Pic of the Week 7/19/18: Molas Pass Overlook

July 19, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 7/19/18

"Molas Pass Overlook"

Location: Molas Pass near Silverton, CO

Date taken: 6/23/16

 

It is so hot right now here in Texas. In fact, as I am typing this the National Weather Service has just updated their weekly forecast. Let me share with you some of the expected temperatures. Today high of 109 and a low of 81, 110/80, 110/80, 108/81. There are several Excessive Heat warnings out right now due to the warmer temperatures and high humidity. It is so dangerous to be out in these conditions that the Forest Service has closed the hiking trails to the Wichita Mountains. No hiking is allowed after 10am and considering some of the gates don't open until 9am, you can tell just how serious they are. So to summarize its just too hot to do anything outside! 

 

When the weather gets like this I have nowhere else to look but back and usually at a place with cooler temperatures. I think about this particular photo quite often. I have a large print of it hanging up in my office at work and each time I look at it I can smell the freshly fallen rain and feel the mountain air. I keep it as a reminder of a great trip and if I close my eyes I can transport myself there. This was an image I captured from my 2016 road trip on the final day of my vacation. Earlier the previous evening I found my shot of the Buck Canyon overlook [Link] to be blocked out by an approaching storm and clouds. When I left Utah driving to Colorado early that next morning it was still raining. It rained until I reached the UT/CO border where the precip finally let up.

 

Along the way I passed vibrant grass fields and gentle rolling hills of the Colorado plain. But that terrain quickly gave way to towering cliffs and distant mountains. One of my first views of the majestic rocky mountains was near Dallas Divide, CO. I captured a wide panoramic view of this incredible scene.[Link] Before long I was turning onto Highway 550 the "Million Dollar Highway" one of the most scenic drives I've even taken. Around each curve and climb of this snaky one-lane road I would come face to face with massive photogenic mountains. I guess I was so enamored with the scenery I failed to check my radar. 

 

Just before I reached Silverton, CO I could see a dark cloud top moving over one the large peaks to my west. And as I continued down the road it started to lightly rain. I didn't think much of it, but as I got closer and closer to Silverton more and more rain began to fall. When I arrived to Silverton rain was pouring down and I could only see the roads and buildings in front of me. The mountains that encompass this old mining town were shrouded by thick curtains of rain with just the slightest hint of a silhouette visible. The rain kept coming for what seemed like an eternity and lightning began striking all around me. The ambient temperature dropped to a chilly 46 degrees F and I decided to press on instead of stopping in Silverton. 

 

I made my way farther south along 550, but this time keeping an eye on the clouds to my southwest and watching for further storm development. After a short while I reached Molas Pass the highest point of Hwy 550 and a 10920ft elevation the view of the mountain range was just incredible. I knew I didn't have much time before the storm came, but I couldn't pass up this photogenic scene. I quickly got my camera out and shot a 4 image panorama of the range. I never actually did anything with the panorama, but one of the shots caught my attention and I liked the composition so much that I kept it as a single photograph. In my foreground you can see Molas Pond that leads your eye to Molas Lake in the background before reaching the awesome mountain range in the distance. There's even just a hint of blue sky in the upper left of the photo. But the more dramatic feature would be the storm clouds hovering above the mountain peaks. This was the storm I had just driven through and it was now making its way out of Silverton.

 

Molas Pass OverlookMolas Pass OverlookView from the Molas Pass Overlook. Looking at Molas Lake and Molas Pond as summer thunderstorms roll in over the rocky mountains. © Ben Jacobi

 

The intermittent light on the mountains made for an interesting contrast. Here you can see the foreground is in light, but just a few miles away Molas Lake is in the shadows and the far distant mountain range (left) is now exposed to sunlight. I sat here for several minutes just enjoying the wonderful vista and pleasant temperatures. I bet I wasn't there for a total of ten minutes before a raindrop hit the back of my neck. Seconds later a low rumbling of thunder echoed through the mountains. I don't know if you've ever been on a mountain during a thunderstorm, but the way the sound bounces off the mountains makes it sound much more menacing. It was as if I had awaken a great beast from its slumber and soon it would be near to wreak havoc on my photography. Its kind of ironic, me a storm chaser, complaining about storms. I will say one thing, I would do anything to be back here right now. Sitting on the grass taking in the wonderful landscape and just enjoying the cool mountain air. If I close my eyes... I can just almost picture it. 

 


Pic of the Week 6/28/18: Caprock Magic

June 28, 2018  •  1 Comment

Pic of the Week 6/28/18

"Caprock Magic"

Location: Caprock Canyon State Park

Date taken: 6/24/18

 

There are several terms I like to throw around while storm chasing, but one that I haven't said in quite a long time is "Caprock Magic". Caprock Magic refers to supercells that form along the Caprock Escarpment in west Texas. In my experience, these tend to be slow-moving and very photogenic storms. In fact, when I first started chasing I would almost always drive towards the caprock and many times I was rewarded with some beautiful structure and great photography. I haven't done a lot of research in this, but I believe that the Llano Estacado has an effect on the weather. The Llano Estacado or "stacked plain" takes up 37,452 square miles from west Texas to New Mexico. Its hard to imagine this doesn't affect the weather in some way. My old chase partner used to say he believed the Caprock Escarpment created a way for the low level moisture to pack up against the caprock and become a focus area for thunderstorm development. I've seen it enough times to believe it to be true. In fact some of my best storms have been along the Caprock. I'm sure there's more studying and research that could be done, but for now I'll just refer to phenomenon as "magic."

But unfortunately, I haven't seen any Caprock magic in several years. Although, the Carey, TX supercell was a the best I have seen in a long time. Regardless, there's something quite enchanting about that "Island in the Sky" as some call it. The low plains of Texas start to rise in dramatic fashion right about the Clarendon, Turkey, Matador, Dickens, line and the elevation jumps from 1000ft at Wichita Falls, to 1995ft in Childress (some 100 miles away), and towers to 3655ft in Amarillo (another 100 miles). The constant southeasterly wind erosion has worn the eastern side of the Caprock revealing the stunning red rock underneath and the carving of wonderful canyonlands from the Red River makes it one of my favorite locations in all of Texas. And while this place is stunning and amazing, it was not my intention to visit Caprock Canyon last Sunday. A friend of mine said he was interested in storm chasing and I thought we had a good opportunity for severe weather along the Caprock. I was looking for the Caprock magic. 

We left Wichita Falls around 3:30pm, before that I was glued to my laptop going over surface charts and doing analysis on the chase potential. There was one very large and significant problem, however. An overnight Mescoscale Convective System had bulldozed its way through Kansas and Oklahoma. This sinking air could have a major effect on our storm chances later on in the afternoon, but my friend was eager to go so we headed out of town. Along the way I could see the potential for thunder storms as we drove under a fairly large are of cumulus clouds. Our base city would be Childress, TX and when arrived to Childress I could start to see that cumulus field dry up. Looks like that storm in Oklahoma was going to affect our chase after all. I made a decision that if we didn't see any signs of the atmosphere improving we would call the chase. Not wanting to leave empty handed I suggested we make a trip to nearby Caprock Canyon State Park. And after hours of waiting we decided to call it a chase and head towards Caprock Canyon. 

My friend had never been there before and I'm always excited to show people this small state park. We drove past Childress and to Esteline where we turned on Highway 86 heading towards Turkey, TX. This road has nothing but ranch land on both sides of the road and you really understand why everyone believes west Texas is flat and empty. But after reaching Turkey, TX we followed 86 west and reached Quitiaque the gateway to CCSP. Off in the distance we could see the mesas and edge of the Caprock that make up CCSP and after paying our entry fee we were off to explore. There is very little to drive in CCSP one main road starts from the visitor center and ends at the South Prong Camping area. But along the way you really get a good idea of how rugged and unique the terrain is here. Several steep grades and winding roads keep you on edge as you zigzag through the canyonlands. You might have to stop and let some of the local fauna cross the road such as prairie dogs, snakes, and even bison. These 1400lb nomads of the plains remind this is their land by standing in the middle of the road and daring you to just try and tempt them. I introduced my friend to some of the geographic features and landmarks in the area and after some exploring we knew where to set up for sunset. 

I had found this amazing gyspum wall at a dry creek crossing on the Upper Canyon trail where a massive column of rust colored sandstone towered over the dry creek bed. My idea was to photograph the sunset light hitting the edge of the column and using the dramatic gypsum walls as a foreground. We spent about an hour shooting different compositions of the wild rock formations here, but my friend wanted to go back to the start of the trail and the South Prong Overlook to shoot sunset. We made the very short hike back to the trail and found an excellent spot to set up and waited for the sun to sink. As evening drew closer small cumulus clouds started to accumulate to our west. This gave me some high hopes for a nice dramatic sunset. I watched the sun dip behind the jagged canyon walls and edge of the caprock escarpment and I made this exposure. The sun just barely peeked above the top of the canyon sending light spilling onto that sandstone structure and the canyon floor. All these elements came together in such a way that could only be described as Caprock Magic. Sure there were no storms, but an adventure out here always leaves my spirit renewed and my mind refreshed and if I can come home with some great images then nothing else matters. I have several amazing hikes planned for CCSP once the weather cools down. I can't wait to see what other magic I find exploring the area. 

 

Caprock MagicCaprock MagicLooking into the setting sun at the South Prong campground in Caprock Canyon State Park. © Ben Jacobi

 


Pic of the Week 6/21/18: Mighty Colorado River

June 21, 2018  •  1 Comment

Pic of the Week 6/21/18

"Mighty Colorado River"

Location: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Date taken: 6/21/16

 

It was two years ago today that I was making my way through the state of Arizona. I had just spent the night in a hotel in Gallup, NM some 20 miles from the NM/AZ border. The previous day was spent mostly in the car driving the nine hours to the western edge of New Mexico. Today would involve a lot of driving, but it was more of a scenic drive, which meant there would be much more photography. I was also setting out to photograph the largest subject I could think of--The Grand Canyon. I had never been to the Grand Canyon, but had always wanted to visit. Needless to say, I was pretty excited for the drive. I bounded out of bed, got my gear together and checked out of the hotel. It was around 5:00am so the sun wasn't expected to rise for another hour and a half. I climbed in my rental car and started off west on I-40 heading towards Arizona.

There were a few places I wanted to stop along the way. One, was at the request of my brother-in-law to stop at the Petrified Forest National Park. I pulled into the entrance to the park to find the gate closed and securely locked. A large brown sign was outside the fence stating the park didn't open until 7:00am. I didn't want to wait that long to see the forest so I decided to save the Petrified Forest for another day and continued west. Along the way something caught my eye. As I drove down the highway I kept seeing signs for "Meteor Crater, AZ" and after a long detour I reached the entrance to Meteor Crater. Again, I was outside the fence, but I was much closer to their opening time at 7:00am only 15 minutes away. I sat in my car parked at the gate waiting for them to open and around 6:55 the gates opened. I was the first one through the gate and into the visitor center. Meteor Crater was very impressive, but something like that is just difficult to photograph. Probably the only shot I would be happy with would be an aerial photo. Though, I still enjoyed the crater. 

After meteor crater it was time to get back on schedule and to the Grand Canyon. Around late morning I reached the boundary of the Wutpaki National Forest and about 15 miles from Flagstaff, AZ. As I drove through the forest I saw signs to watch for "cougar crossing road". "What kind of country am I in?" I thought to myself. And when I reached Flagstaff I turned northwest on 180 heading for highway 64. I followed 64 to the outside of Grand Canyon Village on the south rim of the canyon. From time to time I could make out faint features of the canyon between the trees, but everything I saw after would exceed my wildest imagination. I entered into the park and made it to the first overlook Mather point. The view from this was just incredible. The Grand Canyon is whole other level of canyon. I had been to the second largest canyon in the US (Palo Duro Canyon), but nothing even comes close the Grand Canyon. I stood in awe taking in all the scenery around me marveling at the colorful rocks and depth of the canyon. Although I couldn't see the Colorado River from this perspective. I followed a short trail along the rim of the canyon drinking in the wonderful scenery and trying to accurately depict its splendor on camera. The sun was getting higher into the sky and the light started to become flat, but the intermittent clouds cast shadows on the rugged landscape making for more interesting light. 

I traveled along 64 and the south rim stopping and photographing at each overlook and even doing a little exploring. It wasn't until I reached Lipan Point was I able to see the Colorado River. Way off in the distance I could see the sunlight reflect off the turquoise water to the west. Although I took some nice shots here, I was worried I wasn't going to get a good one of the river. It was afterall what created the massive canyon system before me. I left Lipan point and continued to Navajo Point. This was the view I was looking for! When I climbed out of the vehicle I could see the massive canyon walls down below me and cutting right through the heart of it all was the mighty Colorado River. I pulled out my 80-200mm telephoto lens to zoom in close to the river. I could just make out some of the rapids in the turbulent waters below. From up here everything looked pretty calm, but when zooming in to the landscape I could see the intense flowing of the river. It reminded me of a blood flowing through a vein, like an artery deep in the earth. I found a composition that worked wonderfully for a telephoto shot and I feel accurately depicts the scale and sheer force it took to form these canyons. I seriously considered staying here all the way through sunset, but I new I wanted to photograph sunset on the north rim which was 3 hours away. This image is still one of my favorite photos I've captured of the Grand Canyon and maybe someday soon I'll revisit and rediscover the grandeur of this majestic natural wonder. 

 

Mighty Colorado RiverMighty Colorado River © Ben Jacobi


Pic of the Week 6/14/18: 6/7/18 Storm

June 14, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 6/14/18 

"6/7/18 Storm"

Date taken: 6/7/18 

Location: outside of Throckmorton, TX

 

© Ben Jacobi

 

Its my birthday today and I didn't want to have to write up a long story for the Pic of the Week. This is an image I captured on my first bust of the 2018 season. When we arrived on location the storms really lost their organization and quickly gusted out. But it did put on a nice lightning show for us to enjoy. This is a single exposure shot over 8 second shutter speed and I captured all 4 lightning strikes in the same image. We continued chasing the storm well after dark battling torrential rains and high wind gusts in Archer City. We finished up early and got back to the apartment around 10pm and then lost power for a few hours after midnight. All in all it wasn't a bad photo shoot, but the dying storms and chase strategy made me feel like we busted. Either way, I still came back with a nice image and that's all I could really ask for. 


Pic of the Week 5/31/18

May 31, 2018  •  1 Comment

Pic of the Week 5/31/18

"Untitled" 

Location: Dundee, TX

Date taken: 5/25/18

 

© Ben Jacobi

 

I forgot to write up a blog post for this Pic of the Week, but here is capture I made on one of my recent storm chases a few weeks back. I went chasing with my friends Jaden and Ryan and we watched this magnificent shelf cloud roll over our heads. While the storm was not that impressive, the light hitting the underside of the storm was spectacular--in fact it was one of the most picturesque sunsets I've seen in a while. I set my Nikon D4 and Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC lens to timelapse the whole sequence. This is a still image from the almost 1000 image timelapse sequence that I wll release in my 2018 Timelapse video later this year. The lightning during this time was incredible, several bright pink bolts would jump out ahead of the downdraft and flash intensely in the colorful sunset. Great photography was made by everyone and although we didn't get in the best position for storms, we did get in the best position for photography. 

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