Moorish Window

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One of the best things to do when you are a photographer is to simply wander around looking for the unexpected and in Santa Fe you find the unexpected almost everywhere you look. While walking down a back street I came up to a wall that stretched for the better part of a block that enclosed someone’s property. It was constructed of the typical adobe that is Santa Fe’s soul and other than being beautiful on it’s own there wasn’t much to distinguish it from any other adobe wall you see. But as I walked along, there it was, the unexpected, an incredible fantasy in cast iron set into the wall where hardly anyone but a wanderer would see it. Why would anyone put a fantastic window like this here, where as beautiful as it was it seemed out of place when viewed from this side. As I stood there looking at it a shadow passed by on the other side and I suddenly understood. There was a garden on the other side, there had to be. A deep rich secret garden, filled with shadows and dark green foliage with a fountain glistening in the dappled sunlight. The window was for those on the other side, placed there to catch a glimpse of who might be passing by without being seen themselves, a portal from the cool refreshing unknown to the hot dusty street.                                                             For a photographer the back story of an image can be as pleasurable as the image itself. The possibilities are one of the things a photographer sees even when they may not be there.

Buffalo Can’t Jump

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If you have never been up close and personal with an adult buffalo let me tell you something about them, they’re big, like as tall as you are at their shoulder and can easily weigh 2000 lbs. big. That’s like a tall Yugo. When you see films of them they are always running along looking clumsy and they certainly don’t look like they are able to jump over anything. It looks like they would have trouble lifting their front foot off the ground. So if you’re like me you immediately make the assumption that Buffalo Can’t Jump.

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Well I’m here to bust that theory. While they don’t have the finesse and grace of a gazelle they can get the job done when they want to. These two bulls were calmly grazing on this side of the fence when they noticed some of their buddies were grazing on that side of the fence. The grass must be greener I guess because one of the bulls calmly walked up to the fence and just jumped over it. No prep, no stretching, no backing up and taking a run at it, just take a step and hit it.

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Like a nimble young calf he clears the top pole with ease

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and lands on the other side like he means it.

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His companion was somewhat reluctant to take the leap and took his time studying the situation.

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Finally he couldn’t stand it anymore and committed. Right from the beginning he did not demonstrate the confidence that the first bull did.

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It appeared that he started his leap a little too soon

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and there was this kind of awkward shuffling forward on his back legs and then his front parts were over the fence but the whole thing looked like he should have walked over and opened the gate.

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Yep, two front feet down, one back foot down

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but the last foot got hung up and he wound up fouling out by breaking the top rail. The top rain was easily six inches in diameter and he splintered it, breaking it in two, no problem.
Before you start giving him a 6.5 or 5.8 or something just think about a 2000lb animal that is built like a small truck running endlessly at a full gallop trying to act like a mule deer. I’m giving them both a 10.

 

Colors, Patterns and Textures in the Southwest

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One of the incredible perks in having a job like mine is you get to see things like this on a regular basis. Sure there are many times where you don’t have the extraordinary light or the stupendous subject matter but then a lot of the time you do. And all you have to do is look at it and take it’s picture. How cool is that? Pretty damn cool actually. This is a shot of Navajo mountain from the Bryce area. What you don’t see in that picture is that it is a little after 6 in the morning early in the spring and it is very cold, like wearing two down jackets cold. At the time I took this it seemed much less glamorous than it does now looking at the end result. Now if that sounds like whining I don’t mean it to, there are just some facts of life about this job that aren’t apparent by looking at the photograph. Frozen fingers and numb toes aside this is a great job and I don’t ever want to stop doing it. I may wear three down coats next time however. And some gloves.

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Colors, Patterns and Textures is the name for this post and it has been the hardest to put together because of the difficulty in choosing images for it. This presentation could easily be several thousand pictures, if not more, long. The reason it isn’t is because I know that as much as you like looking at gorgeous images I’d lose you at about six hundred so I’ve decided to abbreviate this post and repeat it with different images every so often. This is a wall at Aztec Ruins National Monument built by the inhabitants when this place was occupied. Now whoever designed and built this wall knew what beauty was about. There is no architectural reason to use a row of the most beautiful blue colored rocks here but after seeing it could you have used anything else?

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The color of the sand, the texture, the play of shadows on the ripples of this small section of the dunes in Monument Valley is every bit as intriguing as the buttes, towers and monolithic rock formations that make up this world Heritage place.

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Simple patterns can be visually satisfying. This tree against an unadorned wall in Santa Fe has a zen-like attraction. The intense colors, while arresting in their contrast, can have a soothing effect and show that a small piece of the total view can be more rewarding than showing the whole picture (so to speak).

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While similar in composition to the image above, this scene also taken in Santa Fe, shows a more muted color palette. Same type of view but different light and time of day. You could stand in front of a composition like this for days and never take the same image twice.

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While walking through the dunes in Monument Valley after watching the sunrise you see all the details and patterns of this spectacular country begin to emerge. A desert newspaper recording the comings and goings of the creatures of the night. The tracks of a small mammal are crisscrossed with trails of insects and the morning light turns the color of the sand to a deep rich red. I take a lot of pictures but I think I take more of them here than any other place.

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You can begin to understand why artists like Georgia O’Keefe painted the subjects she did when you come across a pattern like this one momentarily displayed in the sand. I say momentarily because the next breeze to blow through here will erase this work of art in a heartbeat. That is unless you take a picture of it.

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Other patterns are created by man and will last for centuries. These petroglyphs are on a cliffside in Capitol Reef National Park.

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Texture plays a large part in my selection of things to shoot. Here the frozen sand has been turned to rock and although it looks like momentary waves in a sand dune it is here to stay. This is Antelope Canyon in Arizona and this dune is nearly a hundred feet under ground. The light comes from an opening in it’s ceiling that runs the length of the canyon.

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Waves of stone. How were they frozen in time? It certainly looks like that was what happened but this scene was slowly created over eons by the water that occasionally pours through this canyon. It is mind numbing to think of how long this must have taken. The result however is etched forever in my memory.

 

Vigilance

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Wild turkeys live in out here in Northern Colorado and are regularly seen as you travel about in our rural settings. In the spring there will be large flocks with many hens and numerous chicks. It is not unusual to see flocks with as many as three or four dozen birds in them. That’s in the spring, right after the hatch, and before they begin moving around too much. Then nature begins to make adjustments. Coyotes are probably the turkeys biggest threat as they can easily run down the chicks who aren’t able to fly well, if at all. Sometimes the chicks will be taken by hawks or owls but mostly it is coyotes who are the main predators and sometimes unfortunately, by dogs running loose. This picture was taken in mid-August and though the large flocks of spring have by now broken up into smaller groups, there is only one chick left in this brood. If this chick is to make it to an age where she can have chicks of her own, every step she or the rest of the flock takes must be taken with caution and they will have to exercise one of their most important skills, Vigilance.

 

Cliff Dweller

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Most people are used to seeing Great Horned owls sitting on branches or in a hollow tree or even perched on a church steeple against a full moon if you’re in a Halloween frame of mind, but out here in the west we sometimes see them sitting in the small caves high up in a redstone cliff, like this female. The red stone outcropping above her head is being lit by the setting sun. Sunset comes early to the bottom of these deep canyons and although it is mid-afternoon the rich warm light of the setting sun is already present. When you look around the cave you can see the geode like formations on the wall. The whole cliff in this area is covered with them. Owls must like good design because these are pretty plush digs she has chosen.

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This owl family consists of the female and two owlets she has raised to young owlhood. When you look closely you can see that they have not grown their “horns” yet and are still a little gawky and unsure of themselves.

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That all changes when they fly however. They have all the grace and confidence of an adult when they’re in the air. The female takes note of this one’s style as it glides by

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and lands on a small ledge near the cave. They appear to be quite comfortable in this environment and the steep cliffs with it’s small footholds don’t pose any problems at all.

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The young owls were flying constantly as if they were making sure of their skills and as it turned out it was because this was their last day here on the cliff. Although I checked back on them every day for several weeks they were never seen here again. It has been a couple of seasons now and they still haven’t returned but since this spot has been used for years I have high hopes that I’ll see another owl family join the ranks of the Cliff Dwellers.

Hard Case

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If coyotes could be people this guy would be Steve McQueen. We met one cold day in November in Rocky Mountain National Park where I was cruising the road to the Moraine valley and he was walking down the side of the road. I slowly coasted to a stop, rolled the window down and asked him “where you going?” That began a mostly one-sided conversation that lasted for nearly 45 minutes. Because it was the middle of the week and cold there was virtually no one else in the park, not a car went by and we had the day to ourselves.

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After he was asked where he was going he sat down on his side of the road and I stayed on mine and we had our conversation. He said his name was Hard Case because when he was younger he liked to fight a lot and that was how his ear got ripped.

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I asked him a lot of questions because I’d never had the chance to talk with a  coyote before and he answered some and others that perhaps were just a bit too personal, he disdainfully ignored. Things like who his  favorite ranger was, how many voles could he eat at a single setting (31) and whether or not he liked summer better than winter. It turns out that he had mixed feelings about that one. In the summer the tourists would throw him food, which he liked but knew he wasn’t supposed to have, and in the winter he didn’t have to worry about getting run over crossing the road.

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Since I was there to take pictures I asked if he would mind posing a little, nothing too strenuous, no jumping up in the air and slamming his nose against the ground to catch voles, no slinking, nothing that would make him look foolish. He wanted to borrow my shades but I thought that would look too staged. A simple look left

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and a look right and then he wanted to borrow my shades again. Things got a little testy when I refused. I was worried about getting them back actually, after all I had just met this guy and these were brand new Ray-bans.

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When I was firm about it he said some pretty uncomplimentary things, very rude things if you want the truth, and decided the conversation was over.

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I told him not to be like that. I tried to talk him back saying that I would bring a hamburger for him next time, but he was really cheesed off and said there wasn’t going to be a next time and I should go… well that part was impossible to do so I won’t even repeat it.

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So that was that and with no further ado he got up and left. I learned a valuable lesson that day, new friends can be really fickle.

Cloudscapes

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Huge, billowing clouds moving slowly across the sky have always been an arresting sight for me. Memories of childhood float up from the depths and soon you are seeing sailing ships and improbable animals and one that might even look like your loopy uncle Skid, although I guess its possible you didn’t have a loopy uncle Skid. We did and he was great. People travel great distances to see the light and sky of other places but we  have that magic right here in our back yard in Colorado. The images that follow were taken from our deck looking west towards Rocky Mountain National Park as we gently eased into sunset.

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As the sun moved further towards the west the light began to take on a reddish hue

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Soon the blue and white was being replaced by reds and yellows and pinks

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and some of the thunderheads were taking on a pronounced bluish-black underside.

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When the sun goes behind the hilltops and ridges the lower parts of the clouds go dark while the upper parts can be brilliantly highlighted.

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Then as full darkness approaches the gold comes out. There is still some blue in the background because the mountains are lower over there and let the last of the sunlight through.

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An explosion of gold and orange and yellows is brought into even greater contrast by the black undersides of this mammoth cloud. That’s the last hurrah, like that incredible finale at a fireworks exhibition. The only thing missing is the William Tell overture playing in the background.

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The sun is completely set and this last look is tinged in blues and purples with rose highlights, the evenings swansong.