Pic of the Week 1/8/21
Location: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Date taken: 1/3/21
Well, here we are. We have arrived to 2021 and despite all the ups and downs of 2020 it was still a pretty good year for me overall. I’m not really sure what to expect this year if I’m being honest, but I do hope to be able to continue to share my photographic adventures with all of you. I wanted to start 2021 out right and to do that I made a trip to one of my favorite places: the Wichita Mountains. Nothing quite like beginning the year off surrounded by nature and history.
Medicine CircleA rock circle sits below the summit of Little Baldy in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. © Ben Jacobi
Do you see these stones in the foreground of the image? How do you suspect they got there? Are they relics left over from the native American tribes that followed the bison that once roamed the prairie? Afterall, there were established camps in the area the circle was found. Perhaps this was an impromptu conference room constructed for Jesse James and outlaws alike. There are rumors of buried treasure out in the Wichitas. Maybe, this is from the WPA days and some young men would sit here on their lunch breaks. Or maybe this was part of boy scout troop setting up a circle around the campfire. Who is to say? One thing is for sure, those stones are as old as the hills that surround them. To our local hiking group this is known as the Medicine/Indian circle and that is how I will refer to it.
Ashlee and I left early that cold crisp morning with hopes of having enough time to arrive before sunrise. After a quick stop at Braums to get some breakfast-on-the-go, we were on our way to the refuge. We arrived at the parking area with about twenty minutes to spare. Luckily, I had already scouted the location a month ago and it was only 150 yards away from the car. I grabbed my camera bag and tripod and hurried to my composition. I was relieved to find the circle undisturbed, except for a few “buffalo chips” nearby there was no evidence anyone had been here. Since its close by to the trail I was worried it might be moved or vandalized. Thankfully, neither of those happened.
What I envisioned for this shot was an ultra-wide angle view of the circle with wonderful morning light falling on the face of Little Baldy. I had been waiting on an opportunity to capture this photo, so I knew exactly where and how to set up my camera. I made sure to lower my tripod almost to ground level to minimize the middle ground and bring those stones in close. What I discovered when I used my wide angle is that I got an excellent foreground. I also really liked the way the lens exaggerated the shape and size of the circle. What I did not like, however, was how small it made Little Baldy in the frame. This is the downside to ultra-wide angle lenses. Objects in the background appear smaller and farther away. To combat this parallax, I did a technique known as “focal length blending”.
Basically, I combined one photo at 15mm with the ultra-wide angle and then zoomed into 30mm on just the mountain and took another photo. I then blended those two together to create the final image. The result is a wide angle foreground with a more normal background. This keeps Little Baldy as an important element to the image. I was quite happy with how this image turned out, although I would have liked to see more clouds in the sky. Maybe, I’ll try again under more favorable conditions. But overall it was not a bad way to start out 2021.
Pic of the Week 12/11/20
"2015 Geminids Meteor Shower"
Location: Petrolia, TX
Date taken: 12/14/15
We’re getting to that time of year again. The time when I brave the cold, wind, and lack of sleep to shiver under a canopy of stars counting meteors whizzing by. The Geminids meteor shower is upon us and some have already been out to photograph it with success. Its been a while since I’ve captured this meteor shower. Full moons, full clouds, and full schedules kept me from shooting the shower over the past couple of years, but I am excited to report that we will be near new moon so if our skies are clear, I should be out photographing the meteor shower. The only question is where do I want to shoot it? Thankfully, I still have a few days left before peak (Dec 13-14th) to find an interesting location. The prospect of getting to document this event made me nostalgic on some of my past Geminid encounters.
This photo was captured with my friend and fellow photographer, Nick Barnes. Nick and I had gotten permission to access an old homestead just outside of Petrolia, TX. Normally this is too close to the city for light pollution free skies, but the subject was so intriguing that I didn’t mind dealing with the light pollution. We arrived on location just after sunset and I began scouting out the interior of the house. Upon entering the ramshackle homestead, a barn owl hissed and sprung from the rafters on the ceiling diving towards us, but swerved at the last second through an open window—I guess this house wasn’t abandoned after all.
After scouting out the house, I moved to the outside to examine the perimeter and look for an interesting angle. I really wanted to showcase the house and its interesting architecture. I found an angle that featured the most windows and doors that showed into or through the house. This would create the most depth to the structure. Once satisfied with my angle and composition, we moved back into the home and placed an LED lantern in the middle of the room. The light spilled out of the openings in the walls and windows giving it an eerie glow. We came back outside and did a quick light paint over the front of the house to add even more detail to the run-down structure. Now it was time to wait for meteors.
We spent the next few hours talking about life and counting meteors as they flew by overhead. Overall, there are over 30 meteors in this photo. The Geminids are known for producing long lasting and bright meteors and if you’re willing to brave the cold and late nights you could be in for a good show this year!
2015 Geminids Meteor Shower © Ben Jacobi
Pic of the Week 11/13/20
“Grandview Vista Sunrise”
Location: Grandview Vista-Rich Mountain, AR
Date taken: 11/9/14
Grandview Vista Sunrise © Ben Jacobi
So, it has been quite a while since I last posted anything on the blog. While I haven’t been posting much, I have been out shooting pictures. I took a road trip to Lubbock, TX, Then to Copper Breaks State Park, a local hike along the Wichita Valley Rail Trail, Jim Bob Art Park and Truscott Lake, and lastly I just returned from a weekend trip to Roman Nose State Park and Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park with the Red River Photography Club. Needless to say, I have a massive backlog right now—this is in addition to processing my 2021 calendar orders. It might be a while before those images make it to my websites and social media platforms.
Now that all of that is out of the way, lets talk about this week’s Pic of the Week. This photo was captured six years ago on a road trip with my mother to the Oachita Mountains in southern Arkansas. We spent the previous day driving and exploring the Talimena Scenic Byway. My goal was to find a good sunrise location along the way, and I chose the appropriately named “Grandview Vista” as my sunrise location. I awoke that morning and drove my mother’s Volkswagen Bug up the steep mountain. I arrived just in time and watched as the early morning sun begin to rise over a layer of fog on the valley below. With my camera, tripod, and bag in my hands I reached my designated overlook and set up a composition.
The sun broke through the fog and sent rays of warm golden light across the valley. My position to the sun allowed for dramatic side light to spill over my subject. This dramatic and moody lighting made for a very dynamic composition keeping most of the foreground in the shadows and illuminating everything in the background with a soft glow. Strips of light leaked onto a few hills and spotlight some of the summits adding even more depth to the scene. Off in the distance, lake Wilhelmina was shrouded in a thick blanket of fog giving the photo a sense of mystery. Farther back even more of the Ouachita mountain range can be seen stretching all the way to the horizon, its terminus invisible.
I stood on top of Rich mountain staring down into the valley some 1700ft below as the town began to wake. Cars began entering the highway and in a single file line they all drove the same easterly direction heading towards the town of Mena, AR—likely heading to Sunday morning church. I sat on the mountain for a few hours before the sunlight became too harsh for my photography. This is still one of my favorite shots from that whole trip. It has been a while since I’ve been on a fall foliage trip maybe I’ll revisit the Ouachitas soon.
Dickens SpringSpring water seeps from the porous rock in a sheltered canyon near Dickens, TX. © Ben Jacobi
Pic of the Week 10/23/20
Location: Dickens, TX
Date taken: 10/3/20
Earlier this month I had to opportunity to visit the Caprock in west Texas. Its not too often I’m out that way, so I tried to make the most of it. My boss was needing a ride to Lubbock, TX to pick up a vehicle and I agreed to drive him out there. On that Saturday, we went straight from work to Lubbock. Since we were not on a time schedule, it was quite the leisurely drive. We wanted to stop at the “Narrows” rest area outside of Benjamin, but sadly they were closed to renovation. We continued driving west but the next rest stop wouldn’t be until Silver Falls in Crosbyton, TX. I suggested we make the detour to the Dickens Springs Park in Dickens, TX.
I had heard of this place before and have driven by it a few times, but I had always wanted to stop there. After all, its called Dickens Spring, so at the very least I would expect to see some kind of water. I will say that I had very low expectations due to the minimal rain the area had received. I believe it was somewhere around the 6” mark—very, very dry. I was anticipating the springs would be dry as well. We pulled up to the park entrance and when reaching the fork in the road, we went left. The road ended with a gravel/dirt rounded parking area where a group of about twelve people were celebrating a birthday. We climbed out of the vehicle and started searching out the area. After some looking we found the entrance to the springs. A steep metal staircase installed on the cliff edge led us down to the canyon floor.
I was shocked at what I saw. The face of the canyon was blanketed in upside down ferns dangling from the sandstone. Water was seeping from the porous rock and collecting in a crystal-clear stream down below. The stream flowed down the canyon floor where more water collecting ferns clung to the rocky walls. Small waterfalls and pools formed along the stream. Tall pecan trees stretched overhead forming a protective canopy over the spring. Water dripped from the ferns making a "ploink, ploink, ploink" as it entered the stream. It was almost like nature's own xylophone. For a minute, I forgot I was in Dickens, TX. It reminded me more of a miniature Fern Cave in Caprock Canyons or a smaller Gorman Falls in the hill country. I was astounded and a little embarrassed I hadn’t checked out this location before. We spent the next hour or so exploring and admiring the natural springs, but I did not pull out my camera. Instead, Ashlee and I decided we would return to the springs the next day.
After spending some time in Yellowhouse canyon we made our way back to Dickens and to the spring. Just like before we descended the metal staircase and found ourselves face to face with spring. I had already decided where my photo was going to be. A small side canyon just off from the main stream housed a stunning moss covered rock that was dripping with natural spring water. Nearby some boulders had collapsed and fallen into the stream adding another sense of dimension to the scene. We arrived a little earlier than the previous day which gave us a some more opportunities with the light. We spent the next few hours photographing and enjoying the springs. I can’t believe all this time this beautiful natural landscape was here and I think back to all the times I ignored it assuming it wasn’t worth my time. I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.
Pic of the Week 10/9/20
“Johnson Peak Vista”
Location: Possum Kingdom Lake, TX
Date taken: 9/27/20
Johson Peak VistaSunset falls on Possum Kingdom Lake from the summit of Johnson Peak. © Ben Jacobi
To cap off my camping trip to the Palo Pinto Mountains, I decided I would visit Possum Kingdom Lake. It was on my way back from Strawn and no trip to the Palo Pinto Mountains area is complete without a visit to this iconic lake. Hailed as the northern extension of the hill country, the Palo Pinto Mountains start just upstream of the lake in the Brazos River valley. Here the Brazos river transitions from the salty red beds of west Texas to the wooded cross timbers region. The change is quite dramatic. The terrain quickly transforms to steep rocky canyons and juniper-topped mesas. From the tops of these mesas, you would have a commanding view of the neighboring landscape. That would be my goal for this evening’s hike.
Johnson Peak is a popular location along the Possum Kingdom Hike and Bike Trail and its easy to see why. Its one of the tallest public points to the area rising to an elevation of 1350ft. You’re 350ft above the surface of the lake and there is a 360-degree panorama view from the summit. This would be my target and my plan was to hike to the summit and stay until after sunset. I had an idea for the type of image I wanted to capture, and I suspected with the right conditions I could end up with a great photograph.
I began my hike in the later afternoon. Although, it wasn’t going to be a strenuous one, I did expect to gain elevation quickly and, at the time, it was a warm 96F. I made sure to bring plenty of water and cut down the weight of my pack as much as I could. The hike would only be around 2.7 miles round trip, but since I am a little out of practice in hiking, and I would be descending in the dark, I was going to take it easy. With my gear all packed up, I started on the trail.
About a half mile into the hike I came to the Bone Bend overlook. This was the first real view of the lake from the trail and although I was only about halfway up the peak, the view was still impressive. I could see for miles looking down the lake. Bone Bend was named for the large number of bone fragments found near an old Keechi village. I stood on the overlook pondering what other pieces of history had been inundated by the lake. This made me reflect on some of the stories from John Graves novel “Saying Goodbye to a River”. After the brief respite, I continued on the trail. Soon the trail began to aggressively switchback as I gained more and more elevation.
I came to a junction in the trail and a metal sign pointed me in the right direction. I followed the trail for another half mile and met with another trail junction. This one just simply said “To the top” with an arrow pointing up and I pressed forward. Soon the trail became more rocky and I found myself stair-stepping my way up the hill. Finally, I made it to the last leg of the hike. All I had to do now was reach the summit and there are two ways I can do this. One, is to just follow the trail, but the other way is far more exciting. I would take the latter and scramble my way through boulder splits and ducking and jumping over tree roots. At last I had made it to the summit—and with an hour and a half to spare. I explored the summit drinking in the fantastic panorama view before me. I took a short water break and had an apple on the summit with nothing but my own thoughts a couple dozen vultures to keep me company. Just the way I like it.
I finished up my break and immediately started scouting for my sunset location. I already had an idea for the shot I wanted to capture so now I just needed to fine tune my composition. I wanted to showcase the terrain and ruggedness of the area, but also wanted to include the main draw to Possum Kingdom, i.e. the lake. I found a wonderful spot where I could use a large sandstone boulder as an anchor point to my scene. This also added more depth to the photograph and broke up the monotonous trees in the middle ground. The lake made a fantastic “S” shape curve as it twisted its way around the tall cliffs and bluffs out to an area known as Hells Gate. With my composition locked in, now all I had to do was wait for the light.
I must admit, I was a little more hopeful for this image. Small cumulus clouds had started to build to my east and I anticipating them to enter my composition. Sadly, most of the fantastic clouds stayed further east and I was left with an uninteresting sky. Thankfully, my composition placed more emphasis on the foreground than the sky. The sun drew lower and lower to the horizon and began lighting the cliffs in a warm luminous glow. I was amazed at how well I could see the cliffs light up from such a long distance. I thought to myself “If only I could get a boat to drive down the lake it could make the shot better.”
My prayers were answered, as I watched a small watercraft leave the Hell’s Gate area and make its way around Gaines Bend right in front of my camera. The light was in place, my composition was interesting, and now I had another element to incorporate in the shot. This was the cherry on top and although I would’ve preferred a more photogenic sky, I still feel I represented the location. After all, what comes to mind when you think of Possum Kingdom? Answer: tall cliffs, cactus, juniper trees, Hell’s Gate, the lake, and water recreation. With success stowed securely in my memory card, I gathered up my gear and began the trek down to my vehicle, hiking by the light of my headlamp and a waxing gibbous moon.
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