Big Spring: 4 Miles into the Narrows

Big Spring Virgin Narrows Landscape photography
Big Spring:  a difficult and beautiful destination in the Virgin Narrows
I hiked (and swam) to Big Spring in the Zion Narrows.  I love the Virgin Narrows in Zion National Park and hoped to finally go all the way to a special spot 4 miles upstream where fresh water copiously pours out of solid rock.  I went in September.  Rain had fallen about a week earlier which muddied the river more than I expected.  I walked up in liquid that resembled chocolate milk.  At one point I even had to swim through a deep section!

Big Spring is a lovely destination.  Three different flows come out of the rock with beautiful ferns and trees adjacent.  Photographing this beauty required a wide-angle lens and a polarizer.  The fast flow of water rattled my tripod when I shot in the river itself, making me keep a hand on it at all times.  I climbed up on the spring to shoot these ferns up close but it can be quite slippery (remember, this is called "slickrock") so watch out.

This hike took much longer than a typical 8-mile trek because of the water and the Zion shuttle.

Landscape shot of Big Spring in Utah's Zion Narrows
Big Spring in Zion
Virgin River at Big Spring
Big Spring stands at a curve in the Virgin River
Zion Big Spring comes out of sandstone and falls into the Virgin River
Big Spring pours straight out of the Cliff
Big Spring flows into the Virgin River Narrows
Big Spring and the Muddy Virgin River
Gordon's hike rating:
Hike Difficulty:                   ★★★★ Strenuous
Trail Condition:                   ★★★ Moderate
Trail Hazards:                      ★★★ Moderate:  slippery boulders everywhere, 1 deep swim
Trailhead:                             Zion:  Temple of Sinewava
Time Required:                     Most of a day, (minimum 7 hours)
Distance round trip:              8 miles
Off the Beaten Path:             ★★★ Yes if you travel this far upstream, 3 Stars
Scenery:                                ★★★★ Excellent, 4 Stars
Photographic Potential:        ★★★ Great, 3 Stars

Cavern Cascade: 270° Photo Stitching

cavern cascade of watkins glen new york
Cavern Cascade in Watkins Glen State Park
I wanted to photograph Cavern Cascade from behind from the moment I walked underneath the falls.  This is such an exciting experience to have, I hoped to capture the feeling of being there.  My camera lens is simply not wide enough to capture the path coming down on the left, passing behind the waterfall and then continuing on to the right and then down into the light of the canyon. 
behind the waterfall at Watkins Glen state park
I took the photograph by standing behind the waterfall and,
using a tripod, took many photos in nearly every direction.
Immediately I thought of stitching multiple photos together.  Adobe Lightroom make this a much easier process.  I shot more than 20 frame in a portrait orientation at different exposures to allow for the darkest shadows and the brightest rays of morning light.  Then I walked away with hope of salvation in the digital darkroom. 

Back home, Lightroom (LR) could not stitch it together.  Some images are a little too dark or unclear for LR.  I turned to Photoshop (PS) for answers and help.  PS came to the rescue and was able to make this kaleidoscopic image come to life. 

Please look through the image at original size to see all the amazing detail that comes out in this shot.  You might feel the mist of the waterfall too.  :) 

New York: Sacred Grove

A yellow leaf on the ground in the sacred grove
Fallen Leaves in the Sacred Grove with Green Trees lit up
I visited the Finger Lakes of New York in Autumn and explored some of the nearby attractions.  There are so many, it was hard to choose.  One worthwhile stop if the Sacred Grove in Palmyra.  This special grove of trees is where Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ.  Held sacred by the LDS faith, this lovely spot is ideal for wandering and reflection.  I arrived just as leaves were falling yet the trees still had plenty of green foliage.  To capture my best pictures, I got quite low to the ground and focused on one or two colorful leaves while aiming the camera up to catch the tall trees.
walking path through the sacred grove where joseph smith prayed
Typical path through Palmyra's Sacred Grove
sacred grove pathway with wooden bench
Rough wooden benches allow time to sit and reflect
Gordon's hike rating:
Hike Difficulty:                   ★ Easy
Trail Condition:                   ★ Flat, maintained
Trail Hazards:                      ★ Minimal
Trailhead:                             Joseph Smith Home visitor center
Time Required:                     1-2 hours
Distance round trip:              1-2 miles
Off the Beaten Path:             ★★ No, but not crowded either, 2 Stars
Scenery:                                ★★ Good, 2 Stars
Photographic Potential:        ★★ Good, 2 Stars

Tonga: Vava'u Travel Photography — Part 4: People of Tonga

Tongan sister carries her baby brother up the long steep hill
Tongans are friendly and generally open to photography themselves.  As I wandered all around the islands in search of unique experiences, I met many Tongans.  I'd hold my camera up and ask if it was OK to take their photo and most said it was.  I had a few refuse, but most were happy to smile and typically went on with their own business. 
tonga man in Vava'u riding a bike
This man was a pastor at one of the island churches. 
He rode his bike to service on Sunday.  Many Tongans
are dressed elaborately for Sundays.
tongan women in green and pink dresses in Vava'u
Tongan women dressed for church
Dugout canoe in Vava'u Tonga sailed by 4 boys
Four Tongan Boys in a Dugout Canoe
traditional tongan clothes worn by young man walking
Walking on Tonga to Sunday Service
In the middle of our trip we were invited to a Tongan Feast on the island of Vakaeitu.  Vakaeitu has only one family living on the island so this was an authentic family affair.  The marlin was caught that day and brought in by everybody who could lend a hand.  After the feast, the family played music and danced for us too.  It was wonderful!
6 men carry a heavy marlin fish to tongan feast on vakaeitu
Marlin carried by 6 men to a Tongan Feast
vava'u tongan feast with music and dancing.
Dancing by Flashlight on the Beach at Tongan Feast

Tonga: Vava'u Landscape Photography — Part Three: Sunrise and Sunset

Tonga sunrise in Vava'u with puffy clouds
Cottonball Clouds at Sunrise:  They Floated over the Islands
Sunrise or sunset at the ocean is a fabulous life experience.  The golden hour light enhances any prime landscape location and a trip to Tonga is included.  The morning clouds were a little of everything during my trip:  overcast and grey, bland blue skies and partly cloudy.  The partly cloudy skies are the best for photography as the clouds take on various hues of the rainbow and contrast well with the clear areas. 
My lead photo was taken at the end of the trip when unusually tall clouds floated over the islands like marshmallows or cotton balls.  They were beautiful and seemed like moving islands themselves. 
The low angle of light also catches on the boats nearby for better yacht photos too.
Vava'u sailboat at Kapa Island at sunset
Sailboats at the Golden Hour:  a sure-fire successful photo
Nude woman showers on sailboat in Vava'u Tonga
Morning light catching an anchored sailboat
I had better sunsets than sunrises.  I can't say if Tonga is always that way but such was my experience.  I had purples skies one night, orange another and some grey clouds on others.  My orange sunset happened at Port Maurelle and the colors extended far on to the distant western isles.  I shot this sunset with my longest lens and later stitched some panoramas together.  Please enjoy.
Vava'u Sunset with orange skies
A'a Island silhouette as seen from Kapa at Sunset
Peaceful Tongan sunset with orange clouds and Island silhouettes
Port Maurelle Sunset:  Looking West

Tonga: Vava'u Landscape Photography — Part Two: Jungle

Hunga Tonga Mangrove photograph
Mangrove Jungle at Low Tide:  a transient photo opportunity
This post we're leaving the beautiful beaches and diving headlong into the jungles of Vava'u.  Plenty of photo opportunities with natural and cultural charm await the jungle trekker.

Hunga is a dirt-poor island with very nice residents who wave, smile, come out and talk and make a wonderful friendly impression.  We stayed in the inner bay of Hunga one rainy night  At low tide, the mangrove jungle becomes walkable.  I sauntered in and around many jungle plants looking for the right composition.  Here are two of my favorites.
hunga tonga mangroves picture
Mangrove branches reach out like a parasite!
Inland on Hunga we had a wonderful time with the people but I also enjoyed photographing all the pigs here.  They wander openly around.  Most pigs on other islands are wary of people but the Hunga pigs seem to not fear or flee.
many pigs gathered together on Hunga, Tonga
Pigs of Hunga, Tonga
Kenutu is a fantastic anchorage with a legitimate jungle to explore.  Hiking from the western bay to the other side of the island takes about 10 or 15 minutes.  The path is strewn with plenty of branches but nothing too much to duck under or step over.  On the eastern side are the jagged volcanic cliffs and the open Pacific Ocean.  It's spectacular to see!
trail picture of Kenutu, Vava'u Tonga
Typical trail conditions on Kenutu:  those long green leaves
have small points on them that scratched my legs up a bit.
Blue waters of a bay on Kenutu Island, Tonga
Kenutu Eastern Cliffs:  Big Cliffs and Sharp Rocks.  There is a trail
running around to the far side of this bay.  
bonsai tree on Kenutu island
I call this the Bonsai Tree and it was on the eastern cliffs of Kenutu.
3-leafed green vines in Tonga
Detail/Macro shots are available here in this remote Eden.
Here I found the various shades of green quite beautiful.
Kenutu, Tonga Jungle scene
Another twisted tree in Tonga.
One of the absolutely weirdest things I saw in Tonga is this tower of sticks and poles located here.  It's been around a long time (because it's been reported to exist in other internet accounts of this hike) and I don't know its' origin.  It's pretty unstable but my wife climbed up a bit in it.  Here's a panorama shot that shows how it stands over the cliffs and how spectacular the view really is!
Kenutu Tonga cliffs over the blue ocean
Kenutu Cliffs and House of Sticks!  The views are epic!
Jungle and Ocean meeting together.
Tonga is a place where the ocean literally meets the jungle.



Tonga: Vava'u Landscape Photography — Part One: Beaches


landscape photography of Tonga beaches at Euakafa
Euakafa Beach is just one of many stunning deserted beaches.
This articles is about Tonga Landscape photography in Vava'u.  I recently returned from a 10 day trip in these beautiful islands.  Because there is no information on photography in the island group of Vava'u, Tonga, I want to share what I have learned.  In this article I will focus on many of the incredible beaches.  They are clean, empty, private, gorgeous and unspoiled.  These are reached by boat.  Many of the islands in Vava'u group are uninhabited and the only way to really get around is on the water.

I will give my best beaches a ranking from number one and on down just for fun and for interest!

#1:  Best beach in Vava'u Tonga:  Ngau and its' neighboring isle of Taunga.
This stunning beach is actually a stretch of sand reaching from one island to another.  At low tide one can walk without getting feet wet.  When the tide is a bit higher, wading from one beach to the other is equally fun.  Sand dollars are everywhere and you can easily leave with 10 or 20 "dollars" in your pocket if you want.  
Beautiful Island of south pacific
Ngau Lagoon has green and blue waters and endless sand.
Ngua sandy deserted island in Vava'u Tonga
Coconut Sprouting on Taunga Beach with Ngau in the distance!
#2:  Best beach:  Euakafa Island
Euakafa beach stretches forever and a walk along this beach is a walk into paradise!  On the southwest side there is a lava-rock tunnel to explore.  Coconuts and many other fruits grow along the jungle which borders the beach.  Snorkeling here is wonderful as well.
Vava'u best beaches Euakafa
Euakafa Beach is unforgettable!
Euakafa beach with green waters and sailboat.
Sail to the special beach of Euakafa.  The waters here are green and blue.
#3 Best Beach:  Maninita Island
This beach is unique because it is the most southern small island in all of Vava'u.  It is entirely inhabited by birds.  Circumnavigating the entire island takes a delightful 20 minutes.  Alternatively, one can cross the island through the center jungle and see all the birds flying over your head and hear them squawk.  The beach here is rougher sand and I have never seen any location with more hermit crabs.  They are everywhere, a crawling living beach.  Getting here is half of the fun as you will pass many small deserted islands along the way.  This is one of the few places where I felt like I was at the edge of the world.
Vava'u Maninita tiny deserted island
Maninita Island:  Swim ashore and explore!
Maninita beach in Vava'u Tonga.  Sail to reach this paradise.
Bird foot prints are the only marks on this beach!
#4 Beach Beach:  the Blue Lagoon at Foeata
This place is simply gorgeous.  The sand here is like powdered sugar in the texture and almost as white in color.  It is so soft I wanted to make my bed here forever.  The shallow sandy approach allows one to basically walk from your boat all the way to the beach without getting your head wet.  This is a great place for a picnic.  This beach is more discovered than the first 3 so you will probably have some other boats around and maybe some other visitors on the beach.  It won't be crowded however.
Tonga's Blue Lagoon
Sailboat and the Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon landscape photography in Tonga
Picture of Paradise at the Blue Lagoon in Tonga
#5 Best Beach:  Ofu
Ofu is a clean beach with tons of seashells and friendly fishermen.  Here I found the best shells of the trip, many on the southern part of the beach.  This is wide, lovely, protected and pleasant!
Ofu island beach with palm tree and calm waters
Ofu Island Beach and Palm Tree
#6 Best Beach:  Nuku Island
Nuku Island might rank higher on this list if we had a sunny day on my visit here.  The small deserted island is gorgeous and this has a large sand bar on the north side to swimming and lounging.  It's very lovely.  I came on a cloudy day, which may knock this beach down a couple of points.
Sandy beach of Nuku Island Vava'u Tonga
Nuku Beach has everything:  great sand, clear waters, palms, shells and deserted!

Best Beach Honorable Mention:  Port Maurelle
No pictures of this lovely beach but it is certainly worth a visit.  Great snorkeling here too!

Artist's Point, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with waterfall
Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park looking up at Lower Yellowstone Falls
In contrast to my previous post where I was all alone, at the incredible Artist Point in Yellowstone Park I had to wait for 30 minutes before I could find a place to park my car.  Then I walked out and was able to get away from civilization a bit to enjoy the spectacular view from artist point.  I've been here at sunrise when I had it entirely to myself.  I have also, in the middle of the day, such as on this occasion, and share the view that with many others.  Yellowstone National Park is a melting pot of all nationalities coming to enjoy the recent nature.  Under any circumstance, it is worth the visit.  I came with my family on this occasion but still enjoyed the photography.  If coming alone and primarily for landscaping purposes, I would suggest rising early or staying out late.  You will not be disappointed at this location.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Artist point, looking downstream across the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Gordon's hike rating:
Hike Difficulty:                   ★ Easy
Trail Condition:                   ★ Flat and Paved
Trail Hazards:                      ★ Minimal
Trailhead:                             Artist Point Parking lot, south side of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Time Required:                     1 hour
Distance round trip:              1 mile
Off the Beaten Path:             ★ No, especially during mid-day
Scenery:                                ★★★★ Excellent, 4 Stars
Photographic Potential:        ★★★ Good, 3 Stars

Wolf Creek, Madison Mountain Range, Montana

Wolf Creek in the Madison mountain range, Montana
Wolf Creek extends up to snowy mountain tops of the Madison National Forest
Landscape photographers go to many of the same places.  In Montana I had the opportunity to explore the Madison National Forest in the area of Wolf Creek.  This is known for bears, elk and being far off the beaten path.  Hiking up to peak, both the wind and the views were spectacular.  This is a photograph taken looking into Wolf Creek.  The mountaintops were covered with clouds and snow.  Summer in Montana can be a spectacular fleeting moment.

Gordon's hike rating:
Hike Difficulty:                   ★★★★ Strenuous
Trail Condition:                   ★★★ Moderate
Trail Hazards:                      ★★★ Moderate:  rocks, rare Grizzly sightings
Trailhead:                             Madison National Forest at D Springs
Time Required:                     3 - 4 hours
Distance round trip:              3 miles
Off the Beaten Path:             ★★★★★ Yes, 5 Stars
Scenery:                                ★★★ Good, 3 Stars
Photographic Potential:        ★★ Fair, 2 Stars

Kanarra Creek Ladder Before and After

old ladder at Kanarra Creek
The Old Ladder:  Only for the Brave
The Kanarra Creek ladder Is a man-made structure that makes this wonderful canyon more accessible to visitors.  The ladder by itself is also very photogenic.  Or, shall I say it used to be photogenic?  Having gone up Kanarra Creek over several years time, I noticed the change.  The top picture is of the old ladder.  It is entirely made of wood.  Some of the rungs were small, loose and slippery.  You may notice that the steps stop well before the top of the log.  The old ladder required a very large last step to get to the top and this portion of the log was very wet and slippery.  You can see that in the picture!  I slipped and nearly fell on this once myself.

Two or 3 years ago this ladder was enhanced by removing all of the wooden steps and replacing that with a metal ladder that is directly attached to the log.  The metal steps have teeth and texture so that they are not slippery and they go all the way to the top.  This is a much easier ascent.  However I feel like some of the aesthetic qualities of the original ladder have been lost.  Such is "progress".
the new Kanarra Creek ladder is safer
New Ladder:  Safer but not as photogenic

Kanarra Creek Waterfall and Camera Orientation

utah's kanarra creek waterfall landscape photography
Kanarra Creek Waterfall in the Springtime:  lots of water and green trees.
One of the first, if not THE first, decision a photographer must make is how to hold the camera. Horizontal or vertical?  Landscape or portrait?  Up and down or side to side?  With the old cameras, the default was landscape.  With the advent of cell-phone photography, portrait orientation has become much more popular.

In my case, I don't want the easiest or most convenient shot when I have all day to compose a shot.  I want the most aesthetic shot, the one that shows off how amazing my surroundings are.  Sometimes the choice is obvious.  Sometimes it is not.  With Kanarra Creek's 3rd waterfall, the portrait shows more of the lovely red cliffs above.  With landscape orientation, the path of water is shown better as it leaves the pool at the waterfall base.  Both are good so in this case I took 2 shots.

A compromise is a square photo.  For some reason, those have a strange look to me when used in landscapes.
southern utah waterfall at Kanarra creek
Kanarra Creek:  this is the 3rd waterfall on the hike.