Friday, May 23, 2008

Lee Child

During my last visit to Houston airport I bought a book just to kill some time on board. It was a first book I've ever read that was written by Lee Child. It's entitled "Bad Luck and Trouble". The story absorbed me so much, that I almost finished book on board - luckily flight was too short and I spent more two days reading it at home. Lee in his book is telling us the story of ex-military cop Jack Reacher. It turned out later that Child had written more books about Reacher, so I quickly had found them on allegro and bought next two. Each book in Lee Child's series is very addictive and New York Times is referring them as "pure escapist gold". I completely agree with them and plan to read next two books pretty soon. The only problem is that when you start, you can't stop...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What a snore...

Currently I have a very intensive period of my life - a lot of everyday concerns to run. It means I completely have no time for taking pictures and even not enough time for post-processing pics taken during Phototrip. But be patient. Some day I'll process them and show to the world. I know I have at least 3 good pictures, so it's not bad.
But let's not discuss what's going on now, but better focus on what will happen in the near future. On the nearest weekend I plan to visit Mazury - maybe not for taking pictures, but rather for drinking. In spite of the main reason, I'll take my camera and try to take some pictures. My friend was in Mazury few days ago and took this nice picture shown on plfoto.
Later I'll go to Rome, Italy for family weekend. Again I don't have big plans for taking pictures, although I hope to take some. Rome is a very good place for photographers, but you've to work very early in the morning - later it's too many people in all famous places.
Then I plan to spend a weekend near Jastrzebia Góra and again will try to experiment a bit with waves and sea pictures. But to be honest, polish sea is probably the most boring place in the world - so again it's another time I'd like just to take a chance of being there to capture some pictures and develop my photographic skills.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Going back home...

This moment was inevitable from the beginning. It's the worst moment of the whole Phototrip. We have to get back home. Today we'll go to the Phoenix airport and then to Warsaw via Houston and Paris. This time our carrier is Continental and Air France. We'll see how they care about passengers.
Today is the best moment for summarizing the whole trip. So generally I'm very happy that we did it almost exactly according to the plan. We were in all places, weather wasn't bad, we've taken about 5000 pictures or even more, met a lot of nice people, etc. Later we'll see if any of pics are good enough, but I hope to have at least 3 good pictures and at least 20 acceptable. It's hard to say now. Of course if pictures are not good enough, it's not a problem - we think positive and we'll just plan another phototrip :)
What else can I say? Of course I have to thank to my friend for getting along with me for almost three weeks (to be honest it brings to my mind the Speccy game - "Three Weeks in Paradise" - remember this great game?). He is a very good pal and I'm sure I can go with him one, two or even hundred more times for such trips. So thanks a lot, again!
Besides I must thank to my beloved wife for allowing me to go for such trip and for taking care of kids. Thank you sweetheart! Of course I'd like to greet my daughters in this place and thank them for waiting for me. Or maybe rather for what I brought for them? :)
And that's it. I have nothing more to say about this Phototrip. But hope to keep this blog alive and write about my other trips. The nearest is Italy in June, so keep waiting!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Havasupai and mysterious meeting

It had to be the highlight of our Phototrip 2008. And to some extent it was even more! But let's start from the beginning...
After the very short night spent in Caverns Inn we packed our Hummer very early and headed to the Hilltop Parking. Arrived there about 6 a.m., left the car and started to hike down. Backpacks were heavy, but trail seemed to be easy. We passed the village at about 9 or 9:30 and only stopped by the post office to drop postcards, then went farther to famous Navajo Falls.
I was amazed with the amount of water in the fall - during my autumn visit it was much less water and the falls were more easily accessible. Besides weather was a bit windy and water was everywhere - especially on our cameras. I've to mention that taking good pictures of this waterfall requires crossing the Havasu creek, then standing on the terrace in knee-depth water to take pictures. Of course you have to set your tripod to be stable and sometimes it's not easy while having all the gear on your back, belt and everywhere else. We wanted to make the most of the morning light, but it was changing rapidly and I've only taken few pictures. The worst was endless cleaning of the lens, filters and cameras and covering gear with some protector - water was splashing in a really bitchy way. I must admit that autumn seems to be much better season for taking pictures in Navajo Falls and how later turned out, also other waterfalls. So after not very long fight with nature, we gave up about 1 p.m. and headed to the campground, where put up the tent and prepared some food. Weather was very hot and lazy. After so short previous night and good lunch I fell asleep immediately. Woke up late and was too lazy to go anywhere, so we used the situation to take some pictures of birds, lizards, bats, squirrels, dragonflies and other stuff. It was the first evening we could commune with nature and relax - decided not to take any more pictures of waterfalls that day.
On the next day we woke up early and went to Mooney Falls for some morning photos. Weather was good and not many people came to the spot. We've taken few memory cards of pictures and came back to the campground for breakfast. Sun was going higher and higher and we had a lot of plans - one was to go to Beavers, the other - to check the upper trail. But as usual, life verified plans, we were very lazy and quit both of them.

Instead we went to Havasu Falls to check some spots for the evening session and see how is the light about noon. It was good decision. Light wasn't perfect, but there were two "mermaids" swimming around the corner. I saw them, because just went to the small remote island. They weren't very shy and shown me everything, but I was too shy to take pictures :) On the way back to the campground we took some pictures of cactis and other flowers. Then had a very lazy afternoon - some nap and hunting for hummingbirds and other beasts with a camera of course!

Few hours before sunset we headed to Havasu again. This time with a serious sunset pictures in mind. Light was much better, but wind was blowing stronger and just after setting the tripod and camera on it, everything got wet. It was really a challenge to take a picture in this circumstances. I think we found pretty good spots, and recent ones even gave us some water protection. But this is not the most important thing that happened this evening...
While I was on the remote island (discovered earlier) taking pictures, I've just noticed the guy getting to me through the water like chamois. He came to me and start talking about the place, pictures and just general small talk. Seemed to be a very nice guy and had very deep knowledge of the place. I asked him about upper trail, good spots and some other stuff and he answered to all my questions. Once I started to wonder if by any chance it might be Derek von Briesen (this guy is my photo guru and has best pictures of southwest I've ever seen in my life!), but I've never seen his portrait, so it was just suspicion. My friend was away from me, so I couldn't ask him for opinion. Somehow it was not easy to ask the guy directly what was his name and we finished talking. He left Havasu.
Then my friend came and ask me about the guy and his suspicions. We discussed facts and myths and decided that we are almost sure it was Derek. Decided to walk along the campground and look around. Unfortunately we didn't find the guy. What a pity!
Next day first thing in the morning we packed our tent and all the stuff and started hike up. Just before 7a.m. we got to the Havasupai Office and asked the guy for backpacks transport by helicopter. The price was 20 USD per bag, so we decided to send the stuff up and not to carry it. It was very good decision. With only light bags we reached the top in about 3h30m (from the campground) - much faster then during my autumn trip when I had all the stuff with me. Unfortunately bags came over an hour later, but finally they came and we headed to Phoenix to pick up our new lenses (Canon 100-400), but this is a different story...

Californian Condors on South Rim

Today we woke up late in the hotel in Flagstaff and figured out that for the first time we're not in a hurry. Our only goal for today is to get to The Caverns Inn near road 18 - the entrance to Havasupai. But before getting there we had enough time to visit classic South Rim Grand Canyon.
Just before leaving the hotel in Flagstaff it turned out that BestBuy is in the close vicinity of our lodge. I wanted to buy one more portable hard disk and look around a bit, so we decided to visit the store. It was bad idea - everything in the store was so cheap that I got out with full basket. Only that wasn't the bad thing - worse was that my suitcase filled earlier and I really didn't have any more space in there!
Finally we headed to Grand Canyon Village for advertised Imax movie. I thought it's a 3D movie, but it wasn't. It's just shown on Imax screen and that's it - nothing special and more than 12 USD for tickets - what a shame! I definitely do not recommend this attraction - it's better to go to the edge and see more by your own eyes. Waste of money. Can't forgive it to them.
After such disappointment we decided to touch the canyon with our own hands one more time and went to Hermit Rest Transfer Point and took the shuttle to Hermits Rest. It was first time I decided not to drive on my own along the South Rim, but just take a shuttle and see some other side of the park. It was to some extent a very good decision, because we saw something completely new for us. Unfortunately we were able to get only to Hopi Point, because of road closure. Next good date for seeing more is probably autumn 2009.
Hopi Point is very interesting, because you can see river from much closer distance than you can do from Desert View. Besides as I noticed all the photographers go there for sunset pictures. I can recommend it, but you've to be in a hurry, because they plan to close the whole road very soon and reopen it in 2009.
One more thing worth mentioning are Californian Condors (Gymnogyps californianus). You can see many of them from Yavapai Point - they are numbered so it's even easier to see which one is which and trace their behavior (if you've enough time of course). It seemed another new thing for me, so I took few pictures. It was before I got my new superlenses: Canon 100-400/4.5-5.6, so I've used 70-200/4L+1.4x for this picture - that's why it's not perfect. Besides this picture was taken handheld.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Monument Valley is not the same anymore

Today our goal was to get from Moab to somewhere near Grand Canyon South Rim for a night. So we started very early in the morning, but first visited less known Corona Arch at the end of Potash Road. This is a big arch not covered by Arches NP, because of its location on the other side of road 191. It took us some time to get there from the parking lot and we found quite interesting shortcut that allowed us to avoid ladders. Unfortunately it was a bit more risky, but we got fun. Sun wasn't favorable for us and allowed us to take only few pictures before hiding behind dense clouds. So we were waiting about 30 minutes and decided to go, because time flew very quickly and we were in the hurry.
Almost the whole day we spent in the car, but stopped by for a short visit in Monument Valley. We were lucky. It wasn't a classic sunny day - I saw thunders, clouds and lightnings for the first time in my life in this place. Everything was different and thus much more interesting. We headed to Navajo park and got surprised - Indian stalls being always down the road 42 disappeared! You can't buy jewelery here anymore or we didn't find it. Whats even worse they are building the big hotel with the Monument Valley view just on the edge - it destroys the whole atmosphere that were here before. But what can you do - it's Indian's land and they do what they want.
Because it was really late, we decided to quickly make the classic loop, take some pictures and go farther, look for the lodging. Weather was getting worse, wind was carrying a lot of sand that was everywhere - it especially came to like our gear, so we had a lot of cleaning later that day. We somehow managed to take some good pictures and left the place that isn't the same anymore. I don't like the changes introduced here...
On our way to the hotel we stopped by Indian's restaurant in Tuba City - they had very good ribs. Unfortunately there wasn't any hotel available there, so we went farther to Flagstaff and found Days Inn there. We arrived very late, but they had Internet so spent some much time browsing e-mails and webpages before fell asleep.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is probably very popular because of the famous Delicate Arch you can see even on Utah car license plates. For me it's a bit much - like in Poland with everything connected to John Paul II. If you overuse something, it's getting boring.
But this day our decision was to do something else with Delicate - go there for a sunset, take some pictures in gold light of late sun, then leave there till the sky will get black and everyone is gone. As usual, life verified our plans. Firstly there wasn't a good sunset - we had a lot of clouds and colors were not as perfect as we imagined. So we failed to take good pictures of Delicate in sunset light. Plan A failed.
Then we moved to plan B. In this scenario we planned to use our headlights to illuminate the arch and take some different pictures using long exposures. What's interesting it turned out that one old guy (let's call him Gringo) from New Mexico planned to do the same thing, but as later appeared, was prepared much better than us. Finally when only three of us left up there, we started to discuss different ideas and testing our light sources.

Gringo had a typical incandescent flashlight and it was giving yellow, warm colors on the arch in the dark. We had two led headlights that were giving us rather cold, white-blue colors. We agreed with Gringo to synchronize and first take pictures with all three cameras using his flashlight, then try it with ours. It was a good polish-american cooperation, like in Iraq :) Finally we got few interesting pictures. The only problem we had was focusing. Autofocus didn't work, because it was pitch black. I was trying to figure out what could be the distance to the arch and set focus manually, but finally it was very difficult and we ended with few nice pictures, but still out of focus. So idea was good, but execution not so perfect. About 10 p.m. we got bored and decided to get to the car - about 3 miles over not very well marked trail in the complete dark - moon was not there on that day. Gringo decided to go with us, so we took him. Fortunately I had saved gps track and we somehow got to the car and even led Gringo with us. He was very happy and we parted with him at the parking below.
This day we had a night reserved in Devil's Garden campground. Very nice place. It was warm night and we had an opportunity to sleep well before Double O'Arch trail planned for the next morning. We even had our private rock formation near the pad.
Next day first thing in the morning we headed to Double O'Arch trail. We passed Landscape Arch, then Wall Arch and some other minor formations. It took us some time to get to Double O'Arch, but we finally arrived. It's really amazing place to take pictures (of course when other people are not present, but it wasn't the case). Unfortunately light wasn't perfect - we just arrived a bit too late. In spite of all I was trying to take some good pictures. Hope you'll have a chance to see some of them pretty soon.
Then we returned to the campground, folded the tent and went to the Delicate Arch for another evening pictures. This time light was favorable and we took many great pictures.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mesa Arch and other nice places

Today we decided to go and see sunrise at famous Mesa Arch point in Canyonlands. We arrived to the parking about 5:30 and 15 minutes later were at the spot. What we noticed was about 20 people with tripods and cameras occupying best spots. Somehow we found good places to take photograph of sun rising over Mesa Arch and started to wait for a SunTM. After few minutes it appeared and people started to take pictures like crazy. Everyone had a different idea how to photograph this nice place. I decided to take a picture with sun rays on it. And I think I succeeded, but rate it yourself.
After leaving Mesa Arch we get back to camping for a breakfast. This day we had a grilled chicken para desayuno. The day before we found amazing stuff in supermarket - instant grills for less than 5 bugs. What does it mean? It means that you pay money and can instantly grill your food. Such device consists of something like ash can/container, coal or something similar, fire-starter and grid. You just need matches and some meat to prepare a complete meal. So we had very good breakfast that day.

Later we started to visit different parts of Canyonlands National Park. After few hours we decided Green River Overlook to be the most interesting part of the park (from photographic perspective) and stayed there for sunset. Light wasn't perfect, but I still hope to have few good pictures.
The day ended at the campground for the next night. This time night was a bit warmer and we somehow survived it more comfortable.

From Bryce to Canyonlands

In the morning just after finishing the sunrise photo session at Sunrise Point we left amazing Bryce Canyon. We decide to take road 12 through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef NP. This is very scenic road going through an interesting part of Utah. We saw some fields watered by machines that generated ice instead of water - quite surprising picture! I'm still wondering for what they do this kind of field icing? Maybe you know the answer?
In the Grand Staircase-Escalante there's very interesting waterfall on the Calf Creek - or even two waterfalls - upper and lower. We decided to take a trip to lower one, because seemed to be easier. Going there is worth every minute and every bead of sweat. What you see at the end of the trails is really wonderful! We took many pictures of the waterfall from different angles - after filling all memory cards decided to get back to the car and finally go to the Dead Horse Point State Park where we had reservation at campground. It took us almost the whole day, but we arrived just in time for sunset photo session at Dead Horse Point Overlook.
In the dark we set up our tent on pad number 4. Of course nobody is working here so late, so we had to do everything ourselves: pay entrance fee, register at campground, set up tent, etc. After quick supper we reviewed our plans for the next day and it turned out that we don't have enough fuel - unfortunately nearest gas is in Moab - 32 miles away. We decide to go there to buy some gas and some food for next few days. We returned to the campground really late and on our way back almost hit the black cow on the black road in the pitch black night - cows are everywhere here, because there's open range.
We sleep in the tent - it is whorishly cold and I have to sleep in all what I have - night temperatures were for sure below 32F. We somehow survived the night and almost 2 hours before dawn we headed to famous Mesa Arch for morning photo session.

Bryce Canyon

Today we came to Bryce Canyon NP. It's icy cold and very windy here. Yesterday when we fallen into the Hatch hotel in shorts, outside was snowing. Fortunately room had very good heater and it got warm pretty fast. In Bryce, besides very low temperatures (sometimes even less than 28F), cold wind is still blowing. But let's be honest - it's about 3000m over the sea level. I'm not ready for such weather and even though I've t-shirt, two fleece jackets and regular jacket, I feel cold. This is probably because I don't have hat. Luckily there's a very good gift shop/trading post where you can buy everything, starting with groceries, through gifts to clothes. They've everything except... winter hats that I heavily need. They of course have a bunch of summer hats against sun - these guys probably mixed up seasons. I quickly figured out that the only solution is to buy hooded jacket and use it instead of hat against wind and cold.
Equipped in hoods we go photographing Bryce Canyon. First the Rainbow and Yovimpa points. Here we found snow, because it's the coldest point in the whole Bryce Canyon - temperatures are about 20F. We can't stand here for a long time, so we get back to Bryce Point, Inspiration Point and Sunset Point for sunset pictures. It's getting late and light is changing for the worse. We are completly frozen.
Fortunately we reserved a cabin for a night - this is a kind of wooden house in the campground. Luckily we discover that there's power and heater in the cabin, but we have to use our own bedding - sleeping bags act well. The decision is to prepare some kind of supper very quickly and eat something hot, so we fire up our MSR burner (thanks Michael!) and cook some instant food. By chance we just checked if we can see any wireless networks in our cabin, and... BINGO! - our laptop found 4 wireless networks! In the campground located in the wilderness - it's just America. Tomorrow we are going to sleep in a tent in Canyonlands NP - if there'll be Internet, I'll make sure that Poland is backward country...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Subway

This morning we've started probably the most challenging trail during Photo Trip 2008 - The Subway. It requires special permit and is a part of Zion National Park. Main goal on this trail is to see the famous Subway - kind of a tunnel created by water in a solid rock (picture on the left). Unfortunately seeing this wonder requires some effort. In all guides it's written that you need about 7-9 hours to go to the Subway and back. It took us about 10 hours, but we had at least one hour standing in cold water and photographing.
It turned out that spring is not a very good season for visiting Subway - water in the creek is too high and everything is more difficult.
All good pictures I've seen were taken during autumn - it was no water in the most interesting part of the creek. Now it was a lot of water and it was very cold. But we had no choice - go now or never - we decided to go this spring. From photographic point of view it wasn't perfect decision, but trail is really difficult and interesting, so we are happy that we've done it and are still alive.
I think I'll be back there one day - that time for sure in autumn.