Overland Expo 2014: What do you mean it’s not about the gear?

Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.

This was my fourth year visiting Overland Expo.

It’s easy to get caught up in the show.  Every year Mormon Lake finds itself swarming with giant shiny vehicles, classic overland rigs, and custom monsters designed solely to roam the Earth in style.  It’s hard not to get excited about all the chrome, steel, grease and rubber promising adventure and travel like you’ve only imagined it could be.  From restored off-road classics to bright and showroom-shiny marvels of technology the Overland Expo definitely focuses on the vehicles.  But this is no car show.

Range Rover-1

If you’ve got the vehicle, well there’s always the specialized gear to go with it.  You can’t have an off-the-beaten-path adventure without the right field-recovery kit, or high-powered winch, or maybe you need a bad-ass light kit, roof rack or gnarly new bumper.  If your rig is settled, maybe it’s the camping gear you need?  Rooftop tents, pop-up adventure trailers, fully integrated camp kitchens with pressurized hot and cold water and a solar powered refrigerator.  As a gear-head I get it.  I want to see the newest improvements in technology and the bright-and-shiny “best of show” on display so I can picture myself aggressively throwing sweaty handfuls of money at the vendors praying that I’ll get to take it home and love it and pet it and name in George.

Vehicles of Overlanding-4

Maybe you’re not in the market for anything in particular.  Then it’s simply the spectacle of the Overland Expo that pulls you in.  Everywhere you turn there are massive land-crawling monsters of mechanization decked out with every impossible combination of equipment reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic-Mad-Max-sci-fi thriller.  If you should happen to witness one of these massive lumbering beasts in action, growling with every movement and belching diesel-drenched awesome from it’s battle-blackened exhaust pipe, I dare you not to stare in wide-eyed child-like wonder.

Vehicles of Overlanding-2

But there’s another side to the Overland Expo, the real side, the soft pink underbelly where you’ll discover the human element that tells the real story.  People travel from all over the world to converge on the little wind-swept patch of dusty grass outside Mormon Lake to be a part of a unique community that gathers here to celebrate global travel and human culture.  When you venture past the noise and gleaming metal you’ll discover a common theme in the stories of the sun-baked, trail-tested, road-wise representatives of this community.  They are people who laugh easy and place high value on friendships, good cigars and a well crafted story.

Overland Expo 2014-1

The gear becomes less and less important as you realize the human side of the equation wholly eclipses the mechanical.  People that have been away from home, friends and family for months, maybe years, at a time in the holy name of adventure.  In some cases it is a permanent lifestyle change wherein every material possession is sold, donated or abandoned to make life on the road a full-time pursuit.  Others save for years, or sell assets to take extended leave from the day-to-day drudgery of an old career and escape.  Others, usually the younger Overlanders, have found ways to work on the road in fields that don’t require a desk, a chair or a brick-and-mortar storefront allowing them to make enough money to keep moving from one adventure to the next.  The underlying subtext that permeates every story is the urge to experience the larger world first hand, face-to-face, to see it, smell it, taste it and make it a part of themselves.

Overland Expo 2014-6

Spending long months, or years, traveling the globe and living with, around and in your vehicle is a unique experience that may be difficult to relate to if you haven’t been there yourself.  It can be difficult among your “normal” friends back home to find a sympathetic ear for your story about blowing out your suspension in the middle of the African desert on a lonely, rutted dirt road.  It’s hard for the non-traveler to find context with your fear, anxiety and ultimate triumph in that situation.  Finding people to relate to, and who can relate to you, is an important piece of belonging.  For all it offers, the most important value of the Overland Expo is the ability for these people to gather as a community and share their passion with like-minded, similarly-experienced people.  The more unique a community is, the stronger it’s connection and the Overland Expo has the feel of a family reunion where everyone is the crazy uncle with the good stories.  It is, for the most part, a community that doesn’t care if you travel by motorcycle, car, truck, van, Earth Roamer or 1993 Mercedes-Benz UNIMOG U-2450 UNICAT.  The important thing is that you travel, experience the world, get off the beaten path as much as possible and see the world with your own eyes.  If you can make that leap and be brave enough to drive a road that makes you nervous, visit a city with a name you can’t pronounce and have food you don’t recognize with someone who’s language you don’t speak…then these are your people.  Come out next year, say hi, and ask them about their latest adventure.  You won’t regret it.

Overland Expo 2014-2

For another perspective (and a little more information about Overland Expo itself) check out the recent coverage by Val-in-Real-Live about OX14.

Hiking Havasupai – My Successful Return to Hiking

Havasupai Falls Hike Arziona

Forgetting the ibuprofen was a bad idea.  It was a rookie mistake and I was paying the price for it.  I sat down heavily on a concrete and rock wall next to several other sweaty, dust covered hikers taking advantage of one of the last shady spots left in the rocky canyon.  I pulled the hat from my throbbing head and wiped the sweat from my brow, eyeing a line of horses kicking up dust on their way up the steep switchbacks toward us.  I wanted to stay ahead of the horse pack but I was loosing steam.  As I caught my breath and waited for the aching in my knees to subside I made idle chit-chat with the guy next to me.  There was probably less than a half a mile left, but it was the hard half mile…and my body was constantly reminding me that I was neither young nor in shape anymore.

The guy beside my made some comment, by this point I was barely listening, and I looked up to see the horses were right on top of us and moving fast around the bend in the switchbacks.  As the huge animals jockeyed for position they took up the entire trail squeezing out our lazy spot in the shade.  One horse cut the outside route with a gallop right toward me and I shot up and spun myself toward him and to the outside edge of the trail, just narrowly missing being trampled by the beast.

“Ha ha!  I thought you were tired!”, one of the other resting hikers was amused by my sudden agility.

It’s amazing what a little adrenaline can do for you.

Most anyone who reads here knows I’ve been struggling with injuries for the better part of a year.  Even though last year was one of the most amazing travel years I’ve ever had, the whole thing was a huge, painful struggle.  Last May I found out I had a double stress fracture in my right foot that sidelined me for the better part of 3 months.  As soon I recovered somewhat from that, I injured my left knee.  When I rushed to get back to training after the knee felt better I quickly re-injured my knee even worse and had to resign myself to doctor’s visits and physical therapy.  I had worked hard over the last several years to get into shape and be able to do the kinds of adventures and travel that I enjoy and this year of pain and frustration was a major setback.

Coming back from this many injuries back to back has been a frustratingly slow process.  I’ve had to accept a lot of limitations and come to terms with losing the fitness level I had earned.  It felt like I had thrown away years worth of work and effort.  But taking it slow was going to be necessary if I was ever going to get back anywhere near where I was.

Mooney Falls Havasupai Hike

 

 

Hanging out at Havasupai Falls

I think it was October or November when we decided we were going to hike Havasupai.  My wife and I have been talking about going for years.  I have hiked into Havasupai several times since moving to Arizona but she had never been and has been asking to go nearly as long as I’ve known her.  When her sister offered to let their oldest come out to visit us, my wife thought it would be a great opportunity to show off our state by taking him into Havasupai and showing him an amazing time.  Jason is 14, athletic and is active in the Boy Scouts so taking him on a sweet multi-day backpacking trip to one of the most beautiful places in the country was a great plan.  For Christmas we sent him an old National Geographic magazine with an article about Havasupai, writing in the magazine “April 2014, prepare yourself!”.

As April drew closer, I didn’t seem to be any closer to healed and certainly not healed enough to train for the hike.  If I was going to be able to go at all it was going to be right on the heels of finishing rehab, with no prep.  Goody for me.

Beaver Falls Havasupai Hike

Hiking Havasupai is an interesting experience.  I’ve done it several times and even though it’s close to 12 miles to the campground it’s mostly downhill on the way in.  The switchbacks are the first thing and they’re over quickly (and your’re going down so it’s not as bad).  Then it’s just a long canyon hike down a dry creek bed for the most part.  The hike out is something else entirely and first timers are often taken by surprise at how challenging it can be.  That long slow, easy downhill all the way in turns into an imperceptible uphill grind that saps your energy and then dumps you at the foot of a mile or so of switchbacks fully exposed to the desert sun.  It’s usually not something you do on a whim with no training or a good base fitness level.  I had neither.

Jason did great and his boundless 14 year old energy had him running circles around us for the most part.  I hope we were able to give him an experience he’ll never forget.  I felt like we could have done better had I been more physically prepared for the hike, but all in all we did well.  We put in over 30 miles of hiking that weekend, explored and swam around countless waterfalls, he slept in a hammock for the first time and got to see at least part of the Grand Canyon.  For me, I got to revisit one of my favorite places on the planet and show it off to my wife.  But more than that, I proved to myself that I have recovered from my injuries and can get serious about getting back to the kind of shape that will allow me to keep up with the serious hikers.

I was pretty beat up most of the time we were in the canyon, walking around sore and in pain.  But it was the soreness of muscles worked past their limits, feet sore and bruised from over-activity, NOT the pain of injury.  My knees held up well despite my lack of preparation and meager fitness.  Despite the soreness we pushed through to go see more stuff, jump off waterfalls and swim in the shallow pools.  I may have spent an hour with ice on both knees after hiking out of the canyon but I could still walk, I wasn’t crippled and that, for me, was a success.

Mooney Falls Hike ladder chain

I’ve left this year’s travel calendar almost blank, not knowing what I would be physically able to do.  But now I want to fill in the time with some of the adventures I’ve missed out on.  I had to pass up so many great invitations last year and take it easy on other trips where I wanted to do so much more.  This year will be about saying yes and pushing myself.  It’s time to start looking at all those summits, canyons, rivers and creeks I longed for all year.  Time to pull out the maps and start planning.  I think I hear Utah calling my name…

Columbia #OmniGames: Supporting Storylines…

Columbia Omnigames

Dog sledding

The raw excitement around the dogs was palpable and contagious as they yipped, barked and howled with anticipation in the falling snow.  While one group of riders split off and mounted their growling machines, I followed Beth, Justin, Katie and Derek through the thick snow to the sleds.  Snow swiftly swirled around us and the restless dogs as the winds picked up and visibility diminished.  The wirey dogs were quickly harnessed up and attached to the leads one by one, each of them seemingly bursting with excitement for the first sled run of the day.

Columbia OmniGames

Due to injury and lack of mobility, I would not be competing in the long anticipated games.  Nearly 40 outdoors enthusiasts and social media influencers from the past four seasons of Columbia’s #Omniten program gathered near Park City, Utah for a collective competition.  The competition would be a secret set of challenges, completed in teams, with a serious prize on the line.  Once the content of the games was revealed and the teams were chosen, I began my own challenge: To tell the story of the games through photographs.

The final challenge for everyone in the competition would be “Charles Dickens”, a storytelling challenge.  I knew the teams would be immersed in their activities,  in some cases fighting the clock, and there would be little time or opportunity for them to capture the images that could bring their stories to life.  In the highly visual mediums we have to portray our stories, images are invaluable and grab a reader’s attention quickly.  So my challenge, my contribution to the games, would be to capture the moments that would help support the narratives of the competitors to the best of my abilities.

I chose to start my shoot with the first dog sled teams, passing up an opportunity to follow the first snowmobiles to the archery site.  Everyone was excited about the dog sleds and I knew I needed to capture that excitement early while it was still raw, while the dogs were still fresh, while the apprehension was still visible.  I wanted to focus on two things at this station, the excitement on people’s faces as they readied for their first ride and the explosive energy of the dogs.  The dogs were much less cooperative than the #omniten but were the real stars, beautiful animals straining against their harnesses with incredible power.

Columbia Omnigames

The shooting wasn’t too difficult here, but getting around in a foot and a half or more of snow with a bad knee made for some sketchy moments.  A couple of falls and bad twists made things interesting and set a cautious tone in my head about being physically able to follow the games.  Still, I would do my best.

Making fire exciting

It was quiet once the dogs had run off with their sleds in tow.   I set off across the snow to find the other teams working on their challenges.  luckily for me the other events were clustered together, but they were up a hill…normally not an issue but this time it felt like an arduous trek.  I struggled up the snowy, uneven path to the Fire Challenge.

Columbia Omnigames

Each team had 25 minutes to light a fire and get a small pot of water boiling.  Not quite the excitement surrounding the dog sleds.  Looking for storylines I focused on the expressions of concentration,  I tried to capture the spark flying off the flint starter, and for those who were successful…flame.  I started to realize my background in graphic design and sequential illustration played in to how I thought about the photos.  During the Fire Challenge I really began to treat the photography like I was setting up a storyboard. I looked for “scene setting” images, “character” images and “action images” while in my head I stitched them together sequentially so I could visualize and capitalize on the gaps.  This technique of visualizing a sequential storyline helped get me through the next few events.

Columbia Omnigames

I can’t be everywhere

I really wish I could have covered everyone at every event, but it just wasn’t possible. The Dog Sledding was too mobile and the archery event was too remote.  Even the clustered events were difficult because I was having a hard time moving quickly enough through the snow to catch each team at each event.  Knowing I couldn’t do it all, I began to broaden the scope of the story I could tell.  Instead of focusing on individual stories, I realized I needed to tell the broader story of the games in general. I started thinking about the group story and how the individual stories would intertwine.

Columbia Omnigames

This released me from the idea that I had to capture everyone at every station. As long as I could cover different crews at each event I would be supporting the overall story. Still, the first day was a serious challenge.

Archery in the snow

I managed to grab a ride along on one of the snowmobiles later in day one. The weather had become more aggressive and our visibility was getting pretty tight when we took off. I remember thinking that this could make for some great dramatic images or it could ruin my equipment. I stored my gear for the ride out to protect it then set up once we reached the archery station.

Archery turned out to be some of the most dramatic imagery I captured on the first day. The wind picked up and the snow whipped through the frame while I narrowed in on the expressions of focus and concentration of our archers. Just the image of a drawn bow exudes tension, power and drama and has been used in imagery of warriors for millennia for just that reason. This was a pretty stationary event, like the fire building, so I worked my angles to capture a higher sense of action to support the narrative.

Columbia Omnigames

Day one of the #Omnigames wrapped up in whiteout conditions with the last of the #Omniten warming themselves indoors with bowls of fresh chili and hot chocolate. I found myself continuing to head outside even though the games were over just to enjoy the weather. Standing outside, wrapped in my warm Columbia gear with the wind and snow whipping around me I was able to have a little quiet time to think and appreciate where I was and how I got here.

Columbia Sportswear has developed a culture built around pushing boundaries and exploring our limits. Their products are designed with this in mind and the “Trying Stuff” mantra is a corporate rally cry that echoes throughout everything they do. We were brought together by Columbia because we embody this message, we live the “Trying Stuff” lifestyle with everything we do. To me it is just that,  a lifestyle, a philosophy that permeates every part of our lives. It’s a personal commitment to accepting challenges and facing them with persistence and excitement…even joy.

Once you stop facing challenges, once you stop pushing your boundaries, you stop growing…you stop improving and learning. You stop living. I will always be “Trying Stuff” whether that means pushing my limits outdoors, developing my home and gardens to their full potential, learning new skills, or expanding my career. I was limited by injury on this trip but it didn’t stop me from “Trying Stuff”. I was able to explore my limits with photography and push my equipment, knowledge and skills to knew levels. Something that has me excited about doing more photography work in the future. At this point who knows where it will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

A Year in Review (in photos)…

Despite fighting injuries that have severely limited my mobility throughout most of the year,  it’s nice to look back and see that I still had a pretty stellar year.  Between travel for family, trips with my wife and various Social Media events (including #Omniten and Outdoor Retailer) I have managed a hell of a lot of travel this year.  I owe a lot of that to finally living in the same city with my wife, thus cutting down on the travel time we spent just to visit each other.

Even though I’ve spent half of the year in pretty bad pain, I still consider myself luckier than the average bear.  The following is my Year in Review through the images that best represent each trip.  Now, where should I go in 2014??

January…

Eastern Oregon

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

Salt Lake City with Everybody!

Snowshoe at Silver Lake Utah

Idaho with @TrailSherpa, @Wigirl4ever, @AColoradoGal, @Active_Explorer

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Lightroom

 

February…

Chalk Canyon

Sunrise light at Spur Cross

South Mountain with @TheMorningFresh and @BananaBuzzBomb

Simply Adventure-South Mountain

 

March…

Haunted Canyon with @BananaBuzzBomb and @MountainMatron

Haunted Canyon- Superstition Wilderness

Skunk Tank with @WriterintheWild

Skunk Tank in Tonto National Forest

Lost Dutchman with @BretEdgePhoto

Photograph of the Week - Lost Dutchman and Four Peaks

Superstition Wilderness

4 - Boulder Creek-Superstition Wilderness

 

April…

Zion National Park with @DavidWherry

View of Watchman from the Campground in Zion National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

 

May…

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Big Sur

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Sunset Final

Overland Expo 2013

Epic whiskey-Overland Expo 2013

 

June…

Apparently June was a quiet month.  I only have this image of a giant horn worm from my garden…

Monster in the Garden-Horn Worm

 

July…

Grand Canyon National Park

Desert View Hike - Adventure

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Mono Lake

Mono Lake-California

Pinetop

(photo credit goes to Mic Waugh)

Crossbows and beards

 

August…

Rogue River, Oregon with the #Omniten

Rogue River Rafting Trip

Sedona L’Auberge Resort

Oak Creek Hike- L'Auberge Sedona

Mount Graham

Mount Graham photography view

 

September…

We technically started our Hawaii trip in September…but…

 

October…

Hawaii

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Arches National Park

WD at Arches National Park

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

 

November…

Oak Creek, Sedona

Oak Creek-Fall Photography Trip

Death Valley National Park with @AmericanSahara and @valinreallife

Death Valley Sunset

Return to the Superstition Wilderness with @HikingTheTrail and @BananaBuzzBomb

Boulder Creek - Superstitions

All in all, I would say it turned out to be a pretty epic year.  I want to thank everyone who joined me and helped make this year’s travel possible, especially my patient and beautiful wife.  And a special thanks to Angela and Tracy for helping to watch our four-legged family while we are off having adventures.

I also started my virtual Photo Gallery this year and many of these photos are available as prints.

Happy New Year and may your travels be a little messy,  heavily spontaneous and never go according to plan!

Finding diversity in Hawaii…

The trip was doomed before it even began.  My wife and I (mostly my wife) had been planning our first anniversary trip to Hawaii with focus on spending time in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  We poured over places to stay and tried to compile a list of things to do inside the National Park as well as outside the park.  We settled on a promising little cottage just outside the park in the village of Volcano where we would be close enough to the park entrance that we could easily get in early and have no trouble staying late (so I could get my sunrise and sunset opportunities).  But things began to unravel early…

Two weeks before our departure from the mainland my knee decided to fail me.  I had been training again trying to get in shape from my foot being broken nearly all Summer.  Miserable as that was, I was excited to be out again and getting in shape in time for some Winter fun and our anniversary trip.  My knee thought otherwise and I was reduced (once again) to painfully hobbling around the house with limited mobility.  Awesome…Hawaii here we come!

Also looming on the horizon was the giant black cloud of the government shutdown.  In my mind, it would be a game of chicken until the 11th hour and then someone would give in and the crisis would be averted.  Never did I expect it to actually happen and, even if it did, I didn’t expect the National Parks to shut down.  I guess that’s the naturalist in me that considers the National Parks and Monuments part of the “essential” services that would be untouchable during a shutdown.  I also, naively, thought of the National Parks as truly public spaces that would still be accessible even if the Park’s services were closed.  But clearly I was mistaken…

Honolulu and the North Shore

North Shore of Oahu

Honolulu, Oahu Hawaii

We arrived in Honolulu for the first leg of our trip.  We would be staying one evening here before moving on to the Big Island so that I would get to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.  My wife has been, but since this was my first trip to the islands we made time to make sure I would be able to see the Memorial.

The long flight had been hard on my miserable knee so we reluctantly chose to push Pearl Harbor off to the next morning and explore the North Shore a little bit and maybe catch the sunset.  We fought our way through afternoon traffic to get outside Honolulu and head toward the beaches.  Still pretty sore and stiff from the long flight, I had a hard time getting around but luckily the road pretty much follows the shoreline and there wasn’t much hiking to get to the beaches along the North Shore.

Turtle Beach on OahuWe stopped at a few places, got to see some turtles, had a little snack and waited out the sun as it slowly settled to the horizon.  We stopped at Sunset Beach and while my wife got out the beach towel to lay in the sand and soak up the last hour or so of sunlight, I hauled out the camera gear and set up to catch the fading light.  The weather was nice, there was a slight breeze and a nice set of clouds in the west for the sun to play with as it set.  The sunset wasn’t spectacular but it was pretty nice and it allowed me to get the equipment dialed in.

After sunset we headed back to Honolulu for a nice sushi dinner and some much needed rest.  My knee kept me from getting much rest, but we were excited to get out to the National Memorial before our flight to Hawaii.  My wife turned on the news as we were getting ready and that’s when we found out about the closure of the National Parks.  Blindsided and somewhat devastated that we were going to be denied access to the only reason we stayed in Honolulu AND potentially miss out on the main reason we were visiting Hawaii we scrambled for some answers.  I called the number listed for the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center and spoke with a woman who assured me that the memorial, or at least most of it, was still open.

She was partially right, the collection of memorials and monuments at Pearl Harbor are managed by the NPS but some of them, like the Pacific Aviation Museum are actually on the military base property and were therefore still open.  DOD funding was intact, so the USS Missouri and the museum were still open but access was now cut off so they were shuttling visitors onto the military base to access these memorials.  It was a mess and no one really knew what was going on.  We spoke with some very helpful NPS Rangers stationed in front of the visitor’s center, but their news was grim.  This would not be a quick resolution, the parks would likely be closed for a while.

We reluctantly gave in and headed to the airport.  After a pretty rough flight (my knee was really having a fit with all this travel) we landed in Hilo, grabbed our car and headed to Volcano to check in to our cottage.  We rented a private cottage from Hale Ohai cottages in Volcano.  Our place was awesome and set back in the thick jungle vegetation making for a beautiful setting.  Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get a chance to spend much time there.

As most everyone knows now, the National Parks stayed closed for over two weeks which meant that our 5 day adventure in Volcanoes NP was spent outside of Volcanoes NP.  Every morning we woke up hoping that the shutdown was over the park would be reopened.  It was sort of our obsession throughout the trip.  The upside of being locked out of the National Park was that we got to see much more of the rest of the island than we had originally planned.

There is so much to see on the Big Island.  Even being limited by my meager mobility we still got to see a ton of diversity in Hawaii as we ventured out from our home base in Volcano.  Exploring the gardens and waterfalls around Hilo, the rough and rugged coastlines around the southern tip of the island, the high grasslands between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and various beaches.  Ultimately we had a great time driving around the island exploring State Parks, beaches and old lava flows.  We had some great meals in Kona and Waimea and found some amazing little roadside mom-and-pop restaurants.  Parks closed or not, we still had a great time exploring the diversity in Hawaii and spending time with each other on our anniversary.

Cape Kumukahi

Cape Kumukahi near Hilo

Cape Kumukahi is just outside Hilo near Puna and was a rough and tortured coastline of old lava flows broken and twisted by the relentless action of the waves.  Throughout our trip, this area was usually cloudy and raining but we happened to catch it one morning when the sun was out and the clouds were still gathering in the distance.  It’s beauty is in it’s hostility, the sharp black lava rock with very little vegetation and the hard crash of the waves on this side of the island.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls near Hilo

Just minutes outside of Hilo is Ranbow Falls, one of the most visited falls on the island from what I’ve read.  It’s really easy to access and there are paved walks to view points to see the falls.  Many tour buses drop off loads of cruise ship tourists to come in and snap some pictures and gawk at the dramatic falls and lush vegetation.  It is no doubt a beautiful spot, and the falls is much larger and more dramatic during other seasons but I would have liked to visit more remote falls had I been more ambulatory.

Lava Tree Gardens State Park

Lava Tree Gardens outside Hilo

Lava Tree State Park is also near Puna and hosts a unique feature on the island.  Vertical lava tubes dot the park.  These unique features were created when molten lava washed through the area in the 1790s and cooled faster around the large trees as it washed over the land.  The trees burnt out leaving hollow vertical tubes that still stand today.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Black lava shores of Punalu'u beach

Past the south end of the National Park is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach County Park.  It’s a small protected black sand beach area with some cool lava formations and a small section of black sand beach where we saw another turtle on the shoreline.  We actually visited this spot a couple of times during our trip because it was close enough to Volcano to be an easy drive.

Southern Tip of Hawaii

Southernmost tip of the US

The southernmost tip of the Big Island is also the southernmost tip of the United States and is a pretty harsh area.  The seas are calmer here but the currents are still strong.  If you can brave the undertow, there is supposed to be some excellent snorkeling at the base of the shear cliffs.  There was a lot of long-line fishing going on here when we stopped by.  The rugged, windswept cliffs and the expanse of endless ocean beyond really do make this spot feel like the “edge of the world”.

Grasslands outside Waimea

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Totally unexpected to me were the rolling hills and open grasslands dotted with cattle.  I never expected to see expansive wild grasslands in Hawaii and I found myself staring out at it every time we drove through these areas.  It was different than anything I expected to find on a Pacific Island I was slightly in awe of it.  We stopped one evening on our way from Kona to Waimea as the sun was setting to grab some pictures at the edge of the highway and these ended up being some of my favorite pictures from the trip.

As disappointed as we were to NOT make our trip about the National Park in Hawaii, we still made the best of it and had a great time checking out all that Hawaii had to offer.  As I said to my wife several times throughout the trip, there’s no way to see it all in a week.  We could spend years out here and never get to see it all.

We are already talking about getting back to Hawaii soon to handle some unfinished business.  Keep those parks open, Hawaii, and we’ll be back soon!

Happy Birthday National Park Service – Welcome Parksfolio…

Today, August 25th, the National Park Service turns 97!

I’ve recently rediscovered a love and passion for the National Parks starting with a trip to Zion NP back in April.  Since then I’ve visited Saguaro National Park and the Grand Canyon and have plans to visit Hawaii Volcano National Park and Death Valley before the year is over.  Next year I hope to see Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Joshua Tree…maybe more!

National Park Series - Grand Canyon

My Zion trip inspired a cool collaborative project you may remember from previous posts.  The Trail Sherpa National Parks Series is a collection of National Parks photos collected from the Trail Sherpa Network of bloggers, processed and curated by me.  This project was really cool and a lot of fun.  When we posted the collection publicly, Tim and I were flooded with emails from people who had photos they wanted to add to the collection, some of which seemed to have great stories behind them.  The Trail Sherpa Series wasn’t the right place for that but we really wanted to be able to showcase some of these cool images and stories that people were itching to share.

Enter Parksfolio…

Parksfolio

Parksfolio website

Parksfolio is our answer.  Parksfolio will be a photographic journal of the National Parks as told by the many visitors who have a piece of the story to tell.  We want Parksfolio to be THE place to share your favorite memories from the National Parks.  It will be a place where people can tell us about their favorite trail, most amazing viewpoint, most memorable campsite or just share a really cool experience.  What better way to honor the Parks Service’s 97th birthday!

Read the stories.  Submit your own photo and story.  Join the conversation by commenting on any story that moves you.  Or search the stories to find inspiration for your next trip.

 

Failure on Mount Graham…

Two years ago I made a trip out to Mount Graham in eastern Arizona to see the Perseid meteor shower.  On that trip, we arrived late as a storm had rolled in and set up camp in the rain.  It rained all night and was a soggy mess in the morning, but we hiked, bagged some peaks, got in trouble with the feds, took a few pictures, slept through a second night of rain and clouds and came home.  I never got a chance to see the meteor shower, or much of the night sky at all.  Bummer.

Since that trip, I’ve become much more serious about photography and really, really wanted to do a night sky shoot.  With the meteor shower reaching a peak this weekend I wanted to get back out to Mount Graham and try to not just see the celestial event but capture images of it.  So I packed up some basics and headed out Sunday morning to make the 4 hour drive to Mount Graham.

Mount Graham and the Pinaleno Mountains are one of the Southeastern Arizona “Sky Islands”, a collection of isolated, high elevation peaks that are throwbacks to Arizona’s ancient past.  As the climate has changed and the Ponderosa Pine forests have been pushed higher in elevation these mountains have become the island homes for many species that can’t survive the desert.  The Sky Island Alliance has boasted, “the region harbors a diversity exceeding anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America, 29 bat species, over 3,000 species of plants, and 104 species of mammals.”

Mount Graham photography view

These mountains also have pretty crazy weather.  At nearly 11,000 ft they tower over the desert floor and clouds tend to pile up against them and then let loose.  This is what caught me two years ago.  And this is what was in store for me this weekend.  A perfectly clear pleasant afternoon soon hinted at a cranky, grumbly storm as I drove up the twisting mountain road to camp.  I stopped to take some pictures as the storm approached and built up steam.

Mount Graham photography camp

Just as I reached camp and started to set up, the storm bullied it’s way over the mountain and let loose with a massive downpour.  The camp host said it hadn’t rained for a week or so but the last time a storm came over lightning struck a tree at one of the campsites convincing the temporary residents to pack up and go home.  This storm rolled right over the top of camp with thick walls of rain and hail, lightning striking so close I could smell it and thunder that seemed to crashing right between my ears.

Luckily I had the light rain jacket from Columbia to keep me dry as I scrambled to set up camp.  I got the tent up in a hurry then decided I didn’t want to be stuck in the tent and set up the tarp I normally reserve for hammock camping.  This allowed me to set up a nice little dry area where I could cook, hang out and watch the storm.  The storm blasted camp for a good two hours, causing torrents of runoff to carve a path through camp.  I took a stick and dug in a channel next to the tent to divert the drainage around the tent instead of under it…it helped.

Mount Graham photography camp

Once the rain had stopped, I pulled out the camera to see if I could get a few post rain shots during the sunset.  I didn’t get much and what I got seemed off but I didn’t know why.  I waited out the sun busying myself with other camp duties.  The moon would set around 9PM offering a nice dark sky for night shooting.  I got the camera out and set up to do some long exposures and catch the Milky Way while I waiting for the meteor shower.

Mount Graham photography night shotsThis was my first attempt at night shooting, my first attempt to do open shutter captures…and I couldn’t figure it out.  It took me close to an hour to figure out how to lock the shutter open on the damn camera (I know, I felt like an idiot).  Once I finally got it to work, I was having a really hard time capturing anything.  Even keeping the shutter open for 3 or 4 minutes and with the ISO pushed up I was having no real success.  Then I noticed that when I did get something in the viewfinder it looked weird.

Everything, and I mean everything, was wet from the storm.  The storm had dropped so much water that as it got cold there was not a single dry surface anywhere…that included the lens!  Dammit!  I have been struggling to get these long exposure shots and all I was doing was shooting through a foggy, wet lens.  After some necessary swearing, I finally found a cloth I could try to clean the lens with.  I hoped I could get it clean and then get some shots.  The problem was, the shots would take anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes to shoot and the mist would collect on the lens in less than 2 minutes.  Ugh!

Mount Graham photography night shotsBut I tried.  I would set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter…wait.  I would also have to hold my breath when setting up the camera because the steam from my breathing would fog the lens immediately.  So I would hold my breath, set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter, then scurry far enough away to exhale and take a breath.  Seriously….?

It was about the time I got this system down that I realized my battery was dying and eventually wouldn’t let me take a shot.  How the hell did I take off for two days of shooting without charging the battery??  Good thing I had a backup.  I swapped the batteries and, nope, that one was dead too.  GOD DAMMIT!!  What the hell?  I could have sworn I had charged the batteries after my last trip…but I guess I hadn’t.

So, dead batteries, wet lens, battery going dead on my headlamp and the cold starting to get to me…I put the camera away just as the meteor shower was supposed to get going.  At least I will get to watch it, even if I can’t try to shoot it.  I waited.  1AM…not much to see, a couple of streaks but not much of a show.  1:30AM…still nothin.  Peak show is supposed to be from 1AM to 3AM…where is it?  2AM…Do I have to buy a ticket?  Is that why I’m not seeing much of anything?

At about 2:30AM I got frustrated that I wasn’t seeing much.  I was cold, tired, wet and my foot was killing me from stumbling around camp all night.  I called it and went to bed.

With the good camera useless, I decided to pack up and head home instead of doing a second night.  If my busted foot wasn’t feeling so sore I might have stayed just to hike around the mountain a little bit.  It’s a beautiful place.  But I had come out for the photography and my equipment was shot.  The upside was that I did get to use my new Induro tripod and I really liked it.  So much lighter and easier than my older tripod.  Very impressed with it.

Mount Graham photography

 

Mount Graham photography

The next morning I walked around a little with my smaller camera and tried to shoot some of the scenery in the morning light.  There really is an abundance of stuff to shoot in the mountains.  Especially for late Summer, this is the place to find some amazing plants and animals to capture.  I really wish I been better prepared and in better shape to hike around the mountain this weekend, but I will go back.

That’s two failed trips to Mount Graham…one of these days I’ll do it right.  I promise!

An Exciting New Project…

A few months ago, after returning from Zion National Park I started a project inside the Trail Sherpa Network.  We collectively submitted photos from the National Parks and I processed them to be a part of a collection…an ever growing collection…of prime photos from our National Parks.  The idea was to use the best images from within our group of bloggers to create an amazing collection representing as many National Parks as we could collect.

National Park Series - Grand Canyon

I was really happy with the result.  We collected amazing photos representing a dozen Parks.  I hope to eventually have a Trail Sherpa Network photograph for every National Park to fill out the collection.  There are still a few of the bloggers that have said they have photos to submit for the collection but haven’t gotten around to sending them yet.

This led to another really cool project that we’ve been working on.

I’m really excited about it and I can’t wait to launch.  The project is in beta right now, but we are hoping to go public on August 25th…the National Parks Service’s 98th Birthday!

If you have a favorite National Park photo or story…we will want to hear from you!  August 25th!

Photograph of the Week: Sunset in Grand Canyon…

I know, I know…I haven’t done a Photograph of the Week in a long time.  Everything blog-related was pretty much put on hold while I was recovering from my busted foot.  Now that I can get around a little bit I feel more motivated to post AND I actually have a few things to post about.  So, to kick things off again I wanted to post a collection of pictures from my recent trip to Grand Canyon National Park showing four consecutive days of Sunset in Grand Canyon.

First Sunset: Bedrock City, Arizona…

Somehow, there’s always a lot to do the day of a trip.  Without fail, it seems like I’m overwhelmed with last minute random chores to get done when we are trying to get out of town.  Another reason why flexibility is the overriding theme to all my travel plans.  We didn’t make it all the way to the Grand Canyon on the first day and decided to stop for the night in Bedrock City just outside of Williams.  This was a fun, spontaneous decision that felt much more adventurous than the local KOA.  That first night we set up the teardrop, busted out the camp stove and made dinner as the sun was bearing down on the horizon.  While dinner was cooking, I grabbed the camera and snapped off a few shots of the sunset.

first night sunset- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 24-105 Lens – f6.3 – 1/160sec – ISO 200 – 35mm

 

Second Sunset: The Watchtower…

We camped at Desert View Campground, about 28 miles east of the main entrance to the park and Grand Canyon Village.  After driving through the main section and seeing what kind of circus Mather Campground is I was really happy we had made the decision to check out Desert View.  It’s a first-come-first-served campground so timing is key if you’re going to find a spot.  We got lucky and managed to grab what I believe was the best spot in the campground.  That first night in Grand Canyon we decided to check out the sunset view from The Watchtower, which is only a quarter mile or so from camp.  We hiked along the rim a ways to stake out a spot away from the crowds.  As sunset approached we still had a sporadic groups of tourists jockeying for a spot along the rim to snap shots of the sunset with their cell phones.

I set up on a promontory that got me out enough to be able to shoot the sunset without the tourists in the frame (I know, I keep saying “tourist” like I wasn’t one…hehe).  We waited…and waited…I was looking for a nice show.  There were nice clouds in the sky, the canyon was clear, visibility was great…we just needed the light to break through.  It never really happened.  That first night was a bust and the sunset fizzled out like a match that burned itself out.  The images for that night were more moody, with subtle light in the clouds and a misty stacked silhouette of purple canyon walls.

Watch Tower Sunset Day 1- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f29 – 1.3sec – ISO 320 – 22mm

 

Third Sunset: Return to The Watchtower…

We tried to take it easy for the second day in the canyon, I didn’t want to overwork my busted foot since I was just getting used to walking again.  We got up early that day and got to shoot the sunrise at from the cliffs at Desert View just a short walk from camp.  That night I wanted to get back to The Watchtower for sunset, I felt robbed the night before.  It is a great vantage point and the canyon view from there made for great photos but the show the night before was weak.  I wanted another shot at it and the sky was shaping up to have a lot of potential.

We came out a little later than the night before, it had been cold and windy the first night and we waited for a long time with nothing much to show for it.  Arriving later meant I lost my spot though, as it had been taken over by a large group of Asian tourists.  We hiked further down the trail looking for a quiet spot to set up and found a great little overlook.  That night the sun cooperated and gave us a little more of the display I was looking for.  My expectations were high, so even with a “nice” sunset I felt like the canyon was holding back.  We would have one more shot after this, but I was still happy with at least a couple of the sunset images we got that night.  My wife was shooting the D70s with the 24-105 lens and had much better luck since she could get in tighter on the scene we had that night.

Watchtower Sunset Day 2- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f4.2 – 1/40sec – ISO 320 – 19mm

 

Last Sunset: ShoShone Point…

We got the inside scoop about Shoshone Point from one of the Park Rangers working at The Watchtower.  He gave us clear directions and told us it was the perfect short, easy hike that I could do with my limited mobility and would give us a stellar view of The Canyon for sunset.  He added that Shoshone Point is one of his personal favorite vantage points on the South Rim and it is never crowded.  Sounded like the perfect spot!  What he didn’t tell us is that the location is available for events and we got there just as a full blown wedding was wrapping up.  The bridal party had taken over the point for wedding photos!

Luckily they wrapped up before sunset and everyone headed out leaving the point to Merelyn and I.  Shortly after that we were joined by an eccentric local photographer that seemed to be happy to have some folks to talk to.  We sat and waited.  Things were shaping up nicely but you never know, the clouds move one way or another and can blow the whole thing.  Then the show started and for the next 40 minutes or so I hopped and shuffled all over the point shooting the changes in The Canyon as the light moved.  The sun cast intense rays across The Canyon catching corners and edges and making for some dramatic shooting.  I shot with the wide-angle and my wife shot with the 24-105 and we both captured some great stuff.

Shoshone Point- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f22 – 1/15sec – ISO 320 – 10mm

 

When the Sun finally did drop behind the cliff the color in the sky changed completely and I dropped the exposure a little.  I had promised Merelyn we wouldn’t stay too long so we wouldn’t be hiking back to the truck in the dark, but I couldn’t leave the sunset before it was done and it had more story to tell.  Our photographer friend was there to the bitter end shooting a time-lapse of the sunset, so as the last of the viable shots for me slipped away we said goodbye and headed back down the dark trail to the truck.  Luckily it wasn’t much of a hike back and we did just fine.

Shoshone Point- Sunset in the Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f/14 – 1/5sec – ISO 320 – 10mm

 

Prints of any of these shots and more from my Grand Canyon trip can be ordered from the Wilderness Dave Photography Gallery site.

Photograph of the Week: Graduated Filtering…

My wife and I recently visited California to see some friends and family.  We spent Saturday afternoon driving down the coast from Monterey through Big Sur on the scenic Highway 1.  We stopped several times along the way to hike, take pictures and get riddled with Poison Oak (not so much fun).  As the afternoon wore on the fog got thick and it looked like the sunset would be a bust.  I had been hoping to get a nice coastal sunset in this scenic area but nothing is guaranteed in nature.

A little over an hour before true sunset, the sun started to break through the clouds and offer a little pre-sunset drama.  We quickly pulled off the highway at a scenic overlook and I hopped out with the tripod to grab a few shots of the light display.  This was going to be a narrow window and a slightly challenging shot.

I knew I would be looking to shoot a sunset along the coast and had been trying to get myself a nice Neutral Density Graduated Filter for the job.  This would allow me to shoot a little slower to expose the darker ocean and maybe even get some motion blur without over exposing the sky.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the filter I wanted before the trip.  So I would have to get the shot and figure it out later.

Photograph of the Week: The RAW shot…

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur cliffs RAW

The challenge is balancing the exposure.  You don’t want to overexpose the sky so that the clouds and light still holds detail.  But at the same time you don’t want to underexpose the landscape (ocean) and risk losing detail there either.  Since the clouds only broke in a small part of the sky the entire shot would be very dark except for the light shining through the clouds.  I managed to get a couple of images that struck the balance between exposures allowing me to process them as if I were working with a real filter.

Photograph of the Week: Processing in Lightroom…

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Lightroom

The first thing I did was adjust the exposure so the darker areas were exposed properly.  This blew out the light in the sky and the glow of the clouds but I’d fix that later.  Once the exposure was corrected I did my usual work of pulling shadows and creating deeper blacks to add depth.  I then pushed on the Clarity and Vibrance to create sharper contrast and pull more vivid color.  Color would be important but I didn’t want to oversaturate the image, so I only made a slight adjustment to the Saturation.

This got me away from a very gray and underexposed image, but the sky was now over exposed.  I applied a Gradient Filter to the top of the image allowing me to adjust the sky without effecting the ocean and landscape.  With the filter in place I was able to bring the exposure of the sky back down a couple of steps where it was more natural and the detail returned.  I still had a very gray sky so I pushed the Temp setting slightly toward the cooler side.  The result gave me a better setting for the warm light that was pouring through the clouds.

I finished my adjustments by pushing the Sharpness as far as I dared, then smoothing the noise by increasing the Luminance.  This is something I’ve been doing on almost every image because it allows me to get crisp detail and sharp edges with almost no noise at all.

Photograph of the Week: Magic from Color Efex Pro…

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Sunset Final

I tried to keep it simple in Color Efex Pro.  I just wanted a little warmth to the light and maybe a little sharper detail.  I started by applying the basic Brilliance/Warmth filter which gives a nice warm glow to the light in the image, but won’t overly warm the cooler colors.  Then I wanted to punch the light in the sky up a little, so I applied the Skylight filter and the Sunlight filter.  Both of those seem only to enhance existing light in an image without doing too much to mid tones and shadows.  These filters also seemed to bring some luminosity and warms to the reflected light on the ocean surface.

I finished off my adjustments by adding another Graduated Neutral Density Filter to the image creating more contrast in the cloudy sky.  Graduated filters in both Lightroom and Color Efex Pro allowed me to balance out the exposure on a very unbalanced scene.  I can’t wait to get a real physical Neutral Density Filter so I can try some other tricks.

Once the adjusted TIFF file was back in Lightroom I increased the Sharpness and Luminosity again, kinda just to see what would happen. It gave the image a very painterly quality, but on such a small scale it’s hard to see without blowing it up.  But enlarged, the image has no noise and very clean edges, the textures also came in super clean.  I might start doing this final step regularly.

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-24mm lens.
  • Exp: 1/20 sec, F/22, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom and finished in NIK Color Efex Pro 4.

This image and images from this set are available at my Virtual Gallery for download or to order prints.  Please visit.