Photography: Showing scale in images.

This is a short post about an interesting subject.  Steve, over at  blog, or see my blogroll at the right, posted an interesting article about showing scale in your landscape and scenic photos.  He is so right in describing how necessary it is. 

Here is one of my photos of Santa Elena Canyon, in Big Bend National Park.  The canyon walls rise 1,500 feet and I wanted to show the scale in the photo.  I was on a narrow trail on the north wall, about 100 feet above the Rio Grande River.  I was trying to show a total view of the walls in the photo, so I needed to do a vertical shot.  I needed that something to show scale, as Steve mentions.  I noticed a hiker plodding along the shore below me.  I waited until he walked into the frame, before snapping the photo.  Here is the result, and you will see the tiny hiker down in the bottom left corner.  Click on the image to enlargement.

Hiker in Santa Elena Canyon

It always amuses me, when I have this photo on display at art shows.  People will notice the canyon walls first, then when they finally notice the hiker, it is like,  WOW!, it blows their mind.  But without the hiker, those grasses wouldnt look as large as they actually are.

X-Bar Ranch – The Hike

Ann and I spent three wonderful days down at the Live Oak Lodge at X-Bar Ranch.  We had the place literally to ourselves.  No hunters yet, and no other guests.  So we spent most of the time eating, sleeping or watching birds.  However, on Tuesday we decided to take a little walk.

When we had checked in on Monday, Christy and Stan Meador, our hosts were pointing out different things to do.  Christy mentioned the various trails that would be open, as there were no hunters around.  During that conversation I thought I had heard the words “green trail’  and “six tenths mile”.

Dark-eyed Junco

So, when Ann mentioned that a walk would be fun, I interjected that the Green Trail would be great because it was only .6 tenths of a mile.  Heck, we have a little route around our neighborhood that we figure is a mile, and we handle that with ease.  This would be a piece of cake, right??  Not!!

We set off at approximately 10:45AM.  We had light jackets because it was a little cool and windy.  I had a camera slung over my shoulder.  Ann had binoculars.  We carried no water, because, heck, it was only six tenths of a mile., right?  We had drank up before we left, though.

We got to walking along, me taking the occasional snapshot along the way.  The trail was well marked.  No way could we get lost, so were just enjoying the day.  The trail is pretty rugged in places.  Hilly, not real steep, but rocky in most places, as it follows some water runoff areas or washes.

Spotted Towhee

 After about thirty minutes, I thought we should be very close to the end of the trail, because this trail was only six tenths of a mile, right?  Well we kept walking and were starting to get a little worn.  I am 76 years old, just recently recovered from a back fracture, and Ann is 72, so I began to think that maybe we unknowingly bit off more that we could handle.  Any time now we expected to see the cabins.  We walked more.  No cabins in sight.  We were both starting to really get concerned.  We were getting warm as the temperature started to climb, and had shed our jackets.  Also we were getting  very thirsty.  After about an hour or maybe a little more, we knew something was very wrong.  We knew we were on the trail, as it was marked and easily to follow.  We also knew by then that it was longer that we originally thought, but how much longer, we had no idea.

Finally, we got a glimpse of something in the distance.  I borrowed Ann’s binoculars and discovered that the cabins were still about a mile or more away.  We were stunned, and wondered how could this be.  We knew even if it was a mile, that the trail wouldn’t be in a straight line.  There were too many switch-backs in the hilly trails.  I tried to sit down on a rock to rest a minute while we were trying to decide whether we should try to call someone on our cell phone.  We decided that no one could reach us very fast, even if we found someone to contact. 

So we hugged each other a bit, prayed to the Man upstairs and decided there was only one way out, and that was just to go ahead, one step at a time.  I knew that if I sat down again, I wouldn’t be able to get back up.  There were very few places to sit, anyway.  Only an occasional rock.  By then I was using the only walking stick we had, plus a piece of tree branch that we had picked up.  Ann was making it without any aid, though with difficulty.   How she done it, I will never know.   In places, we were literally leaning on each other.  Plus we were chastising ourselves for being so foolish.

Northern Cardinal - female

After what seemed forever, actually about two hours and a half, we finally made it to the last gate.  It was similar but not exactly like a cattle guard.  For me, just getting across that was a struggle.  But make it, we did.  Thankfully, we sat down on a chair by the patio.  I found that God looks after fools and drunks……….. and we were sober.

Afterwords, we found trail maps in the lodge.  There are four trails a person can take.  The shortest is a mile and a half.  We DID NOT take that one. 

We got a valuable lesson that day.  Do not attempt such an undertaking unless you are absolutely sure of the facts, then go prepared.  In retrospect, we also should have let someone know where we were going.  But, what’s done is done.  On Wednesday, we didn’t leave the lodge.  We just sat on the patio and watched and photographed birds.  I needed to use the walking stick anyway, because I pulled a muscle in my hip during our hike.  But I am feeling great again.  No more hiking again for awhile, thank you very much.

By the way, Ann did not want me to tell this story.  She thought it would make us look stupid.  Maybe or maybe not.  After all, we just misunderstood what was said and did not get confirmation.

By the way, the length of the Green Trail is three miles……….

Happy birding! 🙂

Big Bend Series, Part II – The Fun Things

In Part I, I mentioned the dangers of the Big Bend Country, including a recounting of one of my experiences.  But now, I will talk about the enjoyable things to do while visiting the area.  Things like rafting, hiking, bird watching. etc.  Sit back and enjoy.

Rafting.  Rafting the Rio Grande is one of the fun experiences that Ann and I have indulged in.  While we’re not fans of the Class V White-water trips, we did go on several of the half-day float trips that the Far Flung Adventures people offered.  On that trip, we were carried by van upstream to the Grassy Meadows river access. 

Rafting the Rio Grande

There we put on life-jackets, and started our short journey back to Lajitas.  A guide accompanied us, of course, and naturally he done all the work.  We just sat back against the gunwhales of the raft and took in the magnificent mountain scenery.  I took the above photo from our raft.  We passed by occasional deer or javelina, and once we saw a crocodile.  Yes, that’s right.  Apparently, someone had a pet and decided to dispose of it into the Rio Grande.  It stayed there for a couple of years, but hasn’t been seen now for several months.  Speculation is that it probably died of lonelinest or old age.  Somewhere back in my archives I have a photo of it.  If I come across it, I’ll post it here.  I was shooting film then and it is probably amongst my many boxes of negatives.

There are many raft trips available, depending on your budget and/or your available time.  There are one-day trips through the lower canyons.  There are multiple-day trips through Santa Elena Canyon, including at least one that brings a chef with catered gourmet meals.  Candles included.

Hiking.  Trails abound in Big Bend National Park, some easy, some very difficult.  In Part I, I told you about the Grapevine Hills Trail.  Many trails are in the Chisos Mountains including the famous Window Trail.  It is one of the popular ones because of the scenic beauty. 

The Window at Sunset

The Window is a large V shaped opening in the western side of the Chisos.  It is down through that opening that all the rains drain out of the Chisos Basin.  It is about a two mile hike from the Basin parking lot that decends about 800 feet to the large slippery pouroff at the bottom.  It is about a 300 foot drop-off at that point.  The trouble with the hike is the strenuous climb back up the trail to the trailhead. 

Santa Elena Canyon

Another popular hike is the Lost Mine Trail that takes you in to the high country.  Then there is the trail to the South Rim, a very difficult, strenuous hike to the south part of the Chisos high country.  Awesome views of the Mexican Sierra Del Carman reward you when you get there, not to mention a 2000 foot drop off to the desert.

Mule Ears Peak

Birding.  There 450 species of birds that can be seen in the various birding areas in the park, depending on the time of year.   At Rio Grande Village RV park, on the east side of the park, is a good place for birding.  Also the Cottonwood Campground.  The Chisos Mountains is an area for the Mexican Jay.  That bird is indigenous only to the Chisos Mountains, as is the Colima WarblerPeregrine Falcons can be seen at Santa Elena Canyon.  On our recent trip, Ann and I found a nice place to watch birds at the old Sam Neal Ranch ruins.  While there we were over-run by a pack of six Javelinas.    It was while we were birding at Rio Grande Village campground that I came upon the Bobcat that I was able to photograph.


Besides the rafting, hiking, and birding that I mentioned, there also jeep trips, hore-back trips, all arranged by Far Flung Adventures.  The park also offers activities to feature tours about the various flora, and there star-gazing activities.  Big Bend National Park encompasses over 800,00 acres.  Although it is large in size, it is one of the least visited parks in the system.  It is estimated that on the busiest day of the year, there is 200 acres available per person.

More to come in coming days……………

Happy Birding!!

Big Bend Series, Part I – The Dangers

I have been ask hundreds of times about the Big Bend.  I guess because Ann and I have made so many trips to Big Bend National Park, they think we have all the answers.  Not so, but thank you for asking.  Anyway, I thought it would be a great idea to do a series on beautiful place.

Green Gulch

When I say the Big Bend, I am not just talking about Big Bend National Park.  I am thinking about all it encompasses.  There is BBNP, of course, but there is also Big Bend Ranch State Park, a gigantic and isolated destination east of the National Park.  There is Alpine, Marfa, Marathon that are all a part of the Big Bend.  The area is so named for the bend that the Rio Grande River makes, as it goes southeasterly down to Lajitas, then bends northeasterly after it goes through Santa Elena Canyon.

The Chihuahuan Desert makes up most of the land area.  A desolate, lonely, isolated, and a deadly place for the un-initiated.  Do not take lightly the warnings about taking plenty of water, 4-wheel drive only,  dangerous hiking trails, bears, cougars.  People have died trying to walk across the desert during the high summer temperatures.  People have died getting to close to the rims of some canyons.  People have died by getting lost on the trails in the high country. 

Wagon ruins in Chihuahuan Desert

You can be mis-led by seemingly easy well meaning advice.  Such was the case when we tried hiking the Grapevine Hills Trail back in about 2004.  Our destination was the Rock Arch that lies somewhere near the end of the trail.  The brochure states that it is an easy hike of about a mile.  That much is true.  But when Ann and I tried it we found that, too late, that we didn’t prepare properly for it.

To begin with, you turn off the highway a few short miles west of the park headquarters at Panther Junction.  It is a very slow, rocky, road that goes 7 miles to the trail-head.   We made it that far in our mini-van.  It was sometime around mid-day when we started walking.  The temp was in the low 80s.   But the sun was beating down fiercely.  We had walking sticks made from the sotol plants.  We also had a bottle of water that we thought we could share, some cracker snacks, and I had a camera slung around my shoulder.

The trail was level for the first half mile, then started a gradual up grade.  There were makeshift signs directing hikers to the top of a rocky ridge where there was a vantage point to see the arch.  However, the “trail” was over huge boulders, that were up to house-sized.  Ann was not up to doing any climbing.   I, on the other hand, was after a picture and I thought I could make it easily.  I thought wrong.  I got started okay, but the climb got to be too much.  The temp was climbing by then, and with that terrible dry heat, I began to get dehydrated.  A very dangerous sign.  Fortunately, I met up with another hiker.  He saw the difficulty that I gotten myself into, and gave me some of his water.

I decided to wait for another time to get the Rock Arch photo.  I managed to climb back down to where Ann was waiting.  I tried to eat some of the crackers, but I was to dried out to do so.  I drank some more of our water then we started back to the trailhead.  We were hiking on a downgrade by then, away from the larger rocks.  About 50 feet into the walk, my feet slid from under me on loose gravel.  I started falling on my back.  As I did, my first thought was not to fall on my camera.  I yanked it around in front as I was falling and therefore, my arms were not able to break my fall.  My back landed squarely on a large round boulder.

It knocked the beejeebers out of me.  I was stunned.  Ann in a state of panic and screaming.  There was no one else around.  I gradually got my breath back, but I knew I was hurt bad.  I told Ann that I was okay, and with the help of my walking stick I regained my feet.  Somehow, we managed to limp that mile back to the trailhead.  The person that had gave me the water and had left earlier, was waiting by his truck.  He thought that we may have trouble and was there just in case we didn’t get back.  A very thoughtful individual who knew about the dangers in the Big Bend.

I still had to drive that 7-mile trip back to the highway.  Every bump made the pain worse.  I figured that I could make it to the medics at Study Butte.  Not so, the building was closed.  We were staying at Lajitas, about 15 miles away, and I knew they had an infirmary there.  The doctor there, was actually a physicians assistant.  He checked me out, decided that I didn’t have any broken bones.  But he said that I would be begging for pain killers.  He prescribed four Advills, four times a day.  He was right.  I begged.

We left the next morning to come back to San Angelo.  By then the pain was almost unbearable, but I managed to somehow get in the passenger side, and find a good position.  I stayed in that position for 320 miles while Ann drove us back.  She had to help me get into and out of bed, and help me dress, but I recovered after about two weeks.

So, now when we do decide to take hikes, which are much shorter now, we make sure that we are prepared properly.

I began to make this into a series about visiting the Big Bend, how to get there, things to do, etc.  Well, after writing this much, actually winging it as I went along, I have come to decide that it will be a long, but exciting journey.  I can’t wait to write the next part.  I will probably try to write two or three parts per week.  We’ll see where it takes me……..:-)

In other news, I hung fourteen framed prints at the Crockett National Bank downtown across the street from the Visitors Center.  They will hang there at least through the end of December.  Please go down there, and see them any time during banking hours.

Happy Birding!!