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.
Pic of the Week 7/16/21
“Grandview Vista Revisted”
Location: Rich Mountain, AR
Date taken: 6/12/21
Well, we have arrived to our final day of the Honeymoon Adventure and this would prove the be a very eventful one! Our morning started as it typically does for the landscape photographer, begrudgingly getting out of bed to go check the sunrise conditions. The prospect of low hanging clouds didn’t do much to motivate me to get out of bed. I looked over to see my wife soundly sleeping (and snoring) and so I pressed on into the cold morning without her. The Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge was now much different from the bustling busy atmosphere of yesterday evening. All the tenants were in the warm beds sleeping and I was up shuffling around the hallways looking a window with a good view to the east.
I reached the front entrance and turned my eyes toward the east. High cirrus clouds loomed overhead and were just starting to get some pink color. My body/heart/brain jumped into high gear, and I rushed back to my room to wake up my sleeping wife. It was time to get going for sunrise! After I woke Ashlee up we quickly gathered our gear and made our way to the 4Runner. Now the skies overhead had turned to a saturated reddish orange and the entire parking lot glowed in hues of purples and pinks. We could not miss this spectacular sunrise.
Driving down the Talimena Scenic Byway, I remembered a spot I used to shoot sunrise the last time I was here, Grand View Vista. Despite the fact there are incredible vistas all along this drive we could not find a vista that positioned us towards the sunrise. One thing I seem to forget about the Ouachitas is they run west to east not north to south like most other mountain ranges. Eventually we pulled into the Little Acorn vista, and we watched the sun rise just above the distant mountains before becoming shrouded in clouds. So much for our sunrise shoot.
Disappointed, we drove back to Grand View Vista hoping to capture some early morning light on the mountains. In the valley down below a thin veil of fog/mist hovered above the valley floor. Ashlee knew she wanted some tighter shots and took my Tamron 70-200 lens—the lens I was hoping to use for the sunrise photos. But I was ok with using her large 500mm lens and scope out small pieces of the much grander landscape. I used my tripod to try and stabilize the photos the best I can. At 500mm even the pulse of your thumb is enough to shake the camera.
For a brief few minutes the sun peered through a gap in the clouds. Strips of warm golden light spilled into the valley emphasizing the unique shape of the mountains. What a beautiful scene, I rushed back to the car to grab my wide-angle lens to try and capture the vista. I didn’t even have time to attach it to my tripod, so I snapped a few frames handheld. This image is not as sharp as I would have liked, but I did not have enough time to before the light faded away.
Grand View Vista Revisted © Ben Jacobi
Since I was limited with time and the light, I shot the first composition I saw. I framed up Round Mountain in the breaks of the trees standing on my tippy toes to get as high as possible. The fog/mist encircled the 2037ft peak in a semi-circle of hazy mystique. The dramatic side light on the mountain helped separate the scene into layers turning an almost flat and boring image into something far more interesting. I really wish I would have taken the time to get my tripod and do this scene justice. Not long after taking this image, the light evaporated and all the depth to the scene was lost. I went back to capturing the intimate details of the landscape. I even combined some of them to create this triptych. There wasn’t too much color with the lack of light, so I opted for a monochrome treatment to highlight the tones and textures of the scene.
Ouachita Mountains Triptych © Ben Jacobi
As morning progressed, more and more clouds rolled in. We decided to get back in the car and grab some breakfast back at the lodge. Along the windy roads we came across something I never expected to see—a black bear! The bear was crossing the highway was we rounded the corner. It was quite the sight to witness as the bear hurled itself over the guardrail in an action-hero-movie-like maneuver. We were so excited and happy to see the black bear that our sunrise bust didn’t even phase us. We returned to the lodge to enjoy a wonderful pancake breakfast and watch an early morning wedding taking place on the overlook. Our time at Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge was finished and we checked out of our room. We were not finished with the state park, however. We did two more trails before finally saying our goodbyes to Arkansas and bringing our Honeymoon Adventure to a close.
Pic of the Week 7/2/21
“Coon Creek Cascades”
Location: Robbers Cave State Park, OK
Date taken: 6/11/21
© Ben Jacobi
The Honeymoon Adventure continues! On what was originally supposed to be our last day, Ashlee and I woke from our room at the Belle Starr View lodge. We had spent the previous day driving to the park and hiking/exploring Robbers Cave. Now we were hoping to hike a few more miles before bidding adieu to Robbers Cave State Park. Right outside our door was the trailhead to the Belle Starr Trail Loop. This trail is rated as easy, but the rocky terrain and elevation changes keep the hike interesting.
The sky that morning was crystal clear which likely meant were not going to shoot sunrise images. Regardless, we were still eager to get out on the trail and see what we could find. The trail starts out on the top of Coon Ridge and follows a path through the forest behind some of the cabins. Following the white blaze markers, you start to quickly lose elevation as the trail takes you down the ridge. Slowly and steadily, we navigated the rocky terrain keeping mindful and careful of our footing—this was ankle twisting territory!
After a short while, we reached the edge of the rock outcrop. Now it was time to get down. The path switchbacked its way down through the rock garden. Walls of conglomerate sandstone encircled us as the trail lead us downhill. This was a favorite part of both Ashlee and I. Maybe its because we’re both from north Texas, but tall rocks mesmerize the both of us. Eventually, we reached the end of the hill and the intersection of the Equestrian multi-use trail. Directly across our line of sight, the still waters of the Coon Creek reservoir reflected the unique topography in the morning stillness. We stood there admiring the mirror-like reflection before moving onwards on the equestrian trail.
Equestrian trails are usually quite a bit different from standard hiking trails. For one, they are wider to accommodate the larger modes of transportation. The also tend to be less rocky and sandier or gravely. This can be both good and bad. Good in that the trail is pretty easy to find and stay on. But bad when it rains. The path came to a junction with a closed off service road. The white (and now yellow) blazes disappeared from the trees, and I wasn’t sure where the trail was. Keeping the same direction, we came to a muddy bog with hoof prints in the mud. We looked up in the trees and saw another yellow blaze with a sign saying “CAMP” we were back on the trail.
For another half mile was walked amongst the forest listening to the birds call and running face first into spider webs! We reached another marker on the trail, this time it pointed us to the direction of the old CCC pumphouse. I could hear the spray of the water as it careened down the dam and after a bit more walking, we were able observe it with our eyesight. Although interesting for the historical context, these structures don’t really do anything for me or my photography. So, I have to say I was disappointed, I had hoped we might run into some small rapids or waterfalls.
Once we walked past the pumphouse; I could make out the sound of rushing water. Now I was much more excited and as we approached the source of the noise, I disregarded the junction to our return trail. I was focused on the creek and oblivious to the world around me. But we did find a nice cascade on Coon Creek. Ashlee and I spent the next half hour jumping from rock to rock photographing this small waterfall. Though not as impressive as some of the others we’ve experienced, this one was entirely new, and I had no idea it was on the trail. I was glad I had a reason to pull out my camera on this hike.
Our clear skies were now being encroached by low hanging clouds to our north. This sent streaks of golden light on our waterfall. I was particularly pulled in, by this fascinating rock in the creek. I thought it would serve as a good anchor point for my composition. After playing around with the shot, I decided to try a vertical orientation and I found the comp had a much better flow. I really love the texture on that foreground rock. Its unique patterns and lines point the eye directly to the sunlit portion of the waterfall, which brings the eye to the main cascade. The color and light in this image is so subtle that it creates a stark contrast against that dark rock. Sure, it may have taken a little extra effort, and I did get my feet wet, but all in all I would say it was worth it!
Our adventure is not over yet, after the waterfall we followed the equestrian trail for a short distance. Here we came across a creek crossing, but something didn’t feel right. We were not going the right direction. Thankfully, I had cell service and I discovered that we missed the trail junction…whoops. We crossed the creek again and met back up with our trail. We began our uphill ascent to return to the Belle Starr View Lodge. After another .8 miles we made it back to the lodge. Although a short 2 miles, it really was a wonderful hike and I highly recommend it if you visit Robbers Cave State Park. After reaching the lodge, we packed up our gear and luggage and got ready to check out.
I thought this was the end of our Honeymoon Adventure, but on our way back home I saw a sign that said “Talahina 60 miles”. That got me thinking, maybe we could stay one more night on the Talimena Scenic Byway. Ashlee had never been there before, and I knew she would love it. On a whim, I called Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge to see if there were any vacancies. To our remarkable fortune, they had just had a cancellation a few minutes prior to my calling. Ashlee and I had a brief discussion, something like, “Wanna go?” “Uh, YES!”, and we made our reservation. We would stay one more night on our Honeymoon Adventure at the Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge on Rich Mountain in Arkansas and get up to hike and explore the Ouachita Forest the next morning. Basically, I’m setting the stage for next week’s Pic of the Week. There’s still one more day left from this trip.
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