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Archive for the ‘Landscape’ Category

When I tell people that I camped for several nights at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota during my recently completed road trip, they have widely varying mental pictures about what that looked like. Some imagine that I was towing a recreational vehicle (RV) filled with all of the comforts of home and that I used hookups for electricity and water.

The truth, though, was that my form of camping was more akin to backpacking than to RV life. I carried with me a very small tent that I have owned for more than 30 years and more or less slept on the ground. I initially used the tent when I did some bike camping when I was stationed in South Korea in the late 1980’s during my service in the US Army. Before I left for my trip, I practiced setting the tent up in front of my house to reacquaint myself with it and to make sure I still had all of the component pieces.

Cottonwood Campground lies within the confines of the South Unit of this national park—there are two parts of the park that are separated by 75 miles (120 km)—and has relatively primitive campsites. RV’s are permitted, but most of the sites are pretty small and there are no hookups. Seasonally there are flush toilets available, a welcome surprise for me, and vault toilets during the off-season. There are no showers, but potable water is available. Because I have the lifetime Senior National Parks Pass, I had to pay only $7.00 per night for my site and I stayed two nights each time that I was there.

Half of the sites are by reservation while all remaining sites are first come, first served. I showed up without reservations on both my westward and eastward legs of the trip and was able to find a site both times without problem in the tenting area of the campground. In fact, I stayed in the exact same spot each time. I liked this spot because it was at the end of a row of spots, so I had a neighbor on only one side.

The first photo shows my view looking out from inside of my tent, with some buttes visible in the distance. The second image gives you a better view of the tent itself. It is taller at the front and has a vestibule area where I could store some gear. Importantly, there is netting to help keep the bugs out. I was not bothered by mosquitos, but there were a lot of grasshoppers and some flies from time to time.

The third shot shows the rest of my site that included a picnic table and a grill. In the photo you can see that I had a small cooler and I also had a water jug that held six gallons (23 liters)—many parts of the United States had been experiencing heat waves and I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of water in case I was stranded. You can also see my orange KIA Soul. I think that this was the only KIA Soul that I spotted when driving through North Dakota and Montana—most of the local folks seemed to be driving pickup trucks or large SUV’s.

I did not have a proper sleeping mat, but used a thick yoga mat, which did provide some cushioning from the hard ground. I had a blanket, sheet and pillow with me too and a sleeping bag. I did not think that I would need the sleeping bag, but the first night that I camped out, temperatures dropped to 44 degrees (7 degrees C), and I was able to snuggle up inside the sleeping bag.

In terms of cooking, I used a little camp stove with a propane/butane canister. The fourth photo shows my little setup as I boiled water to make instant oatmeal and instant coffee for breakfast one morning. I also had several boxes of granola bars on which I snacked throughout the day.

The final two photos shows views from the campsite. On the morning when it was cold, fog and mist were hanging over the Little Missouri River, which flowed very close to our location, and the surrounding area. The final shots shows the glow of the moon, which was almost full, just before it rose over the buttes in the distance. The lights in the right hand side of the image came from a row of cars that were heading in the direction of the park’s exit.

I hope you enjoyed my little tour of my modest camping setup. When I began my trip, I had no specific plans for camping, but brought along the gear so that I could do so if the right situation presented itself. I was really happy to find this gem of a National Park and would gladly return there in the future.

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

Camping in North Dakota

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is the best way to convey a sense of the massive expanse of the badlands in North Dakota? That was the dilemma that faced me last week as I stood at the Skyline Vista observation point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Would a single photo suffice? What about a panorama shot? Perhaps a video might work?

An informational sign at Skyline Vista noted that, “They may look like mountains, but landforms in the badlands are buttes. Mountains form when land is thrust upwards. This process has not taken place in the badlands. Buttes form as erosion removes surrounding material. Rainwater, creeks, and the river are constantly eroding the badlands, leaving behind fantastically shaped buttes.”

My initial instincts pushed me to try a couple of traditional approaches. In the first image, I composed a shot with the flowers in the foreground to add some visual interest, rather then focusing attention simply on the buttes. In the second image, I tried to use the curving highway as a compositional element.

I then switched to considering methods that took advantage of the capabilities of the iPhone 11 with which I was shooting at that moment. I used the iPhone’s pano mode to create the third image and really liked the wide view that it provided of the badlands. In my final attempt, I filmed a short video in which I panned across the horizon, holding my phone vertically that I posted to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/shorts/mTxPxVPlQVE) and have embedded below. The video provides an even wider view than the panoramic shot.

Is there a “best” way to show this rugged landscape? I would be hard pressed to say that any of the methods that I used was the “best”—each shows a slightly difference sense of what it was like for me to be at that observation point. Many of the other people that I observed simply took a single shot and returned to their cars and drove away. I personally think it is much more enjoyable to “work” a subject and look for creative ways to capture its beauty.

Skyline Vista

Skyline Vista

Skyline Vista

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I don’t take selfies very often, but decided to make an exception on Saturday when I was seated on Dege Peak (elevation 6982 ft (2128 m)) with Mount Rainier prominently behind me. I must confess, though, that I started my hike at 6100 feet (1859 m), so it is not all that impressive, though my iPhone indicates that I climbed the equivalent of 54 floors that day.

On previous visits to Mount Rainier, I have always entered at the Nisqually entrance that allows you to go as far as the Paradise Visitor Center, which is located at an elevation of 5400 ft (1645 m). It is the most easily accessible entrance and is therefore crowded most of the time.

During Saturday’s trip, I entered the park via the Sunrise entrance, which is located 60 miles (97 km) from the Nisqually entrance. The Sunrise entrance is open only from the beginning of July, when the snow is finally cleared, to early September. The Sunrise visitor center, located at an elevation of 6400 feet (1950 m), is the highest point you can access by car in the park.

I never did make it to the visitor center parking lot, which was crowded. Instead I stopped at a parking area at 6100 feet (1859 m) and hiked along the Sourdough Ridge Trail that took me up even higher than the visitor center. The views were spectacular and I was alone most of the time.

The second image shows one of those amazing views of Mount Rainier from that trail. I felt like I was looking straight across at the snow-covered mountain, although in actuality the peak of Mt Rainier was much higher at an elevation of 14,411 ft (4392 m).

I captured the final image of Sunrise Lake by looking back in the direction that I had hiked. The beautiful little lake was located just below Sunrise Point, where my car was parked.

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier

 

Sunrise Lake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State. The namesake mountain is one of the most prominent features of the park and it is a real challenge trying to figure out a creative way to capture the beauty of the snow-covered mountain.

Different vantage points and different altitudes give you different views of the mountain. I also played around a bit with aspect ratios too.

I was particularly delighted to see that some of the wildflowers were still in bloom and the first photo is one of my favorites. I worked hard to frame the composition with the flowers in the foreground. The fact that all three of these photos were taken with my iPhone 11 meant that almost the entire image in focus. It would have been a bit of a challenge to get that kind of depth of field with my DSLR.

I took the second shot from much lower on the mountain. I love the way that the image is almost abstract, reduced to shapes of the mountain and the trees.

The final image is a panoramic-type shot, which somehow seems suitable for the sweeping mountain views. It is a cropped version of a “normal” photo in which I tried to emphasize the mountains—too much of the original image was taken up by sky.

I may have some more images of Mount Rainier to share with you when I go through my images from my DSLR, but I have to say that I am more than happy with these images from my iPhone.

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Every now and then one of my readers will ask me to post photos of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite local wildlife photography spot. Usually I have either a telephoto or macro lens on my camera, neither of which is all that suitable for landscape-type shots. If I thought about it, I could switch to a wider lens and generally have one with me in my backpack, but it is kind of a hassle to do so.

This past week I have been finally shooting with my Tamron 18-400mm zoom lens, which I bought months and months ago, but had rarely used. This lens gives me good all-round capability in terms of focal length, but I wasn’t sure how it would handle the kinds of shots that I like to take. Could it handle macro-style shots of dragonflies? How would it handle birds, especially birds in flight?

I am still working on the answering those questions, but so far the results look promising. The dragonfly photos in my past two postings were taken with this lens, as were the landscape photos in this posting. One of the challenges of using this kind of all-in-one lens is that I have to retrain my eyes to look everywhere—when I have a long telephoto lens on my camera, I look mostly into the distance and when I use a macro lens, I look mostly at areas that are close to me.

As you can see in these photos, water is one of the features of this wildlife refuge. Sometimes I search for subjects near the ponds and streams and at other times I focus my attention on the wider waters of the bay. At this time of the year, the vegetation is green and lush. Fortunately the foliage on the trees provides some respite from the oppressive heat that is common here in the summers.

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sun rose really early last weekend when I visited Northfield Mount Hermon School (NMH) in Gill, Massachusetts for my 50th Reunion—officially dawn was at 0439 hours and sunrise was at 0514 hours. The rising sun woke me up in the dormitory room in which I was sleeping and I went for a walk on the beautiful campus of this private boarding college preparatory school where I spent the final there years of high school.

The sunlight was soft and beautiful as I looked to the east, where thick fog was visible over the waters of the Connecticut River. I took the first photo below with my Canon SL2 DSLR and a 10-18mm wide-angle zoom lens and the other two photos using the panoramic features of my iPhone 11. The effects of the two cameras were a bit different, but I like the way that I was able to capture a sense of the beauty and tranquility of the early morning moments—it was a wonderful way to start the day.

Northfield Mt Hermon

Northfield Mt Hermon

 

Northfield Mt Hermon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I set aside my camera for the most part this past weekend and enjoyed the company of others at Shrine Mont, a retreat center in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, a welcome respite from the restrictions of the past two years. From time to time I would pull out my cell phone and capture a moment, but the most significant memories of the retreat are embedded in my heart and in my head.

There are lots of small cabins and other buildings scattered throughout the large property that encompasses over 1100 acres of forest, but the building that attracts your eye first is the massive Virginia House, shown in the second photo below. The Virginia House was formerly known as the Orkney Springs Hotel. It was built in 1873 and restored in 1987. At approximately 96,000 square feet, it is believed to be the largest wooden structure in Virginia.

On Sunday we participated in worship at the open-air Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration that serves as the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, shown in the third photo below. The Shrine was built from 1924 to 1925 in the space of a natural amphitheater and includes a bell tower, a sacristy, a shrine crossing, choir and clergy stalls, a pulpit, a font and a lectern. Each of its stones was pulled by horse or rolled by local people from the mountain that embraces it, according to Wikipedia, and the baptismal font was originally a dugout stone used by Indians to grind corn.

As I was sitting in the outdoor pews during the church service, I happened to glance to the side and caught sight of a dozen or so Pink Lady’s Slipper orchids in bloom at the edge of the forest. Earlier that morning I had traipsed through the mud in search of some of these flowers that one of my fellow retreat members had spotted the previous day, and here there was an even greater abundance in plain sight. I was delighted to share my find with others when the service ended and it turned out that many of them had never seen a Lady’s Slipper in the wild or had not seen one since they were children.

Shrine Mont

Shrine Mont

Shrine Mont

Pink Lady's Slipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have spent so much of my life living in cities and suburbs that this rural post office that I spotted this past weekend in Orkney Springs, Virginia seemed quaint and old-fashioned. According to the information that I could find on the internet, the population of this village is somewhere between 9 and 34 inhabitants. My only regret is that I was I was not able to visit the post office while it was open.

There are so many things I like about the scene that I was able to capture, from the vintage Coke signs to the bright orange folding chair on the porch.

orkney springs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love water lilies and one of my favorite places to see them is Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, a National Park Service site located in the northeastern corner of Washington, D.C. My photography mentor Cindy Dyer photographed water lilies there that were featured in 2015 on US Postal Service stamps and I helped her during a presentation she did at the special dedication ceremony for the postage stamps—check out Cindy’s blog posting entitled Special dedication ceremony for Water Lilies Forever Stamps for additional information.

Yesterday I traveled with Cindy to Kenilworth Gardens to drop off some matted prints for the gift store and it was fascinating to see the aquatic gardens in the off-season. It is much too early for water lilies to be blooming, but I could see lots of lily pads floating on the surface of the small ponds.

The lily pads were mostly colored in shades of rust and orange and I was able to capture some “artsy” shots of them. Obviously there photos are different from my more typical wildlife shots, but I like mixing it up and challenging myself to photograph different subjects. It forces me to stretch myself creatively outside of my comfort zone, which I believe is a good thing.

lily pad

lily pad

lily pad

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Early yesterday morning, I walked out of my house and captured this shot of the full moon. The full moon this month is primarily known as the Worm Moon, but has a lot of other names including the Lenten Moon, the Sugar Moon, the Goose Moon, and the Wind Strong Moon.

Although I love to photograph a full moon like this, I really do need to find a way to integrate some cool background elements in the shot. I haven’t yet been able to scout a location where I can catch the moon rising, but that is a future goal. In this case there was no pre-planning involved.

Full Moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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How do you capture the mood of the moment? I really love the early morning, those moments when the wildlife is just waking up and becoming active and the sun is slowly rising. This winter, though, I have been kind of lazy and a little unmotivated. Consequently I have been generally sleeping through those magical moments or been seated in front of my computer rather than standing outdoors behind my camera.

Recently, though, I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge just after dawn and captured these images, which give you a sense of what I was seeing and feeling on that occasion. In the first image a pair of Bufflehead ducks (Bucephala albeola) were flying past another duck in the foreground. As your eyes make your way across the color-tinged ripples towards the distant horizon, you can just make out successive rows of other water birds.

In the second image, a solitary Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was already at work just off the shore, fishing for breakfast. Though the heron is almost a silhouette, you can just detect the warm sunshine coming from the right that illuminates its chest.

The light is the main subject in the final, almost abstract image. The light reveals the details in the grain of the wood and creates a wonderfully distorted reflection in the ripples of the water. In many ways this image represents photography reduced to its simplest, most elemental form—the interplay of light and shadows.

Bufflehead

Great Blue Heron

reflection

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I never know what will catch my eye when I am out with my camera. On Monday I was struck by the way that the tide had piled up ice on the shoreline at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge—the pieces of ice looked like shards of broken window panes. There was an abstract beauty in the ice fragments that is hard to put into words.

Despite the beauty, my mind kept drifting to metaphorical thoughts as I gazed at the ice. The ongoing pandemic continues to shatter our lives, and the ice seemed to represent some of our hopes that have been dashed, our dreams deferred, and our futures foregone. With the passage of time, the sharp edges will eventually disappear and the ice will melt, bringing together again the broken pieces of our lives.

In the meantime, we should strive to be gentle with each other, never knowing for sure how fragmented and fragile the others may feel, despite their outward appearances of coping well.

ice

ice

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been several years since we had a substantial snowfall in our area. Last winter we had a total accumulation of 5.4 inches (14 cm) of snow and the year before that we had a total of only 0.6 inches (15 mm). This storm started as rain at night and then turned into a steady snowfall of wet snow throughout the morning and early afternoon. One of my neighbors measured the total amount of snow we received at 10 inches (25 cm).

Not surprisingly, schools were closed for the day as were the federal and local governments—the road crews in this area are simply not equipped to removed this large a quantity of snow. Eventually people emerged from their cozy homes to dig themselves out. I live in densely-packed a townhouse community and one of our biggest challenges when it snows is finding a place to pile the snow.

About half of the cars in the neighborhood are now cleared and the roads have been plowed—the first photo shows my little KIA Soul with its blanket of snow that I have removed. However, temperatures overnight dipped to 19 degrees (minus 7 degrees C) and the roads are an icy mess this morning. Schools have another snow day and recovery will continue.

Unlike in some areas, we were fortunate not to lose power. However, the weight of the heavy snow caused numerous tree branches to fall—several large branches from pine trees fell into my back yard, but did not cause any damage. Additional, a large pine tree toppled over behind my townhouse as shown in the final photo. Luckily it fell away from the houses and managed not to hit any fences or cars, though it is now blocking a sidewalk.

I think I am going to stay put most of today and not venture out on the icy roads with my car. The temperatures are forecast to rise to the freezing point around noon and I may try to venture out with my camera and see if any of the neighborhood wildlife creatures are active. I’m be careful, though, because I am very conscious of the fact that the winter snow can be dangerous as well as being beautiful.

snow

snow

snow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is a cool, rainy morning here as I sit here, trying to think about what I want to say as I begin the new year. I planned on watching the ball fall at Times Square at midnight, but dozed off on the sofa and missed the moment—I guess that is a sign that I am getting old.

I am feeling pensive right now as I think about the year that has just concluded and wonder what the new year will hold for me. I decided to share some photos that I took last week at the little pond that I featured yesterday. I was utterly fascinated by the reflections of some of the trees at the edge of the pond and the textures that appeared in the ripples on the surface of the water.

Normally I have much more of an identifiable main subject when I am taking a photo, but in those moments I was mesmerized, feeling a little bit like I was looking at a Monet painting. Sometimes I get into an “artsy” trance of sorts and I have no idea how long I stood there with my camera pointing down at the water on the opposite shore.

A few people passed by, but fortunately did not pose the sometimes annoying question that I am frequently asked about what I was photographing. I often have to bite my tongue and not reply with the words resounding in my head—”I was trying to photograph a bird that you spooked with your noisy arrival.” In this case, there was no live subject to scare away, but it would have destroyed my meditative concentration.

I have to admit that I am a little selfish when it comes to sharing my wildlife experience in person with others—I prefer to enjoy the beauty of nature in solitude. I often avoid locations that have abundant wildlife, if I know there will be crowds of photographers. As I like to tell my friends, I was avoiding people long before it became popular during this pandemic.

I will probably do some kind of more organized retrospective look at the postings of this past year in the next few days. For today, though, I wanted to share some musings and reflections.

Best wishes to all of you for a happy and healthy New Year.


ripples

ripples

ripples

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, but it definitely will not happen here in Northern Virginia where I live. High temperatures today are forecast to reach 67 degrees (19 degrees C), which is quite a bit warmer than normal for this time of the year, and we are much more likely to see rain than snow this day.

In order to put folks into more of a traditional Christmas spirit (at least those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere), I thought I would post a few snowy images from my visit in late November to Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington.

Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating today and best wishes to all for a happy and healthy new year.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Friday I visited the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, an amazing spot located eight miles (13 km) east of Olympia, Washington. The wildlife refuge is home to the Nisqually River Delta, which has the unique status as Washington’s largest relatively undisturbed estuary. The confluence of the freshwater Nisqually River and the saltwater south Puget Sound has created a variety of unique environments, each rich in nutrients and natural resources for the local wildlife. The delta provides habitats for more than 300 different species of fish and wildlife, according to Wikipedia.

One of the coolest features of the refuge is the mile-long (1.6 km) Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk that extends into the mudflats and marshes. I was able to observe all kinds of waterfowl from the boardwalk, although the water level was so low that most of them were too far away to photograph. I focused most of my photographic efforts on trying to get wide angle shots with my iPhone, including the panorama shot that I included as a final photo.

The brochure for the wildlife refuge included a quotation by Victor B. Scheffer, scholar and author, that really struck me. “Any meeting of a river and a sea is a place of change…It will be proof of our ability to survive…if we learn to respect wild places like the Nisqually Delta, to trust them for their naturalness, and to love them for their power to move us.”

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I experienced so much natural beauty in the mountains, the water, and the forest during my recent visit to the state of Washington, that it is hard to imagine that anything manmade could compete with it. However, the Deception Pass Bridge in Oak Harbor is so striking that its scenic beauty is undeniable—my first glimpse of it literally caused me to stop in my tracks and marvel at it with eyes wide open.

The first photo shows the Deception Pass span, but there is actually a smaller span over Canoe Pass that you cross first when coming from the north, as you can see in the second image. In between the two spans is a small island known as Pass Island.

The bridge was completed in 1935, according to Wikipedia. The Canoe Pass arch spans 511 ft (156 m) and the Deception Pass arch spans 976 ft (297 m). Overall the roadway is approximately 180 feet (55 m) above the water, depending on the tide.

Deception Pass Bridge

Deception Pass Bridge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I probably should have looked at the weather forecast yesterday before I set off on a drive to the Olympic Peninsula. I wanted to see some of the beaches on the Pacific Ocean Coast and drive through the Olympic National Forest.

It was raining when I started driving and it rained the entire day. I probably should have checked road distances too, because my little day trip turned out to be a surprising 448 miles (721 km) in length.

That being said, it was a beautiful drive on roads through spectacular forests of fir trees, through quaint small towns, and occasionally alongside the ocean or one of several large lakes.

I did manage to walk along for a short time along one of the beaches that was accessible from a parking area. I bundled up in my rain parka and braved the elements, sometimes trying to hold onto an umbrella, and took these shots with my iPhone.

The ocean was wild and wonderful in its rugged beauty and I did my best to capture a sense of the location. The first and second shots show my view as I looked down the beach in one direction and then in the other.

The rocks in the water really captured my attention and I spent most of my time trying to capture their interactions with the crashing waves.

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

beach in Washington

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I made a trip to Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington and was delighted and amazed by the incredible scenery that I observed. Many of the mountains were covered in snow and the clouds were moving among the peaks, sometimes letting them come into view, but frequently concealing them.

I was able to drive as far as an area called Paradise that is 5400 feet (1646 meters) above sea level. Although the roads and parking areas were clear, the surrounding area was covered in snow. I was able to hike a little, but my running shoes did not provide much traction, so I gave up after a short while. Additionally, mist was settling on that area in the late afternoon, as you can see in the final photo.

On the drive up the mountain, there were lots of places to pull off the road to get a closer look at the scenery. I was particularly impressed by several beautiful waterfalls, including the one in the second photo.

I alternated between shooting with my iPhone 11 and my Canon SL2 and took a pretty good number of shots. I am still going through my images, but thought it would be good to provide a preview of the types of images that I was attempting to capture. I am pretty sure that I will feature more photos of this beautiful location in some future posts.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I went to a tree farm in Eatonville, Washington with my son Josh and his wife Lexy to cut a fresh Christmas tree. It was a lot of fun as we surveyed a large number of trees, looking for the perfect one, which turned out to be a chubby Nordmann fir tree. With a bowsaw in hand, Josh felled the tree and we loaded it into his pickup truck.

We set up the tree and decorated it later in the evening as we listened to Christmas music. In the Episcopal church that I attend, we are just beginning the Advent season and won’t be singing Christmas songs for a while. For me, though, it certainly is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Christmas tree farm

tree cutting

tree cutting

tree cutting

tree trimming

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Fall foliage color are now past their peak in the mountains and fallen leaves are increasing littering the lawns and the streets of the suburbs where I live. Today I thought I would share a few more foliage photos from my trip to Shenandoah National Park earlier this month before those memories are swept away with those fallen leaves.

While I was driving along Skyline Drive in the national park, I was repeatedly struck by the “skeleton trees.” That is my term for the bare white trees that I often saw interspersed with their leafy counterparts—they somehow reminded me of the ribs of a skeleton.

I could not determine if my skeleton trees were dead or had simply lost their leaves, but did not spending too much time pondering that question. Instead, I concentrated on capturing a sense of their stark beauty. The first photo is definitely my favorite of the three—I remember spending a lot of time trying to compose the image very carefully, a kind of luxury for me that I do not usually get when taking wildlife photos.

I am not quite ready to bid farewell to autumn, but there are definitely signs that winter is on its way. I’m hanging on tenaciously to the final month of autumn, enjoying the remaining bits of fall color.

skeleton tree

skeleton tree

skeleton tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I returned to Shenandoah National Park this past Friday to see how much the fall colors have progressed since my visit there three weeks ago—check out my post from October 17 entitled Shenandoah National Park to see my photos from the previous trip. There were some patches of brilliant color, though most of the colors were relatively muted. Over time, I have grown to appreciate all of the common shades of burnt orange, rust, and yellow that make the fiery reds and brilliant yellow stand out when they are present.

The drive along Skyline Drive, the road that runs through the length of the park mostly along a ridge, was relaxing and refreshing, with lots of overlooks to pull over and enjoy the scenery. The final photo gives you a feel for the road itself—most of the curves are gentle enough that I could enjoy the scenery even as I was driving, without fear of falling off a mountain.

fall foliage

fall foliage

 

Skyline Drive

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes I make up stories when I look at one of my photographs. I imagine an entire scenario and create relationships between elements in the image. Perhaps I will even attribute human emotions and intentions to inanimate objects.

That was the case with a photo that I took of two trees last Friday at Shenandoah National Park, the first image below. I described the trees in a Facebook posting with these words, “Bereft of leaves, aged, and perhaps in the process of dying, the trees seemed to be reaching out, branches touching and limbs intertwined, together forming a beautiful arch in the autumn sunlight.”

I chose to emphasize the touching branches, but what happens when you change your perspective? If you zoom in, you might get a shot like the second image below, where the trees appear to be side-by-side, but separated. Do you imagine a different scenario in your mind?

In the third image, we are looking at the same two trees from yet another angle and a third tree is now in the frame? Is the smaller tree an offspring, making this a family portrait?

As you can see, I am in a bit of a weird, whimsical mood this morning. Perhaps your mind works in a more serious and pragmatic way. Still, I wanted to demonstrate that there are multiple ways to capture a subject and I find that changing the angle of view is one of the simplest and most effective ways of doing so.

All too many of the people at the National Park would stop their cars at overlooks and take a single shot and quickly move on. You can probably guess that I tended to linger longer, seeking new perspectives and imagining new ways of seeing the scenery.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is still a little early for full fall foliage at Shenandoah National Park here in Virginia, but there were plenty of hints of color on Friday as I drove along parts of Skyline Drive. There were periodic moments of sunshine, but most of the time the distant mountains were shrouded in mist that caused them to gradually disappear into hazy layers of gray and blue.

Shenandoah National Park is about 75 miles (120 km) from Washington D.C. and extends along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Skyline Drive, a relatively narrow, winding road, runs the length of the park—approximately 105 miles (170 km)—and generally follows the ridge line of the mountains. There are quite a few pull-offs that provide some amazing views.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In Northern Virginia, where I live, we generally do not have the spectacular changes in the colors of the autumn foliage that I experienced while growing up in New England, Instead, the leaves often seem to fade gradually from green to brown before they fall off of the trees and are trampled underfoot. I love the reds and yellows of the autumn and am constantly on the alert for patches of these bright colors.

This past Saturday during a visit to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens with some friends, I was very conscious of the transitioning seasons and I tried to capture my impressions in some of my photos. The first image has an almost impressionist feel to it, caused largely by the ripples on the surface of the pond. Although the colors may be the traditional ones of autumn, I believe that almost all of the yellow was a reflection of the goldenrod plants that were blooming in abundance.

The second image is a bit more moody, though you can still see some of the autumn colors reflected in the dark waters, where lotuses and lilies were blooming earlier in the season. The final shot showcases the heart-shaped leaf of a lotus plant that is well past its prime. I was really taken by the way that the light shining through the leaf from behind highlighted its veiny structure. The deterioration of the leaf gives this image a tinge of sadness, a poignant reminder of the inexorable passage of time and the inevitable changes that it brings—nothing in nature lasts forever.

reflection of autumn

reflection of autumn

reflection of autumn

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I never fail to be impressed by the power and the beauty of the Potomac River at Great Falls Park, which I visited this past Friday, my first visit there in quite some time. The Potomac River separates Virginia from Maryland and I took these photos from the overlook points on the Virginia side of the river where the park is located, about 15 miles upriver from our nation’s capital. According to information on the park’s website, “At Great Falls, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.”

The waters looked pretty dangerous to me and there were all kinds of signs warning people to stay out of the water and off of the rocks. Apparently, though, kayaking is permitted in certain areas. The final shot shows two tiny kayaks that I spotted as I looked downriver—you may need to click on the image to see the kayakers who are dwarfed by the immensity of the rock formations through which they were passing.

Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park

Great Falls Park

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Water lilies always bring to mind the paintings of Claude Monet, my favorite artist. Monet produced a series some 250 paintings of water lilies (Nymphéas in French) that were the main focus of his artistic production over the last thirty years of his life. One of the museums that I most love visiting is the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, because it houses eight massive water lily murals by Monet in two specially-built oval rooms. It is an incredible, meditative experience to just sit in one of those rooms, surrounded by those amazing paintings. (For more details on the water lily murals, including a virtual visit, click here.)

Conditions were considerably more chaotic than calm on 10 July when I visited  Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. with several photographer friends. The weather was comparatively cool and comfortable, a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of recent days, and bustling throngs of people had gathered at the park to view the lotuses and water lilies. Fortunately the crowds concentrated in clusters at a few spots and I was able to explore many of the other lily ponds in peace.

One of the things that I love most about water lilies is the way that they seem to glow from within with a soft, warm light. It is always a challenge to figure out how to capture the beauty of the water lilies. Normally I concentrate on individual flowers, but for the first photo I decided to capture a wider view with two flowers in the midst of a carpet of lily pads.

As you can see, lily pads were inevitably a component in all of my compositions. Sometimes the lily pads make me smile. Why? Maybe it is just me, but when I look at the final photo, I can’t help but think of Pac-Man, a beloved video game of my younger days. I never really got into the complicated video game systems as technology advanced, but really enjoyed the relative simplicity of Pong and Pac-Man.

 

water lilies

water lily

water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was hiking about in Prince William Forest Park this week, I was thrilled to come upon this distinctive wooden bridge over the South Fork Quantico Creek in Triangle, Virginia. I have seen some historical photos of a similar looking bridge at this park, but I think that the one in those photos was of a more heavy duty construction. This wooden bridge is fairly lightweight and is definitely for pedestrian use only. In fact, the wood appears to be relatively new.

On one side of the bridge is a trail that I had been following that took me along the shore of a manmade lake. The waterfall that you see in the distance is at the extreme end of that lake. On the other side of the the bridge is a camp that is not open to public access. I crossed the bridge to take these photos and then crossed back over to continue along the trail. As you can probably tell, I took the final photo from underneath the bridge—I really liked the pattern of the floor boards of the bridge as I looked up at them.

Prince William Forest Park is the largest protected natural areas in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area with over 16,000 acres (65 square kilometers) of territory. There are more than 37 miles (60 miles) of hiking trails along streams, through the forest, and along small ridges. I enjoy hiking along these trails and in the past month have done a couple of day hikes that were each more than 10 miles (16 km) in length.

South Fork Quantico Creek Bridge

South Fork Quantico Creek Bridge

South Fork Quantico Creek Bridge

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was wandering about last Saturday in Prince William County, I was thrilled to spot my first flower on a Mountain Laurel shrub (Kalmia latifolia). I had been noticing lots of buds during recent trips, but this was the first one that I spotted that was open. I think there may be cultivated versions of mountain laurel, but it is naturally found on rocky slopes and in mountain forest areas, which was exactly the environment that I was exploring.

I simply love the shape, colors, and pattern of the gorgeous flowers of this plant. After I published this post, I decided to add a second photo, one that shows the unopened buds of a mountain laurel, their additional beauty waiting to be revealed.

mountain laurel

mountain laurel

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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More bearded irises? Yes, I decided to do another posting on the colorful bearded irises in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. We are probably near the peak period right now and there is a wide variety of irises  in bloom. There is only a stem or two of some of the irises that I photographed, each with several blooms, but there is also one patch, shown in the final photo, where there are at least several dozen irises of the same type concentrated in one area.

One of the challenges of photographing these irises is that the background tends to get very cluttered. I have tried to blur the background by choosing my angle of view and camera settings, and the results are ok.

Cindy has come up with a more elegant solution—she photographs them in situ against a black velvet-like background, which requires the assistance of another person to hold the background in place. Usually her husband Michael is drafted, but yesterday in the late afternoon I was an emergency fill-in when the late day light spontaneously prompted her to photograph the irises that were blooming outside of her yard around an electrical junction box. The final photo is one that Cindy took with her iPhone of me in “action.”

What kind of results do you get with this process? Check out Cindy’s blog postings Bearded iris blooming in my garden and Bearded iris (taken last year) to see some samples of the stunning studio-like portraits of these flowers that Cindy has taken.

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

photo assistant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am always attracted to the beautiful forms of a fiddlehead as it gradually unfurls from a tightly coiled spiral into a full-fledged fern frond. I have no idea if the process takes days or weeks, but but it was amazing to see the various stages of development of the fiddleheads that I have spotted during recent forays into a forest in Prince William County, Virginia.

The first two photos make it pretty obvious that the fiddlehead resembles the curled ornamentation (technically called a “scroll”) on the end of a stringed instrument, such as a violin that are traditionally carved in the shape of a volute (a rolled-up spiral). As I was poking about on the internet, I also learned that the fiddlehead stage of a fern is sometimes known as a crozier, the term used for the hooked staff carried by a bishop as a symbol of pastoral office.

 

fiddlehead

fiddlehead

fiddlehead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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