In a Cavern, In a Canyon…

thumb_IMG_6165_1024 copyIn April, President Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to review all designations of national monuments greater than 100,000 acres created since 1996.

Luckily, Grand Canyon National Park will escape scrutiny, in part because it achieved National Park status in 1919 — just three years after the National Park Service was founded.

While the Grand Canyon is not in 45’s crosshairs, I’m nonetheless (belatedly) sharing these photos from my March trip there, to celebrate the majesty of the place. It’s hard to appreciate the scale and magnificence of it, unless you see it for yourself — ideally at sunrise or sunset.

Even the best shots in the bunch don’t do the Grand Canyon justice. This one got a lot of likes on Instagram, though…

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I’d guess politicians who favor development in the vicinity of natural wonders like Mojave Trails (California) or Bear Ears (Utah) have never bothered to visit a U.S National Park. Missing out is their loss — I just hope it doesn’t also prove to be America’s loss.

Thanks to my recent trips to Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly National Monument and the Grand Canyon, Utah’s “Mighty Five” (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion) have moved to the top of my bucket list!  I can hardly wait.

A travel tip:  I timed my visit wisely, for an adult with no children in tow. Several inches of snow blanketed the ground, and shooting photos at dawn and sunset was bone chilling — but the crowds were manageable. I could walk along the South Rim in silence and solitude for 5-10 minutes, without encountering another visitor. At times, I could hear the Colorado River rushing, thousands of feet below.

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Monument Valley: Heaven and Earth

John Ford’s Point, Monument Valley. The famous director would spend hours in his director’s chair here, developing scenes to shoot later.

I’m not sure why I waited so long to visit Monument Valley. I’ve long been familiar with it, because it serves as the jaw-dropping backdrop for some of director John Ford’s most iconic westerns – Stagecoach, The Searchers, My Darling Clementine, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande etc. And it’s a photographer’s dream, especially if you don’t mind early mornings, chilly sunsets and gusty winds blowing fine orange grit into your eyes and mouth. (What’s so bad about that?)

When I decided to go to Arizona for Spring Training in February, I thought I should finally check it out.

The six-hour drive from Scottsdale is straight but hilly, and traffic in the off-season is light. Sparse, in fact. I used cruise control on the highways – a delightful thing for someone from the San Francisco Bay Area, where traffic is always stop-and-start.

Before my trip, I hadn’t realized that Monument Valley Tribal Park is the property of the Navajo Nation. I was shocked to see tribe members’ homes sprinkled at the base of the massive rock formations. I can’t imagine having such stunning views from my kitchen window.

The Valley is a quiet place, with few restaurants, no bars and only a handful of hotels. I stayed at Goulding’s Lodge on the Arizona/Utah border, just a five-minute drive from the Park. It’s surrounded by big rocks that take your breath away, but otherwise looks like a standard motel. It’s clean, and has laundry, a pool, one restaurant (no booze) and even a tiny gym.

thumb_IMG_6017_1024Goulding’s also offers guided tours led by Navajo tribe members. I chose the half-day tour that takes in sections of the Park visitors can’t access on their own. I returned the next day to revisit my favorite, publicly-accessible areas, at my own leisurely pace.

There are two things that really set Goulding’s apart. First is the history of the place, reflected in its Trading Post Museum. It is chock full of Hollywood memorabilia, including hotel registers signed by Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Ward Bond and others. It also celebrates the lives of its founders, Harry and Leone “Mike” Goulding. In the 1930’s they pitched Monument Valley to John Ford as the perfect western movie location… and the rest is Hollywood history.

Even better, Goulding’s shows John Wayne movies shot in Monument Valley every night of the week! Stop by the screening room at 8 p.m., and you’ll be treated to Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or The Searchers. It’s the perfect place to geek out among like-minded travelers bitten by the Monument Valley bug, who whisper the names of rock formations whenever they make an appearance.

“West Mitten!”

“Elephant Butte!”

“Three Sisters!”

It’s hard to choose favorite photos from my two amazing days in Monument Valley – especially day two, when the light and clouds changed minute to minute.

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I’m also surprisingly fond of these two. They aren’t pretty but they remind me that I nearly didn’t get any photos at all! I somehow, unknowingly shattered my UV filter the night I arrived. The next morning, my first photo was wonky – like the filter was smudged. I pulled out my lens cloth, looked down and…

It took me a few light-headed, heart-pounding minutes to realize my Canon lens – which I pamper like a newborn – was unharmed. Apropos of my environment, I was reminded of old westerns, when a Bible a cowboy is carrying in his pocket stops a bullet from a bad guy’s gun.

Call it frontier luck. Yee-haw.

The next day, on the way to the Grand Canyon, I drove 150 miles out of my way to the only camera store around (in Sedona) to pick up a new filter.

I will NEVER be without a UV filter going forward. EVER. That one saved beloved “Big Barbara” (my lens) — as well as the best photography vacation I’ve ever taken.

Spring Training in Progress

Image of hands holding out baseballs for Cleveland Indians players to sign, before a spring training game in 2017Opening day for Major League Baseball is just a few weeks away, and I’m already off my game. I returned from spring training more than one week ago, and am only now blogging about it.

Scottsdale in late February is even more relaxing and clement than when I normally visit in March. The midday temperature hovered at around 65 degrees. I didn’t wear my ball cap or get sunburned once.

I skipped the Cactus League last spring – investing in an apartment redo instead – and was startled by a few changes this year. For starters, Goodyear Ballpark (home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds) has introduced security screening.

In the past, senior citizen volunteers checked tickets without a scanner – they actually read the tickets. There were no wands up and down your inseam, metal detecting machines or bag searches.

Goodyear is an older stadium, and going to a game felt like stepping back in time. Now lines to enter are long, and screening is contracted to millennials wearing uniforms.

I understand the need for tighter security but … Boo, progress.

boo the princess bride

The League has also introduced camera lens size limits – a pretty big deal for me. It means 2017 was likely my last for taking photos with my beloved 28-300 lens, affectionately named Big Barbara.

Barbara is now contraband, and was nearly confiscated. I had to sneak her in, dodging security and the dreaded big camera sweep. It was stressful.


On the upside, I finally got a chance to enjoy (not really) a Cincinnati classic: a Skyline Chili Dog. I wanted to like it. I really did. Every spring training, fans at Goodyear rave about these dogs.

My colleague Erika, who hails from the Queen City, blames the shredded orange substance sprinkled on top. The concession stand called it “cheese” — and it looked legit to me — but Erika cried “imposter”.

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The Great 2017 Skyline Dog Experiment was a #fail, even if I did eat the whole dog.

Since I’m not cut out for a life of crime and deception, my spring training photos going forward (assuming I don’t boycott in protest) will be taken with a lens that is six inches or shorter. Manage your expectations accordingly. Until then, behold my swan song!

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Prepare For Takeoff

The Blue Angels of the United States Navy fly over San Francisco, CA as part of 2016's Fleet Week. (October 2016)

Goose: “No. No, Mav, this is not a good idea.”

Maverick: “Sorry, Goose, but it’s time to buzz the tower.”

(“Top Gun”)

I am a bit remiss in posting these photos from San Francisco’s Fleet Week in October. (Veterans Day guilt finally kicked me into gear.)

Taken over four glorious days, all three air shows (plus one practice) went off without a single fog-out. (We cut things pretty close with Sunday’s final performance, though.)

While the Blue Angels could never be described as “boring”, the crowd on our rooftop was happy to see some new choreography this year.

Several maneuvers induced unfortunate 9/11 flashbacks for some — the United Airlines jet flying low over the Bay was terrifying — but on the upside, panic is a great way to boost your cardio without even moving your feet!  Just look up, and enjoy the fun.

With the Blue Angels, you are in excellent hands…

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Go Irish

Kenmare, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland
Kenmare, County Kerry

In November 2015, I grudgingly made a last-minute call to scrap a vacation in Belgium. Brussels was locked down due to terrorist attacks in Paris, and while I wasn’t overly worried about my personal safety I dreaded the heightened anxiety and security, and the possibility that some popular tourist attractions could be closed.

About 72 hours before my scheduled flight, I chose to go to Ireland instead. Despite having Irish DNA and always wanting to visit, I’d never been there. The timing wasn’t perfect – it was pretty cold, and some sites outside Dublin were closed for the winter. But I was able to avoid throngs of tourists, and had the Ring of Kerry all to myself.

Another upside: no line to kiss the Blarney Stone – something too cheesy to actually queue up for. And the Blarney Castle grounds were beautiful, and so peaceful they could have hosted a mindfulness retreat.

When I returned home, Christmas was just around the corner. I never got around to posting any photos from the trip.

Now it’s March 2016, but I’m still thinking about that wonderful vacation. So in honor of St. Patrick…. ENJOY!

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Fleet Week 2015, San Francisco Style


Every October, the San Francisco Bay Area celebrates Fleet Week — a highlight of which is (for most of us) the participation of the U.S Navy’s elite Blue Angels.

The above cartoon perfectly captures the conflict Bay Area citizens face each year, as we weigh the environmental and monetary costs of this enormous spectacle… with how unbelievably COOL it is when a lethal fighter jet buzzes your building.

“Hey, I can see the pilot’s helmet from down here!”

I think you can guess I’m pretty firmly in the right brain camp on this one.

Keep Me In the Picture

Image for "Photo Not Available"I recently began celebrating Throwback Thursday, digging through scrapbooks for mementos I can scan and post online for friends to laugh (or cringe) at. Sadly, as part of this exercise, I’ve been reminded of how seldom I appear in my own photographs from high school, and particularly college.

I’ve never enjoyed having my picture taken. In fact, I just took my first selfie in December. (It must have been comical to watch me try to line the shot up properly, first moving my iPhone left and right to capture my whole face… then holding the camera still and ducking back-and-forth like a bobble head. I briefly considered flagging down a teenager to help me, but we Gen X-ers have our pride.)

Shyness is partly to blame for me being MIA in photos, but a truer explanation is… I seldom wind up in front of the camera, because I’m usually behind it. I don’t recall exactly when the photography bug bit, but my parents bought me my first Canon 35mm as a high school graduation gift, and I never looked back.

Countless point-and-shoots and SLRs later, photography remains my most consistent, consuming hobby and my primary creative outlet. I may be an introvert, but my favorite subjects are people. Go figure. For me, nothing beats the satisfaction of capturing a key play at home plate, or a candid expression on a friend’s child’s face, complete with flattering shadows and a sparkle in the eye. I love landscapes taken by others, but mine always feel just so-so compared to my portraits — selfies not withstanding.

Alexander Wolcott CameraAnd so, on this Throwback Thursday, I celebrate the contribution of Alexander Wolcott. On May 8, 1840, aided by John Johnson Sr., he received the first US patent for photography (US Patent No. 1582) for the Daguerreotype mirror camera, which featured technology still in use today. By reducing sitting time for portrait subjects from 30 minutes to just five, the Wolcott & Johnson camera advanced photography by leaps and bounds. It didn’t have a lens, and it certainly wouldn’t fit in anyone’s pocket — but it was groundbreaking nonetheless.

Avant-garde portrait photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1976) once said, “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

It’s true, photography is a journey, not a destination. No matter how pleased (or displeased) I am with a photo I took today, the moment captured is already history. Tomorrow, I can start fresh. Maybe I’ll even try a landscape. Or a still life. But will I dust off the auto timer for a self-portrait? Baby steps, people!


Blurred Lines

Boy holds Cleveland Indians baseball with Chief Wahoo logo. Cactus League, Scottsdale Arizona. March 16, 2014
Cactus League, Scottsdale Arizona. March 16, 2014

I recently blogged about Color Splash, a mobile app that allows users to wipe out color in a digital photograph, then add it back to specific sections for visual impact.  I had a blast with it, and expect to use if often now that I have the hang of it.

This weekend I tested another app: Big Lens. With a few swipes of a fingertip, it blurs or refines focus in digital images, creating the illusion of shallow depth of field.

I take a good portion of my photographs at the ballpark, with a long lens, so my aperture setting is often low to begin with.  Still, I was able to dig out a few exceptions and apply the Big Lens treatment. I got interesting results that are a bit more subtle than from Color Splash.

Big Lens also offers the ability to add focus light points in shapes like hearts and stars (Bokeh effect) to blurred sections. I only tried it in one photo here. Can you spot it?  Hint, I chose star shapes, but considered using hearts…

The biggest challenge with both apps is my lack of finger dexterity and precision. It’s difficult to stay within the borders of sections I’m highlighting — especially anything thin, like the brim of a ball cap.

If you are a Big Lens user, have you found a solution?

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