The Coalmine Canyon Album

Coalmine Canyon #1

Yes, there was once a coal mine here in the late 1800s. But the seam was small, the coal was poor quality, and so the pioneers moved on from Coalmine Canyon and left the land to its owners, the Navajo and Hopi tribes of Native Americans. Good thing, because this gem of the Southwest is as lonely as it is gorgeous. The coal deposits at the top levels of the canyon are a key to its unique beauty, as they add black and blue colors to the usual red, orange and yellow tones of the desert, constructing a landscape like no other.

Coalmine Canyon #2
Coalmine Canyon #2

It is a photographer’s paradise on many levels. Most obviously, it is colorful, high relief, and in a climate zone of constantly changing light and seasons. Dawn, mid-day, sunset, bright sun and passing storms all change the character and mood of Coalmine Canyon. You will never see it and photograph it the same way twice.

Coalmine Canyon #4
Coalmine Canyon #4

It is also lonely. Not only will you see few other people exploring its rim, but the Native American stewards minimally manage your explorations. The Navajo tribe requests you get a permit to visit from any Navajo Tribal Parks office, but it is managed as wilderness and you are on your own to care for the land and respect the privacy of landowners.

Coalmine Canyon #5
Coalmine Canyon #5

One of the fascinating aspects of the canyon that appeals to me is the thin but intense red sandstone layers that occur among thick layers of white mudstone. In the canyon relief they give the strong impression of elevation lines on a topographic map.

Coalmine Canyon #7
Coalmine Canyon #7

Not only do I find these features appealing in horizontal vistas, but when seen in aerials taken directly above, they achieve an abstract quality. It can take a moment to realize what you are looking at.

Coalmine Canyon #8
Coalmine Canyon #8

As with most landscape photography, it is the light that makes or breaks the picture. The warm, angled light of dawn and dusk — broken clouds streaming patches of light across the immense acreage — even bright sun penetrating into impenetrable canyon — every condition presents new possibilities of color and composition.

Coalmine Canyon #6
Coalmine Canyon #6

To get to Coalmine Canyon, go to Tuba City, Arizona, which is on the Navajo Nation an hour north of Flagstaff,an hour south of Page, and an hour southwest of Kayenta. Stop at the Tribal office in town for a visit permit, then take Highway 264 southeast for 20 minutes, and you’re there. Find a few turnoffs on short dirt roads that will take you to overlooks. Most passenger cars can get to the closer vistas; a high-clearance vehicle takes you to some of the more remote spots.

Coalmine Canyon Arizona Map
Coalmine Canyon Arizona Map

Under an Orange Sky

Hayden Peak Sunset (new)

The orange cast to this photo is completely natural, and appropriate; it was captured on Halloween Day, 2017, at the very moment mountains of candy were changing hands in cities and towns across the USA. Believe it or not, that was on my mind as I stood freezing at the edge of a wilderness pond over 10,000 feet in elevation, night closing in. My brand of photographic art can be a lonely endeavor, and I often observe to myself that I stand at an improbable time and place doing solitary things while most people, I imagine, are doing more normal and social activities. When my images are occasionally successful, compliments overflow but people seldom realize the strange circumstances in which they came to be. I wonder if I should perhaps go easier in my obsessive pursuit of beautiful visual moments. But then, I wouldn’t have the enjoyment of telling these exotic stories.

The centerpiece of this photograph is Hayden Peak, a landmark in the High Uinta Wilderness Area that residents of the region know very well. It is essentially a pilgrimage site for thousands who drive for hours to see its crags rising from the forest. No crowds today, however, due to both the holiday and the pre-winter chill. I had been stalking this shot for three days, under a bit of time pressure because the roads could be closed any day by winter storms. With the last shot in the can, I hiked back to the car and startled the last group of elk coming down from the high peaks and headed for the winter lowlands. They, at least, completely understood what I was doing.

A Mountain Autumn

Fall on the Wasatch Back (new)

The particular charm of a mountain autumn, for me, is the way winter sneaks in around the margins. For virtually every autumn in the mountains that I can remember, the riotous foliage colors are perking along nicely when along comes the first cold storm of winter. Well, not exactly cold, but coolish enough to put a bit of snow on the highest elevations, and drape the reds and oranges with white for a couple days, at least. It is such a great reminder that every season is a moving target, on the way in and on the way out at the same time.

This photograph captures that transition nicely. On the back side of the Wasatch Range in northern Utah, the oaks and maples are saturated with their reds and oranges, the aspens are in a slow transition from green to gold, while the high country gets a white blanket and scudding dark clouds. The contrast is perfect. This scene is at Cascade Springs in Wasatch Mountain State Park. The departing storm clouds let in a moving patchwork of sunlight, allowing the photographer to just wait and cherry-pick as highlights shift from this hill to that valley to the other ridge, and back again. This composition, with highlights on the foreground and distant horizon, with shadow in the middle, seemed the best to me. (pricing schedule C)

Wheel in the Sky

Wheel in the Sky (new)

The Medicine Wheel is a native American astronomical structure at 10,000 ft. in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. It is at least 1,000 years old, probably more, and is a National Historic Landmark. It charts and predicts seasonal astronomical events such as solstice, equinox and rising stars, and is still in use by tribes of the region, including Crow, Shoshone, Arapaho, Kiowa and more. This is my interpretation of it.

As I researched the site it became clear to me that a connection between the wheel and the sky had to be made, and a nighttime starscape would be the only meaningful way to do it. Night a 10,000 ft. in the Bighorn mountains is cold and windy, even in summer, and the walk from the trailhead is 1-1/2 miles. The optimum window for the Milky Way being in the right spot was midnight or later. And then there was the problem of shooting into the sky while including an object flat on the ground and lighting it with minimal resources. Clearly I would be spending a cold, lonely night on the mountain and doing some creative problem solving. It worked out well enough, I suppose, but someday I may try to do better.

Ice Out on Lost Lake

Ice Out on Lost Lake (new)

“Ice out” is a phrase full of meaning to those who live in cold-winter country. It means that warm weather has arrived and progressed to the point where oceans, lakes, rivers and streams are usable again. The ice that locked them out for months is gone. If you made a living on the water, you can now resume your work. If water was the source of your sport and recreation, the fun returns. Ice out is preceded by a time of frustration, because the weather in general may be warm and sunny, but the ice melts with agonizing delay, and life seems unjust for a while.

To the artist, “ice out” is often a thing of beauty. Patches of water in the ice, or ice in the water, are a yin and yang juxtapostion of pattern and color, past and future, anticipation and change. It is exactly the stuff of expression and wonder that artists are made of. It is often inspirational. I encountered this scene at sunset in a small Uinta Mountain lake — still early summer because the winter had been unusually cold and stormy. In a normal year it would be lush and lively with singing birds and lily pads — but often, normal is not particularly beautiful, not the stuff of art. (Pricing schedule A)

Sunset at Grand Prismatic Spring

Yellowstone Hot Spring at Sunset

The N. American Nature Photographer’s Assn. (NANPA) chose Sunset at Grand Prismatic Spring as one of the top 100 nature photographs of 2016. Tom Horton’s photo from Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park‘s Midway Geyser Basin picks up orange and purple sky reflections on sinuous travertine terraces, framed by a forested horizon. This very popular tourist spot is totally vacant by sunset, and like many Yellowstone locations, it completely changes character in the twilight. Anybody could make this photo, but nobody is there. This location is also a great lesson in observation. Surround by immense beauty on a grand scale, don’t forget to look down at your feet. About the time when the spring itself is too dark to see, the terraces at the margins come alive.

Grand Prismatic Spring is huge, gloriously colorful, and very hard to see from ground level. Rising steam often obscures it when you are very close. Realizing this, many visitors have improvised a solution by using a nearby hiking trail head to scramble up short and tall hills on the south to look down on the spring from above. Great idea, except that the accumulated passage of thousand of boots has scarred and eroded the hills far beyond the preservation idea behind national parks. I am told that the National Park Service intends to build permanent trails and rehabilitate the terrain, and I hope this is true — it is badly needed. (pricing schedule A)

The Beauty of Bears’ Ears

Tree of Life, Valley of the Gods

Bears’ Ears National Monument is the poster child for the many national monuments and other wild public lands that the Trump administration would like to turn over to state and private development — this despite every poll showing overwhelming popular support for their protection. Bears’ Ears has the added impetus of being co-created by various southwest native American tribes to protect, both literally and symbolically, thousands of years of heritage and antiquities. To a pitiable few, this is all the more reason to oppose it.

Beauty is but one of many reasons that public lands are a refuge in modern times. Being an artist, my inclination is to seek out and record the natural beauty of these lands, which they possess in abundance. Like many others, I have found a great deal — some of it well-documented and some of it unique to my vision. Presenting it here may or may not make and difference in the outcome of the struggle for preservation, but it is what I can do:

Arroyo at Dawn, Valley of the Gods
Arroyo at Dawn, Valley of the Gods
Cactus Bloom and Ruins
Cactus Bloom and Ruins
Sentinels at Sunset, Valley of the Gods
Sentinels at Sunset, Valley of the Gods
House on Fire Ruin
House on Fire Ruin
Sentinels at Dawn, Valley of the Gods
Sentinels at Dawn, Valley of the Gods
Goosenecks of the San Juan River
Goosenecks of the San Juan River
Orion Rising, Valley of the Gods
Sunset From the Moqui Dugway
Sunset From the Moqui Dugway

Dawn on the Rim, Colorado National Monument

Dawn on the Rim (new)

Grand Junction, Colorado, must be the luckiest city in the western USA. On it’s very doorstep — close enough to walk there with coffee before it gets cold — are soaring redrock canyons that others less fortunate drive hours to see. The sandstone towers and cliffs of Colorado National Monument give nothing away to more famous places on the Colorado Plateau such as Zion, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Park. It even has a beautiful stretch of the Colorado River at its feet. But more like Grand Canyon National Park, its main vistas are from the rim, looking down, where one feels expansive — rather than from the bottom, looking up, where diminutive is the word of the day.

The monument’s proximity to Grand Junction — a small city of 60,000 — may work to its disadvantage, too. It is very easy to sleep late in a cozy home or comfortable hotel, have a leisurely breakfast, and visit the park in midday and thus never see it at dawn. That is not my way, however. Few things are more revealing about a landscape than to see it unfold from darkness as the sun comes up and shows an infinite variety of moods. This sunrise photograph, despite the proximity of 60,000 people, is a work of lonely isolation, with virtually nobody around to witness the beauty. At dawn, it might as well be hours away in the wilderness. (Pricing schedule D)

First Light, Fall Creek

First Light at Fall Creek

I’m always eager to visit Fall Creek and it always makes me smile, whatever the season and whatever the light. It begins like many streams born in the Caribou Range east of Idaho Falls, but it ends as does no other. Fall Creeks falls dramatically down a series of self-built terraces directly into the Snake River at Swan Valley. Fed by snowpack, it crashes noisily in the Springs and dwindles to a graceful plume by Autumn.  Because it carries a lot of dissolved limestone, it has built these graceful terraces over the eons, and they are covered alternately by ice in the Winter and moss in the summer — always changing, always interesting.

As sublime as they are, the falls are difficult to photograph. Brush and willows choke the few good terrestrial viewpoints, and the only alternative is to approach by boat on the wide, swift and not terribly friendly Snake River. This day in late winter with the stream in full flood, I chose to fight my way through the brush before dawn, and perched on an exposed cliff face, I waited for the first light of dawn to creep over the mountain and hit the falls full on. Good choice. The warm light and deep shadows brought out the dimension and texture of the spectacle in a way I had never imagined. (Pricing Schedule B)

Grand Staircase at “Red, White and Snow”

Grand Staircase

“The Grand Staircase”, a large canvas print in high-end framing, is available at a major fundraising auction in Park City. The National Ability Center’s “Red, White and Snow” gala is offering this compelling print in its Premium category at a value of $5,001. The work measures 40″ x 57″ and is print #2 in an edition of 10 in the Further to Fly Photography catalog.

Interested collectors can preview this art and bid online at this link. The gala is part of many events on the Red, White and Snow weekend and is Saturday, March 4 at the Montage Deer Valley resort, 5:30 pm. 

“The Grand Staircase” is an excellent example of having to get away from the trees to see the forest. The Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument is the largest national monument in the lower 48 US states and features endless terraced mesas, redrock formations, shady slot canyons, lonely streams, and an immense stratigraphic and paleontologic record book. It is impossible to comprehend the whole of it when you are inside it.

I was at nearby Bryce Canyon National park on a winter afternoon, and the combination of elevation, snow, and the warm, low-angle light of sunset was a sudden, almost accidental revelation. The literal Grand Staircase was in right in front of me, compressed between a bluff in Bryce Canyon and the shoulder of Navajo Mountain, 160 kilometers away — and the lines, shapes and colors made it whole in a way few had noticed before. This rendition is one of my favorites, not only for its beauty, but for the way it simplified its complexity for me. I love it when a shot comes together.

Fire and Rain: the Forest in Ashes

Forest in Ashes #1

We are trying very hard to understand and appreciate fire in the forest. Nature’s life cycles are wise beyond human intellect, according to human intellect. Emotion rules, however, and the burned forest always seems a mistake, a loss, an epic tragedy. After the smoke clears, the embers die, and the rain settles the dust, there is nothing but black and gray. We fear that as the forest succumbs, so our lives will play out into ash, and of course that is our unavoidable destination.

Forest in Ash #2
Forest in Ash #2
Forest in Ash #3
Forest in Ash #3
Forest in Ash #4
Forest in Ash #4
Forest in Ash #5
Forest in Ash #5

Like nature’s version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” fire ends with rain. Water from the sky calms the conflagration and lays the destruction bare, and we see the forest for the first time. So much better, with the logs down and the vegetation missing, to finally know what has gone missing. Even with new shoots ready to begin the cycle again, the forest will not rise to its former majesty in our lifetime. A new generation will know the forest again, love it again, and lose it again.

Forest in Ash #6
Forest in Ash #6
Forest in Ash #7
Forest in Ash #7

(Photography near Lizard Point,  Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA, September 2016.)

The Subway, Zion National Park

Zion Subway

“Slot” canyons — of which the Subway is one — are the darlings of southwestern US geography. They are narrow defiles carved in layers of sandstone hundreds of feet deep — so narrow that it is difficult to walk through them in places, and so deep that sunlight may reach to the bottom only a few minutes a day when the sun is directly overhead. They are often in remote wilderness locations, and require heroic hiking, climbing and/or swimming skills to navigate. Slot canyons attain their unusually tall and narrow forms due to flash floods that carry tons of fine sand that can grind though the soft sandstone relatively quickly.

One of the finest of these is “The Subway” in Zion National Park, so named because the flume at the bottom has an oval shape reminiscent of a train tunnel. True to its kind, it is very hard to get to, a long distance from trailheads on very rough, sometimes dangerous trails. The photographer is awarded an extra penalty, not only having to pack in heavy gear, but to do part of it in the dark so that the light on scene is just right. Attacking The Subway in the fall is a great choice, not only because the midsummer heat is absent, but because colorful fall leaves adorn the stream and canyon bottom. (Pricing Schedule B)

Professional Panorama – Second Place

After the Storm, West Yellowstone

Great News! My panoramic landscape photograph, “After the Storm, West Yellowstone” has been awarded second place in the Professional Panorama category at the Utah State Fair, 2016.

I am the kind of photographer who meticulously plans and stalks my shots, as if I actually have control of anything. It’s a comforting illusion, easily punctured by chance. This shot comes from a ecology outing with fifteen students in which I had no photo plans at all. Hunkered down in camp near West Yellowstone, Montana, during a crashing thunderstorm, it broke up at sunset and I walked over the hill and captured this spread. That simple. How excellent to be reminded so beautifully that my fastidious planning should not be taken so seriously.

I shot this scene several different ways, but opted for this panorama constructed of nine separate frames: three horizontal frames digitally stitched with Panorama Maker 6.0 software; each of the three itself composed of three HDR exposures at 1 EV intervals, assembled with Photomatix Pro 4.2.

Burning Land, Burning Sky

Burning Land, Burning Sky

This photograph embodies a common problem with southwestern USA sunsets: The red colors are beyond belief. Literally.

The effect of brilliant scarlet sunset on rock that is striped psychedelically with red, orange and yellow creates scenes right out of the crimson heaven or perhaps the fiery furnace of hell. Either way, the person who has not seen such a scene with his or her own eyes will not believe it really exists. I, and many other photographers, have sometimes been accused of pushing the saturation or emphasizing the reds past nature’s capability into some gaudy realm of poor taste. I plead not guilty, and I find myself sometimes moderating the colors to stay within the realm of limited human perception. In this scene from the Valley of Fire state park near Las Vegas, Nevada, I have toned down the red rock stripes, and emphasized the blue and indigo sky tones with credibility in mind.

The ultimate solution to this problem, and what I urge upon you if you haven’t done this — is to get out in the redrock desert and see it for yourself. Camp among the rocks, eat dinner early, and wander about at sunset to see fire on rock for yourself. (Pricing Schedule B)

Sunset at the Fire Wave

Fire Wave Sunset

Striped rocks are so cool! Everywhere they stick their heads up, people come to see and photograph them. What’s more, we like to name them after waves, apparently seeing something in their undulations that resembles waves in the water. Perhaps the most famous such formation is The Wave, a couple hundred miles from this location in Arizona. It’s so spectacular that it overshadows this some what smaller spectacle at the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada, named the Fire Wave.

Both of these natural wonders are managed by governments without photographers in mind. Both require hikes — although the Fire Wave hike is quite a bit shorter than The Wave’s hike – and both require that you leave at sunset and not stay overnight.

These regulations overlook the fact that desert rock formations are always at their visual best at sunrise and sunset. Visiting them in the middle of the day is, for the photographer, underwhelming. To see them at their stunning best requires you to break the rules — so I do. This particular day at the Fire Wave, a spectacular sunset was brewing, and I had no intention of being out of the park by sunset. You have to suffer for your art, they say, and so this day I suffered the irritation of park rangers as I didn’t get back to my car and out of the park until after dark. They could have gotten strict with my lawbreaking, but they didn’t and I like to think they understand the artist’s need to push the envelope for the sake of beauty.

Black on Red, Valley of Fire

Black on Red, Valley of Fire

Look down to your feet! It is incredible what you will see. This scene is one of those that I would have missed if I had not been in the habit of looking at my feet — a practice that comes from years of hiking and backpacking.

It is a rather ordinary scene without the small black stones that have weathered away and come to rest on the red and white striped sandstone. I first noticed it in the afternoon, when the overhead sun made the rock brownish and the sky gray, but it was a good enough photo that I did a bunch of exposures, then went on my way. Returning this way later, after sunset, the low-angle red light transformed it entirely, and I made more shots. This is my favorite — the heightened drama from the low, red light sets it on fire.

Valley of Fire is a smallish and dramatic redrock state park near Las Vegas, Nevada, that is under-appreciated. With the exotic lure of Vegas so close, millions pass by this desert masterpiece on their way to buy a piece of the glitter. I’m not a huge fan of the Las Vegas resort scene, however, and so you’re more likely to find me nearby, at the Valley of Fire, eyes down at my feet.

Bid on “Wasatch Autumn” at National Ability Center Gala!

Wasatch Autumn

Further to Fly has donated “Wasatch Autumn,” a 48″ x 38″ exquisitely-framed photograph, to the National Ability Center’s Red,White and Snow fundraising gala March 5th at the Montage Resort in Park City. Preview this work at the NAC auction online site. The event always sells out quickly, but you may bid online if you missed the ticket sales.

Photo Series: Antelope Island in Winter

Afternoon, White Rock Bay

A large, salty lake in the desert might seem the most monotonous of subjects, but in fact the opposite is true. The Great Salt Lake in the western USA has a way with light that produces myriad colors and shapes — it becomes a palette from which to paint endless scenes, both real and abstract. In winter, the effect is exaggerated, as if the observer has stepped off of Earth and onto another planet.

Panorama, White Rock Bay
Panorama, White Rock Bay
Bridger Bay, Antelope Island
Bridger Bay, Antelope Island
Promontory Point from Antelope Island
Promontory Point from Antelope Island
Moody Clouds, Great Salt Lake
Moody Clouds, Great Salt Lake
Beach at White Rock Bay, Antelope Island
Beach at White Rock Bay, Antelope Island
Afternoon, White Rock Bay
Afternoon, White Rock Bay
Winter Afternoon, Great Salt Lake (mono)
Winter Afternoon, Great Salt Lake (mono)

Antelope Island Sunset

Panorama, White Rock Bay

The Great Salt Lake, Utah,  is in an ideal geographic position to play host to spectacular sunsets all year around. It backs up to the tall Wasatch Mountains, where clouds driven by prevailing winds stack up. But in the direction of the setting sun is  the vast salt pan known as the Salt Flats with its clear skies and long vistas, giving the red rays a direct shot at the mountain clouds. The result is the brilliant orange and red clouds and alpenglow for which western US sunsets are famous.

This setting is Antelope Island on the eastern side of the Great Salt Lake, specifically White Rock Bay. I especially like winter sunsets, because the snow picks up the red light so well and contrasts it with dark rocks. Here recent storms have left pools of water on the sand, nicely reflecting the glowing orange clouds. A perfect evening in an unusual place.

Breaking Wave, Monochrome

Wave Monochrome 1 Spring Salon

“The Wave” is a sandstone rock formation in northern Arizona that is a frequent photographic subject. It is in the backcountry, several hours’ hike from the nearest road, and the government stewards do not permit camping. For that reason most of the photos from here are taken at midday and are rather ordinary because light is harsh and blue when the sun is high.

For the sake of art, I broke the rules and stayed overnight because I wanted to explore this site in the warm, dim, flat light of dusk and dawn. The results justified my wanton lawbreaking, I think, producing a hue and flatness that highlights these formations’ abstract qualities. Later I explored black and white versions of these images and found them compelling in the way they translate the compressed layers of sand into movement and energy. Enjoy the sublime and improbable wildness of “The Wave!” (Price Schedule A)