This will be the first of what I hope will be a monthly, fun blog for fellow photography enthusiasts and fans of the culture and beauty of the great Western United States. Since I live on the Texas-Mexico border in Del Rio (Val Verde County),Texas I'll be focusing some of my future blogs on our local attractions like Lake Amistad and nearby State and National parks as well. Seminole State Park and the Devil's River Natural area are two must-see locations and of course Big Bend National Park is only 3-hours away.
In my first stab at this blog posting business, I'll dip my toe in with a few tidbits from a couple of trips my wife Sara and I took last Fall through New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. These are three of our favorite states to visit and photograph, but we've done it so many times in the past few years that we made it a point this time to slow down and discover new routes and a couple of interesting, out-of-the way places we haven't been to before.
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For the first leg of our early Fall trip we left Alpine, Texas and drove to Alpine, Arizona! Our ultimate destination for the trip was Durango, Colorado (for my annual "guys" trip with my two sons). So, this route was definitely not the most direct path. However, we purposely gave ourselves an extra day to get there so we could do some unhurried exploring, and WOW, did we ever hit a home run! It resulted in us taking one of the most scenic and relaxing drives we've done in a long time. We decided to drive US Highway 180 from Deming,NM up to Silver City, NM through the Gila National Forest and on to Alpine, AZ. Starting just outside Silver City, and continuing all the way to Alpine, the mountain and valley views were spectacular. The road was excellent, and the traffic was never a problem. I can't remember taking a more inspirational or unique journey in a long time.
The small town of Alpine only has 145 residents according to the 2010 census, but we were told by the owners of the cabin-style motel we stayed in that the town attracts many visitors year round, and is a major destination for Elk, Deer and Bear hunters. As a matter of fact, I got up before daylight to head into the nearby mountains for early morning landscape photos, and I encountered a huge herd of Elk managed by a big bull crossing the road just a few blocks from the town's center! Unfortunately, it was too dark to get any decent photos and by the time the light did come up, the elk were too far away to get any pics. Next time I'll be better prepared.
I highly recommend the motel we stayed at (shown above), and there were a couple of very nice restaurants in town despite the small local population.
On the way out of town we headed north on US Highway 191, and the scenery continued to be very nice until we got about 25 miles north of Alpine. I took some drone images of a small, but beautiful fishing lake (Nelson Reservoir) that was right off the highway about 15 miles out of Alpine. I was told that there are trout in the lake.
While the wives and my son's mother-in-law stayed and played at the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio, CO, my two son's Christopher and Clifton, along with nephew Blaine Junfin headed to Ouray, CO. Our plans were to cross the mountain passes between Ouray and Telluride on some crazy-scary 4-wheel drive roads reaching to elevations over 13,000 feet! Our first destination was Yankee Boy Basin, and then we backtracked a bit to take the Imogene Pass road on the way to Telluride. We rented a top-of-the line Jeep from the outfitters at the Twin Peaks Lodge and Hot Springs for the journey. According to my experienced off-road driving son, Chris, the jeep had all the bells and whistles we needed for the treacherous trip, and it was also in excellent condition. The trip took about 5 hours leaving from Ouray around 8am and arriving in Telluride just after lunch. Honestly, the light was pretty horrible for any keeper pictures other than documentary shots of the trails and the experience (since we started so late). As most seasoned landscape photographers know, the "Golden-Hours" (Twilight and Dusk) are the ideal times to get memorable photos.
The views all along the trails were spectacular, not-to-mentioned frightening as all get out (for me at least), but I'm not sure I'd recommend the trip to a photographer looking for portfolio landscape photos. Having said that, if you're able to find and hire a seasoned local guide to get you up there in the dark, I'm sure there would be some great light at day-break. Even though I personally sweated bullets for the entire trip, I'm told that the trail we took was considered a very tame one by Rocky Mountain standards!
On the way back home from both trips we had two very nice surprises. The first one was a balloon festival in Pagosa Springs, Colorado on the way home from Ignacio in mid-September. The day was perfect for ballooning, and the crystal-clear sky combined with the incredible colors and designs of the balloons begged for some photos! Pulling into a closed bank parking lot on the outskirts of town, I put my drone up (very cautiously-keeping my distance) and got some great views of the overall landscape and pageantry of the event. Then, as a few of the balloon crews steered our way, I pulled out my high-res Canon 5DS-R (50 megapixel sensor), slapped on my 70-200mm long lens, and fired away. It's amazing how much detail this camera can capture as long as you keep it stable.
Then the next surprise came on the way home from Utah south of Socorro, New Mexico. I've visited the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife reserve a couple of times in the past at the wrong times of the season. Our most consistent encounters had always been with hordes of man-eating mosquitoes- no birds! This time, in mid-December, the park was absolutely teeming with migrating birds of all stripes. We arrived at the park just at daybreak in order to capture what I've been told is an awe-inspiring mass takeoff of water birds. Well, incredibly, when I looked for my camera bag in the car, it was no where to be found!! I was in a panic. I did have one camera (with the wrong lens attached) loose in the back seat, but all my other gear was left in our motel room back in Socorro. My wife and I pointed a few fingers on how that happened, but bottom line was that she drove the 1-hour round-trip back to Socorro to retrieve the bag while I froze my butt off doing my best to get some early images with the wrong lenses and camera. I'll definitely be back next year at the same time better prepared for the shoot. One bright spot was the image above of the turkey gobblers. I've never seen so many gobblers in a group displaying like they were in a non-mating season time of year! Fearing that I'd miss the light and perfect location of the flock, I also hurried things a bit and opted to go hand-held with my long lens instead of taking the time to put it on a tripod. The "tack-sharpness" of most of the images I got was not there for printing purposes, but they still were worthy of this blog moment.