Photography and commentary by Paul Yarnall


Eight Glorious Days In Colorado

I am again reminded of the increasingly rapid passage of time when I see my last posting and gallery was from last early spring. I still take plenty of pics… thousands since then and of those there are a few I think you will enjoy.

This little travelogue gallery shows a few highlights of a truly epic dual sport motorcycle adventure I shared with my brother Dave this past July. Farther down in the postings below you will find Riding the Continental Divide… A Two Wheeled Adventure. That experience in the summer of 2012 whetted my appetite for more of the great riding found in the western states. When I learned of the Backcountry Discovery Route series produced by Butler Maps, I immediately focused on the Colorado Route in particular.

It is a little confusing to people when I describe exploring our great land on two wheels in a way that purposely avoids paved roads as much as possible. For one thing there is little to no traffic. Another is getting to see miles of pristine “wildness” where the only sign of humanity around you is the primitive path you are on. It is well worth the dust, the heat and cold, and the tired and sore muscles at the end of each days ride.

Dad was a motorcyclist, and my siblings and I all grew up riding. My brother Dave is perhaps the most talented rider of the four of us. He is as equally at home on a race-bike at NASCAR speeds as he is in the woods on a dirt bike with knobby tires. I pestered him relentlessly to go on a dual sport adventure with me until he finally relented. On the faith of my assurance that he would have a good time we set about getting him the right motorcycle and other equipment he needed for the adventure. I hoped I could deliver.

The published Butler Colorado route starts in the southwest corner of Colorado at the “four corners” and works its way east and north finally ending at the Wyoming border. Since we had to trailer our motorcycles to Colorado, we needed a start and finish that was the same place. I modified the route by creating a loop of 1000 miles. Half was 90% of the Butler route and the other half I pieced together sitting in front of my computer. This part of our route was “untested,” but turned out to include some pretty great trails.

A friend of Dave’s lives in Buena Vista, CO, a small town right on the route, and he provided a spot to park our truck and trailer. Thus we started our adventure heading west out of Buena Vista and descended out of the mountain trails north and east of Buena Vista eight days later with 1000 miles and half a dozen 12,000′ passes in between.

This gallery, Paul & Dave Do the COBDR, shows a few of the highlights of the epic ride. To tell a better story, I included some of Dave’s photos, too. He has a good eye!

Oh yeah… I think I delivered on my promise that my bro would have a good time. Dave is ready to do it again!

The next new gallery will appear shortly and covers our recent trip exploring Iceland… an island of endless photo ops!


I published daily trip reports during the adventure.  They are collected together into one PDF file which is available for download here.

An additional resource is a collection of hotels organized around major towns near the route we took. They are available here.

Ecuador 2012 – Exploring off road on motorcycles and more

Sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador is a small country, a bit smaller than Colorado for a comparison. Considering the land mass of the planet and what a tiny fraction of it Ecuador is, it is curious that I have been there four times since 2005. The first time was to visit the Galapagos, the second was for a wedding, the third was to help lead a photo tour, and most recently to experience a self guided dual sport adventure on motorcycles.

The common thread to every visit was my long time friend Jason. Jason is a certified gringo with blonde hair and blue eyes who has dual citizenship and speaks perfect Spanish. Our shared love of motorcycling, and dual sport riding in particular, was a big motivator when we discovered Ecuador Freedom Rentals in Quito. They rent cycles and specialize in arranging guided and self guided tours of this geographically diverse little country. I would not do such a tour alone or without someone fluent in the language. This adventure was meant to be!

This collection of images is another travel documentary with the emphasis on recording our experience rather than creating gallery grade images. About half of the images were taken with my iPhone 4s. The others were taken with my Sony NEX 7 system. The Sony is my concession to the harsh realities of travel and motorcycling in particular, and the need for a small, lightweight, camera system. I learned a costly lesson after hauling my big Canon and lenses on my last cycle adventure last summer on the CDR (Continental Divide Ride  gallery). The NEX 7 did a fine job and was much easier to ride with. Neither is an equal to my Canon gear in terms of image quality but, the best camera is always the one that is with you.

Our adventure was much shorter in length and duration than the CDR experience… 600 miles vs 2100 and four days vs fourteen, but it was no less memorable. Each day was a couple of hours longer than I would have preferred and the roads were, in general, much worse. So fatigue was with us every day as we neared our hotel.

Our adventure started and ended in Quito, nestled in the Andes at 10,000 feet. Our course would take us down to the tropic climate and geography of the coastal regions and back up to the cooler and drier Andes several times. The villages we would pass through were often only separated by tens of miles, but the roads following the tortured contours of the chaotic mountains would be two or three times greater in distance. Sometimes we enjoyed a few miles of pavement and more miles of wide gravelly roads, but we spent a great deal of time on extremely narrow “two track” which could be very steep, very rocky, very potholed, very muddy, very foggy, or some combination of all of these. And yes, VERY remote. The first aid kit issued to us with our bikes included powerful injectable pain killers. Serious injury could take the better part of a day to reach treatment!

Throw in the maniacal country bus and truck drivers, loose livestock, blind turns, steep drop aways with no guard rails of any sort, and you had a riding experience that challenged us every second to stay alert and focused. Our survival demanded no less.

Yes, it was intense. Did we have a great time? Oh, yeah.

While in Ecuador I also got to spend time with Jason and Elizabeth, their new son Paul Andres, and to explore Guayaquil and Baños with them. Please visit my Ecuador 2012 gallery to see images of this latest adventure!

Note: While on the cycle adventure I created daily reports much like I did for the CDR Adventure.  I have combined these into one PDF document that you may download here.




Riding the Continental Divide…. A Two Wheeled Adventure

The popular 2007 movie, The Bucket List, coined a phrase we all use now to describe our own unique, special list of things we want to do while the grass is still under our feet.  I have nurtured such a list, without the cute name, for as far back as I can remember.  The list has not been confined to exotic travel.  Rather it is simply a mental reservoir of things I have felt compelled to do during my lifetime. Run my own business… check.  Build my own house… check.  Find a great wife… check. Explore the underwater world… check.  Soar with the eagles… check. Explore the world… working on it.

My first motorcycle ride was on the tank of Dad’s Harley at the age of two, (so I am told). Such a thing would probably have gotten my dad arrested in todays’ world.  I have been riding two wheels since my teens and it is perhaps the most enduring passion of my life.  It is hard to find the words which give justice to the symphony of sensory inputs which a relationship with a motorcycle provides. Yes, it is a relationship – a very personal and intimate one.  It is a melding of man and machine that becomes a magic carpet experience. The ever changing sights, smells, the heartbeat of the engine, the feel of the road telepathically transfered through your hands, feet… even your butt.  This all contributes to a very special way to explore the world.

In recent years I have been drawn to a genre of motorcycling known as “adventure riding”.  This basically means traveling on unimproved roads, (or worse), to see places most folks miss when staying on modern highways.  The bikes are somewhat specialized for this sort of mission… better and longer suspension, more aggressive tires, skid plates, and crash guards to deal with the occasional and perhaps inevitable spills.  Lighter is better, especially when it is time to pick up a fallen bike. But in the final analysis, nearly any motorcycle can be pressed into service if the rider knows the limits of his bike and personal skill set.

Locally organized adventure style “dual sport” rides put me in the company of like minded riders, and so it came to pass last fall that a couple of experienced rider friends invited me to join them to do the Continental Divide Ride (CDR). The gist of the CDR is to follow a route that is as close to the Continental Divide as is practical from Canada to Mexico, (or vice versa). If you study a map that shows the Divide, you quickly realize that it is not the fastest way to get from one border to the other.  It snakes a torturous and twisted path. As a result, the variety of road surfaces encountered ranges from modern interstate, (for less than a dozen miles), to steep and rocky remote paths that challenge even 4WD. All require some skill and determination. Most of the time it means dirt and gravel roads in various states of repair.

As a bunch of “senior” guys, we chose not to do any camping, but rather partake of modest hotels and restaurants. This simplified the packing list, lowered the load on the bikes, and allowed more time to ride each day. The CDR routes are well established now, and we relied on readily available GPS tracks to help plan our daily destinations.

While the trip was not by definition a photo trek, I wanted to get whatever photography I could.  For that reason I chose to take a lightweight tripod, my trusty Canon 5D mkII, and three lenses. The wisdom of that decision is still in question as my photo gear and related computer equipment added considerable weight that I regretted nearly everyday. I am also waiting for the cost estimate from Canon to repair the camera from having fallen on it twice in tip overs and having it get chucked off the back of the motorcycle after hitting a really bad pot hole.  This was all early in the trip and the camera continued to function just fine, but it was definitely “a bit worse for wear” by the end of the trip.  My iPhone 4S turned out to be my “on the go” camera.  It was always in my pocket ready to use. It takes surprisingly good images and adds in GPS location data….  very useful for determining where a shot was taken weeks and months later.

Over the course of 15 days we covered approximately 2100 miles of the 2500 mile CDR.  We reversed course in northern New Mexico to start the process of returning home by way of Denver. The images in the gallery, Continental Divide Ride 2012, are a mix of iPhone and “big” camera images presented as a travelogue. In some cases you will note some blown out highlights or other photographic mediocrity. My intent in this gallery is to share the experience, so try to overlook those issues when you see them.

We live in an amazing country.  What a great privilege to photograph some of it doing the other thing I love so dearly… riding my motorcycle!  It was an awesome “bucket list” experience that leaves me ready for the next adventure ride. What’s on your list? Pick one and do it!

Note: I collated all the daily trip reports I emailed to friends while riding CDR 2012 into a single PDF document available here. For a list of on-line resources and check lists useful for someone contemplating experiencing the CDR, that zipped file is here.


South Africa 2010, the Inside Story

The previous gallery, South Africa Photo Safari 2010, was all about the animals.  After all, that was the mission… see wildlife… shoot wildlife.

While going through the thousands of images we brought back, I realized that there was also the human experience – the personal side to our adventure.  We were already friends with the rest of our little group long before we departed JFK, and there were lots of shots of places we went to and things we did, all of us having a great time every minute of every day.  Some of the photography was about that too.

A photographer friend noted that while he liked the animal shots I posted, he wanted to know about the countryside and the places we had been.

He was right. I should have included the big picture, so here it is.  Be warned, however, that this gallery, South Africa 2010 Travelogue, is large at 109 images. It is a mix of fun snapshots, landscapes and some animal shots that did not make the previous cut.  It’s a “this is my vacation” collection in a gallery style format.  Feel free to blow through them! I hope the story shows the fun we had.

South African Photo Safari at Bona Ntaba

The Impossible Dream

It is probably fair to say that most photographers who shoot nature oriented images have  photo safari in Africa as a line item on their bucket list.  After a number of years looking at ads for African treks it seemed an impossible dream.  The typical prices for a couple to spend a few weeks in the heart of big game country are what I call “stupid” expensive.  It seemed to be a trip for the “money is no object” crowd.  Susie, my wife, had spent time in Africa as  a Peace Corps volunteer before we were married and she really wanted to go back.  She reminded me more than once,  “You promised!”

Then I found out that some friends in the local photo guild I belong to signed up for a tour with a focus on photography and the cost was reasonable. They directed me to Africa Wild Safaris, owned and operated by Greg and Karen Sweeney.  Greg is a professional photographer known for his underwater photography, but is just as prolific a shooter when his feet are on terra firma.  My first conversation with Greg last fall revealed that his home base was in Florida, and, as luck would have it, he was guiding a client for manatee observing at Crystal Springs in February.  When I mentioned that manatees held a special place in Susie’s heart and we would be in Florida as well, he immediately invited us to join him.  I knew I was going to like this guy!

The Adventure Begins

Fast forward to May. Our group of five arrived in Johannesburg weary from sixteen hours of ocean crossing, but excited to be on South African soil. We were met by a friendly driver and spacious van to begin the overland drive to our final destination, Bona Ntaba Lodge.  It was a long drive, but the roads were excellent and we took the opportunity to take in the varied geography and views of daily life in the many small towns we passed through.  The last fifteen miles to the lodge were on progressively poorer gravel roads until we were down to a very rough single lane track threading through the bush.  By the time we were within shouting distance of the lodge we had already seen glimpses of giraffe, cape buffalo, and wart hogs.  This was going to be the real deal.

Our long journey now over, we were warmly greeted by Greg and Karen. It was a  short walk from the lodge to our ‘tree house’ accommodations.  While not exactly tree houses in the strictest literal sense, these little houses on stilts provide a fantastic view of the miles and miles of tree tops and the distant Drackenburg mountains.  A live tree was part of our lodge finishing off the interior decor. Very cool.

Armed and Dangerous

The next ten days became something of a routine….  up before first light, grab a cup of coffee, load up into a ruggedized Land Rover and head out to one of the many nearby preserves for a ‘game drive’.  Since there were only five us, we each got a prime shooting spot in a truck designed to carry nine.  Perfect.  Sometimes the guide was instructed to focus on getting us close to rhino, lion, or whatever, but truth be told, the animals have minds of their own. Sometimes it felt like a game of hide and seek, but we always saw something.  It really didn’t matter what popped into view; it was fun and challenging photography. You could hear the avalanche of bits rushing to memory cards with six cameras blazing!

Then it would be back late in the morning for breakfast with time to rest, download images, or read up on wildlife until mid afternoon when a new and different drive was arranged.  We visited Kruger National Park twice and those were all day excursions.  Kruger is the size of Colorado and has many thousands of elephant, giraffe, lion…. all of the “big five” and so many more.  We were never more than a few minutes between sightings of something.

Not All Work

Some mornings we could sleep in until at least daylight and have a hearty breakfast before we would go do or see something within reasonable driving distance.  A visit with the hippo media star, Jessica, was great fun one afternoon. Hard to believe that hippos are allegedly responsible for the most human fatalities of all animal attacks in Africa.

On another we had some fun and excitement experiencing Africa’s longest zip line, Skyway Trails.

No matter what we were doing or seeing there were plenty of images to capture!

Tshukudu Game Lodge

Our tour concluded with a two night stay at Tshukudu Game Lodge, about an hours drive from Bona Ntaba and located in the center of a 12,000 acre preserve.  With a large friendly staff and beautiful facilities,  this well established family business provided an assigned expert guide for our group.  The food was good and perhaps too plentiful!  One of the highlights of the Tshukudu experience was the presence of three grown cheetahs, raised from cubs at the lodge. They roamed about freely posing for annoying photographers and occasionally playing with the dogs.  “Nice Kitty!”

In the evening dinner scraps brought out enormous porcupines and a bush pig for our photographic dessert.  The bush pig would roll over and let you scratch its tummy.  No thanks…  this thing had a face that only a mother could love!

Back in the bush away from the lodge, a large fenced in area held a mating pair of leopards.  These are endangered and the breeding program they are funding will help prevent their demise.  For us… unparalleled shooting!  The big cats were going to be fed and they weren’t the least bit camera shy.  These big cats (180 lbs) can easily drag twice their weight far up into the tree branches to eat undisturbed!

All Good Things Come to an End

The drive back to the airport seemed longer, and the flight back was definitely longer.  Traveling is really an ordeal, but a necessary sacrifice if you want to experience the world.

I came back with 5500 images and a case of African Tick Fever!  “Bugger!” Thank God for good doctors and antibiotics!  As for the images, thank God for Adobe LightRoom.  I distilled them down to fifty-five or so and you can see them here…

South Africa Photo Safari 2010

Thanks to Greg Sweeney for the first four photos!

“Twenty Ten” Already & Two New Galleries

I hope all my readers had great holidays with family and friends. It’s hard to believe “Twenty-O-Nine” is now “Twenty Ten”.  It will take me weeks to write dates without the hand writing “09” when the head knows better!

2009 Recap

Photographically, 2009 was a prolific year for me.  I took over 12,000 images from dozens of inspiring locations between the two great oceans of North America.  Of course with multiple exposures for possible HDR and  re-shoots to alter a composition by moving the camera six inches (or six feet) there was a lot of redundancy. Nonetheless the shutter finger got a lot of exercise this year!

As my portfolio of decent imagery has grown, I took advantage of more opportunities to show my work, including The Photopath 12 Exhibit in Rochester, my own solo show at the Canandaigua Wood Library, a continuing exhibit at the Canandaigua National Bank in Geneva, NY and most recently acceptance of three images at the WOW! exhibit now showing at Image City Photo Gallery in Rochester, NY.  The fact that folks are willing to part with their hard earned dollars in these uncertain times to make one of my images their own is greatly humbling and gratifying.  To all of you who have come to my shows, sent kind words of praise, or even  purchased an image, please accept my very heartfelt thanks.

It is bewildering how many  photographers are rapidly maturing with great work to show. I believe this is a direct result of the “digital revolution”.  It is a marvelous artistic pursuit that is always full of surprises.  No two photographers ever see quite the same thing even when they are looking in the same direction at the same time.  Throw in the infinitely variable choices in todays editing arsenals and every photograph is a snowflake.  No two are identical.

Two New Galleries

Back in 2006 Susie and I went on an Arctic “Adventure Cruise” with Adventure Canada.  In addition to the incredible photographic opportunities we were privileged to experience, we also met some interesting people.  One of them was Pete Ryan, a professional stock and assignment photographer, who is on a short list of approved contributers to the National Geographic on-line  stock library.  Pete and I stayed in touch and for reasons only known to him, he graciously invited me to join him on two photo missions this past fall.

Pete throughly researches his subjects and locations before arriving and he always has a list of places to see and shoot.  I got to follow along and tried to stay out of his way while I experienced a photographers’ waking dream of shooting from dawn to dusk.  Only hunger, fatigue or driving to the next site slowed down the relentless pixel count.

This was certainly the case when we joined up in Newfoundland in November.  By his own count Pete has been to Newfoundland dozens of times and he still had a list of “must sees”.  The short version of his list included a remote and little known site, (even to the locals), of a B36 USAF bomber  crash high on a rugged mountain top on the Trinity Peninsula, and a visit to a remote abandoned fishing village, accessible only by boat, just to name two.  I call the village “Sworn to Secrecy” since Pete does not want me to publish the name of the nearly forgotten village.  In spite of uncertain and rapidly changing weather, each day was an adventure all its own.  Newfoundland Revisited samples that memorable trip.

As we parted company in Newfoundland, Pete was thinking about a return trip to Death Valley. Even before the Newfoundland shots were culled, organized and first edits done, Pete was selling me on the hidden gems in Death Valley.  I am not a very ‘hard sell’ and so it was that we joined up in mid December in Las Vegas as a jump off for another photographic adventure.  I piloted a Ford Escape 4X4 and Pete pointed the way to remote abandoned mines and long deserted buildings. Thank god for GPS and topo maps!  We tested man and machine.  We had more fun than should be legal.  We also saw many of the popular and well known attractions in the great valley, but sans the crowds.  It was great shooting.

We even ended up with a day and evening in Las Vegas, a town where “what happens here, stays here” ….  or something like that.  It is a gaudy, sometimes rude, sometimes racy place, but oh my, the lights at night!  Check out Death Valley: Off the Beaten Track, for the highlights of that trek.

Trekking to Florida and Back

It’s funny how one thing leads to another.  Late this past fall I decided that it was time to look for a replacement for my aging 1/2 ton pickup truck.  It served me faithfully for 10+ years, but was showing “the signs.” So I started the “hunt” while it still had enough value to be useful to someone else.

The great search turned up  a nearly new Dodge 3/4 ton diesel.  Somehow the new truck and its greater capacity led to a bigger camper. This one has a small bathroom which greatly expands one’s choices for evening stops on long trips.

All of this led Susie, my wife, to suggest a late winter trip to Florida for a maiden voyage.  Great idea!

Susie insisted that we take our two dogs, and I insisted on getting the canoe and kayak on the roof.  I knew this “family vacation” was not going to be ‘photo trek’ per se, but of course I took every lens and body, prepared for anything.

Dogs are like little children and need a fair amount of attention, but they travel a lot better… they never ask “are we there yet?”, though they do make a protest if you drive past their dinner time!  You can’t just let them out the door when they need to go out, so it was leashes and little plastic bags several times a day.  I pretty much resigned myself to missing sunrises and sunsets with my camera.

Still, we had a great time. We spent a few days in the charming city of Charleston, SC and a day at the beautiful and authentic Magnolia Plantation. A couple of interstate billboards extolled the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, so we spent a day there in butterfly heaven.

Visiting family near Tampa, we spent a day as authentic tourists at Busch Gardens. Laugh all you want, but there are great photo ops for African wildlife few of us will get to experience on African soil.

We visited a number of the many Florida natural springs and spring fed rivers in the fantastic Florida State Park system, and that led to canoeing on the Ichetucknee, Weeki Wachee, and Chassahowitzka. Magical places to paddle.  Check out Florida Snapshots.

On our last weekend before heading back to the frozen north, we spent a day at the Jennings Raceway in north Florida watching and photographing my brother, Dave, and his friend, Mike, balance the physics of horsepower, speed, friction, and human dexterity and skill on their motorcycles. Photographically this was more challenging than you can imagine!

Since these photo subjects were all so different, I put them in their own little galleries. You can get to them from the links above or from their description widgets on the right.

If you would like more detailed information on where any of these photos were taken, drop me a note.

Six New Galleries from 2008

Well, here it is, day two of 2009. The past week has been one of focused attention on this new site, the new galleries, putting it all together….lots of hours parked in front of a keyboard. Where does the time go? Part of all this reorganization was revisiting and reviewing thousands of images from 2008… many which had been sent to bits and bytes heaven and a few were real ‘finds’. Going back to images months after you took them gives you a fresh set of eyes…  new possibilities for images you passed over before might inspire you to process them.

The review process made me realize what a good (and busy) year 2008 was photographically. (In all ways, really, given that my friends, loved ones, and I are in good health).  The highlights of 2008?…..

It started with four weeks touring the American Southwest with my good friend, Jason Murphy, last April. Then a week in June shooting Puffins and other bits in Maine.  Several days in July were spent with Pro shooter friend, Peter Ryan, immersed in aviation history at the Historic Air Group in Geneseo NY. In August it was off to Ecuador (third trip!) working for Safari Party Adventures and spending more time with Jason. Then there was an unexpected opportunity to revisit Newfoundland by way of Adventure Canada on their Circumnavigation of Newfoundland cruise. Susie and I loved our first trip to ‘Newfie’ land… how could we resist? And there was a short but fun workshop for area teachers I conducted at Letchworth State Park.  In between the big trips I slipped off to beautiful Canadice Lake with camera and canoe on numerous summer and fall evenings.  I had great fun watching two Canada geese a friend owns grow from fuzz balls to powerful fliers! Whew, what a year!

Given that the last gallery I published was of the Southwest trek, I was clearly way behind by the end of the year.  Along the way I adopted a Mac Pro and Adobe LightRoom. Both have had a big impact on my productivity and state of mind. Strangely, I really don’t miss cursing at locked up or crashed Windows programs.

For some reason there is a need for photographers to show their work. We can dispense with the psycho analysis, but I enjoy showing the images that ‘work’ and my website was a primary way of reaching an audience. One of the reasons I was slow in posting was that it was an incredibly time and patience consuming process, and that tended to result in putting off getting things posted. To top it off, I wasn’t particularly pleased with the look of it.

The result of all these forces working together is this new venue.  It is far easier to maintain and add to than the old one, so the next galleries won’t take six months from the time they are taken to getting into a gallery. That’s the plan.

I apologize for posting six new galleries at once. Take your time. If you ‘subscribe’ at the top of the page you will be alerted when anything new gets posted.  Love to hear from you.  As always, thanks for visiting.

Reflections on Ecuador 2008… Safari Party Adventures

Well, it’s been a little too long since my last post. The older I get the shorter the days get. Sorry about that. I am going to try creating shorter posts and do it more often.

Anyway, I am sitting in my friend Jason Murphy’s condo in Santo Domingo, Ecuador. We just finished up the Safari Party Adventure Ecuador Photo Trek, (see my old post) . By all accounts everyone had a good time and got some great photos. My role as “photo specialist” turned out to be highly rewarding as participants of various skill levels all worked very hard to improve their image capturing skills. And improve they did! It was great fun to watch and help. It kept me motivated to do my best as a shooter too.

I won’t be uploading any new Ecuador photos to my website gallery for a while, (posted here Jan ’08)  as I am still exploring Ecuador, but I have put together a little “souvenir” slide show that includes a lot of “snaps” of the trip, and also some shots that will make it to the gallery later on. It is a 27 Mb Windows self-executing file and will take a few minutes to download on broadband. Save to someplace where you can find it, then double click on it to run it. It runs automatically, but if you move the mouse to the top of the screen various controls will appear should you wish to pause or advance images. It has music with it, so have your speakers on. No captions… sorry about that… just not enough time while on the road… but the images tell most of the story.

The American Southwest… Out and Back

This past April I had the great fortune of visiting parts of the amazing American Southwest… focused mostly in Northern Arizona… the Page, Lake Powell area. How this journey came to be was not based in good fortune, or was it?

Rewind back to last Fall. I learned of a weekend lecture by the superlative photographer, Art Wolfe, hosted at a small college in Pennsylvania. I had heard what a remarkable shooter and speaker he was so I signed up. I decided this could be a fairly low cost weekend if I used my slide in, pop up, truck camper and since it was not far from my home town I could also visit with my aging Mom and my siblings. Mom didn’t make it to Christmas so that was one of my last precious visits with her and I always enjoy time with my brothers and sister.

The lecture was amazing. It wasn’t that I learned much from a technical stand point, but in spite of being bombarded with an endless stream of Art’s singular photography that I could only hope to match in my wildest fantasies, I left incredibly inspired. The one message that I took to heart as my left hand brain was constantly trying to define a purpose to my need to freeze a moment, was that every time someone gazes at one of your images and is transported, however briefly, you have ‘done a good deed’.

As I headed back home up a very busy eight lane highway, thankfully in the far right lane, I heard a strange sound followed by a slight jerk in the truck, followed by the view of the roof of my camper tracing an arc through the sky behind me in my rear view mirror. It crashed upside down still in my lane, missing cars behind me, and others doing the “Oh my God” dodge to avoid crashing into it. It came to rest half on the shoulder as did I quite a way farther down the road. It all took a second or two to take hold in my brain. Bedding and misc. stuff trailed me back to the roof. I slowly backed up on the narrow shoulder, already thankful that no one had been hurt, but reeling with the strategic challenge now before… make that behind me. I was three hundred miles from home and part of my camper lay on the road. Bummer.

A very good Samaritan stopped to offer assistance. There is little doubt that I was in a bit of a state of shock with an adrenaline chaser as the two of us managed the impossible by getting the roof back up where it belonged. It was heavier than four or even six people could have safely lifted. It was badly damaged but I couldn’t leave it there and I needed to have some protection for the inside of the camper in the event of rain. It took a lot of rope to tie everything back together, several more stops to add rope or check that it was staying put, but I made it home without further incident. That weekend was so full of emotional extremes it felt a bit schizophrenic.  

I will skip the distasteful unpleasantness with the insurance company… (I really like my NEW agent and carriers, by the way)… but it became clear that letting the factory restore my camper to its former glory was the most prudent solution. The factory is in Michigan. While I was looking at maps contemplating the drive to the factory I noted that it was a “good leg up” in the generally Western direction. I had just seen some images of slot canyons in Arizona that I wanted to be in MY camera and, oh yeah, I have a friend in Denver. Work was slow, (who says on their death bed,”Gee, I wish I had spent more time in the office?!”). The concept of a camping photo road tour was taking shape.

When I mentioned this to my dear friend (and son I never had) Jason, who lives in Ecuador, and mentioned that he was welcome to join the adventure, his acceptance sealed the deal. He was anxious to sharpen up his photo skills and as long as we found a WIFI hotspot at least once a day so he could keep tabs on his work, he was good to go. He flew into Denver, we visited with my friends and the adventure began.

The interstate drive through Colorado was constant visual stimulus… there was still plenty of snow in the hills, but as we approached Utah things got dryer. Our destination was Page, Arizona, but we stopped in Moab and had a quick visit at Arches National Park, before continuing on. When you have only “the moment” it is really a lottery as far as the light is concerned.  You have to take what you get. Plenty of snapshots of the  “this is my vacation” variety with a few ‘wall hangars’.

The slot canyons in the Page area were everything I hoped for… surreal, amazing, and  photographically challenging. We followed our noses and our whims. We made plans, but we adapted to unplanned choices. This got us to Stud Horse Point. Wow. This got us hooked up with a local expert on petroglyphs and native navigational (he thinks) markings he has discovered over the years painstakingly exploring the hills and mesas in the area. He took us on a WILD jeep ride to see some of his discoveries. Another Wow. Some tough light that day but great memories. Then there was the march up to Angel’s Landing in Zion, (see the blog before this one). Not for the weak of leg or the faint of heart. Amazing that this trail even exists with the lawyers, insurance companies, and even our government who wants to protect us from everything. You could easily have the last day of your life as you approach the summit, but Oh my, what exhilaration and what a view!

We desparately wanted to get to the North rim of the Grand Canyon, but one small camping area was un-characteristically full (after 80 miles of the roughest gravel roads ever!) and the other was still snowed in, so we made the pilgramage, along with many others, to Grand Canyon Village on the South rim.  Too many people, for sure, but then we got to see the Canyon and got some good pics of horses (mules really) and their handlers.  Expect the unexpected…. and be ready to shoot!

And speaking of shooting, I confess that I lost a very precious 4 gig worth of images by getting sloppy in my work flow.  A hard lesson that I will expand on in a future blog.

We took the Southerly route back which included the Petrified Forest… (do you know how the trees turned to rock??… I do)… and we finally ended up in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. The surrounding communities have taken on a distressingly low taste amuzement park mentality and a lot of people come to the park… also distressing, (can you tell that I don’t like crowds?), but there is photographic gold in those hills, and some of the gold requires a good sweaty walk to get there. That seems to thin out the crowds at the good spots.  This is another destination that could fill weeks, not days, and I plan to return.  A Fall visit after school is back in session would be spectacular.

After 6000 miles, great adventures and a few ‘good enough’ images, I can reflect on that day last fall when my roof came crashing down and say, what a lucky day that turned out to be!

When you have a few minutes, check out the new gallery.

As always, I love to hear what you think.  I am particulary interested in what you think of the black and white versions of some of the Arizona – Utah landscapes.

Ecuador Eco – Photo Tour August 2008

I need to confess up front to those of you who don’t know me personally that this post is going to sound a bit like a sales pitch. When I finished the draft and re-read it the next day I realized it had maybe a little too much hype. So, let me be clear before you get to the rest… it’s not hype… I am just plain excited about going back to Ecuador and putting my camera and imagination back to work!

My last trip to Ecuador in October actually had two missions. The first was to photograph the wedding of my friends Jason and Tania Murphy in Santo Domingo, Ecuador. Jason is a remarkable guy who grew up in Upstate New York and is not afraid to take the path ‘less beaten’ in his life choices. His wife Tania is from Ecuador and they are building a life and business that bridges the two countries and cultures.

Friend and fellow photographer Sandy Morris of Safari Party Adventures has had an Ecuador tour on his ‘short’ list for a long time. When we all came together we realized the potential for a fabulous trip was immediately in the offing.

So, my second mission on the October trip was to explore Ecuador with Jason and Sandy scouting out great photo locations for documenting the people, culture, and the amazing environmental diversity for which Ecuador is so well known. And, of course, we wanted to identify the very best accommodations to make a great trip unforgettable.

The result of that scouting trip is a unique tour planned for August 9-20, 2008. Jason’s website, is hosting this memorable adventure organized by Safari Party Adventures. I am very pleased and excited to have been invited to join the tour as a “photo specialist” support person. What that means is you don’t have to be an expert photographer to join and appreciate this tour. In fact, you don’t have to be a “photographer” at all, but a great deal of effort has been put into making sure that the places we visit will have great photo potential and that we will not be rushing around on a minute by minute schedule. It takes time to make great images and this tour will provide both the time, the opportunities, and the help and advice you may need to capture photos you will be proud to show off when you get home. It doesn’t matter if you are shooting with a simple point and shoot or have the latest in DSLR gear, you will fit in.

I have marvelous images taken in Quito’s “Old City”. The beautiful old European influenced architecture is every combination of lines, colors, textures, and patterns you can imagine. Throw in the bustle of people coming and going, playing and working and you have the mix for photo magic.

A real ‘high’ on this trip will be at the hot springs resort, Papallacta, nestled between towering Andes peaks at nearly 11,000 feet. There are miles of trails with hundreds of species of birds and plants. At that altitude you have to pace yourself a bit, but that’s OK because who wants to run through a visual feast? When the clouds part on the horizon, we may get a peek at one of the many volcanoes dotting the Andes ranges. A good soaking in the hot springs after a long trek will be the reward for the days’ effort, (not to mention the images in your camera).

This will all be in stark contrast to the subtropical forests when we head West towards the coast. A land of contrasts… spare batteries will be essential for your camera to keep up!

Combine that with beautiful, amazing and intimate world class resorts and cuisine and you have a trip I guarantee you will be talking about for a long time afterwards.

Safari Party Adventures and have worked very hard to make this trip a great value. Click here to read about the complete itinerary and to reserve your place. You will find more photos from my past visits to Ecuador there and be sure check out the Ecuador related albums at my gallery if you haven’t visited before. There’s also a link at the top of the page.

I will be posting more on this upcoming trip to make suggestions on equipment and other preparations. Don’t hesitate to call or write me directly if you need answers to photo related questions you may have about the trip.

Personally, I can’t wait to get back! Join me… it’ going to be awesome!

Click here for more tour information.

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