South Coyote Buttes
West of Lake Powell and north of the Grand Canyon, in a remote desert wilderness area, are the Coyote Buttes. Scattered across a bizarre red sandstone landscape are sculptured formations. The largest concentration of these stone patterns are on the Utah-Arizona border. Flat sandstone plateaus crisscross with knee-high stone fins. Included are directions to an area of balancing mushroom rocks near Glen Canyon Dam. Striped sandstone, weather-worn and eroded into sensuous curves, are great nature images.
In the middle of a vast desert they call badlands in northwestern New Mexico is a remote wilderness protected by the Navajo Nation and the BLM. Called Ah-shi-sle-pah, the unpronounceable Navajo term for grey salt, this vast geological fantasyland has not been promoted in any travel magazines I’ve seen and is hard to find, located at the end of a rough road and a long walk. I was the only person out there during my four-day stay and the silence was wonderful. Tall stone pedestals balance flat caps like giant mushrooms.
The mountainous western region of the state of Massachusetts is called the Berkshires. Hardwood forests in the higher elevations across the northern parts of the Berkshires typically start to turn red and yellow in early October. Forests at lower elevations across the southern parts of the Berkshires may reach their peak color during the third or fourth week of October. All photographers looking for new and different New England autumn color images should add the Berkshires to their calendars.
Death Valley, California
Stovepipe Wells dunes, Zabriskie Point, and Badwater are some of the best places to set up a tripod at sunrise. The mysterious sliding rocks on the Racetrack must be photographed. Dante’s View, Ubehebe Crater, and Titus Canyon should be on the list of any visiting photographer. A single creosote bush at the base of a dune at sunrise or a stone on the edge of a salt pond at sunset can also inspire a photographer to create unique images of Death Valley. Photograph all the icons, the postcard views, but stay long enough to drive some back roads and hike a few desert trails. Be out there at sunrise and sunset and the desert light will inspire you. Death Valley is a wonderful winter destination for nature photographers.
Winter in Yosemite, California
In mid-winter, the sun never reaches over the south rim of the valley. Snowdrifts pile up at the base of the cliffs. Trees on the south side of the valley that are frosted with an overnight snow can remain coated with ice all day. Directly across the Merced River from El Capitan is a wide meadow covered with young cedars. When the morning sun reflects off the bronze-colored granite wall of El Capitan, it casts a golden glow across the meadow and lights the snow-frosted cedars. It’s a magical place for a few days each winter. In mid-winter, ice-covered ponds on the meadows become fantasies of crystals and reflections in the early morning when the rising sun bounces off canyon walls. You will find the same reflections at the end of the day, but the ice will have melted. In the morning, the trees are wearing a coat of fresh snow. The sky is usually clear and intensely blue. I like to start my day in Yosemite on the valley meadows and end it on the valley overlooks.
Driving west along Interstate 80, at Mill City, is State Road 400, a paved road heading 20 miles south to a junction where you’ll see a sign pointing to the right. The first photogenic spot is this row of weathered cabins with the Dun Glen Flat stretching for miles to the east. Drive west, into the canyon, to photograph an old stone wall, the back wall of a general store. Farther up the canyon, on the right, is a well-weathered wooden cabin with a long wooden staircase, the only way to reach it. The remains of another wooden cabin sits beside the road, where Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain lived. A restored school sits behind a locked gate. There are no commercial shops, no gas station, and no food is available. When gold was discovered here in 1861, the population boomed to 1,500. Today, there are fewer than 20 people living in this canyon.
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
The very striking pueblo church, just inside the gate, is called San Geronimo (Saint Jerome). It was built in 1850 to replace the church destroyed during the US/Mexican War of 1847. The church faces east and the best light strikes the front of the church mid-morning. With a super wide-angle (20mm or shorter) lens, you can frame the church in the opening of the arched gate. The zig-zag forms of the church steeple and the arch over the gate are unique. Depending on your camera angle, many compositions can be created right there. Photography is not allowed inside the church.
Sparks Lake, Oregon
Southwest of the City of Bend is a very scenic 66-mile loop road called the Cascade Lakes Scenic Highway. It starts in Bend as Route 372. Five miles west of the entrance to the Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, the highway crosses a short bridge over Soda Creek. On the south side of the bridge is the edge of an immense meadow stretching far to the south. A sign calls this area Sparks Lake, sometimes an eight-foot-deep lake but during the recent drought, a completely dry meadow. After a wet winter, Sparks Lake reflects the South Sister and other peaks surrounding the lake. This is a popular location for sunrise and sunset photography. Because of the clear skies above this remote lake, it is a perfect spot for night photography of the Milky Way. Several more streams flow under the highway and out into the meadow. My favorite photo included a stream, Mt. Bachelor and a dramatic morning sky.
San Francisco Victorians, California
The next time you pass through San Francisco, traveling with your camera gear, check out this location called “Alamo Square” at the corner of Steiner and Hayes Streets. The square covers a city block and is one big lawn. Arrive on a winter evening while all the lights of the city are still burning. Find a spot for your tripod along the Hayes Street side of the square looking northeast toward the center of San Francisco. A lens with a focal length in the 100mm range will compress the foreground and background and create a stronger image. Just to be safe, I make this after-hours trip with a few friends.
Rockport on Cape Ann, Massachusetts
Stay where you find the best photography and the best sunrises and sunsets. Avoid driving back to Boston every night. All the coastal communities around Cape Ann have a generous supply of lodgings and restaurants. You can find a motel in Rockport that is a very short walk from the Motif #1 Lobster Shack. Several motels on Rockport’s Front Beach have rooms with views over the sandy beach.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.