party. I fear the first is more attainable than the latter but still we must try to take back the healthcare system that has been the best in the world... up until Obama and the Democrats forced us all into this god-awful system.
Please pray for Jim Hoft in particular. He's a very good guy and, like every other American who is fighting for his life but has been notified he's just lost his excellent healthcare, he needs our prayers.
Packing for photography travel is tricky.... what can I get into two carry on bags that won't be turned away at the gate and what do I trust going into luggage in cargo? Well, I trust nothing going into my suitcase. I have too many friends, being a military wife, who have had their frequent traveling result in items being stolen right out of their suitcases by the baggage people. It sucks that you cannot trust those who are getting paid a decent salary to protect your goods.
So in the middle of packing and figuring, I'm also finishing my article for the next edition of Regina, the Catholic magazine that explores Tradition. It's a great publication and I'm so glad to be associated with it.
No more procrastinating... back to work!