Pic of the Week 5/8/20
“The Eye of the Llano”
Location: Pole Canyon, TX
Date taken: 5/3/20
You might just glance at this photo and assume it was captured in desert state of Arizona, the red rock state of Utah, or somewhere along the Colorado Plateau, but neither of these are true. Believe it or not, this was captured on a private ranch in west Texas! This arch that some have named “The Eye of the Llano” was found in a slot canyon along the west Texas canyonlands. I think that is my favorite thing about the Texas slot canyon—you just don’t ever know what to expect.
This past Sunday Ashlee and I met up with a group of hikers at the Pole Canyon Ranch near Silverton, TX. Our goal was to reach the Eye of the Llano and another slot close by before the heat of the day. To get a good jump on the drive (and to get away for a while) Ashlee and I camped about 30 miles away on Lake Mackenzie. It was a beautiful campsite with an excellent view of the lake. The aqua-blue waters were perfect for bringing a reprieve from the hot summer sun.
We explored a little bit of the lake before finally setting up camp and sleeping under the stars. We had to wake up early to meet everybody on time the next day so no astophotography or night shooting for us, although I will absolutely be returning to stay at Lake Mackenzie. The next morning was woke up, had some breakfast, and broke camp. It was perfectly still, and the glow of the rising sun could be seen creeping over the lake. Temperatures were a chilly 54F. Once we were up on moving, we started warming up.
We made the uneventful drive to the entrance of the Pole Canyon Ranch. Somewhere around 95% of Texas land is privately owned. Most landowners choose to keep their land private and only accessible through permission, but there are some like Pole Canyon Ranch that have opened their property up to hiking, camping, and nature viewing. We reached the guesthouse and got our check in paperwork, paid our fee, and parked waiting on the others.
Around 7:45am vehicles started pulling into the ranch and soon we were exchanging greetings and gearing up for our hike. There were several of us and a dog named Dude going on this hike, but we were all diligent with keeping our social distancing—except for Dude he had to get pets from everybody! We started our hike following an old ranch road. Its hard to believe there is a vast network of canyons and ravines so close to where we are. It reminded me of the drive to Palo Duro Canyon. You are high up on the plateau and all of a sudden, the Earth gives way around you and soon you’re in a complex system of canyons and badlands.
The road led us to the junction of the North and South Pole creeks. I will not say which one we took, but I will say it was a wet and muddy hike before reaching another ranch road. Along the way, rust colored canyon walls enveloped us as we trudged through the boggy floodplain making several creek crossings and trying our best not to get muddy or wet. When we reached the road, we knew we were close to the slot. The road climbed for a short while and I could see the mouth of the slot. If I looked close enough, I could make out the top of the arch. It was larger than I expected.
We found our way down to the dry creek, and after checking out the secondary target (that was my mistake) we reached the slot. While this slot is not super deep, it was no less beautiful. Beside the arch, the smooth sandstone walls and striations proved to us the hike was well worth it. Then towards the mouth of the slot I could see the arch. Just before the arch was a keeper hole filled with smooth stones. I guess these become natural rock tumblers. I climbed down into the keeper hole and waited for the light.
Due to the proximity of the arch, I had to shoot this photo a different way. To cover the wide exposure range of the scene I had to bracket my shots, then to get the depth I wanted I needed to focus stack, and lastly to get the composition I wanted I would have to shoot a panorama. It took a total of 54 images to create this final version between the blending and the stacking, but I think it was well worth it. I love the reflected light on the underside of the arch and the warm glow on the cliffs in the background. The hike and extra post-processing work all proved to be more than worth it. Below you can see some video accounts of our hike from Bary Nusz and Steve Pemberton. I am also including a timelapse video I made of the editing process of this image. I think is all the slot canyons until the weather starts to cool down, but we will just have to wait and see. There are still plenty more slots on the Llano Estacado I have yet to see and who knows how many have yet to be discovered.
Editing timelapse of the Eye of the Llano
Bary's Eye of the Llano video
Steve's Eye of the Llano