I'd Rather Be Backpacking

Backpackers at Lake Blanche, Twin Peaks Wilderness, Utah

Serendipity smiled on me this late August evening. I had just returned to Lake Blanche after spending the evening avoiding the well worn Sundial Peak reflecting in Lake Blanche at sunset image.

It's not that there aren't slight twists, and not because it's not a slam dunk every time you get some decent light, it is. This isn't a promise to never shoot it again either, but that image doesn't help me grow as an artist.

So, in search of something more personal, I wandered down to the other two lakes, and ended up finding a cool little spot in the rock ribs north of Lake Lilian that avoided that sweet sunset light all together. Doh.

It did feel like artistic growth to go to this beautiful place I feel intimately familiar with, seek out something new and unique, and execute an image I deemed worthy of sharing. Using my artistic powers to isolate and arrange; using universal natural elements to express something entirely personal about the beauty of this place that isn't seen in a passing glance, felt good.

Sill, I couldn't help but feel a little melancholy as I climbed back up to Lake Blanche in the afterglow of sunset. I had made a few good images, but I didn't feel like I had made a slam dunk. Worse, I had missed out on some pretty great light.

When I got back to Lake Blanche, I immediately dropped down to lake level. Maybe I could still get a nice long exposure of the Sundial reflected in the lake, lit by the fading light of the western sky, I thought.

When I found the composition I wanted, I dropped my pack and pulled out my camera. Just then, two backpackers crested the ridge behind me and paused for a few seconds; just long enough for me to capture their silhouettes and my most evocative image of the evening.

Intimate landscape near Lake Lilian, Twin Peaks Wilderness, Utah

High Uintas Wilderness: Red Castle Lakes

Red Castle Lake, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Red Castle Lake, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Last Stand, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Last Stand, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Mega Fauna, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Mega Fauna, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

The Classic, Lower Red Castle Lake, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

The Classic, Lower Red Castle Lake, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

The first week of July, I finally made it to Red Castle Lakes in Utah's High Uintas Wilderness. This place had been on my radar for at least a decade, but for whatever reason (maybe because the trailhead is two and a half to three hours from Salt Lake City) it wasn't a priority until a couple of weeks ago.

I decided to take the Bald Mountain route from the Cache trailhead. This is the most direct route into the upper Smiths Fork River drainage; only ten miles to Red Castle Lake. The Bald Mountain Trail boasts spectacular views as you skirt the east side of Bald Mountain and walk the broad ridge towards Squaw peak. The price: an immediate and steep climb and the knowledge that you'll have to climb back up to Bald Mountain after dropping into upper Smiths Fork.

The Cache trailhead start saves a mile of walking from the East Fork Blacks Fork trailhead, where there is a bridge, by fording the river. It was an inauspicious start to the trip when the first thing I did after missing the trail was fall in the river. On the bright side, I was passed the deep part when I slipped and was able to hold my shoes and socks mostly above the water as I fell.

I was impressed that my old Kelty backpack didn't let much water in and my new Kelty Ignite Dri Down bag stayed dry, as promised. Unbiased plug for Kelty brand outdoor gear. Kelty, if you're reading this, I'd be happy to review any gear you'd like to send me. ;-)

At first I didn't even realize I was off the trail. I just started following a dirt road towards the river, from the trail crossing sign on the East Fork Blacks Fork road. I didn't even see the nondescript trail cutting east just past a well used campsite maybe a hundred yards from the main road. I wasted a little bit of time and energy making my way over and around fallen timber as I cut across the mountainside, before intersecting the trail on a long steep switchback.

The rest of my hike was less eventful. Mostly just contending with jaw dropping views and infinite mosquitoes; and trying to create some images that could express some fraction of the beauty I was experiencing.  Next time I backpack in to Red Castle Lakes, I'm going in September and/or I'm taking a mosquito head net. Seriously, the mosquitoes were relentless.


Red Castle, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Red Castle, High Uintas Wilderness, Utah

Downtown SLC Farmers Market 2015

The Pfeifferhorn above Maybird Cirque, Lone Peak Wilderness, Utah

The Pfeifferhorn above Maybird Cirque, Lone Peak Wilderness, Utah

What would the season be, without the downtown Salt Lake City Farmers Market? I know I can't stand the thought of not being there. So...I'll be setting up my booth June 20th, July 18th, August 15th, and September 12th.

This Saturday, June 20th, find me at the southwest corner of Pioneer Park from 8 am till 2 pm. I'll be offering a wide selection of photographic prints, including one-of-a-kind transfer prints on paper, stone, wood, and metal.

These photos are my freshest produce, captured yesterday morning high in Maybird Gulch. "The Pfeifferhorn above Maybird Cirque" is a composite of five vertical images, each overlapping by about fifty percent. This technique allows me to go wider than my widest angle lens, without over emphasizing the foreground, and works well in a place like this, where you want to pack a lot of real estate into a single image.

Now that's a knife-edge ridge, Lone Peak Wilderness, Utah

Now that's a knife-edge ridge, Lone Peak Wilderness, Utah

Boulder Creek, May 2015

The Sweet Light

Post-sunset Light, Indian Creek, Utah

A ten second exposure reveals the sweet light reflected on towering sandstone cliffs by fiery sunset clouds on the opposite horizon. A medium telephoto focal length provided some reach into the scene, which eliminated foreground distractions and simplified the composition. The final image is a compromise between my desire to fill the frame with glowing rock and my desire to convey the expansiveness of the scene.

Reflected light is some of the most beautiful light there is. Similar to low-angle sunrise or sunset light, yet more subtle, softer. Under the right conditions rock glows as if lit from within (red rock looks particularly fiery). In order to capture this kind of light a tripod is a must, even if I had pushed my ISO to 6400, my shutter speed would still have been 1/6 of a second - way to slow to hand-hold. The tripod is one of the most cumbersome, least glamorous tools in photography, and one of the most important to the landscape photographer.

Best of 2014

Here is a meticulously edited selection of my favorite photos from 2014. These are the images I created in 2014 with the most impact, the most emotion, and in several cases the most color.

They represent the best moments in the best places I made it to last year and the times I was most effective in communicating a sense of place and the drama of the moment.

Of course, now I'm wondering, how do these images stack up against the best of 2013, or against my all-time greatest hits? Are any of these images strong enough to stand the test of time?

"Best of All Time" sounds like another ten week editing project. Hopefully I can publish something else in the meantime.

Best of 2013

That's not a typo. These really are my best images from 2013. I've been doing a lot of editing recently and thought, before I bring out the best of 2014, I'll go back to the recap I missed.

I ended up with a few more than the customary ten or twelve images only because I couldn't stand cutting what I considered to be weaker images in favor of images that have all ready appeared on this blog. I do believe less is more, but I couldn't help myself. I decided on an even mix of all ready been published on this blog and never before seen images.

It's a fun challenge to distill an entire year of images down to a handful of selects. It can also be a bit disappointing; I thought I had more and better images. I'd love to know what anyone else thought about this collection. Which are the four weakest images? Which are the strongest?

Red Butte Garden Annual Holiday Open House

Bonsai Rock Twilight, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Please join me at the Red Butte Garden Annual Holiday Open House, Saturday and Sunday, December 6th and 7th, from 10am till 5pm. Admission to the gardens is free on these two days and you can shop for unique Christmas gifts from a select group of local artists, with 30% of the proceeds going to support Red Butte Garden. I'll be offering a wide range of photographic prints from note cards and small matted prints to large framed photographs and stretched canvases, as well as my unique photo transfers on stone, paper, wood, and metal. I'm excited to show some new work (like the image above) from a July excursion to Lake Tahoe.