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Glaciers & Volcanoes, 2007

Lots of photos here, because this was a long trip! I decided to name this trip in honor of the volcanoes and glaciers that I was visiting much of the time; it was really cool to see so many in such a short period of time. It really drove home how geologically active America still is (although the glaciers will soon be gone due to global warming, altering many ecosystems beyond recognition just in the next few decades).

The "original photos" linked to from these pages are actually 1/4 original size (1/16 the pixels); my new camera, a Panasonic DMC-FZ50, is 10 megapixels, where my old one, a Minolta DiMAGE A1, was 4.9 megapixels, so these new photos are rather huge for web purposes. Send me an email if you want an original file to make a print.

For photography buffs only: I like the DMC-FZ50 ok, by the way. Its autofocus is not as good as the Minolta's was, and the colors it produces are not as vivid or as true, and its metering is not as reliable as the Minolta's (I really loved that A1). But its optics are good, and it's fast and feels good to shoot with, with intuitive controls and a nice screen. It fits the bill for the time being. I think for my next camera, I want to get one which can go more wide-angle with the standard lens. I find the quality of photos taken at full telephoto with the Panasonic to usually be poor, because distant subjects are usually hazy, and camera shake becomes more of a problem, and the minimum focus distance at telephoto is so long that it's not much use for macro work, and so forth; since I rarely shoot with a tripod, it just isn't that useful to have that much zoom. So I would just as soon give up some of that end of things in return for more on the other end. For this trip I bought a Panasonic wide-angle adapter which screws into the camera's built-in lens; it served me well, and gave good-looking photos, but I'd much rather not have to carry the extra glass around and always be screwing and unscrewing it.
Keewi and I made a trip to Mendocino earlier this summer; since I hadn't gotten around to dealing with the photos from it, and since there aren't enough of them to get their own section, they are subsumed here. It was a fun trip; lots of food and wine-tasting, and beautiful countryside and coastal views.
Driving North
Now we're into the photos from my summer road trip, on the way to Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. At this point, I'm traveling by myself.
Mt. Lassen
Lassen Volcanic National Park encompasses a huge collapsed caldera, on one flank of which Mt. Lassen is a small volcanic outgrowth. The area is still geologically active, with steaming sulphurous vents and such, and Mt. Lassen itself last erupted in 1915. Since it's close to home and I plan to return with Keewi soon, I didn't spend a whole lot of time there, but I did do two hikes, and camped out for a night at the Summit Lake campground, which was crowded and noisy.
The next photos are from a dawn hike up to the top of Mt. Lassen, which provided gorgeous vistas in all directions. The peak way off in the distance in the fifth photo is Mt. Shasta, the next volcano north on the Pacific coast.
The next ones are from an afternoon hike to Terrace, Shadow and Cliff Lakes, just east of Lassen Peak. I was about as close to that bear as it looks like I was; it was foraging right on the trail, but didn't show any interest in me, happily.
Driving North
The first shot is a drive-by photo of Mt. Shasta. Then, on my way to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, I stopped for the afternoon at a waterfall hike (Mill Creek Falls, maybe?) that I serendipitously stumbled across; the two waterfalls it led to were nice, and the trail was quite nice, but what I really enjoyed was a nearby creekbed with amazing rock formations and pools...
Crater Lake
Crater Lake National Park has another collapsed volcanic caldera, but this one has filled in with water to make a remarkably large, nearly circular lake ringed by cliffs and ridges. The collapse of what had been a 12,000 foot high mountain occurred only 7,700 years ago, and was witnessed by Native Americans! Must have been quite a sight. I wonder how much warning we would get if Mount St. Helens or one of the others was going to do the same thing? Anyhow, I camped out for a night at the Lost Creek campground, which was pretty nice. I spent most of my time driving around and photographing; didn't do any big hikes there.
After sunrise at Crater Lake, I drove straight shot to Kalispell, Montana, just west of Glacier National Park, and stayed there for a night. Kalispell seemed like a pretty nice town; close to the park, but not overrun by tourists, and with some signs of a nice liberal counterculture, including two great cafes. The next morning I drove in to the park, got a campsite at Avalanche campground that I used for the next two nights (the campground was really very nice despite being large), and went on a short hike to Avalanche Lake; that's what these next photos are of. It's hazy because of wildfires burning elsewhere in Montana, including, apparently, inside the park's southeastern border, near the Two Medicine area.
The next day I went on a fantastic hike, one of the top three hikes I've done in my life. It's called the Siyeh Pass hike, and is about 10.5 miles or so. I hiked it east to west, the opposite of the usual direction; that meant that I climbed more and descended less, which my knees prefer, and it meant that I was in shade for much of the morning, and then hiking with the sun behind my back for most of the rest. The NPS description says "Trek into the heart of Glacier National Park and enjoy unparalleled high mountain vistas," and that's a fair description. See that mountain in the third photo? It is only a small exaggeration to say that I climbed right over the top of that sucker. It was fantastic, breathtaking, staggering. There was lots of wildlife, from a whole herd (flock?) of bighorn sheep to an enormous marmot to uncountable butterflies, and I didn't meet a single person on the trail until I was more than halfway done (partly by virtue of starting before dawn, which I strongly recommend).
The Tetons
The next morning, I tore myself away from the idea of doing another amazing hike in Glacier; I will have to return some day soon. The wildfire haze was think and oppressive that morning, and in any case, I needed to get down to the Tetons to get ready for the arrival of my sister and her husband. I hadn't made reservations, and a music festival was in town, but I got lucky and found a room in Jackson for the night. The next morning, I pounced on a campsite at Jenny Lake, where I stayed for two nights, the first by myself, the second with the rellies. The first night the campground was really, really noisy, with inconsiderate louts slamming car doors and shouting right up to midnight; but they moved on, and the second night was peaceful, if somewhat windy and rainy. The first day I was there, I went for a long afternoon hike up to Surprise Lake and Amphitheater Lake. It was a nice hike, but a lot of steep uphill in oppressive summer heat; it would be much nicer started in the early morning, with a long picnic lunch up at the lake, I think. Anyhow, thefirst six following photos are from that hike, the next three are from the morning after, the next two are from a short hike to Bearpaw Lake and the three of us did after I picked them up at the Jackson airport, and the last one is from dawn the next day, when we drove out to Yellowstone.
I've been to Yellowstone several times before, but memory fades. Each time, I am amazed all over again. My mind simply can't accept that such a place truly exists. Frustratingly, most of its sights are almost impossible to photograph; they are too big to fit through the glass, or too strange to be believed, or they resist being composed into an aesthetic photograph. I'm not going to try to catalog where within the park these photos were taken; suffice to say we drove all over the place looking at stuff, and went on a few short hikes (Bunsen Peak, and something near Sheepeater Cliff I think), and stayed at a nice B&B in Gardiner (Headwaters), and watched Old Faithful go off, and all that. My favorite spot was probably Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, although Grand Prismatic Spring was also incredible. I believe West Thumb Geyser Basin, the first spot in the park we visited, may have remained my sister's favorite. Oh, and there was a fantastic restaurant in Gardiner that took us quite by surprise; it was Italian, and right on the main drag, but I don't recall the name. Try to find it, and order the cioppino. Really.
Medicine Bow
Fast forward a bit. We've picked up my wife Keewi now, and are staying in Colorado with relatives, and I'm taking a break from photography. But for a day hike in the Medicine Bow range of southern Wyoming, I got it out again. This was really quite a pretty hike; lots of little lakes and some very aesthetic mountains right next to them. It started near Mirror Lake, as I recall, and went up to the summit of Medicine Bow Peak, which was quite a climb.
Driving South
Fast forward again. I've dropped everybody at the Denver airport, and I'm driving solo again. The whole idea for me, on this trip, was to visit National Parks that I had never been to before, off the beaten path that I usually make through Utah and northern Arizona. So now I was heading southwest through Colorado on a scenic road I had never been on before, towards the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
The Black Canyon
I visited the south rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park; like the Grand Canyon, you pick your rim and stick with it. My only complaint with the south rim would be a lack of hiking trails; I did the Warner Point trail, which was somewhat short and unsatisfying, and the others didn't look like much. But there were lots of overlooks along the south rim road, or short walks off of it, and I went to all those, and the views really were quite impressive. It's not nearly as big as the Grand Canyon, but it is spectacular in its narrowness and precipitousness. After a morning there, however, I felt pretty done with it. I think the north rim might have been a better choice for me; it is more remote, on a dirt road, and there are several longer hikes that look promising. So that'll be next time, then.
Driving South
Now I headed further south, for Monument Valley, a spot I have always wanted to see but which is just a bit too far from anywhere to have fit into previous plans. Along the way I drove on a Colorado road that skirted Mt. Sneffels, the name of which seems to evoke great joy in all who hear it. It was a beautiful mountain, too, but most of the time the weather was too stormy for pictures. Nevertheless, I think Sneffels may be one of the mountains in the first photo here. And then I got out into the plains, and red rock country, which felt like something of a homecoming. I always miss it when I'm away from it.
Monument Valley
I got to Monument Valley just at sunset. From the road to the entrance, I took a few shots in the gorgeous light of the dying sun; then I steamed into Monument Valley itself, and to my great surprise, got a campsite with no difficulty. I didn't even know they had camping there! It was fine; a bit stark, and a bit muddy, and a bit noisy, but for $5, you can't ask for that much. The next morning I drove around the valley floor trying to get photos, made difficult by a raft of clouds at dawn that seemed determined to hide the land from the sun. But they parted a few times, and I got one photo that I'm really, really happy with (the seventh one here); more than I could have expected from such a brief visit. The next time I go there I'll explore some of the more remote areas on one of the Navajo-led tours (; but this visit, the swiftly approaching start of the fall semester was pushing me onward, and in any case the good light was gone until the evening...
Navajo National Monument
I stopped in at Navajo National Monument on a whim, on my way west from Monument Valley. It was reminiscent of Mesa Verde, but much smaller, with one ancestral site visible across a canyon after a short hike (photographed here), and one at the end of a 17-mile hike, which I did not see. The last photo here is of a dinosaur footprint; I think it is a real one, not a cast, but the sign was a little bit vague on that point. Anyhow, I didn't spend much time here, because the rangers told me that Antelope Canyon was right on my planned route (which I didn't know; I though it was south of the Grand Canyon, for some reason), and that there was a photographer-friendly tour of it in just a few hours, the last such of the day. So I hightailed it out, and drove at very illegal speeds to Page, Arizona, getting there a few minutes before the departure of the tour, which I had joined via cell phone on my drive over. Sometimes it's very nice traveling alone; there is always room for one more person to squeeze into a tour, or a campground, or a restaurant.
Antelope Canyon
For years now I have been amazed by photos from Antelope Canyon. I always thought they were extremely difficult to get, taken in near darkness with multiple-minute exposure times. It turns out nothing could be further from the truth. You do need a tripod; but typical exposures were less than a second, and I used no filters or fancy equipment, not even a cable release. These photos are not digitally manipulated in any way; this is simply what the camera sees. It's an amazing spot, and well worth a visit even if you're not a photographer; it looks almost like this to the naked eye, although the colors have less punch because human vision in low light is primarily due to the rods in the retina, which do not see color. Photographing there was perhaps the most exhilarating experience I have had as a photographer; something like two hours passed in a whirlwind of tripod adjustment and adrenaline, and I awoke at the end dripping in sweat and thankful that I was being told I had to leave; if not for that, it would have been easy to photograph there until I literally dropped from exhaustion.

I was very pleased with the photographer's tour I took with Antelope Canyon Tours, run by Carolene Ekis,; they knew how to give the photographers time and room to play, and kept the group small so we didn't overcrowd the canyon. They can rent tripods if you don't want to bring your own. Bring your own extra battery and card; shooting nonstop for two hours burns through a lot of electrons.
Zion is an old friend by now; there are few National Parks that I have visited more often. But it lay right on my route; with the Grand Canyon in the way, there aren't really that many options for what route to take! So I stayed the night in Kanab (sadly, Nedra's Too was closed that night due to short staff), and in the morning I drove that wonderful highway 9 through. I stopped for a quick hike on the Taylor Creek trail in the Kolob Canyon area of the park, in the northwest corner of the park; I hadn't planned to, as it looked like a long drive I had ahead of me, but I just couldn't say no to the road sign! It turned out I remembered the trail, but had forgotten that I had been on it before, but that's fine; it brought back a few memories. I suspect that I had, in fact, taken several of these photos before with almost exactly the same composition; I had several eerie déjà vu moments as I was shooting...
Great Basin
Great Basin National Park, in eastern Nevada, was my last stop on the way home. I'm not sure I had ever even particularly noticed it on the map before, off in the middle of nowhere, but my aunt and uncle had recently recommended it to me, so I made a point of getting there, and it was well worth the trip. It's a gorgeous spot, an island of biodiversity rising out of the desert on the flanks of Wheeler Peak. I camped out at Wheeler Peak campground in a wonderfully quiet and isolated spot (site #2, just as you come in), at almost 10,000 feet. I can't imagine the hypoxic vision that must have led to the construction of a paved road to almost the summit of the mountain; it seemed like the road would never stop going up! It rained cats and dogs that night, but my tent proved sturdy, and I stayed dry. Before dawn I walked about fifty feet from my tent to the trailhead of a very nice set of trails that led me to two alpine lakes, an interpretive trail on bristlecone pines, and the toe of a glacier just under Wheeler Peak itself. That trail, perhaps seven miles or so at a guess if you do all the spurs as I did, is where these photos are from, and I would recommend it, particularly the bristlecone loop.

There's another draw at Great Basin, too, however: Lehman Caves. These are, hands down, the most spectacular caves I've ever been in (not that I've been in so many). You can book an after-hours ranger-guided tour for photographers, on which tripods are allowed; but I didn't know about that ahead of time, and didn't book it, so that will have to wait until my next visit. This time around, I was on the tour for sheep, and sheep are not allowed tripods, so no worthwhile photos came of it. Such is life.
And then I drove home.

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These images copyright © 2007 Ben Haller. All rights reserved.