100 Days of National Parks: Day 63 – Storm Shadow – Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Rising up above the valley floor outside of Cortez Colorado onto the towering bluff of Mesa Verde, it’s easy to get distracted by the view of the southern Rockies to the northeast. The towering snow-covered peaks beckon, trying to pull wanderers like myself deeper into their midst. Climbing up the winding road into Mesa Verde at sunrise, I found my gaze continuously drawn to the amazing sunrise, and the looming shadow of a late spring storm descending on the mountains. It was one of the most spectacular vistas I’ve ever come across, and as a result, I arrived at my intended destination far later than I’d planned.

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Storm Shadow

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Rising up above the valley floor outside of Cortez Colorado onto the towering bluff of Mesa Verde, it’s easy to get distracted by the view of the southern Rockies to the northeast.  The towering snow-covered peaks beckon, trying to pull wanderers like myself deeper into their midst.  Climbing up the winding road into Mesa Verde at sunrise, I found my gaze continuously drawn to the amazing sunrise, and the looming shadow of a late spring storm descending on the mountains.  It was one of the most spectacular vistas I’ve ever come across, and as a result, I arrived at my intended destination far later than I’d planned.

Continue reading “100 Days of National Parks: Day 63 – Storm Shadow – Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado”

100 Days of National Parks: Day 16 – Light in the Storm, Zion National Park

Light in the Storm

After what’s been an unexpectedly rough and emotional week, I find nothing re-energizes me on a creative, emotional, and spiritual level than getting out and exploring. When work has me worn down, or my personal life seems to be falling to pieces, I find the simple act of getting out and wandering, finding beautiful moments and beautiful places to photograph, is often enough to clear my head and bring the peace of mind I’m craving.

In September of 2012, my wanderlust was in full swing. I’d started a new job, but had a week off each month to get out and explore, and the main target on my list was a return to Zion National Park. Still trying to find some piece of myself that I found lacking, trying to make myself whole after multiple failed relationships and personal losses, I set out for seven days in southern Utah that would wind up being transformative in my outlook and would further establish my profound love affair with Zion and the National Parks in general.

I’d been once before, seemingly in passing during a weekend road trip the year before, and associated much of the places in the Park with a relationship and people that I no longer wanted to be connected to. Instead of hiding from those associations, though, I faced them head-on, and made a concerted effort to establish new associations, new connections, that have proven more profound and real than any that may have existed before.

A few days into my week there, a massive storm rolled through, and I was privileged to witness one of the most spectacular scenes that everyone should have a chance to appreciate some day. Zion in the rain is a singular experience, one that transforms the park from a dramatic landscape to something otherworldly, seemingly created just for your eyes. As the crowds thin and the clouds obscure the pinnacles of the surrounding cliffs, waterfalls spring out of dry rock faces and life abounds, animals and plants bursting forward to revel in the surrounding wetness.

The morning of the storm, I woke early to take photos of the sunrise, and was treated to this amazing vision as the sunlight streamed through a small hole in the clouds on the East Rim of the park. The darkness of the storm seemed to part and let the light through, and I stood in awe of the scene, brief and fleeting though it was, and consider myself profoundly lucky to have been there to witness it.

It’s a true metaphor for the effect visiting these amazing places has on my life and my outlook on the world. No matter how dark things may seem, that darkness just makes it easier to appreciate the moments of light when they find their way through the holes and cracks in the storm.

Light in the Storm

Light in the Storm
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After what’s been an unexpectedly rough and emotional week, I find nothing re-energizes me on a creative, emotional, and spiritual level than getting out and exploring.  When work has me worn down, or my personal life seems to be falling to pieces, I find the simple act of getting out and wandering, finding beautiful moments and beautiful places to photograph, is often enough to clear my head and bring the peace of mind I’m craving.

In September of 2012, my wanderlust was in full swing.  I’d started a new job, but had a week off each month to get out and explore, and the main target on my list was a return to Zion National Park.  Still trying to find some piece of myself that I found lacking, trying to make myself whole after multiple failed relationships and personal losses, I set out for seven days in southern Utah that would wind up being transformative in my outlook and would further establish my profound love affair with Zion and the National Parks in general.

I’d been once before, seemingly in passing during a weekend road trip the year before, and associated much of the places in the Park with a relationship and people that I no longer wanted to be connected to.  Instead of hiding from those associations, though, I faced them head-on, and made a concerted effort to establish new associations, new connections, that have proven more profound and real than any that may have existed before.

A few days into my week there, a massive storm rolled through, and I was privileged to witness one of the most spectacular scenes that everyone should have a chance to appreciate some day.  Zion in the rain is a singular experience, one that transforms the park from a dramatic landscape to something otherworldly, seemingly created just for your eyes.  As the crowds thin and the clouds obscure the pinnacles of the surrounding cliffs, waterfalls spring out of dry rock faces and life abounds, animals and plants bursting forward to revel in the surrounding wetness.

The morning of the storm, I woke early to take photos of the sunrise, and was treated to this amazing vision as the sunlight streamed through a small hole in the clouds on the East Rim of the park.  The darkness of the storm seemed to part and let the light through, and I stood in awe of the scene, brief and fleeting though it was, and consider myself profoundly lucky to have been there to witness it.

It’s a true metaphor for the effect visiting these amazing places has on my life and my outlook on the world.  No matter how dark things may seem, that darkness just makes it easier to appreciate the moments of light when they find their way through the holes and cracks in the storm.

 

100 Days of National Parks: Day 11 – Parting the Veil, Sequoia National Park

Parting the Veil

Parting the Veil
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Mt. Whitney.

The tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.

In my years of hiking, I’ve always repeated the mantra, “Sometimes you beat the mountain, sometimes the mountain beats you.”  Whitney, that unassuming monolith at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the eastern edge of Sequoia National Park, is the one mountain that has truly beaten me.

In 2015, while descending the switchbacks on the western side of the mountain, after being turned back from a thunderstorm that swept in during my ascent, I picked up a stress fracture that ended my dreams of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail that year.  It was a tough injury, more for the emotional and mental distress than for the physical hardships it caused.  I left Sequoia and the PCT that June defeated but determined to return, to beat the mountain that beat me so resoundingly.

“When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal.” – Napoleon Hill

When most people think of Sequoia National Park, they think of the big trees, with the mountains almost an afterthought, but so much staggering beauty is out there in the backcountry of the High Sierra, waiting to be explored.  Though daunting, these mountains are some of the most dramatic, beautiful examples of wilderness we have in the U.S.  I encourage everyone to get out and explore them some time, to find their own mountain they need to beat, I know I intend to.

100/100/100: Day 6 – Morning Light on Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Sometimes it’s worth getting up before sunrise on a cold October morning, with storm clouds moving in and the bite of the autumn chill penetrating even your warmest layers. In 2013, I pulled myself out of my tent at Tuolomne Meadows despite the frigid conditions and made my way down the Tioga Road to Olmsted Point, a brilliant overlook across the heights of the Sierras down into the eastern end of the Main Valley of Yosemite National Park. The billowing clouds parted as the sun rose letting a sliver of light in to kiss the top of Half Dome, creating a pastel glow to the sky and surrounding mountains, and allowed me to capture this photo which almost resembles a painting.

Morning Light on Half Dome

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Sometimes it’s worth getting up before sunrise on a cold October morning, with storm clouds moving in and the bite of the autumn chill penetrating even your warmest layers.  In 2013, I pulled myself out of my tent at Tuolomne Meadows despite the frigid conditions and made my way down the Tioga Road to Olmsted Point, a brilliant overlook across the heights of the Sierras down into the eastern end of the Main Valley of Yosemite National Park.  The billowing clouds parted as the sun rose letting a sliver of light in to kiss the top of Half Dome, creating a pastel glow to the sky and surrounding mountains, and allowed me to capture this photo which almost resembles a painting.

100/100/100: Day 5 – Gifford Homestead Barn, Capitol Reef National Park

Gifford Homestead Barn

Located near the main campground in the heart of the Fruita district of Capitol Reef National Park, the Gifford homestead is one of the best preserved reminders of the early 1900’s Mormon settlement that once thrived along the banks of the Fremont River. Compared to the other National Parks in Southern Utah, Capitol Reef seems almost like the forgotten fifth wheel, the more out-of-the-way, less frequented cousin to Zion, Bryce, Arches, and Canyonlands. It is one of the most captivating places I’ve ever been though, with its lush orchards and towering sandstone cliffs, it’s definitely not to be missed.

The Gifford homestead itself was originally built by Calvin Pendleton in 1908, before transferring its ownership eventually to the eponymous Gifford family who lived there and farmed the land until selling to the National Park Service in 1969. The house itself, seen in the background of this photo, now serves as a museum and gift shop, as well as the place to buy the most amazing pies and cinnamon rolls you could ever ask for, perfect after long weeks hiking and exploring the southwest, I can attest. I took this photo in October of 2015, toward the tail end of a week-long, rain-drenched road trip with my erstwhile traveling companion, and was thrilled at the peace and quiet the park had to offer. The Cottonwoods had just started to turn, their yellowing leaves standing in stark contrast to the red of the canyon walls, and with the extensive rain that had pounded the entire state all week, we felt like we had the park to ourselves.

Capitol Reef is quickly becoming one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to get back there sometime soon, for the pies if nothing else…

Gifford Homestead Barn

Gifford Homestead Barn

Located near the main campground in the heart of the Fruita district of Capitol Reef National Park, the Gifford homestead is one of the best preserved reminders of the early 1900’s Mormon settlement that once thrived along the banks of the Fremont River.  Compared to the other National Parks in Southern Utah, Capitol Reef seems almost like the forgotten fifth wheel, the more out-of-the-way, less frequented cousin to Zion, Bryce, Arches, and Canyonlands.  It is one of the most captivating places I’ve ever been though, with its lush orchards and towering sandstone cliffs, it’s definitely not to be missed.

The Gifford homestead itself was originally built by Calvin Pendleton in 1908, before transferring its ownership eventually to the eponymous Gifford family who lived there and farmed the land until selling to the National Park Service in 1969.  The house itself, seen in the background of this photo, now serves as a museum and gift shop, as well as the place to buy the most amazing pies and cinnamon rolls you could ever ask for, perfect after long weeks hiking and exploring the southwest, I can attest.  I took this photo in October of 2015, toward the tail end of a week-long, rain-drenched road trip with my erstwhile traveling companion, and was thrilled at the peace and quiet the park had to offer.  The Cottonwoods had just started to turn, their yellowing leaves standing in stark contrast to the red of the canyon walls, and with the extensive rain that had pounded the entire state all week, we felt like we had the park to ourselves.

Capitol Reef is quickly becoming one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to get back there sometime soon, for the pies if nothing else…

100/100/100: Day 4 – Thunderstorm Over Arches, Arches National Park

In October of 2013, I was fortunate enough to be in Arches National Park during a massive thunderstorm that swept through the Moab area. I stayed up all night taking photos of the storm as it rolled over the park, capturing many exciting lightning shots, though this one is probably my favorite. There’s something about lightning that makes me feel calm, at peace, and I long for those summer days and nights growing up in the midwest when I’d watch dark clouds rumble across the cornfields from the west. I don’t get enough thunder and lightning on the west coast, but I hope to get out and chase some more storms this year.

This photo, taken from the aptly named Panorama Point utilizing long exposure techniques, just north of the Windows Section of the park, was able to expose several large lightning strikes along the southern edge of the park, likely striking somewhere in the La Sal Mountain foothills or along the Colorado River. The strikes brilliantly illuminated the sky, and silhouetted the sandstone outcroppings of the the Windows perfectly.

Thunderstorm Over Arches

 

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In October of 2013, I was fortunate enough to be in Arches National Park during a massive thunderstorm that swept through the Moab area.  I stayed up all night taking photos of the storm as it rolled over the park, capturing many exciting lightning shots, though this one is probably my favorite.  There’s something about lightning that makes me feel calm, at peace, and I long for those summer days and nights growing up in the midwest when I’d watch dark clouds rumble across the cornfields from the west.  I don’t get enough thunder and lightning on the west coast, but I hope to get out and chase some more storms this year.

This photo, taken from the aptly named Panorama Point utilizing long exposure techniques, just north of the Windows Section of the park, was able to expose several large lightning strikes along the southern edge of the park, likely striking somewhere in the La Sal Mountain foothills or along the Colorado River.  The strikes brilliantly illuminated the sky, and silhouetted the sandstone outcroppings of the the Windows perfectly.