When hiking at Catcoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, I felt like everything was easy. There were some rocky paths and steeper climbs, but I was just enjoying it so much that I didn’t notice the difficulty of the terrain or the 8 miles we walked. The things I noticed were the beautiful scenery, the great weather, and having good conversations with a friend. It’s easier to notice all the good things when you’re in a better mood, and I noticed these really cool flowers once we returned to the trailhead after a great hike.
Passing through places I’ve never been I often find unexpected areas of beauty that lead to quiet reflection. This barn scene at Capitol Reef National Park was a place that caught me off guard on a day where I needed some time to think about myself and why I had been feeling the way I was. The serene meadow surrounded by the red rock cliffs was a perfect place for a time out among the horses and light traffic before heading up into the canyon for more adventures.
It was late in the day when I decided to hike the Lost Mine Trail at Big Bend National Park. It had been a day without a lot of physical exertion and it was set to stay that way with possible storms coming. I felt like I really needed to do it, so I got myself up and hiked very quickly up the gently steep trail. The views along the way were incredible as well, but the nice payoff at the end had me viewing into the canyons that surrounded me and past our campground. It was a beautiful feeling and I jogged down the trail back to my car after taking in the view for a few minutes.
The dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park are constantly changing. The sinuous lines that weave to the summits of these moving mountains of tiny granules are in perpetual motion though they seem to be a hard geological feature from afar. When you step on the line it dissolves beneath your feet. The screen of blowing sand from the tops of the dunes is blinding and rough while walking along the ridge. After a couple hours walking here everything is sandy including teeth, leaving you spitting small rocks for the rest of the day.
Being up before sunrise has an energy that is invigorating. There is potential to the day while you wait for the sun to break the horizon. Staring at snow-covered mountains towering in every direction around you in the blue tones of early morning is magical. And when the first warm glow hits the peak of the tallest point, it radiates with life-affirming color while it slowly swallows up the darkness and ushers in the morning.
The landscape of southern Utah is so varied that it’s hard to identify at times. This shot is from somewhere near Buckskin Gulch near the Arizona border. Watching the road curve ahead into the distance is always exciting, especially with views like this. We took several dirt roads to get where we were going as you often have to in the backcountry of this area. They are often washboarded or covered with soft sand so travel becomes a gamble. We made it in and out of every one without incident somehow.
While I was in Florida briefly I decided I was much too close to Everglades National Park to not go visit. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to get to the places I’d really like to, but I did go to Shark Valley Visitor Center where there are a few short trails on boardwalks and paved road through the protected area. The amount of people on bikes and trams didn’t seem to bother the gators at all. They were out in full force. Along with the many gators I also saw a lot of turtles, fish, and birds, including a giant crane that took off while I stood a few feet away. It was a brief visit, but it was a great escape from work and the city.
The desert regions of the southwest aren’t nearly as barren as one might think. Besides the incredible structures and canyons there are myriad plant species that line trails and backcountry throughout the area. Wildflowers are abundant in warmer months, and blossoming cactuses are some of the more strangely beautiful flora that you can find. The exotically intriguing flowers beckon while the sharp points encourage you to keep your distance. That’s what zoom is good for.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is a bit out of the way of anything in Colorado, but it is an impressive sight when you arrive. Out of the flat desert rise huge dunes in front of towering mountains. It is a strange combination, but the oddity is intriguing and calls for closer exploration. The hike to the top of High Dune was a long and strenuous walk of short steps sinking into soft sand which resulted in both of us spending the rest of the day trying to get tiny grains out of our eyes. What we could see between blinks and tears was beautiful colors, textures, and lines stretching out to the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Arches National Park is one of my favorite places for several reasons. I love that you can walk right up to these amazing natural structures and interact with them. I’ve been coming here on every trip I take out west for the last five or more years and every time I manage to find something new. I’m not sure how I missed this one during my previous visits, but Double Arch is very close to a parking area and easy to climb up to. I checked out two other new areas while we were there also. I’ll always look forward to more when I come back.
Hiking in Utah has plenty of rewarding views, and they’re often mixed with amazingly fun climbs. In Capitol Reef National Park we did what we could with the short time we had there, but that was a good amount. We hiked up to a wide canyon between two high walls that allowed us to explore several side canyons to climb up into. It was enough fun just playing in those, but the climb back out to the main trail was this great silhouette of rocks in front of the colorful sunset sky. We are so lucky to get to see these things regularly.
The last two days were spent in and around the canyons of southern Utah. Outside the national parks, there are tons of slot canyons that have been carved into the landscape over millennia of wind, sand, and water rushing through them. Peek-a-Boo Canyon and Spooky Gulch are two of my favorite slot canyons and they happen to part of one loop hike. This view is from above after I climbed up, stemming and using counter-pressure techniques that are a big part of why I love these canyons so much. They are basically a huge playground in nature, and they are some of the most beautiful landforms I have ever seen.
Death Valley is an incredible National Park with so much more to offer than I ever knew. The sand dunes are some of the most surreal and amazing things I’ve ever seen in the morning light. The shadows play in such strange ways that it’s hard to tell what is real. This was an amazing way to start the day before hiking in slot canyons, up mountains, and along high ridges. This is definitely a place I’d love to visit more often.
Detours can be one of the best parts of a road trip, and yesterday we decided to head to Death Valley instead of Moab. We got here in time for sunset, and seeing the low sun on the amazing landscapes here was crazy. The biggest surprise to me the first time I came to Death Valley was how much colorful, varied formations were here. Everything is beautiful and carved by wind and water over centuries. This is one of my favorite places at Zabriskie Point.
We spent the last two days in Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite the unexpected warm weather the mountains were still covered in snow, making for breathtakingly beautiful scenes around every turn. They are massive and all-encompassing on the horizon. It’s hard to explain the grandeur, but it’s something that everyone should see in person at some point. It was hard to drive away, but it was a nice ride out.
Washington, D.C. has always been one of my favorite cities. There’s something great about seeing so many iconic landmarks on a short walk around town. There’s so much history concentrated in a few square miles, and it feels like you’re a part of it while you’re there. Like this country and our constitution, the building need constant maintenance and work to keep them up to date and functioning properly. I really like this metaphor of imagery for the U.S. and I think the Capitol Building looks the best while under construction.
Going back to last month in D.C., I got this shot at the Jefferson Memorial, which is photogenic in many ways. I love the warmth of this shot as the sun was going down, and the temperature was dropping with it. It’s funny how photos can evoke a warm feeling even when the memory associated with that place is one of bitter cold. I just really enjoyed the light here and the way the columns open up to the sky as it curves.
For the last D.C. photo for a while, I picked this one of the Washington Monument. I tried several ways of shooting the monument in an interesting and unusual way. This is my favorite of those attempts, with the abstract lines and colors creating more than just a straightforward image of a landmark and more of a thoughtful close up on it that almost has some ground-reversal qualities. I also like that it reminds me a bit of a flag and that the tone of the bricks changes so dramatically from the late day sunlight to the shadows.
Yes, another photo from Washington, D.C. The Washington Monument isn’t the easiest thing to photograph in an interesting way, but the curves along the tidal basin as we returned to our car at sunset just caught my eye leading up to the stone obelisk bathed in golden light. The water is that choppy because it was very windy and blowing icy cold air across the water at my fingers while I took this shot.
When we were in D.C. we spent a good amount of time at the Jefferson Memorial exploring the angles and seeing how the light changed as the sun went down. I really love this image of TJ looking out hopefully over the country he helped build while the sun sets peacefully over the nation’s capital. Even though it was pretty bitter cold, there were still busloads of people coming out to visit these landmarks, and the monument lit up beautifully inside with the late-day sunlight.
Southern Utah has some of the most unique and incredible rock formations in the world, and Arches National Park is one of my favorite places to see them. Wall Street is lined with huge, narrow rocks that climb up on either side of the trail. I came a couple hours before dawn to catch the stars still hanging in the sky one morning. I had the park to myself and the silence was amazing. My eyes never adjusted to the point that the long exposure of my camera was able to see, but I could still feel the presence of the great structures that surrounded me.
Driving the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park at dawn was like waking up but feeling like I’m still in a dream. Everything was soft and quiet, and there were no people except the occasional other driver. Shadow Mountain Lake was a hidden surprise just as the sun was thinking about cresting the horizon where I could pull over and enjoy the view in the very cold summer morning air. I would have stayed longer if I wasn’t losing feeling in my fingers.
This is one of my favorite spots to be in the world; well, the world I’ve explored so far. Double O Arch in Arches National Park is the one place I have visited one every trip I’ve taken west of the Mississippi. The trail is great, taking you past several arch formations and over giant rock fins. Part of the beauty of this park is being able to interact with the landscape. You can walk up to, through, and on top of this arch. The sunset does beautiful things to the red rocks, bringing out the colors that are more muted during the day. If you do visit this place for sunset, be prepared with a headlamp for the hike back. It gets dark fast.
Olympic National Park in northwest Washington has some of the most diverse landscapes and ecosystems all within a relatively small territory. Hurricane Ridge showcases the gorgeous Olympic Mountains, which are snow-capped most of the year. There is beauty everywhere you look from Hurricane Hill is magnificent. The mountains surround you, the flowers brush against your ankles, and the Olympic marmots scurry around, perching on rocks for better views and whistling to each other at any sign of possible danger. There’s nothing much like it.