Saturday, September 17, 2016

A blank spot on the map

“Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?” Aldo Leopold, 1922


I love those blank spots on maps. If you look at them on Google maps, they’re green areas with few roads that terminate in trail heads and no towns. Big blank spots that hide the best part of living in the west.


shoot-563I’ll sit and look at those nice green swathes and think about what they hold. If I’m curious enough, I’ll go get the topographic version and trace the dotted lines denoting trails with my finger. If something catches my eye, a pen will come out. It will tap on the table for a bit. If it gets serious, a Moleskine or Field Notes will come out and there will be scribbling. Scribbling is a good sign.


Sometimes, there may be an afternoon walk after that. A stroll down Cherry Creek to the REI store. I won’t always buy something, although often I do. But I will wander over to the ORIC. The Outdoor Recreation Information Center. I’ll go over to the huge tabletop map of Colorado and find that section I was interested in, and then I’ll ask questions. What about this green, blank spot? What about this trail leading in to it? How are the trail conditions? Are the bears behaving themselves? A water resistant topo of the area will be purchased and slipped in to a thigh pocket for the walk back home. The walk will be accompanied with a smile.


shoot-561Soon after, gear will go in to backpacks, film will go in to cameras, gas will go in to the 4Runner, and we will go on our way. Aimed squarely at that blank spot.



A blank spot on the map

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Rocky Mountain Photo Expedition

Sometimes, I get jealous of photographers in the north-east. I am envious of the fact they have a ton of fellow photographers to talk to and be around. And while shooting street is not my thing, the ease of doing it astounds me if you live in a big city. Just go outside your apartment and photo walk. No real logistics needed. Not so much where I am and shooting what I like to shoot. It’s more of a photo expedition.


Still, I’m thinking about mounting an expedition and inviting folk to attend, a western equivalent of a photo walk.


Of course, nature of the beast being what it is, it will be a different sort of undertaking. Distances will be greater, logistics will be more difficult, and in some cases, it will require a lot more fitness on the part of the participants.


The way I see it, a photo expedition could be centered around three approaches. Either landscape oriented, ghost town oriented, or wilderness oriented.


shoot-559Of the three, ghost town oriented would be the easiest to pull off. The Front Range is lousy with ghost towns, and the majority of them can be reached by high clearance vehicle. Abandoned mines, stamp mills, log cabins, tramways, and even the ruins of the hull of a gold dredge can be seen close in to Denver. Large format guys would be able to get shots without knee damage or over-exertion.


Landscape would be the next level of complexity. There would be a bit more travel, of course, and timing would be more of an issue. We could visit Rocky Mountain National Park, The Great Sand Dunes, or the Colorado National Monument, in any combination. Crowds would be more of a concern, of course, and it would take longer. Covering ground in between locations would take up more time than anything else.


shoot-558Wilderness would lead to some unique opportunities, but would be the hardest to pull off. I know an overnight camp spot with an arch, abandoned buildings, a cave, and amazing rock formations, but it’s got some caveats. It’s at a bit of altitude (9,500 ft), and it involves a bit of hiking (5 or 6 miles) with camping gear. That may be hard on sea level attendees.


I still want to get a group together for the Rocky Mountain version of a photo walk. I’m curious if anyone would want to come along.



A Rocky Mountain Photo Expedition

Saturday, August 20, 2016

From a moving train

shoot-556There’s something about taking pictures from a train. You get to take shots you can not take any other way.


I always spend time looking at the window and shooting. West from Denver is the absolute best train ride in America. The tunnel district with thirty tunnels, leading to the seven mile long Moffat Tunnel. The Big Ten Curves climbing out of Denver. The steep granite sides of Glenwood Canyon. The vastness of the deserts of Utah and Nevada. There’s nothing like it I’ve ever seen. Only the trip to Machu Picchu on Peru Rail comes close.


shoot-555You pass through Ruby Canyon and see things you can only see from a train. You go through ghost towns like Cisco, Utah and Hazen, Nevada that you would probably never see otherwise. Small town America, rolling through back yards and road crossings and along rivers. It’s a part you can’t get to from the interstate off ramps, and it doesn’t even register from thirty thousand feet. These are opportunities you’d never know existed any other way.


shoot-553Oh sure, it has it’s faults. The windows are always dirty. The footing is never certain, and centrifugal force is always waiting to trip you up. Things are bouncing, rocking and rolling. The sun is always throwing reflection on the windows and trying to fool your meter in to a bad exposure. The deck is stacked against you, from the words “all aboard.”


shoot-554It’s always nice to get a shot when the deck is stacked against you. I never feel like I’ve won a confrontation or anything, I just feel like my skill has been tested and I was up to the task. It makes me smile. And the feeling of nailing the shot from a moving train just makes the discovery that much sweeter.


Photos taken on FPP Retrochrome in a Contax RTS II with a 45mm/f2.8 Tessar and Kodak Portra in an Olympus XA.



From a moving train

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Back to the backcountry

For a while there, we weren’t spending enough time in the backcountry. I’m glad we fixed it.


As far as I can tell, backcountry as an idea is an American thing. It’s defined as “a geographical region that is remote, undeveloped, isolated, or difficult to access.” I find all of those traits desirable. The outback in Australia is much the same, I think. I’ve never been there, but I’d love to go and see what their wild places look like.


There are parts of it some people don’t care for. Some of them are the very things that I find attractive.


shoot-550It’s lonesome in many of those places.  That bothers some folks. I think it’s a good sign. When you trudge along on a trail, You’ll see categories of people. First, folks who have just popped out of their cars for a minute, looking at things. Then day hikers with small packs, out getting away from it all for a few hours.  And finally it thins out to the last two.


After three miles or so, you get backpackers, folks who are spending a night or two out in the wilds, recharging. Bigger packs, more food, usually having a bit more fun. It’s a spot of adventure, and they’re mostly all smiles. Beyond that, if you’re on a trail that leads somewhere, you get through hikers. Thin packs on thin people, whittled clean of any excess fat. Most of them are either totally silent or will stop and talk because you’re the first person they’ve seen in weeks. If you run in to them in towns, they are inhaling an impossible amount of food.


shoot-552These days, we’re mostly backpackers when time permits. One day, we want to through hike. But now, we’re in the backcountry as much as we can be. I always like it when we get far enough back that we’re beyond the day hikers. It feels like a demarcation point, passing from civilization in to the real backcountry.  It feels different, like we’re in a new country, and the trail is unrolling out in front of us, stretching on forever and always, leading somewhere we’ll never find. It’s ok we’ll never find where it goes, as long as we get to keep going, discovering, and being back in the backcountry.



Back to the backcountry

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sharpening tools

Many years ago, I knew an old carpenter who had taken up preaching in a now defunct church. A kindly man, wise, and understanding. The sort you hoped would turn out to be a preacher. We’d talked about working wood, and about the proper use of tools, and many things, but rarely about much more. He asked me how I was doing one afternoon, and I expressed frustration.


I’d had it with my career at that point. I was rethinking everything I had ever done. I was burned out, and wanting a change. I was finding my day-to-day existence tiring and I felt like I was getting nowhere. It was making me a bit down, and he listened patiently to my frustration while he put away his pocket knife as he had just finished whittling.


After I was done, he smiled at me. “Time spent sharpening your tools is never wasted.” he said. He patted me on the shoulder, got up, and walked away.


Sometimes, things are just that simple.


I’ve been unsatisfied by what I am producing, and so I’ve gone back to sharpen my tools.


shoot-547I’ve had a consistent issue in my developing that has plagued me for years. I finally sat down and reread some books and experimented, and now I am well on the way to fixing it. I’m fixing another problem I have had with c41 at the same time.


I’ve been sharpening my literal tools as well. I’ve torn down and rebuilt my 4×5 camera. I’ve cleaned lenses, replaced glass, scrubbed, re-timed the shutter, and replaced a few parts. I’ll have it out soon, and perhaps this time around the results will be worth seeing.


shoot-549I’ve been shooting with new glass, and making other changes as well. I’m trying to look at things and see them differently. I’ve been in the back woods, decompressing, and straightening things out.


I think they’re sharper now. Let’s see if that time paid off.



Sharpening tools

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Still alive

Yes, I am still alive. Thank you to those who wrote and asked.


I’ve been taking some time away from this website. Frankly, I wasn’t happy with the quality of what I have been writing and posting. So I stepped away.


I’m working on some changes. I need to move a couple of websites to a new hosting provider. I also need to start a couple new sites. The coming year is going to be busy, but I hope to have a lot to show for it.


After the move, which should happen next week, I hope to put up the new website for a new project about my beloved Inter-Mountain West. It should be a life long project, centered in Colorado but working up and down the Rocky Mountains, maybe as far north as Canada and south through New Mexico. I’ll post a link up as soon as it comes together.


I have another project I hope to bring online but I haven’t gotten my co-conspirators up to speed just yet. That might happen this summer as well.


shoot-545I’ll return to ride reports, tales of rails, and Gear Wednesdays. I’m still out there, still among the tall pines and wandering trails. Sleeping under stars and having coffee under the big sky. I’m rolling through life with my beloved, and every day is something new and wonderful. You folks hang steady. I’ll be back soon.



Still alive

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Realization

I hate going through negatives. I’m not much of an organizational person. However, I just received the best gift going through them. A realization that I have been working on a project without knowing it.


You know the realization. You like a certain type of image, a certain subject matter, and then you look though your shots and see a theme. You didn’t go out hunting for this type of image, but you found it anyway, and the theme just happened.


shoot-542In my case, I think I subconsciously knew I was doing it. So I was chasing the project before I knew what it was or what I was doing. But now it’s coming together.


It’s no secret I’m in love with the Inter-Mountain West. I moved 1,800 miles to be here and I consider that the smartest move of my life. I looked back through my negatives and realized, what I have going is a love story with the mountains.


By Wednesday, I’ll have a new pack, the last piece of gear I wanted before hiking and camping season. Since the high mountain passes start opening on Memorial Day, the timing is pretty good. I need to either get my Canon 7 CLA’d or get a backup body, and the repair guy needs to finish up with my Kodak Medalist, and then I can dedicate some serious time to the project. There’s going to be a lot of time under big skies and a lot of miles on foot and some on bicycle involved. And hundreds of frames, if I have my way.


shoot-543So I’m sharing this realization in an attempt to keep myself honest. I’ll need to work on it every possible moment I can. And if I tell folks about it, I have to go do it. So you should get some previews. These shots from a cheap plastic pano are the first step. The thrill of that realization should carry me the rest of the way.



Realization