Two hours north of Tucson along Arizona State Route 77, a small turnoff dumps you out onto a dirt road that winds up into the hilly desert. The southern Arizona climbing community has created a series of trails and low-impact camping sites so climbers can unobtrusively set up a tent and climb in the limestone canyon known as ‘The Homestead’. The limestone cracks and overhangs in this area are a fun alternative to climbing the granite and schist of Mt Lemmon.
Homestead Canyon Cliffs, Gila County, AZ (16″x54″)
Far off the Ground at Homestead Canyon, Gila County, AZ (16″x44″)
After hiking to Ventana Arch, we scrambled up the rock towers of Window Peak. The approach to the summit took a few hours; we had to ascend at least 4,500 feet from the trailhead to the peak, but the views were worth the walk. The hike down to Sabino Canyon was also gorgeous- a few rainclouds blew over and spat a few drops of water on us as we passed the last ridge near sunset.
Looking Down from Window Peak, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x57″)
Saguaro and Evening Clouds, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x36″)
Early in March, I hiked up the Ventana Canyon trail to Ventana Arch and back down through Sabino Canyon. Here are a few panoramas I took on the way up to the Arch.
Ventana Arch, Cliff, Hills, and Sky, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x53″)
Maiden Pools Rocks and Cacti, Ventana Canyon, AZ (16″x50″)
The vertical panorama can help give a sense of scale from the base of a cliff, but the perspective inherent in this type of panorama can also distort the image. As I’ve been working on my climbing photography, I have tried a few techniques that I would normally never employ in my landscape work; here I wanted to emphasize the artificial, human aspect that we bring to a traditional (‘trad’) climbing route even if we remove all the gear when we’re finished.
On Lead up Turret Rock, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x42″)
Some 2,000 climbing routes line the Catalina Highway (the 2-lane road leading to the top of Mt Lemmon outside Tucson, AZ). This year, my goal has been to try a new climbing area every weekend; back in February, I hiked up the steep wash around Milepost 10 to the Chessman cliffs. Circling birds of prey, ravens, and canyon wrens surrounded us all day. I took this vertical panorama of the spectacular 5.11-, Two Kings and a Pawn, as one of my friends was leading it.
Sending Two Kings and a Pawn, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x36″)
After reaching the top of Elephant Head, I stepped over to the west face of the rock and took a panorama of the fingers of eroded ridges and washes fading into the distance. On the hike down the backbone, I stopped to take a vertical panorama of the ridge leading up to Mount Wrightson, the tallest peak in southern Arizona.
Grass, Rocks, Clouds, and Erosion, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x45″)
Ridge to Wrightson from Elephant Head, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x30″)
Elephant Head is a promontory of rock that juts out to the west of the Santa Rita Mountain Range in southern Arizona. Late this winter, I finally decided to hike up the back of the ridge to the top of the fin of rock. Although this is the least technical of the approaches, it was still a fourth class scramble for the last bit of the walk. The views of the high desert foothills and cliffs along the way are spectacular.
Yucca and Trail to Elephant Head, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x53″)
Eroded Cliffs and Fins from Elephant Head, Coronado National Forest, AZ (12″x18″)
The southwest-facing cliff at The Ruins crag provides a great location for a pleasant day of winter climbing in southern Arizona. I wanted to capture the full size of the rock face, a little foreground at the base, and the mountains fading into the distance off to the south (right), so I ended up stitching together a series of stacked photographs for this double-tall panorama.
The Ruins Cliff, Coronado National Forest, AZ (20″x40″)
Winter rain and snow on Mt Lemmon brought enough moisture to the Sonoran Desert to make this usually dry stream bed in Hairpin Canyon fill with water. On this particular day, I didn’t expect to take many photographs (I was out to climb), so I didn’t have my tripod in my backpack. I used a rock instead (bottom photograph) and managed to take a long(er) exposure set of photographs for the panorama using image stabilization (basically a gyroscope in the lens)- it’s amazing how well this relatively new technology works in a pinch (but I still wish I had my tripod!).
Falls and Cliffs at Hairpin Canyon, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x47″)
Falls, Log, and Sky at Hairpin, Coronado National Forest, AZ (12″x18″)
In early January, one of our only winter storms blew through southern Arizona (in what was supposed to be an unusually wet El Nino winter here in the Southwest). I was hoping to go climbing further up in the Catalina Mountains, but the Highway was closed, so we parked and walked our climbing gear up to Hairpin and spent a gorgeous day listening to a flowing creek and climbing beneath a ceiling of billowing winter clouds.
Hairpin Cliffs and Winter Clouds, Coronado National Forest, AZ (16″x50″)
As I passed through Prewitt, New Mexico (just east of Gallup) along Interstate-40, I drove through the edge of a winter storm. The clouds had lowered just enough to cover most of the mountains in the distance, but I could barely see the edge of the red sandstone cliffs over the frozen grass and railroad tracks in the foreground.
Grass, Train, and Fog, near Prewitt, NM (16″x61″)
Grass, Fog, Sandstone Bluffs, near Prewitt, NM (16″x56″)
A deep shadow across the canyon, harsh light on the peaks, blank blue sky darkened by a red filter.
Shadowed Canyon in the Organ Mountains, Organ Mountain Natl Mon, NM (16″x55″)
I took a panorama of the flatiron-like foothills at the base of the Organ Mountains outside Las Cruces, New Mexico. I decided to keep one version of the panorama in color and to convert the other to black and white. I like the color of the sunset, but the black and white has a more subtle, silvery glow.
Flatiron Sunset (color), Organ Mountain National Monument, NM (16″x49″)
Flatiron Sunset (B&W), Organ Mountain National Monument, NM (16″x49″)
Last fall, I spent a weekend near Las Cruces, New Mexico and had a chance to wander through the foothills of the Organ Mountains. I took a few photographs at the abandoned Boyd’s Sanatorium around sunset before I headed back to the car.
Setting Sun near Boyd Sanatorium, Organ Mountains National Monument, NM (16″x38″)
Light and Shadow near Boyd Sanatorium, Organ Mountains National Mon., NM (12″x18″)
When I arrived at Great Sand Dunes, the campgrounds were full, so I decided to camp in BLM land for the night. I got up early and took a quick hike to Zapata Falls (chilly!) then headed over to photograph the dunes before continuing on my drive to New Mexico. I was concerned that I had missed the early morning glowing light and that the dunes were too crowded (the tracks erase the rippling patterns), but I was pretty happy with the big, sweeping crests and clouds once I got up on the taller shifting sand.
Sweeping Dune Crest and Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO (16″x69″)
Advancing Dunes Retreating Clouds, Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO (16″x39″)
After photographing a passing summer storm near Hooper, CO (see last week’s post), I stopped near the entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park to shoot a panorama of the same storm as it lumbered over the Preserve and the mountains in the background. I shot this scene using HDR to get a more even exposure in the clouds and shadows on the ground, then made the image partially black and white to emphasize the drama of the scene.
Lone Tree, Dunes, Mountains, Clouds, Great Sand Dunes NP, CO (16″x54″)
On my way to Great Sand Dunes, I stopped along the highway to photograph this abandoned house in a field as a summer thunderstorm passed overhead. If you read my photography blog, you know that I love to photograph clouds (and would have stopped to shoot them anyway), but it was even better to have a dramatic foreground element. Additionally, the Dunes hug the foothills of the mountains in the background.
Farm House and Summer Storm, near Hooper, CO (16″x62″)
On my way from I-25 to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, I stopped along the side of NM-16 to photograph this panorama of the open grassland, cliffs, and winter storm clouds. Just as I pulled the car over, the sun broke through the clouds to the west and lit up the steep rock faces that form the edge of the Caja del Rio Plateau.
Sunlight on Cliffs and Tetilla Peak in Clouds, Santa Fe National Forest, NM (16″x68″)
Last month, I walked up the King Canyon trail in Saguaro National Park West (Tucson Mountain District). On the saddle below Wasson Peak, I stopped to photograph a few of the small cacti and the high, wispy cirrus clouds. Here is a vertical panorama of a baby saguaro and the surrounding prickly pear cacti.
In the 1930’s, Sherry and Ruby Bowen homesteaded a section of the Sonoran Desert in what is now the Tucson Mountain Park. Stone walls and fire places are all that remain of their ranch house. Empty windows look out to saguaro cacti and mesquite trees on the hills around these ruins along the Yetman Trail.
Bowen Stone House View, Tucson Mountain Park, AZ (16″x54″)
Cholla cacti skeletons are scattered across the landscape in Organ Pipe Cactus National Park.
Here are a few more panoramas from the Ironwood Forest National Monument. One of my favorite parts of this hike and scramble was watching the clouds’ shadows slide across the desert landscape below Ragged Top.
Ragged Top pokes out of the desert floor in the Ironwood Forest National Monument between Picacho Peak and Tucson. From a distance, the hike up to the top appears technical, but the most difficult part of the climb is avoiding all of the spiky plants and loose rock. Off trail in the desert, every step must be taken carefully- cholla buds, cactus limbs, and cat claw branches are scattered across the landscape. Here are two of my favorite panoramas from near the top of Ragged Top.
This spring, I visited Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park for the first time. Unfortunately for my photography, the state allows vehicles onto the sand, so dune buggy tracks erased most of the ripples that I like to photograph. However, I still managed to find a dune or two that had mostly uninterrupted striations.