Pic of the Week 10/15/21
“Texas Live Oak”
Location: LBJ National Grasslands, Alvord, TX
Date taken: 10/10/21
We are out having adventures again and feel so good! For the past several weekends Ashlee and I have been outside hiking and getting into some nature. We have visited the Wichita Mountains, Great Plains State Park, Quartz Mountain State Park and the LBJ National Grasslands. This image was captured from our trip to the LBJ National Grasslands.
This is an area I have wanted to explore for some time now. Over 20,000 acres and 75 miles of hiking trails I’m surprised I haven’t been here sooner! Our journey to LBJ National Grasslands began like the many adventures before…convincing myself to get out of bed early enough to catch decent light at sunrise. Our location was a 1.5hr drive away, so we managed to muster up the strength to climb out of our warm bed. Outside the air was still and crisp and bright stars shone overhead. “No clouds”, I thought, “Just another boring sky sunrise”.
After meandering down the backroads of Alvord, TX, we came to our sunrise location. The Piney Woods campground was our target and I had hoped we would see some glorious sunrise light on the pine trees, but sadly when we arrived to LBJ low hanging clouds completely blotted out our skies. Not to mention, the campground was overloaded with people. So much for the “borking sky sunrise”. A little distraught we just decided to do our hike and maybe find something to photograph along the trails.
The hike was quite pleasant and overall, very easy. We had a few ups and downs in elevation which made the hike more interesting. Yet despite all the beautiful scenery around us, I found it difficult to find a subject. I piddled around with some old mushrooms I found on a log and a lone tree in a field, but nothing really interested me. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a beautiful area, but as often the case with woodland photography, its hard to see the forest through the trees.
When we finished our hike, we continued down the Forest Service Road and deeper into the park. The gravel road took us past open grassland, through oak mottes and up a mesa. From near the tallest point of the mesa, we pulled into a parking area to take in the views from up top. Along one of the camp roads we came across a fantastic campsite with this remarkable Live Oak tree. There’s something idyllic about the Texas Live Oak. Its multi-trunked base and long low-hanging branches make it the perfect tree for climbing. And who doesn’t love resting under the shady umbrella of leathery leaves and acorns in the hot summer sun?
© Ben Jacobi
The Live Oak really grabbed our attention, and we spent several minutes exploring the many branches and trunks of the tree. We even climbed up it for a little bit, going back in our minds to the days of childhood reminiscing of tree houses and tire swings. As I circled around the tree, I noticed a distinct long root that was above the surface. This tree root had wriggled its way through the hard ground and dove under the earth about 10 feet away from the trunk. When I noticed its unusual shape, it reminded me of a snake or a dragon and I quickly found an interesting composition.
I went back the car and pulled out my camera gear. I had already had a shot in my mind, I wanted to get as close to the root as possible with my ultra-wide-angle lens to emphasize the unusual shape and use the root as a leading line to the tree. I set my camera up near the terminus of the root and took a shot. The composition looked good, but the light was hideous. By now it was high noon and most of the clouds had been burned off in the heat of the day. How ironic is it that earlier this morning I was complaining about no clouds, then complaining about too many clouds, and now again complaining about not enough clouds? Mother Nature always loves to make me the fool.
Now I was hoping, praying, for some minute cloud cover to roll over the sun and let me capture a decent shot of this beautiful tree. My prayers were answered, and a small cloud covered the sun just long enough for me to squeeze out a shot—now I only needed that four more times! Why? Well, I was so close to the root that I would need to focus stack the image. This involves taking multiple images, at different focus distances, and combining them in post processing. This ensures the photo is tack sharp thought the image. But since I captured the first image with cloud cover, I would need to capture each subsequent image with cloud cover for consistency. I stayed on that mesa looking up at the sky waiting for the clouds to pass over the sun and capturing the photos. I bet I didn’t move for 45 minutes. Eventually, I captured all the necessary images and I was even able to capture a bonus photo with light in the background and the Live Oak still in the shadow of the cloud.
Pic of the Week 10/1/21
“Medicine Bluffs Magic”
Location: Fort Sill, OK
Date taken: 9/19/21
© Ben Jacobi
Continuing from our last photo adventure, Ashlee and I went off to hike the Burma Road Trail in the Wichita Mountains. This trail would be simple enough, but still have some elevation changes. It was the perfect trail to test our abilities post-COVID. We really enjoyed hiking beneath the shade of the post oak forest and walking next to huge boulders along the north side of Quanah Mountain. Ashlee was able to photograph a wide variety of subjects and you can check them out here on her Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/anmaddenphotography/
We finished our hike and clocked just a little over four miles, which we were quite excited about. On the way back we stopped at a newer local restaurant to grab some lunch. We enjoyed some tacos before starting towards home. Ashlee and I had a great time on this hike and truth-be-told we didn’t want to go back home. I thought about where we could go and one place that I have always wanted to visit came to mind—The Medicine Bluffs. For one mile along the banks of Medicine Creek four contiguous bluffs tower over the water and riparian woodland below. These uplifted walls of rhyolite have always intrigued me. There is only one problem—they sit on the property of Fort Sill.
Access to the Fort (if you’re not military) is limited. Especially during a pandemic. But just for fun we decided to give it a shot. It was surprising easy. All we had to do was register and we were in! I can’t believe I have waited this long to gain access to such an incredible area. Not only is this land stunning, but its rich in history. Native Americans would come to the bluffs seeking enlightenment from the Great Spirit. Some might even attempt the “Medicine Man’s Walk” (a huge crevasse separating the second and third bluff). Supposedly, it was a famous location for Indian suicides, tales of wayward lovers clasping hands and leaping to their deaths rather than be separated. One legend says that famed Indian Geronimo escaped Fort Sill and with the calvary in pursuit leaped on horseback down a deep vertical cliff never to be seen again. He later died of pneumonia in 1909. Myths and legends aside, it is very easy to see why the Native Americans considered this area sacred ground.
We parked at the Fort Sill Outdoor Fishing/Recreation parking lot and gathered our gear ready to start the hike. It was now late afternoon, and the sun was out in full force, not one cloud in the sky. This would make photography difficult, but we didn’t care. We were just excited to be out here. After leaving our car we walked down the banks of Medicine Creek. The crystal clear water shimmered in the sunlight. Here we had our first view of the bluffs. The eastern most bluff rose 150ft above the creek and was quite impressive. However, we were far more interested in the taller bluffs to the west. After walking around the picnic area, we found the main trail that would lead us to the bluffs. As we hiked along the trail, we began ascending uphill. From here we got our first look at the third and fourth bluff and we just start to make out the infamous Calvary’s Gap (aka Medicine Man’s Walk).
The trail took us westward and we stopped several times enjoying the scenic overlooks and searching out things to photograph. The tall near-vertical walls of the bluffs were in the shadows, small beams of sunlight would hit various rocks and trees revealing contrasty subjects to our cameras. Only the bravest of trees would rest on the cliffs edge their foliage gleaming in the sunlight surrounded by gray volcanic rock. I made the comment to Ashlee “Its like a miniature Yosemite Valley!” The tall vertical cliffs and gray rock reminded me of Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations of Yosemite National Park. Though these cliffs were about 10x shorter and composed of a different rock composition. We kept along the trail and eventually reached the Medicine Bluff Historical Marker. Here is what the marker says:
THE MEDICINE BLUFFS
A REGISTERED NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
This unique landmark at the eastern end of the Wichita Mountains was indited, described, and explored by all early expeditions and was held in deep reverence by the Indian tribes of this area from time immemorial. The four contiguous porphyry bluffs form a picturesque crescent a mile in length on the south side of Medicine Creek, a tributary to Cache Creek and the Red River. It is evidently the result of an ancient cataclysm in which half of a rock dome was raised along a crack or fault.
When Fort Sill was established in 1869, the Indians named it “The Soldiers House at Medicine Bluffs”. The site is rich in legend and history.
You are facing the north side of bluff No. 3, which consists of a sheer cliff 310 feet high, rising abruptly from the creek. A rock cairn erected by medicine men on its summit was still standing when Fort Sill was founded. Here the sick were brought to be healed or disposed of by the Great Spirit, young braves fasted in lonely vigils seeking visions of the supernatural, and warriors presented their shields to the rising sun for power. Legends say that this was also a famous place for Indian suicides. The huge fissure between bluffs No. 2 and 3 was known as the “Medicine Man’s WalK”.
A trail leads down from this marker and stops at the creek. I began the short, but steep walk down the old trail. Very quickly the vegetation changes from prairie grass land to hardwood trees. Soon a canopy of various trees envelops you. As I rounded the bend in the trail, I could see the sun backlighting a grove of ash trees, their leaves glowing neon green against the dark rock wall. Instantly, I stopped and pulled out my camera. While this photo does not show the height or scale of the bluffs, I feel is perfectly captures the spirit of this location. I plan to visit the Medicine Bluffs again during the peak fall color in hopes of capturing some really unique scenes.
Pic of the Week 9/24/21
“Mt Roosevelt Sunrise”
Location: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Date taken: 9/19/21
© Ben Jacobi
After 24 days in quarantine, I was finally able to get out in some real nature! Now, the Wichita Bluffs are nice and a great place to take a walk in town, but its just too close to the city. Too close to urban development to truly get lost. At the end of quarantine, I was more than ready to get back outside. I could feel the mountains calling for me and soon I would be breathing in their crisp cool air again. I am, of course, referring to the Wichita Mountains. Now, I would love to go visit the high peaks of Colorado and the like, but baby steps…
Ashlee and I awoke early enough to arrive at the refuge just before sunrise. Since I was a little rusty in nature photography, I opted for a simple and easy sunrise shoot. There’s an infamous old tree off Scenic Highway 115 in the refuge. Right outside the secondary entrance to the Holy City. For years people came to photograph this tree. Now the tree has succumbed to the elements and has collapsed. But this tree still has an appeal to many photographers—me included. All that remains of this tree is a tattered trunk with sprawling branches reaching towards the sky. They almost look like arms stretching out looking for assistance. As the years go on more and more of the tree will be lost.
For now, it would serve as a nice framing element to my subject, Mt Roosevelt. This is a unique mountain that has a bulbous summit. Like many of the other mountains in this area, the tree line stops midway up the mountain where the porous gabbro rock transitions to the Mount Scott Granite. This creates a nice view of the unusual summit. It also means the granite will catch the sunlight just right. My goal was to capture an image of the sunrise light reflecting off the craggy summit of Mt Roosevelt. I have always been intrigued by this mountain it stands a little over 2200ft above sea level at the north end of the Holy City. Like a centurion it stands guard occasionally obscuring Mt Sheridan and Nipple Peak. It’s a very obvious mountain.
Our temperature could not have been better that morning and the air was so clean and crisp. The sky was completed devoid of any clouds, which meant that I wasn’t going to get the best sunrise photo, but I was just happy to be outside again. When the sun broke the horizon, soft morning light gently rested on the face of Mt Roosevelt. It was an obvious composition and an obvious shot, but it been so long since I heard the click of my camera’s shutter. Naturally, I would have liked a more dramatic sky but overall, I am quite happy with the composition. I’ll likely retake this photo in the future when the conditions are more favorable.
Pic of the Week 9/17/21
"Aspen Trees Colorado"
Location: Monarch Pass Colorado
Date taken: 9/24/17
© Ben Jacobi
It has been much too long since I’ve shared a Pic of the Week. There was a lull in my photography and for almost a month I didn’t even pull out my camera. On top of that, both myself and my wife ended up catching COVID and pneumonia! We’re all fine now, but we were in quarantine for 24 days. You can imagine that would plummet anyone’s moral. The one good thing about isolation is that you have so much more time. Time to clean up around the house, time to practice or hone new skills, time to just pause and reflect. That is what I did mostly. Reflect. And that brought me looking into the forgotten images from some of my past photo adventures.
Since were already halfway through September, I thought about my 2017 trip to Colorado and dug through the depths of my external hard drive to see if I could bring any new life from that time. Fall is among us, and the leaves are starting to change in the higher mountainous country of Colorado, New Mexico, and the like. While searching through my archives I found this roadside scene that had always captured my attention. Only now, have I taken the time to process this photo and although its not my favorite photo I captured while on this journey, it still stirs something within me making me want to go back there. Back to the high-altitude crisp air where the mountain sides are covered in pines and splashes of fall color are dotted throughout the forest.
It was our third day in Colorado, and we had spent the morning packing up camp and driving back west to try and catch Blanca Peak in glorious sunrise light. After finishing our sunrise shoot, we started north in the San Luis valley. 14,000+ft granite behemoths enclosed us on both sides. When we reached Poncha Springs we turned west on highway 50. From this road we would ascend another 3000 feet to reach Monarch Pass. The drive was relatively flat until we reached Maysville, and as we turned the corner, we caught our first glimpses of Aspen high up on the mountain. As we drove further west, we gained more elevation, and the Aspen trees became more prevalent. Flashes of gold gleaming in the sunlight really stood out against the darker green around them. They were almost like beacons signaling “Photograph me!” to any photographer who came by. We must have pulled over a dozen times to photograph these patches of Aspen.
It wasn’t long before we reached Monarch and highway 50 curls back to the south following the outline of Monarch Ridge North. At this point we are now over 10,000ft elevation and climbing higher only reveals more beautiful scenes. An abandoned gold mine caught our attention and we pulled over to photograph the old structure. While it was interesting the light was starting to get harsh, and I soon stared looking for other things to photograph. I turned around and saw small aspen trees and one fallen branch leaning diagonally across the scene. The Aspen leaves shone brightly against the dark background and the leaves almost seemed to follow the diagonal of the fallen tree branch. I raised my camera and captured several images before we climbed back into the car and continued with our journey. This image has long been forgotten, resting quietly on my hard drive buried under piles and newer work. I am glad I decided to revisit these photos and finally share this tranquil Aspen scene with you.
Pic of the Week 7/23/21
“The Devil’s Punchbowl”
Location: Shades State Park, IN
Date taken: 7/22/19
For this week’s Pic of the Week, we are going back a couple of years to my trip to Indiana. We were having a family reunion up in the Hoosier state and with that came the opportunity to photograph and explore the local landscape. I made a journey to Shades State Park near Waveland, IN. This was a little over an hour away from Indianapolis and the airport. Today, I would by flying back to Texas, but I wasn’t leaving Indiana until after 5pm. Then I had a two-hour layover in Dallas before finally getting back to Wichita Falls. This put me arriving back at home around 11:30pm so I really wanted to enjoy the day.
The previous three days I spent checking out McCormick’s Creek State Park, Spring Mills State Park, Bluesprings Caverns, Cataract Falls and Brown Valley State Park. Unlike those days, the weather on this day was particularly nice. A light rain hung around early morning and messed up my chances for a sunrise shoot, but after saying my goodbyes to family I was on the road heading to Shades state park. I didn’t know too much about this park, but after doing some research I saw something that stirred my curiosity. A fiendish sounding landmark known as the “Devil’s Punchbowl”. With such an unusual name I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I arrived to Shades state park just after 11:00am. The skies were still overcast and a rain shower had just moved through the area. This brought the temperatures down to a pleasant 71F which was much better than the 96F from the day before. I pulled into Shades state park and noticed the parking lot was empty. Naturally, this excited me I like being alone out in nature and I don’t like having to fight people coming into my compositions. Not soon after I unloaded all my gear a brown minivan pulled up and a family of seven leaped out. It was time for me to get on the trail. The hike started like most others, flat on a wide trail with packed dirt. Thick vegetation above me blocked all the light and made it feel closer to nighttime than midday. Shades state park gets its name from the early settlers of the area. In the 1800’s this area was referred to as the “Shades of Death”. The unbroken canopy of trees and vegetation keeps almost all light from reaching the ground. Its easy to see why they though this place creepy. No sun, no wind, and a thick canopy of trees blocking everything.
The path quickly transitioned from the packed dirt to an old rickety staircase. Here I would begin my descent into the Devil’s Punchbowl. Two intermittent streams send water down the ravine forming a circular grotto undercut in the sandstone—this formation is the Devil’s Punchbowl. These high bluffs are coated in thick green moss and vines and ferns dangle from the rocky cliffs. For a moment, I forget I’m in Indiana. In my mind I was on the fictional island Isla Sorna from Jurassic Park. Sure, it wasn’t Hawaii, but the heavy canopy, fern plants, and eerie green rock made the area feel prehistoric. I might as well expected pack of Compsognathus to be hiding somewhere in the bush. Once down in the grotto, I immediately started to notice the incredible carvings on the rock. Although the area was beautiful, it was all overwhelming trying to bring a scene of chaos to some kind of order. It also didn’t help that the family of seven was now down in the Punchbowl and the kids were screaming listening to the echoes off the canyon walls.
The Devil's Punchbowl © Ben Jacobi
Trying to avoid the family as much as possible, I started hiking away from them and when I rounded the corner, I spotted this scene. A small shaft of light was illuminating a small portion of the cliff. I had managed to find one of the few breaks in the canopy and it was paying off. The moss-covered rock glowed in the direct sun while the rest of the are received soft reflected light. I could hear the family starting to close in on my location and I knew I didn’t have much time, so I set up a simple but effective composition and captured a few frames before moving on. This was the only light I saw all day and after finishing up at Shades state park I made the drive to Indianapolis and eventually made it back home to Texas. I wish I would’ve had more time to explore this park, but who knows maybe I’ll return to it again someday.
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Recent PostsPic of the Week 10/15/21 "Texas Live Oak" Pic of the Week 10/1/21 "Medicine Bluffs Magic" Pic of the Week 9/24/21 "Mt Roosevelt Sunrise" Pic of the Week 9/17/21 "Aspen Trees Colorado" Pic of the Week 7/23/21 "The Devil's Punchbowl" Pic of the Week 7/16/21 "Grand View Vista Revisited Pic of the Week 7/2/21 "Coon Creek Cascades" Pic of the Week 6/25/21 "Robbers Cave" Pic of the Week 6/18/21 "Lake Eufaula Sundown" Pic of the Week 5/28/21 "Flooded Lake Whitney"