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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Vallecitos Mountain Ranch

July 5th, 2014 · No Comments

I went to Vallecitos to meditate in the woods. Like Henry David Thoreau, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ​ For two years Thoreau lived alone at Walden Pond​, which is less than two miles from the center of Concord, Massachusetts.

​I went to Vallecitos Mountain Ranch for a six-day retreat​ deep within New Mexico’s Carson National Forest. It’s an hour by dirt road to the nearest settlement. But I was not alone in the woods: 22 of us had retreated there. I previously knew two of them as well as one of the two teachers.

​I went there to cut my connections to the outside world. The ranch is off the grid: We were cut off from the Internet, radio, television, telephone, and anything printed.​ Peter ​, the teacher I know from Boulder,​ discouraged reading and writing, although I did make notes. He also discouraged photography, except ​ for​ “real shutterbugs​,​” ​which includes me, of course.

I stayed in ​C​asita ​No. ​3, a simple and small room ​with ​a large floor to ceiling window ​of about 5′ x 7′ overlooking a​ ​ ​grove of aspens. The room came with a bed, a locally built desk​,​ ​an end table of sorts, ​ a garden chair, ​a mirror, a waste basket, a broom, and a small throw rug. It also came with two pillows​ (such excess!)​ ​, although we had to bring our own sleeping bags and pillow case.

​The Interior of My Casita

The Interior of My Casita

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​​The Exterior of My Casita and of Two Others​

The Exterior of My Casita and of Two Others

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​The casita was for sleeping. We meditated mostly in the lodge and on walks and hikes on the ranch and along the Rio Vallecitos.

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Dead Horse Point

June 19th, 2014 · No Comments

Finally, it was time to go home to Colorado from ​the​ tour of the Southwest ​that I took ​with the great Russ Burden and three wonderful tour companions. But Utah was in the way.

So we stopped at Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab. This park ​​is 2,000 feet above a gooseneck in the Colorado River​​ and also overlooks Canyonlands National Park.

​Years ago cowboys used the gooseneck as a natural corral​ to herd wild mustangs​. At least one of these horses must have died there, although nobody knows for sure any more just what happened.

​Looking Down to Dead Horse Point on the Colorado River​

Looking Down to Dead Horse Point on the Colorado River

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We​ looked down a lot. Here Kylie gets as low as she could to photograph this puddle.

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Horseshoe Bend

June 17th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. I’ve seen hundreds of photos of this famous place, which is probably the most photographed part of the river, but always assumed that it is hard to reach.

Not so. The trailhead is only a five-mile drive from Page, Arizona, where I stayed on a photo tour of some of the most iconic places in the Southwest with pro photographer Russ Burden and three other avid photographers. From the trailhead to the overlook is an easy 1.5 mile roundtrip hike.

But once we got to the overlook, things began to get tricky. To capture the entire scene required that I use a 10mm lens, which has the widest angle of all my lenses.

I also had to get very close to the edge, where I looked straight down 1,000 feet to the river. The National Park Service suggests that we “try lying down on the ground and looking over the edge that way.”

Instead, I set down the two front legs of my tripod less than 1 inch from the edge. Russ seemed to think that I was pushing it, but I needed to get that close to avoid having the edge blocking some of the view. Fortunately, I don’t have a fear of heights, and my tripod doesn’t appear to have that concern either.

We got there in plenty of time, as we always do with Russ. We set up carefully and waited for the sun to set directly across the river from us. It did.

​Wind, Water, and Time Carved This Impossible Shape in Sandstone

Wind, Water, and Time Carved This Impossible Shape in Sandstone

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Lower Antelope Canyon

June 16th, 2014 · 5 Comments

Antelope Canyon is the most-visited and most-photographed slot canyon in the American Southwest. It’s in ​the ​Navajo ​Nation near Page, Arizona. Antelope Canyon includes two separate, photogenic slot canyon sections, Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. I went to Lower Antelope Canyon on my​ photo tour with Russ Burden of Monument Valley and the Glen Canyon area.​

​The ​c​anyon was formed by the erosion of Navajo s​andstone, primarily due to flash flooding, which still occurs there.​ Eleven tourists were killed ​in Lower Antelope Canyon on August 12, 1997 . Very little rain fell ​there that day, but ​heavy rain had fallen seven miles upstream. I was careful to wear my waterproof boots when I went down into the canyon.

Lower Antelope Canyon is the narrowest canyon I could imagine. It is beautiful with the swirls and the ​lines of the red rocks, the glow, and the way the light hits.

Russ’s guidance was to concentrate our compositions on the reflected, warm light areas in the canyon​ while avoiding areas where the sun hit directly​. Light entering the canyon and ​bouncing off the walls at the top gives this light. Shooting in the darker areas produces purple colored tones ​with an interesting effect. I combined the warm glow with the purple shadows to produce ​my abstract photography.

​The only time I included direct sunlight in my photos was to capture this image of a dusty light beam.​

​A Shaft of Light Falls on the Canyon Floor

A Shaft of Light Falls on the Canyon Floor

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​I Never Imagined that Rocks Could be So Sensuous

I Never Imagined that Rocks Could be So Sensuous

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Monument Valley

June 15th, 2014 · 2 Comments

From the time when I was a little boy growing up in​ ​California on the edge of the Colorado Desert I ​dreamed of experiencing the true West. I finally got there.​

​To me the heart of the West has always been the rugged desert landscape of southern Utah and northern Arizona​, particularly Monument Valley. Made famous from many Western movies, Monument Valley straddles the Arizona-Utah border. The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park includes a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, the largest reaching 1,000 ft above the valley floor.

I got there on a photo tour led by Russ Burden, my favorite professional photographer and tour leader. This was my third tour with him because he is such an outstanding teacher, skillful photographer, and nice fellow. Russ keeps his tour groups small so he can readily share his contagious enthusiasm and knowledge. Besides Russ and me, the tour included only three people, Chris and Gary from the Denver area and Kylie from Australia.

When we got to Monument Valley after a 500 mile drive from Denver in Russ’s van, the sky was heavily overcast. Russ’s mantra is that “it’s all about the light,” but after settling into our motel rooms in Mexican Hat, Utah, we went out in search of photographs anyway. We waited. And waited. Finally, just before the sun was due to set, it broke through the clouds, lighting some of the monuments in front of us for no more than 5 minutes. That was enough.

​Our First View of Brigham’s Tomb, the Stagecoach, the Bear and the Rabbit, the Castle, and the Big Chief

Our First View of Brigham’s Tomb, the Stagecoach, the Bear and the Rabbit, the Castle, and the Big Chief

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Early one morning a few days later an urban cowboy who hails from Queens, New York, arrived on the scene with his lariat and cowboy hat. His name, he said, was Russ Burden. He attempted to lasso one of the most famous silhouettes in the Southwest, West Mitten Butte, which actually rises about 1,000 feet above the valley floor.

​Russ Tries to Lasso the West Mitten Butte

Russ Tries to Lasso the West Mitten Butte

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Later that morning we went to a place called the North Window, which frames the valley between diagonal canyon walls. It shows a three-dimensional view of Brigham’s Tomb, the Stagecoach, the Bear and the Rabbit, the Castle, and the East Mitten.

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A Little Drama at the Elkhorn Slough

June 13th, 2014 · 2 Comments

The mallard and her ducklings waddle slowly along side the Northern California slough. I watch and photograph them even though I see mallards at home in Colorado every day. But I don’t often see ducklings.

My friends John and Vicky had invited me for a cruise of Elkhorn Slough, as I detailed in my previous post here. We were on the Selkie II, the Whisper Charters boat owned and captained by Brian Ackerman, a life-long waterman with more than 20 years of experience of operating oceanographic research vessels for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Calm prevails in the peaceful family scene.

A Dozen Ducklings Follow Mama Mallard

A Dozen Ducklings Follow Mama Mallard

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But the ground is wet and muddy, and it can be challenging for ducklings. One of them falls into a pool.

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Elkhorn Slough

June 13th, 2014 · 3 Comments

When I visited Northern California recently, my friends John and Vicky treated me to a boat tour of Elkhorn Slough. Except it’s really not what most people think of as a slough.

Elkhorn Slough isn’t “an area of soft, muddy ground; swamp or swamplike region,” as one dictionary defines the word. It is actually a broad salt marsh is second in size in California only to San Francisco Bay.

The slough is the heart of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Its mouth is Moss Landing at the center of Monterey Bay, about halfway between the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey. When I lived in Santa Cruz from 1995 to 2004, I went to the reserve several times to hike but never knew about the possibility of boat tours.

My friend John, who lives near Santa Cruz, discovered Brian Ackerman’s Whisper Charters tours of the slough. John had told me about his great experience on an earlier tour there, and it was everything that I had hoped it would be.

The skies were clear, we had no wind, and the temperature was perfect, warming up to 58° when we set off at 8 a.m. into the slough to see some of the rare southern sea otters and other marine mammals as well as dozens of species of birds. The light on the scene — both the water and the green surrounding hills — was lovely. The boat, the whisper-quiet electric Selkie II, was covered and had the most comfortable seats of any small boat. I got perhaps a thousand photographs, and some of them were keepers. Here are a few of my favorites.

​Two Southern Sea Otters at Play

Two Southern Sea Otters at Play

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Owlets

April 15th, 2014 · 2 Comments

Before Sue returned to her home today in the Bay Area, we were blessed with two sunny afternoons to witness the development of three owlets in Boulder County.

The Biggest Owlet Learns to Use its Wings

The Biggest Owlet Learns to Use its Wings

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Rock Climbing in Eldorado

April 13th, 2014 · No Comments

Eldorado Canyon State Park is only six miles from my apartment in south Boulder, but it’s totally different. For many people its biggest draw is more than 500 rock climbing routes up the sheer cliffs of the narrow canyon above South Boulder Creek. For me it is the much easier Fowler Trail, where I take my friends when they visit me.

I took my fiancée, Sue, there, in part because of her rock climbing interest and experience. While the Fowler Trail took us through some of the steepest mountains anywhere, it has a nearly level grade because it started in the early 1880s as a railway grade for the Denver, Utah and Pacific Railroad, which was attempting to find a route over the Rocky Mountains. But the railroad abandoned the effort after grading about two miles and never laid any rails.

We had a great walk in the wilds as we searched for rock climbers across the canyon. But not until we started to drive out of the park did we get good views of any of them.

We stopped when we saw several climbers attempting to climb the Bastille, a huge rock formation that reminds us of the fortress in Paris that for most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France.

A Young Woman Climbing the Bastille Reaches an Overhang

A Young Woman Climbing the Bastille Reaches an Overhang

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Arches

April 10th, 2014 · No Comments

While twice before I had explored Arches National Park — my favorite place in the entire state of Utah — I hadn’t been there for the past four years. But when my fiancée, Sue, and I traveled to Grand Junction, Colorado, last week for a memorial ceremony in honor of the late husband of one of her close friends, we were less than two hours away from the park. So of course we went there.

The park is famous for having more than 2,000 natural stone arches, probably the greatest concentration of them anywhere. But it also has hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. In fact, the first dramatic form that we saw was Balanced Rock, which is as large as three school buses.

Sue Poses Below Balanced Rock

Sue Poses Below Balanced Rock

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Later that morning we explored the North Window.

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