Banff and Jasper National Park
Images from my recent trip into the Banff and Jasper National Park area of Canada. Below are links to download two high res maps of photo locations in Banff and Jasper National Park. Feel free to download and share with anyone. All the info I gathered has been placed on this page so book mark it for future reference. Click on the icons for expanded views for tips on the photography spots in Banff and Jasper National Park I had picked out for morning or evening locations. To view Waterfall locations in Banff and Jasper National Park, Click here.
Our time in Banff was a mere nine days. And as usually, I tried to cram as much into this time as possible. In my opinion, if you only have a week, focus your time on just one of the three parks in the area. I was only able to explore some of the waterfalls in the Jasper area. But I have already dedicated time to return to the Banff and Jasper area next year.
We flew in to Calgary real late and made it into Banff around 2am. It takes about an hour and a half to get there. Woke up at 6am to get my first morning shot. Coming in at night and not knowing the layout, my first spot was the Vermillion Lakes area. It’s only five minutes away with numerous shooting locations. I came back here several times to shoot both sunset and sunrise. There are three different lakes here so take your pick. I personally liked the swampy marsh areas best near lake number one.
The second location that is closest to Banff I hit pretty hard was Two Jack Lake. Banff Ave. will take you heading south to Lake Minnetonka scenic drive. From there you will see the road to Two Jack Lake which is only 6km from the turn off.
Two Jack Lake is both a sunrise and sunset location. I was greeted with foggy mornings a lot but got lucky twice here getting some great sunrise shots. A waterfall called Cascade Falls will great you to your left on the side of a mountain as you head into this area. But the hike up to it to get up close and personal is straight up. It’s a very step hike.
Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra Mountains
There is so much info out on the Alabama Hills that I am sure by now you readers have already read, that I could not tell you anything new about this amazing place. And the last thing I want to write is a bunch of info I found from numerous sites just to have it on my own page. I always share my info with people. But since this place is so heavily documented by 100’s of other photographers, I will just link you to the best source I found from a few of the photographers that shared their info with me before my trip. I have sent out emails asking permission first. So check back soon for a wealth of info these people have already put together for you.
My favorite arch out in the Alabama Hills is know by many different names. Mostly know though as either Crab Arch or Cyclops Arch.
I spent 4 days in the area camping out near different locations. Got down to 10 degrees at night and pre dawn when I was out doing night time photography. Was so quiet all you could hear was the ringing in your ears. Since this was over Thanksgiving week, I had the place almost to myself. And with a full moon, it made for interesting night time hikes alone throughout the area. Looking back I think I picked a perfect time to explore this area.
Death Valley National Park Landscapes
The valley is a long, low depression set in largely barren and unpopulated country of desert plains and rocky ridges, east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is over 130 miles long, but only around 12 miles wide, running roughly north-south near the border with Nevada.
From an elevation of 1000 meters at the north end, the land slopes down steadily and for 70 miles the floor is below sea level, reaching a low point of -86 meters at Badwater, the lowest point in the Western hemisphere. The depth of the depression is partly responsible for the extreme high temperatures, which can exceed 130°F in summer. High, unvegetated mountains of sombre reddish color flank the narrow valley on both sides, a few are high enough to have snow for many months of the year.
Best time of year to visit is the winter time in my opinion. Been here three different times and the winter was very pleasant. Highlight of the trip for me is always spending the night at the race trace area. You will have to endure miles of washboard roads that will rattle your car loose, but it’s worth it.
The low, salty pool at Badwater, just beside the main park road is probably the best known and most visited place in Death Valley. The actual lowest point (-282 feet) is located several miles from the road and is not easily accessible – in fact its position varies, but a sign in front of the pool proclaims it too to have an elevation of -282 feet, and it is here that everyone comes to take photographs. An enlarged parking area and other new facilities were constructed in fall 2003 to cope with the ever increasing visitor numbers at the site
Several salt trails and shallow seasonal streams lead towards other pools out across the valley. During occasional rainy periods, a large shallow lake forms, several miles across and only a few inches deep, but most of the water soon evaporates or sinks below ground. Badwater never dries out completely, and even manages to support a unique species of fish – the Death Valley pupfish, a small bluish creature which has evolved to survive in the hot saline conditions. South of the salt pools, the seasonal Amargosa River meanders for 30 miles via several routes towards the mouth of the valley, before sinking into the sand.
Surrounded by nine mountain ranges, Death Valley is cut off from rejuvenating rainfall and cooling Pacific winds, making it one of the driest and hottest places in the world. A record high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded there in 1913, and a ground temperature of 201 degrees has also been registered—11 degrees shy of the boiling point for water.
This valley is also a land of subtle beauties: Morning light creeping across the eroded badlands of Zabriskie Point to strike Manly Beacon, the setting sun and lengthening shadows on the Sand Dunes at Stovepipe Wells, and the colors of myriad wildflowers on the golden hills above Harmony Borax on a warm spring day.
Death Valley is a treasure trove of scientific information about the ancient Earth and about the forces still working to shape our modern world. It is home to plants, animals, and human beings that have adapted themselves to take advantage of its rare and hard won bounty. It is a story of western expansion, wealth, greed, suffering and triumph. Death Valley is a land of extremes, and much more.
In 1849, a group of pioneers crossed Death Valley in search of a route to the gold fields of California. When finally making their escape from the valley, the group bid it farewell with the words “Good bye Death Valley!” christening it with the name it is known by today.
Idaho Landscapes Photo Gallery
The drive was a long one from Dallas Texas. I left after work and drove to Tulsa to pick up my dad. From there we drove straight to the Eastern side of Idaho. Our first stop was a waterfall called Fall Creek Falls in Swan Valley near the Palisades Lake Reservoir. Show sunset here, then drove north to Ashton so I could be in position to shoot Upper and Lower Mesa Falls at sunrise.
We had mostly bland ugly blue skies. So my only time to get some good even lighting on the waterfalls would be either sunset or sunrise when the falls would be in the shadows. After shooting Mesa Falls we headed to Twin Falls Idaho where there is a nice collection of even more waterfalls.
First up here was Perrine Coulee Falls. It sites in the shadows on the south side of the canyon the Snake River runs through. Just off of hwy 93, you take Canyon Springs Rd towards Centennial Waterfront Park. After the first switchback, pull over and it will be on your left.
Next we scoped out Twin Falls and Shoshone Falls. Both of the beautiful spots have hydro dams built around them. Twin Falls is not even a twin Falls anymore since they dammed one of them up. Shooting Shoshone falls, I was having to crop out the ugly man-made structures. I don’t get it…did the planners say, “Hey, here is a beautiful series of waterfalls. Lets destroy it and make a dam.” They could have easily done this lower down-stream to get the hydro electric power they wanted…idiots… Anyway, I skipped shooting Twin Falls and focused on Shoshone falls during sunset.
The next morning the plan was to shoot Thousand Springs and Niagra Springs Falls. I had to make a choice since I could not reach both of them in time. So I opted for Niagra Springs Falls. It sits on the north side of the canyon south of Jerome Idaho, so I had to get there way before sunrise to get the even lighting I needed to pull the shot off. I left to look for it around 4:30am and made it in time.
After shooting all these waterfalls we headed to Stanley for the mountain landscape scenes. We had planed originally to hike around Alice Lake and do the loop to Toxaway Lake, but the rangers said there was still a lot of snow on the trails and the rivers were flowing very fast. We would need to cross them three different times on the trail. So we opted to hike up to Hell Roaring Lake instead.
My first morning shot was in the marsh area north of Stanley Lake. I got up early to get ready for the shot. My plan was to wade out into the water to get a better angle. I put on waders for this since the water was so cold. They helped for a while, but after standing still for 30 minutes waiting on the sun, the cold water became pretty painful. But I got a great shot and it was work it.
Next day we geared up for the 5 mile hike to Hell Roaring Lake. 3 of us went in with camping, fishing and camera gear. It was a beautiful spot. Took lots of shots here from sunset, night time and sunrise.
We started at the Hell Roaring lower trailhead and were greeted by switchbacks right off the bat. But soon, the trail leveled off following beside Hell Roaring creek and then meandered through marsh areas. I think overall the main issue with this hike was the constant attack of mosquitoes. They were really bad this year with all the rain and this area in particular is bad anyway since there are so many natural marsh areas below the lake. I bathed in repellent numerous times during the stay here. The hike in took us just under 6 hours.
Upon our arrival we immediately set up camp since it looked like it could rain. Then fixed dinner with Mountain House meals and I went off doing the photography for the evening. We had about a 1/3rd moon out at night. So I set the alarm for 12am to check on the position. At 12 the moon was still to low so I knew 4am would be the best time to start shooting nightscapes. Got up at 4 and dragged myself out of the tent only to have to reset the alarm for 5:45 to make it to the morning spot I had in mind. Wish we had more time to stick around this area, it was beautiful. The hike back was much easier going at a nice easy slope back down hill until we reached the switchbacks. A big dinner was in order when we got back to Stanley.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park Landscapes
The Great Sand Dunes of Colorado are seeming totally out of place at the edge of the snow-covered Rocky Mountains, these dunes of pure golden sand cover an area about 7 by 5 miles and reach heights of 700 feet above the floor of the flat San Luis Valley, making them the tallest dunes in the USA.
Great Sand Dunes National Monument became Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on September 13, 2004, when Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton signed a declaration making this America’s 58th National Park.
Visitors can hike the dunes and several nature trails, observe plants and animals and camp at either a campground near the dunes or in the backcountry. Medano Creek, which flows at the base of the dunes during spring and early summer, allows for sand castle building, fishing and hiking.
The dunes are the product of the wind and rain eroding the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains that ring the San Luis Valley. They have collected here because the prevailing winds across the valley blow in this direction and meet winds blowing in the opposite direction. The sand drops to the valley floor and is held in place by water flowing from the Sangre de Cristo’s. So over the course of millenia, the dunes have built up to where they are today. And tomorrow they will be different because the wind still blows, the sand still moves and the deposits of sand still grow.
Colorado Landscapes, Fall Colors in Southern Colorado
Well for the past 5 years I have been lucky and nailed peak colors. From Wyoming to Canada, unless you can travel at a moment’s notice, you have to guess and plan things out months in advance. You basically have a 4 week period to guess when each area will be at the best potential for fall colors. A lot of variables come into play here depending on how wet the summer was, El Nino or La Nina. There is no precise way to really plan it.
This year I was off by a week. Photographers were telling me I needed to be there a week earlier than I had my plans booked for the trip. But I was lucky this year. The fall colors stuck around for me in most the areas I was traveling to, especially the area called the Dallas Divide.
It takes me 18 hours to drive just to the southern section of Colorado from Dallas Texas. So I took off after work and changed my itinerary around and headed straight to the Dallas Divide area since this was the prettiest spot on the trip. And the decision did not disappoint me. I got a chance to explore a lot of the back roads and see a lot of different vantage points to see the mountain range.
Other areas we explored were around Ouray and Silverton to see a few old gold and silver mines. We checked out a few waterfalls in a couple of box canyons that still had enough water worthy to photograph.
Besides the train ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Black Mesa was the highlight of New Mexico. It’s one thing to get here at sunset for the perfect light, but to have a thunder storm behind it makes it spectacular. Atmospherics mean everything when it comes to photography. You get to a perfect spot and it is completely over cast or plain old blue skies, your photo will just not stand out. A lot of people just shoot during the day. I will keep my opinion of them to myself, but I typically will only photograph during sunrise, sunset and night time. If I do shoot during the day, I shoot infrared, since I need the harsh ugly light you typically get from 11am to 4 pm.
Another not well known spot I think was very interesting is an old Gas Station side road museum near Embudo. Make sure you go see this place. It’s full of character and well worth the extra miles to get there. I’ll more on the trip later. Some prints are now up for sale at the online store.
Crystal Mill, Colorado Ghost Town
9 hours…It started off like many other of my long drives out west. Getting out of flat ugly boring Texas, why do I live in this state? I often ask myself every time I leave to go on a photo journey. My destination is the Crystal Ghost town in Colorado to photograph the mill on the Crystal River. I have wanted to see this place for a long time. So I took advantage of the extra day off for the 4th of July and headed that way.
I had read up before hand on how bad the off road is to get to the mill and ghost town. So I found Crystal River Jeep Tours online and contacted them about taking us there and dropping us off. These guys are great people to work with. They accommodated 4 of us and all our gear and were ready right when we showed up to move out.
They talked up a storm telling us the story and history of the surrounding areas. They must have repeated this millions of times for other people but still told us all about it with great enthusiasm. It took us about an hour to get from their location to the mill. The road is pretty bad, but if you have high clearance and the car is not your every day commuter vehicle, you should be fine. You will just have to take it slow…really slow.
The Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is a national icon — its rugged mountains carve out a skyline that captures the American imagination and serves as both protector and passageway to the west. One-third of the park is above timberline, the 14,255-foot flat-topped summit of Longs Peak included; there are 71 peaks here that top out above 12,000 feet.
Trail Ridge Road snakes its way through alpine tundra for 50 miles between glacier-sculpted peaks. It crosses the park from east to west and then drops into the Kawuneeche Valley, where the north fork of the Colorado River flows. The road travels for 11 miles above 11,000 feet and for 4 miles above 12,000 feet. The road’s highest point is 12,183 feet above sea level and occurs between Lava Cliffs and Gore Range. As you drive through the heavens, you absolutely must stop at Rainbow Curve, Many Parks Curve, and at Forest Canyon Overlook. The one caveat? Try this drive on a weekend in August and you’ll be breathing more exhaust than crisp, clean mountain air.
In Rocky Mountain National Park the vistas are everywhere, and unending. Above, azure blue is permanently etched with craggy peaks extending notched, key-like protrusions into a perfect sky. Below, grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers spread an intricate quilt pattern. Deep canyons plunge into velvet green forests far below. Rivers rush down the mountainside to rest in still pools.
The Grand Tetons National Park and the Fall Colors
The Grand Tetons National Park is a great place anytime of year, but during the color changes of the fall the place comes alive. With both people and colors. This past year during October of 2008, I was lucky enough to hit the date for the peak color change. I made the plans months in advance and had to just simply guestimate on when I wanted to try and be there. Most people were telling me I planned the trip too late as fall colors are in full swing during late September. I planned my trip for the first week of October. Lower right is a map to the main locations to photograph in the Tetons. Someone was nice enough to post one like this on one of the photo forums I hang out on. Helped me a lot in the beginning. Click on it and it will bring up a larger version. Print it and take it with you.
The leaves were just starting to change with no real color the first couple of days. But as it got colder the color was getting better. By day 4 the color was in full swing and it seemed to happen suddenly. I was hitting the main areas to photograph and it was a zoo with all the photographers. Over 100 of them were lined up along the road photographing Oxbow Bend. I was getting up at 4:30am every morning. Not so I could get first light since that was a couple of hours before sunrise, but to establish my position for the shot I wanted. If you want the best position, scope the area out the day before and do the same.
It’s pretty much the “photographer’s code”. If you miss the opportunity to get the right spot, have enough manners to move on to a different spot and try again the next day. But there were a few times someone would try and move in between us who were late arrivals. I hit Schwabacher’s Landing twice and both times was either the first or second person there. The first arrivals would jokingly talk about what to expect as the late comers would arrive one by one.
I was out in the elements for this trip the entire time camping for 12 days, mainly at the Signal Mountain Campsite. I was a little disappointed in the cloudless days we seemed to be getting, but we had good weather for the most part. During the last 2 days a strong cold front came through with heavy rain. The wind had blow away most of the leaves on the trees. I was kind of surprised by this but felt fortunate to have had plenty of time to get most of the shots I wanted. My dad had gone on this trip with me. So during the day we tried our luck fly fishing the Snake River and a few lakes. We did not catch very many fish but my dad did catch 4 nice sized trout. I caught one. We had a great time camping out.
Yosemite National Park Photo Gallery
The exposed geology of the Yosemite area includes primarily granitic rocks with some older metamorphic rock. The first rocks were laid down in Precambrian times, when the area around Yosemite National Park was on the edge of a very young North American continent. The sediment that formed the area first settled in the waters of a shallow sea, and compressive forces from a subduction zone in the mid-Paleozoic fused the seabed rocks and sediments, appending them to the continent. Heat generated from the subduction created island arcs of volcanoes that were also thrust into the area of the park. In time, the igneous and sedimentary rocks of the area were later heavily metamorphosed.
Yosemite lands were first preserved by the United States Congress and President Abraham Lincoln who, in 1864, at the height of the American Civil War, granted them to the people of California for preservation. At that time, the federal government was very limited in size and wealth, and the concept of a “national park” had not yet emerged, so authorizing California to preserve these federal lands seemed appropriate. This original land grant comprised just under 39,000 acres (15,500 hectares), or about 60 square miles, and included Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. In 1890, Yosemite was added to the new national park system that had begun with the preservation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.
Yosemite Valley is at the center of most visitor activity in Yosemite National Park. The Merced River flows across the Valley’s flat floor at an elevation (altitude) of 4,000 feet (1220m) above sea level. The Valley floor includes oak and mixed-conifer woodlands and numerous meadows, inhabited by diverse wildlife. The Valley is surrounded by steep, almost vertical, granite cliffs, including the El Capitan monolith, Glacier Point, and Half Dome. Major waterfalls tumble into the Valley, the most prominent of which are Yosemite, Bridalveil, and, less easily seen from below, Vernal, Nevada, and Illilouette. The falls reach their maximum flow in late spring and drop significantly in flow as the season progresses.