A Love That Runs Deep

My love for Penn State hockey runs deep.  Very deep.  It stems from my 4 years of doing radio play-by-play for the men’s club team during my college days, calling 2 national championships along the way.

When you work with a team, you spend a ton of time with them.  You travel with them, kill a lot of time at a hotel or rink waiting for games to start, and hours upon hours upon hours on buses just getting to the games.  Ultimately you form a little family.  Even supporting staff like myself form a bond with the team – naturally not as deep as if you were a player yourself – but a bond nonetheless.

For years and years, the Penn State hockey family knew we had what it would take to become a scholarship varsity team and the community to support it.  The one thing we didn’t have was enough money. Funding was needed to build a new facility and seed endowments for scholarships and other costs, so we’re not talking chump change.

Then lo and behold… that dream came true in 2010 when the Pegula family made a massive donation to Penn State to make Penn State varsity hockey – for both the men’s and women’s teams – a reality!  That donation provided everything PSU needed to build that new arena and put the supporting pieces in place to get the teams on their way.

The team started varsity play with the 2012-2013 season, so we were able to make the trip to to PSU for a handful of games that first year.  Heading to PSU for a hockey weekend – for either club or varsity play – always provided a nice excuse for us to get away.  The games were always good and slipping away just for a weekend gave us the quick change of scenery that we often needed.

During those weekend trips to see games, we watched the Pegula Ice Arena take shape.  We saw it go from a parking lot, to a hole in the ground, to a steel skeleton, to its shiny glass and brick facade.  We simply couldn’t wait to get inside for a game!  But then we had a little hiccup with those plans – we moved to Colorado…

We left Pennsylvania in July 2013 and the new barn opened in October 2013, almost 3 months to the day after we moved out west permanently.  (Figures!)  Living 1500 miles away from State College instead of just 170 made getting to games a tad more involved, so we hadn’t been back since the move… until this fall!  Even though we had to delay the trip a couple of times, it was so worth it!

As chance would have it, a friend of mine from back in my play-calling days still works with the team (lucky!). Turned out he was going to be at the rink for meetings during the first day of our stay, so he offered to give us a behind-the-scenes tour.  He knew I’d be floored by the new facility compared to our old one.  He was so right!

To say I was amazed is a massive understatement!  Walking through the doors of the building for the first time was one thing.  Going out into the seats to see the rink for the first time was a little overwhelming.  So many feelings stirred seeing that this pipe dream is now an everyday reality for PSU. It’s hard to find words to describe all of the emotions that hit me.

My First Look at Pegula

I kept myself together through all of those emotions (yes!) and the tour was awesome!!  The facilities available to the athletes are stunning.  The technology improvements alone in terms of tracking your training and the different tools available blew me away.

Our seats for the weekend series of games were rinkside along the boards, so my friend took us up to the last row of the student section – now called “The Roar Zone” – to check out the view.  (In my day, the student section was simply called “Section E”, named after the seating section where the students sat.)  The Roar Zone was designed so it has the steepest incline allowable by building codes, making it very imposing to the visiting goaltender that guards that net in the 1st & 3rd periods of each game.  It also means the acoustics help the student chants and taunts rain down even harder on the guest netminder.  (Well done!)

The steepness is no joke, but once we got up there, the view was just something I wanted to soak in.  Since it was a non-gameday afternoon, the rink was empty.  It gave me a chance to get a little beauty shot of an empty arena (though I wasn’t able to get the shot with a freshly-zamboni’d surface to make it look shiny and new).  Can’t complain though!

Imposing Student Section

There’s a bunch of great displays around the concourse of the arena featuring all kinds of PSU hockey history.  There’s a display showing every guy and gal who wore every number for the PSU teams during both the club and varsity eras.  There’s a bunch of interactive displays were folks can dive into the team histories in more detail.  And of course there’s other memorabilia exhibits along the way featuring sticks, skates, sweaters, moments in program history, and so on.

My favorite display might be the one I have a teensy personal connection to – the rink board that a bunch of the hockey family signed to commemorate the elevation to varsity and the dawn of the new era for Penn State hockey.  I was lucky enough to sign that board years ago, so there’s a little piece of me in the new building even when I can’t be there in person.

Signed It

The last stop of the tour involved seeing some hardware… the B1G Conference Championship trophy we won in 2017.  Our first!  (That conference championship was a bit of a surprise/upset win t’boot.)  I never thought I’d live to see our hockey teams be elevated to varsity status, so seeing the trophy was another one of those little surreal moments for me.

Hardware

I wanted to get more pictures of the trophy, but that photo session was interrupted because the men’s head coach happened to come down the hall and my friend introduced us to him.  It was very cool to finally meet the coach after all of these years.  For having just met someone with a connection to PSU hockey’s history (little though it may have been), he was great with us.  In those few minutes we chatted with him, I could easily see how the guys on the team would skate through a wall for him and why he’s been able to make the men’s program such a success so quickly.

Getting that tour was more than we ever could have asked for on this trip!  (Thanks again to my friend – you know who you are!)  It was an absolutely fabulous way to start our hockey weekend, and the games were yet to come!

The weekend slate of games were set for Friday and Saturday night.  I didn’t take too many pictures during the games since I was too busy cheering and going wild.  And naturally, our seats were “terrible”.  (Sarcasm fully intended.)  It’s been a long time since I got to get that excited in-person at a PSU hockey game, and I enjoyed the hell out of every second of it!

Terrible Seats for the Game

Penn State won one game and lost the other one in overtime, so a good result in spite of us being in the building.  (Whenever we attend games of teams that we love, we’re usually a huge jinx and they lose when we’re in the building.)  We even saw one of the most amazing goals I’ve ever seen in person at a game – so good it made ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays that night and was ultimately their #2 play for all of November!!

I’d say our hockey-centric Penn State trip was a roaring success!!  (Pun intended?  Yeah, at least this time anyway.)

We Are!!

– JC

 

Fall… It’s Been Too Long

The one time each year we miss living in Pennsylvania is during the fall.  Autumn in Colorado is beautiful – don’t get me wrong – but it’s very one-toned.  And that tone is yellow.  So many of the trees native to the area – especially the aspens up high in the mountains – turn yellow.  While it’s pretty, it gets a little boring compared to the vibrant mix of hues in the northeast that we grew up enjoying.

With the passing of our dog earlier in 2018 (sob, sniff), we had an opportunity to take a long-delayed trip back to Pennsylvania to catch some autumn colors and see some Penn State hockey.  We hadn’t been back to central Pennsylvania since we left 5 years ago and we were incredibly anxious to get back.

Our trip was planned for early November based on the hockey schedule (more on that coming in a separate post), so we knew we might miss the fall foliage.  Luckily for us, the unusually cold and wet fall weather delayed the leaves changing color!  Score for us!!  The drive out to Penn State was gorgeous, bursting with reds and oranges and browns (and yes, even some yellows).  Although the sun was setting by the time we landed and got on the road, it was still sublime to see after being away for so long.

Though the main purpose of our trip revolved around the hockey games, we had tons of time to walk around Penn State and State College.  The fall scenery in town and around campus was wonderful to see again.  (Things on campus and in town changed A LOT since we were last there.) . We had hoped to go do some hiking in the hills, but the murky weather forecast foiled our hiking plans before we even got on the plane.  Bummer.

To keep my packing light, I only had my phone with me to take pictures.  That wasn’t hard to deal with.  The biggest challenge for me was dealing with iffy weather and lighting the entire time we were outside.  With that, I still bagged a few shots that reminded me of how much we love fall up there.

I snagged an updated shot of the campus bench I randomly captured back in fall of 2009.  I think it may have even been the same bench on campus!  (Why I remember these details, I have no idea.)

When we spent the night in State College during our drive out to Colorado for the move, the Nittany Lion Shrine was under construction.  The platform under the statue and the surrounding area were being spruced up and we couldn’t access the area.  Naturally, I had to get an updated shot during this trip now that the work is long since done.  Things got a little tricky because, just as we walked up, a class of students arrived and were all around.  I couldn’t really get into grabbing the interesting shots I normally try to get for variety in my collection, but no big.  We were just happy to be there!

The Lion Looms

One day we had some time to hit the campus arboretum.  The arboretum is new in the eons since we graduated, and it’s expanded quite a bit since our last visit.

With the crappy weather and lighting, a lot of my shots didn’t come out as I had hoped, but I did come home with one favorite.  I think the cairns were my favorite shot because we see so many useful cairns while hiking in Colorado – along with not-so-useful/random cairns people stack to be cute along a trail.  At least here there’s no risk of being misdirected into the wilderness by someone playing with stacks of rock!

Arboretum Cairns

We didn’t see a lot of sun during our trip (very typical of PSU weather), but it did finally make a brief appearance one morning after breakfast.  The sun was in and out and fleeting at best.  I lucked out that we happened to be walking by Old Main when the sun did appear and I got a couple of shots of the compass statue I’ve always liked.

It was so nice getting back to see fall scenery the way we so fondly remember it.  Hopefully it won’t be 5+ years between trips next time!

– JC

Pursuit of Petroglyphs

Before we left Mesa Verde National Park for the last stop on our trip in Durango, we had time for one quick morning spin to Petroglyph Point.  We hadn’t done that hike since the first time my husband took me to Mesa Verde back in 2007.  (In fact, this may be the very first hike I ever went on in Mesa Verde!)  Ten years later seemed like a good time to check it out, and the length of the hike certainly fit our itinerary for the day.

We decided to hit the trail as soon as it opened.  Since the trail starts near the popular Spruce Tree House site and the museum, access to the trail is controlled by a locked gate that’s only open during daylight hours.  We thought the gate opened at 8am.  Surprise!  It wasn’t going to open until 8:30.  What to do with time to kill and good morning light?  Take pictures of yucca, of course!

Eventually 8:30 came, so we schlepped down to the gate to start our day and it was still locked.  Huh?  We waited a few minutes, figuring maybe the rangers were running late, yet still no signs of it opening.  I hiked back up to the museum at the top of the trail to ask the rangers was up and it turned out there was some sort of coverage miscommunication, so one of the rangers came back down with me and opened it for us.  Sweet!  That guaranteed we were the first ones on the trail for the day so we could set our own pace and have some peace and quiet along the way.

I took some pictures along the way out to Petroglyph Point, but much of the trail was in shade since the sun wasn’t very high in the sky yet.  I tried not to slow our pace too much with picture-taking, but there was one exception…

We came upon a rock along the trail that had some huge holes eroded in it.  The way the light was coming through the holes, it looked like mini caverns or slot canyons.  The lighting was so delicate that it took some time to get the exposure dialed in, and then a little more time in post processing to bring out the light the way my eyes saw it.  I think it was time well spent based on the results.

A couple of miles down the trail, we reached Petroglyph Point and still hadn’t seen or heard another soul on the trail.  It was wonderful!  We took quite a bit of time at the petroglyph panel itself because it’s really interesting to study in detail when you have the opportunity to do so.

Petroglyph Point

Only mere yards after you reach the petroglyphs, you start your ascent up some ladders back to the mesa top to walk back around to the trailhead through some pinyon and juniper forest.  Before we climbed out, we turned around and found that the canyon was lit up beautifully in the morning sun.  Picture time!

Around the Bends

Turns out that wasn’t the only cool view.  There was a tiny one right next to us as we were looking out across the canyons – a cluster of cacti thriving in a crack on one of the big boulders next to us.

Prickly Rock

Once we returned to the car, it was time to leave the park.  Always a bittersweet feeling, but we still had an afternoon and a night in Durango to look forward to before the long drive home.

Since we couldn’t check into our hotel quite that early, we went directly to Ska Brewing in Durango.  We’ve enjoyed their beer many times, but had never managed to make it to the brewery itself to check it out.  I was sold the second I saw what might be one of the best traffic control signs ever in their parking lot (complete with aspens changing color in the background)…

Best Brewery Parking Lot Sign (Ska Brewing)

Wonderful brews and a tasty lunch were had by all.

The melancholy of our trip coming rapidly to a close was starting to set in, but we enjoyed our short stay in Durango.  It was a whirlwind week in Utah and southwest Colorado, but a really fun one.  Can’t wait to do it again!!

– JC

Back to Mesa Verde

When we spend time in eastern Utah, that usually means the loop back home runs through southwest Colorado somehow.  It’s a convenient excuse for my husband to stop by Mesa Verde National Park and see what’s going on.  Though it makes for a much longer trip home, we get to see some parts of the state we don’t visit on a regular basis.  It certainly makes for a beautiful change of scenery.

This trip followed that same pattern.  We left Goblin Valley State Park in Utah and started the roundabout way home via Mesa Verde.  With only a day and a half to spend in the park itself, we kept the schedule fairly light and open, though we did squeeze in one of the limited-access ranger-led hikes to a cliff dwelling that’s not typically open to the public.

Every year, Mesa Verde offers 2 different ranger-led hikes that are limited to about 10 people each day for a small cost.  These trips take you to sites very much off the beaten path and typically not visible from any of the overlooks, nor are they regularly toured by the masses.  It’s a nice balance for the park in terms of management – they can keep the sites somewhat accessible to the public by rotating the offerings each year while ensuring these sites are protected from the wear and tear of tour bus-fulls of tourists trampling around them daily.

We’ve been on a few of these ranger-led hikes during previous trips to the park.  This year we lucked out and got to go to a new site – Oak Tree House.  It was billed as a 2 mile roundtrip hike that involved using ropes and ladders.  Ok by us!

The hike to Oak Tree House started fairly early in the morning – certainly fine by me from a photography perspective since that meant good light to shoot in.

As we descended down the trail, we were curious when the ropes and ladders would come into play.  We didn’t have to wait long.  We quickly came upon a spot where you used a rope to steady yourself as you went backwards down a steep-ish rock to a ladder to climb down to the next level of the hike.  Certainly a nice twist on “normal” hiking (a.k.a. walking).  Luckily, with my camera strap setup attached to my backpack, I was able to traverse the course without any problems or accidentally banging my camera at all.  Very helpful when you’re trying really hard not to be the photography jerk slowing down the whole group!

Climb Down

The rangers that guide these hikes do a really nice job with the interpretation & education.  They also keep the pace pretty tame, so that did allow me the opportunity to stop and snag some shots.  What I immediately noticed was, when the ranger would stop and tell the group that there was, say, a good shot of Cliff Palace across the canyon, everybody focused over there where the site was in complete & utter shade.  Where was I pointing?  The exact opposite way making use of the morning sunlight still shimmering off of the canyon walls.

Further Down

Following the light and always looking around as we stopped to listen to the ranger continued to pay off for me and my pictures because there was a very cooperative bluebird warming himself in the morning sun on a branch not far from where we were standing on the trail.  That’s why I always keep my eyes peeled when hiking or simply walking around town with my camera!

Bluebird Visitor

It didn’t take long to reach Oak Tree House itself.  The site wasn’t as in-tact as some of the more famous houses like Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Spruce Tree house that are swarmed with visitors each year and very, very well maintained & preserved.  Still, it had some interesting coloring and characteristics that you don’t see on other houses in the park.  (It also had some t-shaped doors similar to those found on the houses built at Chaco Canyon… makes you wonder if the civilizations were linked in some way even though the timelines are just a tad off.)

For the first time back at Mesa Verde in 7 years, it was a nice way to start to the day.

The hike was so short that we were easily done by lunchtime.  After a bite to eat, we had some time to kill on the mesa before catching the Balcony House tour later that afternoon.  We drove out to the Far View Sites to walk around a bit and wound up chatting some more with the park volunteer who had joined us on our Oak Tree House hike earlier in the day.

I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to carry my pack or my camera around, so I just shot with my phone.  That gave me the opportunity to try some new shots at the site that I may not have been able to maneuver myself into position to get with my big camera and my pack on.

Come On In

Finally it was time to head over for our Balcony House tour with 50 other visitors.  Since it was late in the season, only Balcony House was open for public tours meaning every single tour was packed to the gills.  Once again, considering the pace of the ranger-led tour and the amount of people on it, I opted for no pack and no camera again.  It also helped that my husband reminded me of the tiny, narrow passageways you have to scoot and crawl through on the tour.  It was just easier to use my phone and leave the big stuff behind.

Balcony House hadn’t changed much in the 10 years since we last toured it.  I’d say that’s a good sign for how it’s being managed by the Park Service considering how many people trek through there daily.

As with our other tours, I once again found myself looking around for the less-than-obvious things to shoot.  It paid off again as I came home with a really wild shot of the canyon wall leading into the Balcony House site.  There’s just something about this shot that mesmerized me more I looked at it after we got home.  There’s something about the colors and textures that just draw my eye in.

Mesmerizing Rock

Believe it or not, that was just our first day at the park!  There’s still another half day to come.  There’s bound to be something good to do the next morning before we leave… right?  Just what?  Something to ponder…

– JC

Hiking for Art

The main attraction for the Utah portion of our trip was Horseshoe Canyon to check off a “bucket list” item for my husband – seeing the art galleries on the canyon walls.  You’re probably asking yourself, “Art in a canyon?  What?”  Yes, art in a canyon.  But first, we had to get there – and that posed potentially the greatest challenge of all.

Horseshoe Canyon is located in eastern Utah and is a satellite part of Canyonlands National Park.  That doesn’t mean it’s close to anything – it’s just in the middle of nowhere.  (Sensing a pattern here with our trips yet?)  To reach the trailhead, you have to traverse 32 miles of dirt road that’s only sometimes passable by a 2-wheel drive vehicle with enough ground clearance.  4-wheel drive is recommended, but even then it can be a crapshoot with the road conditions if winds suddenly pick up and bury the road in fine red sand.  So, it’s a tricky trek to the trailhead that also requires a touch of luck to make it all the way.

Away We Go

We had more than a little luck on our side the day we attempted our hike.  The vicious winds from the day before had died down and didn’t blow too much loose sand on the road.  Considering the conditions this road sometimes sees, it was in really good shape.  That didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking for my husband doing the driving though.  Thankfully we didn’t encounter any iffy areas along those 32 miles on the way in – win!  (Getting back to camp we’d deal with later in the day, then breathe easy once we were done.)

As soon as we reached the trailhead, the canyon was a sight to behold.

Horseshoe Canyon Panorama

The hike starts with a quick trip down to the canyon floor about 750 feet below.  That first mile was full of treats too.  We saw some fabulously interesting rock formations, some sort of old watering or irrigation trough, and a dinosaur print!  Not too shabby for the first mile.

A little further into our descent, we came across a horse gate that is used to limit access via horseback into the canyon.  (Access via horseback is by permit only.) . I thought the sign was absolutely fabulous – even if the letters may have been a little too small to drive the point home to some visitors, in my opinion.

Serious Reminder

Just past the gate, we were greeted by some of the native burros that live in the canyon.  These burros were left in the canyon by the Spanish ages ago and have thrived in the environment since then.  They were on the opposite side of the canyon from us, so not close enough to be bothered by our presence (or for me to get a really good picture of them – look for the white & brown creatures near the middle of the picture below).

Burros

The canyon floor itself became a real treat for my photography eye as we trekked… much to my husband’s chagrin because he came to see the art in the canyon, not be slowed down by me making art.  The mud had cracked and curled all over the canyon floor.  To me, it looked like a vast expanse of chocolate curls.  (Yes, my brain always goes back to food someway, somehow.)

Clay Cigars

The near-frenetic pace of sights and things I wanted to take pictures of pleasantly surprised us a little.  And we hadn’t even reached the first art gallery!  Finally, I did put the camera away long enough so we could pick up the pace and we arrived to see what we came for – ancient pictographs & petroglyphs!

There’s 4 galleries in the canyon with panels that are considered to be the finest examples of Native American rock art in North America.  The first gallery we arrived at was the High Gallery.  When you see how high up it is, you realize how that panel got its name and then you start to wonder, “How in the world did they get up there to make those images?!”

Not too far after the High Gallery, you reach the Horseshoe Gallery.  This one was also fairly high up on the canyon wall, but not as much as the previous display.  It was also in the sun on light-colored rock, making for a completely different photography challenge for me.

Horseshoe Gallery

After that one-two punch of the High and Horseshoe Galleries, we meandered through the canyon bottom following the dry stream bed and trail.  Thankfully it wasn’t too terribly hot that day since it was autumn, after all.  I couldn’t imagine doing that hike in the middle of summer where temperatures would be well over 100.  Ugh – too dang hot!

About halfway down to the next gallery, we heard a loud squawking noise in the canyon.  We couldn’t believe how loud it was and started looking up for birds.  We didn’t see anything in the sky or tucked into the rock walls, so we had a little mystery on our hands.  Something to ask the ranger about if we ran into one back at the trailhead at the end of the day.

Eventually, we saw a huge alcove that almost looked like the shell of an outdoor amphitheater.  That’s precisely when we realized we were nearing the 3rd gallery – the Alcove Gallery.

The Alcove

Where the first 2 galleries were high off the ground, the rock art in the Alcove Gallery was smack at ground level (behind a thin chain fence to deter visitors from touching it, naturally).  Being able to get up close to the art was really cool.  I was able to get some lovely detail shots of the images.  We even noticed places where cowboys coming through the canyon in the 1920s had etched their names in the rock – with pretty decent penmanship no less!

The grand finale was still about a mile ahead of us.  So… trudge, trudge, trudge… walk, walk, walk.  That brought us to the Great Gallery.  It’s the oldest and most elaborate panel in the entire canyon.  This panel is what my husband came to see, and boy did he ever enjoy it!  (Click on the pictures to enlarge them & check out the detail of the rock art.)

After a spot of lunch, it was time to head back to the trailhead.  Since the sun was more or less straight above the canyon, that lit up some of the features that were in deep shadow when we set out on our hike that morning.  Yay for me!

Heading Out & UpAlmost Up & Out

Not long after I snagged that 2nd shot above, we heard that squawking again.  Only this time it was really, really loud.  We had just seen some of the burros on the other side of the canyon and that’s when it clicked – the squawking we heard in the morning at least a 1/2 mile from where we first saw the burros was the burros!  Holy hell they’re loud in that canyon!!

Once we got back to the rim and the trailhead, it was time to pack-up and go after a fabulous outing.  Before we left, I did snag a quick shot across the canyon up to the northeast since the La Sal Mountains were shining out on the horizon with a fresh coat of snow on their peaks from the storm that passed through the day before.

La Sals Far Away

With the gear stowed, we were off to conquer the 32 miles of dirt road once more.  Some sand blew across the road while we were hiking, but thankfully it remained passable.  Back at camp we cracked open some beer and celebrated a really good day of hiking and an item successfully checked off of my husband’s “bucket list”.

– JC

Moonlight as Daylight

Whenever we’re out in the middle of nowhere land, there’s one thing we always look for at night – stars!  Being in remote places like that, there’s little – if any – light pollution from cities or towns and the night skies are magnificent.  On a clear night you can see the Milky Way as a bright band across the entire sky, at least when you’re not distracted by the millions of other brilliant stars all around!

There’s only a couple of things that can foil this nighttime treat.  Weather – clouds, rain, general “icky” conditions – forget it.  You’re not seeing anything.  The more sneaky villain is the moon if it’s up all night.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s still pretty and you can see many more stars than you typically can in an urban or suburban area on a clear night.  The moon just drowns out the twinkles a little by its sheer brightness in the sky.  For this trip, the weather generally cooperated.  The moon… not so much.

The timing of our trip to Goblin Valley fell in between the extremes of the moon phases – smack on a quarter moon that was coming up around 9 or 10pm each night with clear skies and setting mid-morning.  It muted the skies a tad, but we still marveled at the universe blanketing us each night and I wanted to capture it in a picture somehow.  Just how?

I played with star trail shots a little almost 10 years ago during our trip to Chaco Canyon NP in New Mexico (very, very much in the middle of nowhere!).  I was pleased with the shots I got, though we quickly realized the true challenge of the photography process was staying awake late at night waiting for the long exposures to finish after a long day of hiking in the heat.  Staying awake at Goblin Valley wasn’t going to be as much of a problem, but with the moonrise timing, straight-up star trail shots weren’t going to work.  Just too much light.

That’s when it hit me – why not use the moonlight as my light source and see what the landscape looks like on a long-ish exposure?  The next morning I happened to wake up well before daybreak, so I decided to give it a go right outside of our campsite using a huge bluff of rock right behind us as the focal point.

It took a few shots to dial in how long the exposure should be, but I quickly figured it out.  That’s when I bagged a shot that looked awesome and different on the camera’s display that I almost did cartwheels right then and there!  (Naturally, when I got home & saw the pictures on the big screen, I saw how much camera shake was in the image because of the wind, but I salvaged it – thank you post-processing tools!)

Swooping Stars at Sunrise

Knowing the sun was closer to rising than I liked, time was short and I got back into it and clicked off a few more shots.  When you’re doing a series of pictures in low light like this in close succession, you really see how quickly lighting conditions change.  The sun rises surprisingly fast and the lighting changes nearly imperceptible to your eye have a huge effect on exposure times.

From the Valley to the Stars

While the shots looked fantastic on my camera in the field (despite the aforementioned shake issue), what I didn’t realize until I got home was I managed to create shots with mini-star trails in them!  Even better was that the horizontal shot above happened to be facing the north, so I got the North Star in the shot meaning the trails – given enough exposure time – create circles.  Woo hoo!

Eventually it got a touch too bright to continue with the long exposure moonlight shots.  But before I put the camera & tripod away, I swung myself around to face east and caught the early morning color on the horizon as day was breaking, complete with Molly’s Castle in silhouette.

Dawning

Jazzed about the outcomes of this little experiment, I convinced my husband to get up with me even earlier on our last morning in camp so I could try some of these shots among the goblins.  Being the wonderful husband that he is, he agreed and off we went.  That’s when the moon teamed up with the weather to foil our adventure.

Patchy, thin clouds rolled in over night.  Some stars were still visible and the moonlight was filtered through the thin clouds or peeked out when there was a hole in the shroud above.  Oh, and the wind was back too (though not as bad as the day before, thankfully).  Still, we were up, so may as well give it a go and see what happens.

I wasn’t quite as excited about these shots in the field as I was the day before, but the shots I came home with looked otherworldly!  The winds turned patchy cloud cover into streaks of silky white across the sky and the goblin-filled landscape looked like something you might find on a well-eroded area of the Martian landscape in the middle of the day.  Funky to say the least!

Otherworldly

Early Morning Moonlight

Although attempt #2 at using moonlight as daylight wasn’t as successful as my initial outing, I learned a lot about shooting in conditions like this and I already have ideas for new things to try next time I have the opportunity.  The question is – when will that opportunity arrive?  Maybe at Great Sand Dunes in 2018?  Hmmm…

– JC

Happy Surprises in Goblin Valley

For our trip to Utah, we used Goblin Valley State Park as our base camp for our adventures.  For “just” a state park, it’s pretty cool.  In fact, we loved this park and its surroundings so much we wished we had more time to spend in the state park itself!

This park is truly in the middle of nowhere (just how we like our campgrounds & hiking!) – about 2 hours from Moab.  The scenery in the park and all around was simply spectacular.  The landscape was certainly what we expect to see when we’re in eastern Utah, but in some ways it was even more interesting since it’s near the San Rafael Swell.  Tons of colors in the land and curves and shapes and shadows all around.  Really a delight.

A Swell Swell View

After our adventures in Little Wild Horse Canyon that same morning, we dried out enough to go exploring in the afternoon and see what this goblins thing was all about.  What better place to check things out than the aptly named Observation Point?

We pulled into the trailhead and, oh wow… there be goblins!

The Goblins

The little rock formations were all over the canyon floor as far as you could see in so many directions.  They were so funky and mesmerizing.  They reminded me a lot of the drip sand castles we would make as kids at the beach with really watery mud.  Hikers are allowed to wander through the goblins to their hearts’ content, so I was disappointed we didn’t have more days in our schedule to play around down there with the camera.  Maybe next time…

Our plan for the afternoon was an easy hike out to Goblin’s Lair.  Even though we were leaving the lil’ goblins behind, there was still plenty to see along the way.  Simply stunning country all around and a gorgeous day t’boot…

A Tower of Goblins

The terrain along the hike was pretty gentle.  A little steep getting into the valley, then it flattened out for most of the way making for an easy walk to Goblin’s Lair.  Good thing too because with my boots still soaked from the pools in Little Wild Horse Canyon, I was hiking in my barely-any-tread-left Teva sandals and socks!  (Super stylish, I know.)

The terrain changed swiftly when we reached the lair.  We had to climb some really steep rocks & boulders.  Tricky enough when you’re wearing boots with good tread while carrying a big camera, even more so when you’re in your reserve campsite-only sandals.

I did trek up to the mouth of the lair – slowly – and I made it with both myself and the camera in one piece.  We took a peek inside the Lair itself and found that you could climb down into this big, dark cavern that only had a small shaft of light coming in from a hole in the rock above.  It looked awesome, but I didn’t want to chance it with my iffy footing and equipment.  My husband though?  He climbed down in there.

He said it was awesome & a little spooky.  It was easy to see why the lore of this site revolves around it being the origin of the goblins in the valley.  Not too much see in the way of pictures though since it was so dark in the cave, but he said it was really cool to experience.  (Dammit!  Next time I’ll keep my boots dry!)

So what did I do while I was waiting for my husband to finish exploring in the dark other than worry about him getting in and out of there safely?  Take pictures, of course!  With the time of day and the angle of the sun, the lighting was fairly extreme and tough to balance, but I did like one shot I came away with there from just outside of the Lair.  It seemed fitting for the entrance to a “lair”…

Into the Lair

Heading out to Goblin’s Lair was a nice end to a fantastic day in the valley.  Even though I missed the main attraction on this particular hike, we still got treated to some more stupendous views on the way back to the trailhead.

Out to Molly's Castle

Based on this first full day in the park alone, it’s safe to say Goblin Valley is somewhere we’ll wind up again in the future.  Lots of good stuff yet to be explored & photographed, and our stay here is only halfway over!  Horseshoe Canyon is yet to come…

– JC