2013 Southwest Road Trip

Harv | Arizona,New Mexico,Road Trip,Travel | Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Since getting our camper in May, we’ve ventured out on 2-3 day trips mostly nearby trying to get a better feel of how the truck handles and getting familiar with camper. Like a house, getting comfortable and organized took sometime. We’ve since gotten much more familiar with how to deploy for the night and packing light to minimize additional weight on the truck.

In late August, we decided to go back in late September to Chaco Cultural National Park to see the amazing structures and enjoy the night sky again. We had a great time last year and decided to go back there along with another visit to Bisti Wilderness, a area managed by Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This time Jan’s sister and cousin joined us. I also wanted to visit Monument Valley again, this time going to Hunt’s Mesa. Pretty much, anywhere in Monument Valley, if it is off the main loop, you will need a guide to take you in as it is the Navaho Nation.

My attempts to get the night sky is still littered with bad images as I’m struggling with the focusing. I should have taken the time to download the images the night I take them to review, but I didn’t. The following image is an attempt to get the Milky Way in the background with the truck in the foreground. I should have taken two shots at different focusing points. Here it is anyway just to give you an idea of the amazing view of the night sky at Chaco Canyon:
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Bisti Wilderness is a fascinating place with very unusual landscape. Upon exit from the main highway, you travel a gravel road for about 5 miles. We hiked in about 3 miles and spent a day there. No facilities and water, so we needed to take our food and water in for the day. It was overcast most of the morning, then giving way to blue skies and light clouds in the afternoon.

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Table Tops

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Cracked Eggs

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Hoodo Hill

I wanted to return to Monument Valley this year for one purpose, to go to Hunt’s Mesa. As with most of Monument Valley, if you venture out of the main tourist loop road, you will need an Navaho guide to take you there. We decided to splurge and hire an overnight trip to Hunt’s Mesa to get the sunset and sunrise photos. We were lucky as it was just two of us that met our guide at the View Hotel for the 2 hour, 4 wheel drive up the Mesa. I don’t recall ever experiencing such a ride in a Suburban  that could climb rocks the way our guide skillfully did. I took videos, but it doesn’t do justice to the live experience we had. After reaching the western end of Hunt’s Mesa, our guide dropped us off to take pictures while he went to eastern end to setup camp. About an hour after sunset, he picked us up and headed to camp  where we were served a wood fire cooked meal of steak, corn-on-cob, potatoes, and fresh salad. We then retired to our tent for the night as the air descended into the 40′s. We got up before the sunrise and took a short trip to the outlook to take photos.

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After returning back from Hunt’s Mesa the following morning, we ventured down the valley in our truck. The loop through Monument Valley is a dirt/sand road that gets rough in some places. Going down the series of switchbacks near the View Hotel was easy, returning up with my camper on the back of the truck was another story. I had to move to 4WD a couple of times when the truck struggled getting past a couple of areas on the switchback.

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What’s a Popup Camper?

Harv | Equipment | Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Last year, during our visit to the Chaco Canyon area, I ran into a photographer unloading his equipment in the parking lot. We started talking and he was driving a Toyota Tundra with a camper on the back of his bed. At first I didn’t know what the camper was all about until he started to show me how it worked. I was intrigued and when I got home I started to investigate this idea of the popup camper. Turns out there is a huge following using this method of travel. We’ve been day dreaming of one day having an RV or trailer and taking off for weeks at a time and visiting and photographing our beautiful country. After a lot of investigating and visiting the plant of Four Wheel Campers, we placed an order for one in February this year. Jan and I drove out to Woodland, CA in late April to pickup our new Hawk camper. While the camper is much smaller in size compared to a trailer or RV, the ability to go places that a trailer can’t was a big plus. Our goal was to have the ability to campout close to the places we want to explore and photograph. This camper does that for us. It is self contained with a sleeping area about equal to a queen size bed. The Hawk has a two burner stove, furnace heater, and sink with running cold/hot water. We also have a built in refrigerator and lots of storage.

Here’s the truck, after driving home from Woodland:
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When not traveling, I can unmount the camper and place it on a dolly to be rolled into my garage:
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The camper is attached to the truck via these eyebolts installed into the bed of the truck. There are four of them.
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The truck travels with the top down but during our camping time this is what it looks like (Crystal Cove State Park)
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Here’s Luke checking out the sleeping area:
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The camper has it’s own battery power. The water pump, lights, refrigerator, exhaust fan and furnace fan all run off the 12v system. I opted for two 12v deep cycle AGM batteries. To recharge them, I installed (myself) a solar panel with it’s associated MPPT charge controller. This way, we can be parked for days and not have to start the truck to recharge the batteries.
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Here’s a final shot of the truck parked in Palomar Mountain, San Diego with the side awning deployed:
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Hawaii 2013 ver. 1

Harv | Hawaii,Travel | Monday, July 22nd, 2013

This post is way overdue. This is the first time I’ve not posted anything in such a long time. Much has happened since my November 2012 post and I’ll try to get this updated over the next few weeks. First some pictures from my April 2013 Hawaii trip. As I usually do, we stayed on the windward side of the island during our stay. We were blessed with great weather including a very low tide with calm winds one morning, that made picture taking easy. Here are a few BW shots converted using Nik Silver Effects. I really like that plug-in to Lightroom. I recently upgraded to Lightroom 5.0 and the improvements plus the new radial gradient filter is fantastic. I also included one shot in color from the Makapuu Lighthouse hike. All images were taken with my Fuji X-E1.

On to Chaco Canyon

Harv | New Mexico,Road Trip | Monday, November 12th, 2012

After visiting Bisti Wilderness for two days, our next adventure was Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Located about an two and half hours south of Farmington, New Mexico, we decided to rough it a bit by camping out. The drive to Chaco was a bit rough and because of a 12 mile dirt road that I didn’t want to traverse multiple times, I decided to camp there. Chaco Canyon was the center of the ancestral Puebloan culture a 1,000 years ago. It is thought that people lived here from the mid 800′s for 300 years.

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Next stop…Bisti Wilderness

Harv | New Mexico,Road Trip | Monday, November 12th, 2012

Having spent two nights at Monument Valley, we’re now off to New Mexico to a small town of Farmington in the northwest corner of the state. About two hours drive, we pass the Four Corners (where Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico meet) area and Shiprock along the way. I first learned of Bisti Wilderness while attending a monthly meeting of a group of photographer’s called Photographer’s Exchange. About an hours drive south of Farmington, Bisti has no facilities. Just a gravel road off the main highway with some parking. Managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), it is a vast badlands of interesting rock formations. On our first day, we arrived early in the morning after driving in about 3 miles on a gravel road. Having GPS coordinates that I got before leaving on this trip, I was able to find the parking area for exploring the south Bisti area. There were a couple of RV’s as we drove in with a few other cars. With no ranger station, trails or published maps, I was dependent on my GPS and the coordinates of rock formations I got from friends and research on the internet.

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Monument Valley

Harv | Desert,Road Trip,Travel | Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Continuing our road trip, we embarked on a 7 hour drive from Las Vegas to Monument Valley, Utah. Along the way, we passed through Zion National Park by error. While mapping out our route, I had intended to by pass Zion along the way but got messed up by following the car GPS. We arrived at Gouldings Lodge, about 5:30 after going through a time zone change to Mountain Standard time. We have stayed here before, many years ago and actually wanted to try the new View Hotel, right in the park, but they were booked. Our plan for the next day called for a Sunrise-Sunset Photographer’s tour with Carlos Phillips.

Carlos is the son of Tom Phillips, who have been accommodating photographers over the years with his company: Keyah Hozhoni Tours. On his passing in May of this year, his son Carlos has now taken over the business. This tour is timed for an early morning sunrise and late afternoon sunset shooting. We go back to the hotel mid-day for a rest and meet back later in the afternoon for the sunset shots. As Monument Valley is Navajo land, you can only stay within paved roads and not venture off on your own. With Carlos, he is able to take us with his 4 wheeled vehicle, to great photo spots.

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Road trip with the Nikon D600

Harv | Road Trip,Travel | Monday, October 15th, 2012

We’re off to a second road trip for the year. This time to Monument Valley, Bisti Wilderness, and Chaco Canyon, but not before making a stop at Vegas for a few days. For this trip, I’ve packed my new Nikon D600 to give it a workout (this body replaced my D700). Not having to fly anywhere, lugging the heavier kit is not much of a problem. I’ve packed the following:

- Nikon D600 body
- Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 AF-S
- Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS
- Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AIS
- Nikkor 105mm f/2.0D
- Nikkor 10.5mm DX f/2.8G

Our stay at Chaco Canyon will be camping out for a couple nights. Located in the northwest corner of New Mexico and about 125 miles from the closes big city (Farmington), I’m counting to getting some good shots of the night sky. I’m hoping for clear skies and little humidity. The moon, however may interfere with the shot. Looks like it will be at 58% setting at 1:30 am. I may need to wait till it sets to shoot.

I’m loving the new D600. The controls all seem to fall in place nicely. That’s probably due to my familiarity to the D700. It’s lighter body and slightly smaller size makes it nice to handle.

While the spouse was playing the slots, I took a trip to Nelson, Nevada to shoot the afternoon light at the ghost town at Eldorado Canyon. It’s about 50 miles out from downtown vegas. Took me about an hour’s drive. A family owns this land and stocked the old buildings with all sorts of old signs, cars and even a crashed plane. There were other photographers shooting portraits and models when I arrived.

Visiting the Getty with Panasonic/Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8

Harv | Equipment | Monday, July 30th, 2012

Visited the Getty Center in LA this weekend to test out my recently acquired Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 lens (24-70mm range for full frame 35mm). This is the first constant f/2.8 zoom for the M3/4′s on the market  and I wanted to replace the kit zoom that came with the E-M5 (12-50mm f/3.5-6.3). Based on these images, I’m happy with the performance of this lens. Although the lens has Image Stabilization (IS) built in, I used the E-M5 body IS instead. The lens worked well with the E-M5, with the lighting pretty low, some of the shots were down to 1/8th of second.

The Getty is such a wonderful place to experience many forms of art in LA. The beautiful buildings with lots of photography exhibits and activities, makes for a great visual visit every time . They are currently showing the work of Herb Ritts.

Here are some of my images shot with the Lumix 12-35mm:

Also walked the Central Garden with many flowers in bloom.

Always nice to have lunch in the Garden Terrace Cafe.

16th and 17th century pieces from Germany and France.

Enjoying the sun!

I also attended a presentation of early photography and landscape interactive camera lucida and camera obscura.

Spherical Panos with the Oly E-M5 and Samyang 7.5mm

Harv | Spherical Panorama,Travel,Utah | Monday, July 16th, 2012

I’ve been dabbling in spherical panos for a number of years and still have my Nikkor 10.5mm (shaved) fisheye lens with the 360 Precision Atome panohead. Based on user reviews, I decided to purchase the Samyang 7.5mm fisheye lens to attempt spherical panos on the E-M5. To my surprise, this turned out to be an excellent lens. Considering it’s cost ($299), this was a bargain.  I did not have a panohead to fit this lens and based on my prior experience in creating hand held spherical panos, I thought I would give it a go using the same technique. I currently use PTGui and KRPano Tools to create these panos. PTGui has matured over the years and it’s amazing what it can do to stitch these images. I used 4 shots on the horizontal and 1 nadir and 1 zenith. For the most part this worked but I had a couple of shots that required photoshop to clone in gaps that I left due to imprecision rotation. I think to really do this correctly, the next time I need to take 6 rotation shots at 60° each. I’m also hoping to find a way to modify my Atome panohead to fit this lens. Here are a few done at Arches National Park.

Arches NP – “North Window”

Arches NP – “Broken Arch”

Arches NP – “Double Arch”

 

Southwest road trip

Harv | Arizona,Colorado,Road Trip,Travel,Utah | Sunday, July 15th, 2012

It’s been a couple years since we last took a road trip that was more than 400 miles. A week before 4th of July, we embarked on a 2,230 mile trek through the Indian Country of Arizona, Colorado and Utah. Our travels took us to Ouray (near Telluride), Colorado to visit friends, then to Arches National Park, Canyonlands NP, Dead Horse Point State Park (Utah), Capital Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP, and Cedar Breaks National Monument. Although we were in the middle of summer, Ouray was very pleasant being at an altitude of 7,792 ft. Just don’t be there during the winter. While in Colorado, we did pass a fire in Mancos near Durango. As we drove to Arches, we were still at 4,000 ft and temperatures reached into the 90′s in the afternoon. Typically, we got going before sunrise to be at certain photo points to get the sunrise. By 10 am, we would go back to our room to sit out the heat of the day and return after 5pm for sunset pictures. This turnout to be a great plan and as a by product, we missed the crowds.

For this trip, I took my new Olympus E-M5 system for a test run. At the last minute, I decided to get a Samyang 7.5mm fisheye lens to do some spherical panos. I didn’t have a rig to set this up on so I did these handheld. More on this in the next post.

I was pleased with the performance of this camera and really loved the lightweight lenses. The 12mm f/2.0 Olympus (24m full frame equivalent) lens is really a nice product. I used it 80% of the time. Here are some of my shots from this trip.

Arches NP - "The Organ" after a morning rain.

 

Arches NP - "Delicate Arch"

Arches NP - "Double Arch"

Dead Horse Point State (Utah) Park

Bryce NP - "Bryce Point"

Horseshoe Bend - 5 miles south of Page, AZ

For perspective...

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