Mexico – Colors Galore

By Men Tay

New year, new resolutions.  If you are looking for a rich cultural experience that provides numerous opportunities for beautiful travel photography within a small budget, I have a suggestion for you.

Just south of the United States is a neighbor that is widely misunderstood.  Americans think of Mexico as Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Rocky Point, etc.  A Mayan civilization that goes back to about 3,000 years, Mexico is a country full of history, culture and color.  Get away from the dull beaches and you will find a kaleidoscope of colors in places like Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puebla, Merida, etc.

Start your trip in Mexico City, the capital city of Mexico with a population of about 22 million people.  Not much landscape photography here but the sights of people, shops, food, museums, will overwhelm you.  The city revolves around the Zócalo.  In front of it is the massive Catedral y Sagrario Metropolitano with its baroque-style façade.  Worshippers inside pray at the Altar de los Reyes, a gilded wood altarpiece that took nearly 20 years to complete.  You may run into a group of indigenous people performing their traditional dances.  Stroll the streets and watch the locals shopping for clothes, food, hardware, etc.

About an hour from Mexico City is the colorful city of Puebla.  A city famous for its colorful buildings, ceramics and namesake dish, mole poblano.  Strolling around an outdoor market, you will find colorful pottery, artwork, street musicians, and handicrafts.

Next stop is Oaxaca, a beautiful colonial city that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Much of the activities center around the plaza of Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman.  You find cafes, locals strolling around, food vendors and if there is a festival, dancers parading the square.  Nearby is the 20th of November market, where you find spices, mescal, fruits, and even roasted crickets, a local delicacy.  A mad display of sights, sounds, and smell.

If you love history, there is the nearby ruins of Monte Alban, built by the Zapotecs around 500 BC.  Pyramids, palace, ball court, and bas reliefs are the attractions.  Come early for the best photography or you will run into large crowds.

Next is the popular expat town of St. Cristobal, located in the highlands of the state of Chiapas.  Like most Mexican towns and cities, life revolves around the zocalo.  However, if you branch further out from the city, you will find many of Mexico’s indigenous people, with their rich traditions and colors.  Weavers still use hand looms to make colorful blankets and tapestry.

Lastly, Merida is an old city that has many colonial buildings and old churches.  Get up early and walk the streets and you will find many opportunities for some interesting photography.  The zocalo comes alive in the late afternoon and evening.  Street musicians, food vendors, friends and family meeting each other.  The type of scenes that you don’t see too often in the United States.

A question that is often asked when I travel to such places is:  Is it safe there?  The places I mentioned above are all quite safe.  However, there are precautions that one must take no matter where you travel in the world.   I’ve written a post on my travel blog that talks about how you can protect yourself when traveling to unfamiliar places:   https://mengineurope.blogspot.com/2017/08/

If you can be randomly shot at a concert, nightclub, theater, school, parking lot and even a church here at home, then everyplace else is much safer.  You have to venture out of your comfort zone and enjoy the world.

Meng Tay is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

The Phantom of the Himalayas

by Nathaniel Smalley

“A shadow veiled by the mountain steep, or winter’s descending fleece of white.
Like its tracks the ghost cat vanishes, as a phantom fading into the night.”
~ from: THE PHANTOM

Few animals have captured our imagination like the snow leopard. This iconic cat’s habitat is known to be one of the harshest environments in the world. It ranges throughout the alpine areas of Central Asia and is rarely ever seen in the wild, much less photographed. This is due in part to its elusive nature and also because there are so few left in the world. In fact, most exceptional images of these animals are taken with camera traps in the wild, or more likely in captivity. As of 2014 the population of this endangered species was estimated between 3,500 and 7,000 individuals (*visit The Snow Leopard Trust for conservation info). In the snow leopard we find the untamable spirit of the raw wilderness and the grace of a large feline combined in a way that is duplicated nowhere else in the animal kingdom. I refer to them with great admiration as, The Phantom of the Himalayas.

When BigAnimals first contacted me and asked if I’d lead the 2015 Snow Leopard Expedition I eagerly accepted the job. Few things define adventure like pursuing an evasive, endangered cat through India’s Himalayan Mountain region for two weeks. I was very excited about the trip and went about making my preparations.

Part I: Arrival in India

Old Delhi at Dusk | India

Old Delhi at Dusk | India

I departed from Arizona in the evening on February 18th and after traveling for over thirty-six hours I finally arrived in India on February 20th. As the plane began its descent into the New Delhi airport the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon, casting beautiful patterns on the clouds. I was met there by my contact, Sanjay, and taken directly to the hotel. If you’ve never visited India, it is best described as a smorgasbord for the senses. The vibrant colors, intoxicating smells and varied sounds are overwhelming. India ranks second out of all countries in the world for population with nearly 1,268,000,000 people. There are over sixty different dialects, which effectively means that one could hear a new dialect spoken here every fifty kilometers. One of the most fascinating things for me coming from the United States, was the seemingly baffling traffic system. While I was pondering aloud what looked like organized chaos on the streets of Delhi, Sanjay said that in India you need three things to drive a car; a good horn, good breaks and good luck. I chuckled at this, but there was a lot of truth to his statement.

The Clearing Storm

Clouds breaking up over the city of Leh, India

The day after my arrival I was joined by the rest of our group back at the airport for our morning departure to Leh, the capital of the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. Located in the northern region of India at an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet (3,524 meters), Leh has a noticeable Tibetan influence and boasts a population of nearly 30,000. Due to its proximity to Kashmir, and the tensions between India and Pakistan over that region, the Indian military ban the use of any satellite radios as a matter of national security and will in fact confiscate them should you attempt to bring one with you. We were in Leh two days allowing our bodies to acclimate to the increased elevation and to watch for signs of altitude sickness. Precautions must be taken at this point with the group, even a mild case of altitude sickness can lead to symptoms like headache, dizziness and nausea, or in severe cases include double vision, convulsions or even deranged behavior. Thankfully everyone seemed to adapt to this new climate well. We spent these days taking in some of the local markets and visiting a number of the regions Buddhist monasteries that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, including Hemis, Thiksay and Shey monasteries.

While visiting the 15th century Thiksay Monastery our group was invited to share lunch with the Buddhist Monks. I took no pictures with them, choosing instead to live in that moment, sitting cross legged in the shadow of the Himalayas, eating rice and vegetables together. It was an experience I’ll never forget. A photograph is often the end of the story, but there are times it’s best to forget the camera and capture in your mind and soul what might otherwise be missed, and could never be documented in an image.

During our trip Gyalson (one of our guides) accompanied us to his home village of Matho to witness the annual Oracle Matho Nagrang Festival. This event is held on the 14th and 15th days of the first month of the Tibetan calendar at Matho Monastery. Matho Monastery is the only Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism in Ladakh. It sees fewer visitors than Hemis, Thiksay or Shey monasteries due to its location, however, it is renowned throughout the region for its Festival of the Oracles, which attracts thousands of visitors.

Crowds line the balconies of Matho Monastery for the ‘Festival of the Oracles’.

Crowds line the balconies of Matho Monastery for the ‘Festival of the Oracles’.

Detail from a giant statue of Buddha.

Detail from a giant statue of Buddha.

During this festival the oracles are said to inhabit the bodies of two monks for a few hours. The purpose of these oracles is to attempt to predict the fortunes of the local village communities for the coming year. Tables of food, tea, and hand crafts can be found as you make the climb up the hill to the monastery courtyard where the celebration occurs. A strong police presence can be seen which helps to maintain order of the large crowds that have gathered. Matho Monastery is also home to a large collection of ancient, Buddhist artifacts dating back as far as the 14th century. These items are displayed behind large, glass cases in guarded, upper rooms. Here above the monastery courtyard Gyalson secured fantastic seats for our group in front of the open windows so that we would have a birds eye view of the festival, and more importantly, so that we were not at risk of being squished by the throng of people below us. Photographs of the oracles were strictly forbidden during the ceremony, however pictures of the other portions of the event were allowed. We stayed for a few hours enjoying the spectacle, but elected to depart before the conclusion of the festival. Soon the one lane road that led back from Matho to Leh would be a chaotic mess from the traffic leaving this small village, thankfully we beat the rush and returned to our hotel for the evening.

Part II: Into the Wild

Crossing above the Indus River on our way into Hemis National Park.

Crossing above the Indus River on our way into Hemis National Park.

On the morning of February 23rd we departed Leh by car for the tiny village of Zingchen located on the perimeter of our destination, Hemis National Park. Only two families call Zingchen home. Thus began our odyssey in search of the snow leopards. Arriving at our destination we set out trekking on foot with our expert local guides, Gyalson Shangku and Tsering Gurmet, making our way up into the Himalayas. Each member of the group was assigned an assistant that helped carry their camera gear anytime needed. My helper’s name was Stanzin, he and the other assistants worked tirelessly for the duration of our expedition. Our travels would now take us anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 feet in elevation (3,658 to 4,572 meters). For me this is where I experienced one of the most refreshing aspects of the trip as we officially left the ‘grid’. There was no longer a cell signal or an internet connection anywhere. It changed the tone of our trip from one of international travel, to a wilderness adventure. Large, loose stones covered the surface of the trail most of the way. Admittedly I’m no road construction expert, but the road (as it was called), that led from the tiny village of Zingchen to Rumbak, was a highway engineer’s worst nightmare. Large boulders as big as a mid-sized car were perched precariously at various points along the route, looking like they might tumble down at any moment. Over time patches of loose shale collapsed into the road below making obstacles in our path. Nearly a mile past where the pavement ended and the rough terrain began, a long abandoned motorized scooter sat decaying off to one side of the trail.

As you trek through the overwhelming presence of this raw wilderness one quickly becomes aware of the frailty of our human existence. Without all our ‘expedition gear’ we are in fact incredibly weak when compared to the intelligence of the snow leopard on the ridge line, the agility of the blue sheep on the mountain cliffs or the strength of the golden eagle soaring in the sky. In this extreme climate we would assuredly falter without the assistance of our modern ‘advancements’. This realization brings with it an even more profound respect for the relatively few species of wildlife that call this land their home. Eventually we reached the base camp site where different expedition groups pitched their tents, and from there moved on to Rumbak Village.

In Rumbak we were given accommodations at a home stay by a kind, elderly man named Younton. The local people in Rumbak Village take turns providing accommodations and food to the tourists, receiving payment for their hospitality to help supplement their limited income in this remote region. There’s no running water in Rumbak. After sundown the entire village is powered from a single generator which one of the local villagers starts each day at dusk. Following a traditional Ladakhi meal sleep came easily to our group exhausted from the day’s long hike.

Part III: Call of the Ghost Cat

Perhaps due to the change in climate or the drastic jet lag (I’m honestly not sure), at this point I’d begun to lose track of what day of the month it was. According to the calendar it was February 24th, but the days had all started to blend into one. We awakened while it was still dark and got in position long before sunrise, scanning the mountain slope for any sign of the big cats.

Rocky Road | Chukar Partridge

A lone Chukar Partridge makes its way across the shale covered ground.

In the mornings we searched for the leopards on the ridge line, returning to their place of rest for the day after a long night of hunting. The frigid air on your face drives away any lingering hint of drowsiness and the adrenaline of our search made me feel alive in a way that I’ve not often experienced. A large flock of chukar partridge fly by us, but remain invisible in the pre-dawn light. The rush of air whistling through their wings is reminiscent to the sound of an F-16 Fighter Jet passing overhead at a very low altitude. Oddly the towering, majestic mountain peaks here are not named, but rather the valleys in each region. This area is appropriately named Rumbak Valley, due to its proximity the village by the same name. We search the surrounding mountain slopes all morning without any evidence of a snow leopard, but are pleased to find a flock of almost two dozen blue sheep. As the leopard’s primary source of food in this area, locating blue sheep in the valley is a good omen.

A Blue Sheep Ram teaching a yearling the virtues of camouflage.

A Blue Sheep Ram teaching a yearling the virtues of camouflage.

About mid-day we gathered our belongings and make the trek from Rumbak back to our base camp on the banks of a frozen stream in Husing Valley. As our group arrives back to base camp the afternoon shadows stretched out, lengthening as the sun begins its decent and dips behind the western peaks. After settling into the campsite we make the 200 meter climb up one of the mountain sides, to a level place above camp known as the observation platform. There we set up our scopes and long lenses, watching for any sign of movement on the mountain tops. Snow leopards tend to live alone and regularly patrol their territory, which often covers hundreds of square miles. To communicate across such vast areas, these cats leave markings on the landscape by scraping the ground with their paws and spraying urine on the rocks. They’ll also rub up against these rocks leaving behind bits of hair. The snow leopard’s breeding season occurs during the coldest months of the year from December to March, making the timing of our trip perfect. This is the one time that a snow leopard will allow another to enter its range. We searched without success from the observation platform for some time. My eyes were drawn to a large group of boulders almost 400 meters above us at the summit above the observation platform.

On the observation platform searching for snow leopards.

On the observation platform searching for snow leopards.

For some unknown reason I felt a strong impulse to climb there. With the permission of the guides I set out making my way up the slope. My body was still acclimating to the elevation, so I found myself stopping often in the thin air to catch my breath. The loose stones beneath my feet made progress incredibly difficult, and portions of the climb felt almost vertical. Few things can prepare one for the majestic sight that’s found at the top of a mountain in the Himalayas.

This photo was taken from the observation platform looking up toward the peak that I climbed to. You can see the small peak at the back of this image in the top/left third of the frame.

This photo was taken from the observation platform looking up toward the peak that I climbed to. You can see the small peak at the back of this image in the top/left third of the frame.

Arriving at the peak I stared in awe at the untamed, rugged beauty surrounding me in every direction. Though the light was poor, I took a couple images to remember it by and rested there until darkness began to fall. I stood up to make my way back down the mountain and froze, rooted in my tracks from the sound that fell upon my ears. From across the Husing Valley was the clear, unmistakable cry of a snow leopard! In that moment I discovered the answer to why I’d made the arduous climb to this place. In delirious excitement I radioed down to the group to tell them what I’d heard. Initially I believe my report may have been met with some skepticism. However, once I made my way back down to the observation platform and imitated the sound I’d heard, the guides agreed it was indeed the call of a snow leopard. They’d been listening attentively all winter for the male and female snow leopards to begin calling to one another, but silence had reigned over this alpine region up until that moment. The snow leopard is the only big cat that cannot roar. During the mating season a pair will call back and forth to each other. Their cries are best described as a very loud snarl more than anything else. We climbed back down to camp excitedly discussing the close proximity of the snow leopard and the potential of soon capturing a glimpse of one.

One of the dominant Blue Sheep rams that we encountered during our trip.

One of the dominant Blue Sheep rams that we encountered during our trip.

Part VI: Through the Shadows

Snow Leopard paw prints.

Snow Leopard paw prints.

It was windy overnight, our group awoke on the 25th of February to find snow falling lightly at dawn. We set out early and as we hiked up to the observation platform were delighted to find snow leopard paw prints just outside of camp along the trail. We had just reached our destination when a call came over the radio saying that a snow leopard had been spotted from the road below the camp in Tarbung Valley. With those words everyone set off at a rapid pace carrying long range lenses and tripods, hoping to catch sight of the elusive cat. The wind pushed snowflakes against my face like tiny darts. Their sting was muted by the stunning scenery surrounding me, and the anticipation of seeing a snow leopard in the wild for the first time. We climbed a few miles up into the mountains above Tarbung Valley without finding a trace of the leopard. The sun, hidden behind snow clouds for most of the morning, suddenly broke through and illuminated the rocky mountain side. Rather than feel dejected after the long hike our group took advantage of the scenery and captured some beautiful light shining on the cliffs above. Lobzung (our cook) followed us up the mountain and served breakfast there, soon afterwards we returned to camp.

Towards the end of the day we heard the snow leopard call five consecutive times from our campsite, further confirming the cry that I heard the previous day above the observation platform. That evening as darkness settled over the camp, a soft snow began to fall from the heavens. With no wind to push the storm away from us the snow rapidly began to accumulate on the ground. Our group was resting before the evening meal and I was outside capturing a photograph of our campsite. Not long after nightfall, Gyalson and Gurmet were walking just beyond our campsite discussing the day’s events. At one point Gurmet turned and glanced over his shoulder at the cliff above the road. In utter disbelief he stared into the darkness at what was unmistakably an adult snow leopard walking on the cliff directly above our camp site, a mere 80 meters away! He came running over to me whispering excitedly “Nathaniel, hurry with your camera! Come quick, we’ve seen a snow leopard very close!” My initial reaction was to run to join the group already there attempting to capture a photograph in the semi-darkness, but something in the back of my mind told me that I wasn’t going to capture an image of the leopard this time. I finished taking my photograph of our campsite and proceeded to switch the ball head on my tripod to a gimbal head to accommodate my super-telephoto lens. I don’t know if it was the cold, the age of my tripod or perhaps a combination of factors, but when I went to switch heads the threaded center post spun freely down into the tripod base. I tried unsuccessfully in the dark three times, but I wasn’t able to attach my gimbal head. I stared in disbelief at my plight, the snow leopard now a mere 60 meters away.

As a general rule the wildlife officials don’t allow the photographers to get closer than 300 meters to the snow leopards. Seeing one at a distance this close was almost unheard of. All around me camera shutters were firing off in rapid succession seeming to only further mock my situation. At first the snow leopard just sat silently watching us and then like a true ghost cat it slowly walked away, fading into the darkness. I congratulated all the photographers who had managed to capture images of the leopard and admired their photos. An exceptional opportunity had eluded me due to the failure of my equipment. However, something told me that it wouldn’t be our last encounter with this leopard. That night I met with Gyalson and Gurmet and told them that I wanted our entire group to get up while it was still dark to search for paw prints before the rest of the groups awoke and trampled on whatever tracks might have been left by the leopard overnight.

Part V: The Phantom Revealed

I didn’t need an alarm the morning of February 26th. I was out of my tent with all my gear long before dawn. The snow ceased and skies had cleared overnight. The moon aided us, its light reflecting off of the snow. We set out from camp towards Husing Valley in search of tracks, looking where we’d seen them the previous day, but there was no evidence of the big cat there. Scanning the side of the mountain we saw what looked to be a pair of eyes reflecting back at us. I tried to tell myself that it was only a blue sheep, however the eyes looked too close together and faced forward… much like a snow leopards. Once it moved there was no mistake, we’d located our phantom! Leaving a cleft in the rocks where it had most likely waited out the evening storm, the leopard walked gracefully along the face of the mountain. Soon it disappeared from view between a gap in the rocks and we lost track of it. Part of our group went with Gyalson up the face of the mountain we were on, while I elected to climb with Gurmet and Stanzin up to the observation platform to search that area. Arriving we set up a scope and my 600mm lens and began scanning the mountains. We found nothing for the first few moments, then suddenly Gurmet exclaimed, “Nathaniel! There’s the snow leopard!” Where?! I asked excitedly. Looking in the direction Gurmet was pointing I saw the snow leopard near the summit. The big cat was climbing directly towards the rocks above the observation platform where I’d made my solitary hike a little more than a day before! The distance was nearly 400 meters and it was still mostly dark, so I pushed my ISO to 6400 and quickly took a couple shots. I stared in dumbfounded silence as the snow leopard walked and sat down directly below the large rock that I’d rested on at the top of the mountain.

Snow Leopard near the summit of mountain in Hemis National Park, India.

Snow Leopard near the summit of mountain in Hemis National Park, India.

I managed to capture another couple images before it disappeared from view over the crest of the summit. I was the only photographer on the platform, and though my images were far from exceptional, I was the happiest man alive. There were plenty of hi-fives and fist bumps there on the mountain that morning. I marveled at the fact that I’d stood on the exact same ground as this snow leopard a mere day before.

The heart of the mountains.

The heart of the mountains.

In many ways the beginning of the expedition played out as though it were scripted, we were just here acting out our roles in this unbelievable story. Many travelers come from every corner of the world to the Himalayas in search of snow leopards, spending days or even weeks here, but leave without even catching so much as a glimpse of one. I was humbled and incredibly thankful for the success we’d experienced in such a short time.

We saw the snow leopard again on February 27th, the third consecutive day in a row. This sighting was atop a ridge line at a distance well over 500 meters. While the rest of our group was resting I had elected to walk up the surface of the frozen stream with Stanzin in search of some unique images. We slowly made our way, eventually nearing an area called Pika Point, (named by the locals after the community of pikas living under the rocks there). While setting up my camera for a landscape composition I heard excited conversation nearby from someone’s two-way radio. Due to the conversation being in Ladakhi I turned to Stanzin and asked him what they were saying. After listening for a moment his face lit up and he said that someone had found a snow leopard just up the trail from where I was shooting. I could have easily walked to the location and been set up to photograph the leopard within minutes, but as the photographer leading the expedition I felt it my responsibility to ensure that our group knew about the sighting. As you can imagine it was incredibly difficult to maneuver back downstream on the ice at a rapid pace without falling. We finally reached the campsite and I roused our group.

Everyone quickly took off up the trail and arriving at the location set about photographing the cat on the ridge line. I was pretty winded after racing back to alert the others. As a result I ended up being one of the last to make it up the road to where the snow leopard was visible.

Just as I drew close to the group the leopard stood up and started leaping downhill from one boulder to another and disappeared. I was disappointed to have missed another opportunity, but comforted recalling the incredible experience I’d had with this leopard the day before. We would hear the snow leopard call one more time during the remainder of our stay in Hemis National Park, but never saw it again after that day. It occurred to me that the snow leopard is only seen when it wants to be. Our clumsy movements are no match for their exceptionally keen senses. During each encounter these incredible animals seemed well aware of our presence long before we ever located them, and they disappeared without a trace whenever they chose to.

Part VI: Saying Goodbye

The remainder of our expedition was spent photographing blue sheep, pikas, bearded vultures golden eagles and even some urial sheep. The sky was dominated by shades of solid gray during much of our stay, making landscape photos a challenge. Of the time I was in India I believe we saw blue sky on only three different days. Due to the sky being shrouded in clouds we didn’t experience much nice light for sunrise or sunset. We focused a lot on the more subtle patterns and textures of the mountains, as opposed to the grand landscape.

On our final, full day in Hemis National Park I spent a lot of time with the expedition team. Sitting with them in the kitchen tent I thought to myself how remarkable it was that after just two short weeks with these wonderful people I’d already begun to understand elements of their conversations in the Ladakhi dialect, though I knew few of the words. Often I could sense inflection in their voices or read the expressions on their faces to learn what the conversation was about. Perhaps the best was when I detected humor in their speech and knew when to laugh with them. We shared many a good laugh together, but perhaps none as hearty as when we discovered that one of Lobzung’s favorite ways to pass time during the day was playing Candy Crush on his phone. After our final meal Lobzung prepared a surprise cake and presented it to our group, inscribed with icing were the words ‘Snow Leopard Trek – We Did It!’.

That afternoon Gurmet and I climbed a good distance up the mountain face beyond where the snow leopard had been seen walking on the cliff above our camp at night. Having explored the area we took in the view one last time before making our descent. Walking back along the edge of the stream I found an old blue sheep horn hidden among the rocks and bushes. With the permission of our guides I placed it carefully in my tent. This horn now sits prominently on the desk in my office, a gift from these majestic mountains and a reminder of this incredible journey. The following morning we departed from Hemis National Park. As I hiked out I recalled many of the experiences from our eventful snow leopard expedition. My heart was full of gratitude for the various memories that I would carry for a lifetime of this vast, alpine kingdom and the cat I call, The Phantom of the Himalayas.

Nathaniel Smalley is an Instructor with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Crested Saguaros and Horseshoe Lake

By Jeff Insel

My wife and I decided to venture out to Horseshoe Lake for a getaway of a couple of hours. We hadn’t been there before, even though we’ve lived within 32 miles for almost 30 years.  I brought my camera in the hopes that we might see something interesting along the way and I’m glad I did.

Once you make the turn off of Cave Creek Road to the Bartlett Lake turnoff you finally sense that you’ve begun to “get away from it all” and you have hilly, desert landscape all around. Before reaching Bartlett Lake, you’ll turn left onto Horseshoe Lake Dam Road – paved for a about 3 miles and then it becomes a graded dirt road – there several spots where the recent rain runoff had left dips and pot holes along the way but regular vehicles could still get along ok.

Our first surprise was seeing a Cristate or Crested Saguaro off to the west or left side of the road as we drove towards the lake, it was only about a mile or two on the dirt road and about 100 yards out. These are somewhat rare and you can for years without seeing one as you travel around the Sonoran Desert so I made sure to stop and get a photo.

As you approach Horseshoe Lake you first come to the Dam viewpoint turnoff and we thought we’d check it out. Turns out to be very interesting. It’s not a huge dam compared to Glen Canyon Dam or Hoover Dam and it’s easily accessible. There’s an overlook of the spillway to the left of the Dam and you’ll notice that it also has a walkway underway that spillway where you can walk and then go up to the Dam itself and view the lake and surrounding mountains.  It’s not too far a walk there and back with a slight incline on the road up to the Dam from the spillway. The spillway makes for some interesting photo opportunities.

On the road back out we noticed another Crested Saguaro about 25 yards off the road to the west between mile markers 7 & 6 and took a few minutes to capture a photo of it. I couldn’t believe we’d found two in just a few hours and not too far from each other, in 32 years living in Arizona I’ve only seen about four altogether.  Made for a very pleasant and pleasing few hours.

Jeff Insel is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Vancouver Island with Shane McDermott

Author: Shane McDermott

I grew up on Vancouver Island and couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful place to live! Although it is no longer my home, I can’t wait to get back and show you all how amazing this place is. Join me for 6 glorious summer days on this northwest island paradise tour June 18-23, 2017!

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This is truly one of those photo tours that offers everything you could imagine and hope for. You will experience it all including charming cityscapes, bustling harbor scenes, beautiful gardens, ancient rain forests, wild orcas, stunning seascapes and abundant coastal wildlife!

The tour begins in the heart of old Victoria’s inner harbor. This quaint old Victorian city has a very special charm and will capture your heart the moment you lay eyes on it! As you walk through the gobble stoned back streets of Victoria you’ll feel as though your in an old European city. I remember moving to Victoria from up island as soon as I was old enough and my parents would allow it, I just love visiting this place!

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Although we could easily spend the entire six days in Victoria, we will visit many of the local highlights, including, the spectacular inner harbor with it’s famous Empress Hotel, fisherman’s wharf, the world renowned Butchart Gardens, Craig Derek Castle, the Edwardian style Hatley castle of Royal Roads and more.

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From Victoria, we’ll head to the vast open waters on the west coast of the island, where we will begin the nature portion of our photo journey. Based out of coastal fishing village of Port Renfrew, we’ll spend 3 fun filled days exploring one of the islands true natural gems, Juan De Fuca Provincial Park. Juan De Fuca offers spectacular seascapes, rivers, waterfalls and old growth rainforests as well as abundant coastal wildlife.

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Hitnat,Port Renfrew

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On the coastal portion of our tour photo, location highlights will include Parkinson beach, botanical beach loop trail, Botany Bay, Avatar grove and a few other surprise locations. Expect to be astonished with the diverse beauty to this enchanting park and it’s rich display of both flora and fauna! The immense moss covered giants of the Avatar grove rival the mighty redwoods of California. Even better, few people even know this place exists, which means quiet serenity and a relaxed photographic environment.

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Upon returning to Victoria we’ll finish our tour chasing wild orcas across the open ocean! If lions are the king of the savanna, orcas are definitely the king of the sea! To see and photograph these massive whales in their natural and wild ways will provide you with remarkable photographic opportunities and lasting impressions. We’ll conclude our time together a warm summer evening dinner together overlooking the inner harbor.

Shane McDermott is an instructor with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Long Exposure Experimentation

My Favorite Mistake   |    Author: Christina Heinle

While in Vienna, I practiced long exposure photography at night.  Capturing the streaking tail lights of cars with the historic buildings in the background was quite fun and overall I was pleased with the results.  I started at the Opera House, moved to Parliament and ended up at the Rathaus (city hall).  An event was being setup at the Rathaus and the fences along with little buildings detracted from the glory of the building.  Unenthusiastic about the scene, I still took pictures.  When the bus pulled into my frame and stopped at a light, I called it a night.  Non-scenic subject, buses ruining my picture and discouragement gave me the reason to pack up and head back to the hotel.

vienna

Later when I reviewed my pictures, my favorite photograph turned out to be the picture where the stopped bus created havoc on my picture.  Surprisingly, the long exposure of 15 seconds was long enough to capture the beauty of the Rathaus along with the inside of the bus because it was sitting motionless at the light.  The hand straps seen towards the top of picture and the “Ein stigen bitte Knopf drucken” button are my favorite aspects of the photograph.  If the bus had not stopped at the light and “ruined” my picture, I wouldn’t have captured such a unique photograph.

Christina Heinle is a Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Instagram: christinaheinlephotography

A Cruise Through Norway

Author: Meng Tay

When I first read the article Day for Night in Norway in the New York Times, my first reaction was “I have to go on that cruise.”  That was about two years ago.  This year I had the opportunity to fulfill two items on my bucket list:  this Norwegian cruise and going to Oktoberfest.  I sandwiched the two trips with visits to Krakow and Warsaw in Poland.

Let me state that this blog is not an advertisement for Hurtigruten, the company that runs the cruise.  Most Americans have never even heard of the cruise company Hurtigruten.  It’s been around since 1893.  The name “Hurti” means express and “ruten” means route.   The company operates what it calls exploration voyages around the world.  This blog is about one of those,  The Classic Roundtrip Voyage.   Lonely Planet calls this “The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage.”  Whether you are a traveler or photographer or combination of both, you are sure to come home with a lot of beautiful pictures.

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Colorful shops, hotels, museums, etc., make up the Bryggen area of Bergen

 

 

The trip starts from Bergen, Norway’s second largest city.  Bergen, and the surrounding area itself is a big tourist destination.  This is where you can visit the famous Norwegian fjords.   Another famous activity here is taking the Flåm Railway.  It is a branch off the Oslo to Bergen railway and considered one of the beautiful train journeys in Europe.  If you want to combine the two activities plus taking a boat ride through a fjord, then you should sign up for a Norway in a Nutshell tour.  This includes riding on the Bergen Railway, Flam Railway, a cruise through a fjord, and a bus ride down a winding, steep mountain road with 31 hairpin bends.  You can do this all in one day.

Village on the side of Nærøyfjord

Village on the side of Nærøyfjord

 

 

Hurtigruten has 12 ships sailing the Classic Voyage.  They range from the oldest, M/S Lofoten, to the newest, M/S Spitzbergen.  Most of the ships are working ships, which means that besides carrying passengers, they also carry cargo and mail.  The 12-day trip stops at 34 ports, 22 of them north of the Arctic Circle.   Some of the stops are for only a short duration, enough time for the ship to load or unload cargo or passengers.  Many of the stops are at night or even during the middle of the night.  Whenever there is enough time, the ship allows the passengers to stroll through town for 30 minutes to a couple of hours.  At some ports, Hurtigruten offers excursions.  These excursions range from hikes to concerts to tours of the area to meeting local natives.  Prices of these excursions range from US$50 to US$300.

It is impractical to detail the whole itinerary so I will point out some of the highlights.  The first major port is Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city.  The landmark in this city is the Nidaros Cathedral, built in 1070, in memory of King Olav II.  It is as impressive as any church in Europe.  Many tourists climb up to the top where you can have a good view of the city.  Trondheim is also home to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which puts a strong influence on the city through its student population.

Colorful buildings along the river, across from the University

Colorful buildings along the river, across from the University

 

 

Crossing the Arctic Circle was a big deal for the ship and passengers.  A ceremony was held to commemorate the occasion.  Those willing to withstand having a glass of ice water poured down the back of their shirts get a glass of whiskey, a time-honored Norwegian tradition.

As the ship sails north of the Arctic Circle, you start to hear names of towns that you have vaguely heard of:  Tromsø, Hammerfest, Kirkenes, and other names that only a Scandinavian can pronounce. Tromsø is known as the Arctic Capital of the World.  Despite its high latitude, Tromsø and other towns along the Norwegian coast, have a relatively mild winter temperature because of the Gulfstream.  Its most famous landmark is the Arctic Cathedral.  An optional midnight concert was held for the ship passengers; attendees raved about the acoustics of the building.  The Polar Museum is another landmark that is attractive to tourists.

Among Hammerfest’s claim to fame, besides being the northernmost town in the world, is the home to The Struve Geodetic Arc, an object used to measure the size and shape of the earth. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This is also the center of Sami Culture.  Sami’s are natives of the region and are considered relatives of the Athabascans natives of Alaska.  We heard a talk from a Sami woman, who told us about life in the Arctic north.  The Sami’s own all the reindeer in Norway.  Reindeer meat is very common in this part of the world.

The Struve Geodetic Arc

The Struve Geodetic Arc

 

 

 

 

A Sami farmer and his reindeer

A Sami farmer and his reindeer

We rode a bus to North Cape, the northern most point in Europe; a bragging right for those who’ve been there.  Kirkenes is our last port before the ship turned south to head back to Bergen.   Kirkenes, and the whole region, were occupied by the Germans during World War II.  Stories and evidence of life under the Germans were everywhere.  A road leading to the outskirt of town also takes you to the border with Russia,

Are there photography opportunities on this cruise?  Plenty.  However, because of the pace of the trip, it does not give one enough time to explore for the best photography locations and condition.  The combination of majestic mountains, water and deep fjords make Norway as good a photography paradise as any of the popular destinations like Iceland or New Zealand.  The Lofoten Islands is known for its natural beauty.  Wildlife, landscape, and at the right time of the year, Northern Lights; topics that are endearing to many amateur photographers.  It’s best to engage a local professional photographer to take you to the right location at the right time, or follow a photography tour.  Arizona Highways Photo Workshops does not offer one to Norway but one of its photographers,  Nathaniel Smalley, leads tours to Norway, Iceland, and other popular photography destinations.

Here are a couple of photographs of Arctic sunset at Solvaer, one of the ports of call:

Meng is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

 

 

6 Little Travel Tips

Author:  David Huffman

There are plenty of articles about travel photography providing advice on what equipment to bring, how to pack, etc.  I’ve even written my share.  So, just returning from a month in New Zealand, I thought I’d offer a few that made my trip more successful.

  1. Figure our what you use most, and if you’re out on foot for the whole day, don’t take all your kit with you because it will tire you out. The toll thistakes is either bringing you less fun or causing you to forego some sights or activities.  My all-in-one lens is my favorite.   My system this trip included 2 full frame bodies, 20mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, 1.4x teleconverter, speed light, 24-120mm f/4, 80-400mm f/4.5 and DX-format compact 28mm fixed lens camera.  Without my tripod, all in one backpack, this weighs 22 pounds, which I find too much for a full day up-and-down hills trekking.  Analyzing my pictures, I find that about 85% are with the 24-120mm lens, so that is my “go-to” lens for most days.  I also have found a good way to carry the second body with the 80-400mm, which leads to my second tip.
  1. Use a cross-shoulder camera strap, especially if you are carrying more than one body. The second body and long tele zoom weigh in at over 4 pounds, and carrying a second body brings its own complications for being ready for that quick shot.  In the attached photo, you can see that I’m using a Jobi strap attached to the tripod foot (Kirk brand) on the long lens.  It balances well and I can quickly get to it to grab a fleeting image of an animal, bird or scene.  I find that carrying the 80-400 in addition to the 24-120 makes me more aware of a wider range of images and the compressed perspective of the longer tele adds image variety.
  1. Carry a plastic rain hood for your camera. I purchased two of these for less than $15 and have been using them for years.  They are a little awkward to shoot with, but keep your equipment dry when you really need it, and they can stuff away in a small pocket.FullSizeRender
  1. Photographers love pockets, and I’m no different. The black jacket I’m wearing is the Evolution from ScotteVest, and it has about 30 pockets.  I develop a routine so I know where the lens caps, spare batteries and memory cards, sunglasses and micro-fiber cleaning cloths are kept, and I can safely hide money and passport inside. It’s waterproof and the hood and sleeves zip off to make a vest.
  1. Don’t be a photo snob, carry a compact camera along with your DSLR or mirrorless system. I’ll drop the heavy stuff back at the room when we’re ready for dinner.  At the end of the day when the light is gone, I can use my Nikon Coolpix A for fun shots of streets and restaurants and make no excuses for image quality because it has a DX crop sensor instead of the smaller ones.  The lens is a fixed 28mm f/1.8 and has an excellent sharpness rating, and the camera offers full DSLR controls with a similar menu system to my other cameras.
  1. Back up your images every day or two. I’ve found that using a Sanho IMG_0211ColorSpace UDMA device is my best choice.  It is light weight, about 4x6x1 inch in size and I’ve installed a 1TB disk drive.  The screen and firmware handle all the functions and the battery has good life.  I even carry the WiFi dongle so can view the images full screen on my iPad.  This combination is lighter than my MacBook Pro and I’m not risking that computer while I’m away.  You can find this device listed on my website.  It is also pictured here.

David is a Photographer, Author, Instructor and Trip Leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.  Visit David at http://www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

David Huffman
Cell 602.703.2191
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