A misty morning at Huntley Meadows. A long telephoto zoom. It can be beautiful.
Moab, Utah. How can one town in the Utah desert be so close to two of the most spectacular national parks in the United States – Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. And in between these two great parks, before entering Canyonlands, Island in the Sky, there is a small state park known as Dead Horse Point. You can be forgiven for not noticing this state park as you drive down the road in the early morning, hoping to catch sunrise at Mesa Arch – a scene that is truly beautiful, truly iconic, widely photographed, widely admired. Microsoft made Mesa Arch a household name, or at least a household scene, when it included a picture of sunrise at Mesa Arch in its collection of background images in Windows 7. And I have to say, thank you, Microsoft, for bringing so much of the world’s beauty into our desktops – with the myriad of screensavers, background images, themes that you have available in your various operating systems.
And if you happen to make it down the road to Dead Horse Point State Park, especially before the sun rises (I should have done this) or as the sun sets, you will be treated to a truly spectacular view of the spectacular Utah landscape. The sun was setting and the river bend scene was not lit well enough to do it justice. A few yards to the left, however, turning eastward, where the sun’s dying light infuses the red Utah Rocks with a crimson hue, the rocks, the mountains, the desert and the sky conspire to remind all who see it that this is a planet of transcendent beauty and fragility. We have touched the sky and now we must do our best to be responsible stewards for all below it. And one look at Dead Horse Point shows us why. This is not a view to be savored by one person once in a lifetime. It is a place that makes repeated viewings a special occasion in itself, a place, like so many other places in our planet, that must endure for the generations to come.
When you think of Maui, you think of warm days at the beach. The warm waters of the Pacific lapping gently over your feet while walking, unhurriedly, in the early hours of the day, eagerly watching the sun rise over an ocean as boundless as your dreams. You think of the Polynesian food, so delicious, that any ideas of dieting seems like a silly concern. You think of the hikes through the pristine forests, butterflies fluttering, birds singing with joy, happy to spend another day in paradise. You hear the occasional rooster crowing, heralding the coming of a new day, even as the first hints of sunlight begin to bathe the land with its life giving warmth.
Beyond the beaches, on a winding road that zigs and zags its way to the peak of Haleakala, is a national park that simply takes your breathe away. Probably because at its altitude, there is less oxygen going inside your lungs with each deep breathe that you take. You wake up shortly after midnight and in the darkness drive for hours, in the quest to see the sun blaze through the clouds, to marvel at a natural light show that no amount of fireworks can hope to match. You look out towards the ocean and see eternity, bathed in light so sublime that in that joyous moment, heaven and earth are one.
On top of the summit, in the hours before daybreak, in the midst of August, I was reminded that altitude has an attitude. A cold one. It was freezing. It was wonderful.
It snows in Haleakala. The wind howls at Haleakala. It gets dark in Haleakala. So dark that some of the world’s great telescopes are on the summit of the great mountain, mirrors trained unflinchingly at the star strewn night sky, partaking in the greatest quest humanity has ever taken. The exploration of our universe. We who live near the great cities forget that above our heads, perpetually moving in the celestial sphere, are the stars that the sun calls its brothers and sisters, the collection of gases, condensed and yet to condense, the filaments of light that we collectively call the Milky Way. And at Haleakala, when the sun hides in the other side of the world, you explore. You wonder. You dream.
And I almost forgot. Haleakala is a volcano. Dormant, beautiful, imposing, surprising. The beaches may beckon, but at Haleakala, in the ethereal grandeur of cinder cones juxtaposed with grass covered slits of rock, you can imagine, with a sense of wonder, the alien worlds that awaits us as we explore the universe. And marvel at the delicacy of the planet that we call our own.
In the cold morning air, with twilight still approaching, I gazed upwards upon countless points of light and smiled. For at that moment, I have touched the sky.
When I was young, my parents used to take me along trips and vacations to see the wonderful places the world had to offer. I remember driving to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park for the first time. My father was ecstatic looking at the mountains and the seemingly endless views of the valley below. My mother was busy posing for photographs. I was unmoved. A typical teenager, I just wanted to stay home and do my own thing.
A few years later, my grandparents were visiting us in Virginia and they decided to visit their friends in rural southeastern Virginia. If the barely two hour drive to the Shenandoah was long, the drive to Richlands, Virginia seemed like an eternity. Mountains, hills, valleys all melded into a mosaic of interstates and highways, rural roadways, the occasional town. It was a happy time for all – friendships rekindled, beautiful mountain air – with the exception of the grumpy teenager who just wanted to stay home. And of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was only a “short” distance away. So what to do? Drive through more mountain roads, look at never ending forests, gaze upwards to look at yet another mountain peak, and meet native Americans for the first time. That part of the trip was actually interesting. Clean mountain air, the fog that covered the mountains that made for spectacular sunrise and sunsets, the breezes that made the hot summer days bearable – I didn’t breathe, see or feel any of that. I chose to ignore the beauty that was around me. I just wanted to be home.
When my father bought me my first real camera, I started taking pictures of my friends. Eventually, I started taking pictures of the monuments and landmarks that were so close to me. Visit to the woods and parklands soon became a favored diversion. I started to read about the great places to visit in the United States. Shenandoah National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yosemite National Park.
I visited family and friends in San Francisco and they offered to drive me to Yosemite. I was unprepared for what I saw. I knew that the place was beautiful – who hasn’t seen the pictures of Yosemite taken by Ansel Adams and other great photographers. I envisioned cliffs, mountains, streams. Instead, I was treated to one of nature’s great cathedrals. Yes, El Capitan, with its granite face was a sight to behold. Half Dome, Yosemite Falls – they were indeed impressive. Still, they are but backdrops to the true beauty of Yosemite. The life sustaining valley nestled within the great peaks of the Sierras. The stone monuments, beautiful as they are, are the supporting cast to this place that the trees and animals call home. Yosemite. A monument for the ages. A cathedral for the living. A gift of magnificent beauty for all.
A beautiful, sunny, cool October morning was the catalyst for taking a short walk at Huntley Meadows Park in suburban Alexandria, Virginia. Huntley is one of those hidden gems. It has winding trails, woods, and wetlands, in a compact location in the middle of suburban Alexandria (the Fairfax County part), Virginia. Fall migration is still in full swing, so this may be a good opportunity to get some decent pictures of our avian friends.
I made it to the open area, the marshy area that presaged the wetlands. The birds were certainly singing. I wanted to go further down the boardwalk, to the place where the belted kingfishers dwelt, but I stopped. For forty five minutes or so I only walked an additional twenty five yards or so. The culprit?
A heavy, morning mist, with the sun streaming down, on a small part of Huntley Meadows. You can literally see the sunbeams, white mist, and a hint of color. It looked interesting and bland at the same time. If only there was a little bit more color on that scene. Well, there was! A little bit. The dehaze feature of Adobe Camera Raw can do some interesting things. And though the dehazed image was initially dull, one could see a hint of color in the image. A delicate restoration of color information may result in an interesting picture. After working with the contrast, sharpness, saturation and vibrance sliders, the following pictures came out.
And as a bonus, a stalk blowing in the wind.
The pictures came out with an “impressionistic” look. Restating the title of this post, I came for the birds, but the light was right.