If you are planning a trip to Arches or Zion national parks in Utah over the Memorial Day holiday, then you’d better brace for crowds. No duh, right? However, if you are looking to spend time in a less-visited park that has some amazing scenery and geology, then why not take a look at Petrified Forest National Park, in Arizona. As a matter of fact, the National Parks published my latest Traveler Checklist today. These checklists I write are not the kind reminding you to bring along your toothpaste and not to forget the toothbrush, but rather what you might do during a visit to the park, what to watch out for, and maybe where to get a decent coffee or meal.
To read the checklist, click on the image above.
This image was captured shortly after my arrival at the Painted Desert portion of the park during my road trip move from TX to WA. It was summer, which is the monsoon season out in that part of the U.S., so storm clouds floated over the park, threatening to create a downpour. Never happened, though – may have been cloudy, but was dry as a bone over the landscape.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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It’s been almost three decades since my last visit to Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Since moving back to Washington state, I’ve been thinking about a little return trip there to see what has changed in the ensuing years. I figured a May day visit to celebrate 41 years since the volcano’s eruption would be a great opportunity to field test a couple of new cameras (Sony Alpha 1, Fujifilm GFX 100).
It takes four hours to reach the Johnston Ridge Observatory from where I live in central Washington. In my case, it took a little longer, since I stopped at various view areas along the way. There are actually two ways to get to the volcano. There’s the slightly shorter route to Windy Ridge, on the northwestern side of Mt. St. Helens, with a great view of Spirit Lake (the road which is still closed due to snow). And then, there’s the slightly longer route along Spirit Lake Memorial Highway up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, slightly northeast of the crater.
The first view area at which I stopped was the Hoffstadt Bridge area. There are 14 bridges built along the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway leading up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. This bridge pictured here is the tallest of them and is located at the edge of the blast zone in this area, about 22 miles away from the volcano. The trees and green foiliage you see in the images have grown since Mt. St. Helens’ eruption 41 years ago.
After photographing the bridge, I noticed this lovely leading line of a trail creating a yin-yang feel to the scene, with the bare white tree trunks on one side and the heavier, green foliage on the other side. No, I didn’t take the trail, so I don’t know where it ultimately led. I was trying to get closer to the volcano while decent morning light remained.
I stopped at a couple more view areas, including the one above, with a side view of Mt. St. Helens and what I assume is Castle Lake to the center right of the composition. FYI, it’s reaaaalllly windy at this view spot as well as the Elk Rock Viewpoint, a stop before the Castle Lake Viewpoint. I was glad my tripod was heavy but still worried about camera shake because of the wind. I was also glad I had ear flaps to my Tilley hat, otherwise it would have blown off my head and far away.
All along the road up to the observatory, there are great stands of trees all about the same height, with signs denoting the type of tree and when they were planted. Most were planted between 1983 and 1986. This stand of noble firs was planted 1983, three years after the eruption.
The first really good, head-on view of Mt. St. Helens, imo, is at the Loowit View Area, probably a mile – more or less – down from Johnston Ridge Observatory. As you can see from the image above, even at 8 a.m., good morning light doesn’t last very long, as the vista was becoming hazy with a slight blue cast to it. Take a moment to note that contrail in the upper left corner. Every single plane I watched flying over me made a beeline to the mountain. I imagine pilots include this view in their flight plan for the benefit of the plane passengers?
This view area (as well as the observatory area) was totally devoid of the chilly wind I’d experienced on the way up, which was a nice change. No real tripod shake and I didn’t have to worry about my hat flying away.
It was interesting to see the growth that’s occurred in 41 years, yet still see very obvious signs of blast devastation. The cliff walls near the top of the image tower over the Toutle River (or what is left of it, after ash and mud spread out, flooded down, and clogged parts of the river.
I think I spent a good 45 minutes there before heading on up to Johnston Ridge Observatory. The observatory is closed, to date, and there are no restrooms or water, but the parking lot and view points are open. The last place for restrooms and water are at Coldwater Lake, some 8 miles back down elevation (or, if you look at a map, further north in distance) from the observatory.
It was after 9 a.m. by the time I reached the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The volcano was in my face as I walked up the paved rampway.
As you can see from the image above, the atmosphere around Mt. St. Helens was hazy and had quite the blue cast to it. Regardless of lighting conditions, to see up close this volcano and the devastated area around it is truly impressive.
There is a paved walkway in both directions from the observatory’s main view area, so I walked up to this view of what remains of trees that were 150 feet tall. These blasted stumps are what is left of trees blown by the power of the eruption back to the valley you see in the background.
Before I left to head toward Longview and attempt an early check in, I walked the paved trail in the other direction from the image of the blasted trees. Lo and behold, right there on the hillside where the observatory building stood was a trio of mountain goats. I’d been given a heads up by a local photographer that I might see elk, so I’d attached my Sony a1 to my 100-400mm lens. I did see elk along the route to Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (aka Hwy 504), but they weren’t in the national monument proper and I was trying to get to the volcano while there was still decent morning light. I’d switched out lenses while photographing at Loowit View Area, so I had my 24-105mm lens attached, with which I ultimately had to make do for the photos I captured of the mountain goats. This image has been cropped from the original and it was the only one showing this goat’s front end (rather than the butt ends of the other two goats on the hill).
I was able to get early check in for my reservation at the Quality Inn & Suites in Longview, a little over an hour’s drive away from the observatory. In retrospect, I wish I would have stayed at the Comfort Inn, right next to the Three Rivers Mall and closer to places for take out options. The hotel at which I stayed is in Longview’s industrial section and is a bit dated. My room had cracks in the sink and the toilet, plus my room’s door wouldn’t automatically lock after shutting. Thankfully, that issue was fixed promptly, or else I would have asked for a different room. The hotel staff was very friendly, which was a plus to an otherwise meh hotel stay. I only stayed one night, so the room was fine enough.
I returned to Mt. St. Helens later in the afternoon and the lighting was considerably better. I also noticed steam rising from a couple of vents in the lava dome that I had not detected early that morning. That was pretty cool.
I made my way from the Loowit View Area back up to the observatory (see image at the very top of this post). Once again, as I was getting ready to return to my vehicle, I saw the same three mountain goats I’d spotted earlier that morning. And of course, my Sony still had the 24-105mm lens on it. The goats were closer to the paved walkway, but I didn’t want to get too near as one of the three was rather aggressive and I sure as heck didn’t want to be on the receiving end. So, I did what any good photographer would do with a wide-angle lens on their camera instead of a telephoto lens (left back in the car): I made the wildlife a part of my landscape scene.
What did I think of my cameras? I love them both! That GFX 100 is the landscape camera of my dreams, although I sure wish they had a wider selection of lenses. Fujifilm apparently figured the GFX 100 would be used only for portraiture and architecture. That’s probably true for what the current majority of photographers who own this camera use it. But with the advent of the GFX 100s, I would imagine there are a great many more landscape photographers out there who will use this medium format for their work. Hopefully, the people at Fujifilm will take note and create more lenses.
The Sony a1 is an exceptional camera, as is the rest of its line. This one combines the resolution I like for my landscapes, along with a shutter frame rate (up to 30 fps) perfect for wildlife and sports photography. I’m hoping to get more wildlife action from this camera during an upcoming visit to Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite national parks. Yes, I’ll be keeping a long lens attached to this particular camera during that trip.
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41 years ago, those words were shouted by geologist Dr. David Johnston as Mt. St. Helens erupted, blasting away everything around it. Dr. Johnston had been standing in the area where the Johnston Ridge Observatory now sits, in commemoration of his dedication to monitoring the mountain and the explosion which took his life.
Today – May 18, 2021 – marks the 41st anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington state. I was in my senior year of high school in Kentucky when the mountain exploded, and my sister in Yakima called us to tell us it had gotten so dark outside (in the middle of the day), that all the streetlights had turned on. And the ash floated down, covering everything. Thankfully, the house she lived in at the time had a garage, so their cars were safe from the damages wrought by the ash (which was, essentially, teeny tiny bits of volcanic glass mixed with dirt and other stuff). It would take me 10 more years before I visited Mt. St. Helens, myself.
Even after 41 years and all sorts of new growth, the remains of that eruption are still very visible and tell the story of the explosive power of the volcanoes here in this part of the Pacific Northwest.
In an upcoming post, I’ll tell you about my most recent visit to this national volcanic monument.
To read an article about the eruption, click on the image above.
Washington is filled with state parks. There are quite a number them that parallel the Columbia River. Beacon Rock State Park is one such park and it’s a place I’ve been wanting to visit for about a year – ever since I’d read about it in the local monthly Yakima Magazine.
In addition to being a place with picnic tables, rest areas, a boat ramp, and green fields through which to hike to views of the Columbia River, probably the Star of The Show is Beacon Rock itself, and with good reason. It’s an 848-foot tall volcanic plug – a remnant of what was once a volcano. The exterior was eroded away by ancient floodwaters to reveal the lithified basalt plug within the volcano. It was once called Castle Rock but after its 1915 purchase by Henry Biddle, the Beacon Rock name was restored. Biddle built an amazing trail of 53 switchbacks up to the top (complete with railing) and donated it to the state of Washington.
The park is located outside of Skamania, WA, along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which parallels the Columbia River for some distance. To hike this trail, you’ll need a Discover Pass, which you can purchase for a year for $30 or you can buy a day pass for $10 right there near the trailhead.
The majority of the one-mile (one way) trail is paved or covered with a wooden boardwalk, and near the top, the pavement gives way to dirt and rock.
It took me about 1-1/2 hours, give or take, to go up and then back down the trail. People of all ages were hiking the trail, which I would call easy – moderate. My knees took going up better than they did going down, and I was thankful for the handrailing on the way down.
I’m pretty tickled to have done that hike – it’s something I’ve wanted to do and I certainly got my exercise for the day.
May marks the 41st anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens (May 18, 1980). I first visited this volcano about 10 years after its eruption. The devastation was obvious. It would be 30 years before seeing this area again. While there has been much growth in the area (including stands of trees planted 3-6 years after the eruption), the devastation is still obvious.
I had recently purchased the Fujifilm GFX 100 and desparately wanted to get out to test this medium format camera. A return trip to Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was just the ticket. It’s about 4 hours’ drive from where I live, and even leaving at 3 a.m. didn’t get me up there in time for sunrise shots. Once I arrived, I did spend all morning there and about an hour or two of late afternoon. I can tell you that early mornings (before 9 a.m.) and late afternoons (5 p.m. and after) are the best times for good lighting, because starting at 8 a.m., things start to get a little hazy and a blue cast to the atmosphere begins to settle in prior to harsh light for the remainder of the day. Doesn’t really matter, though, since this mountain (or what remains of a once conical, snowcapped mountain with an elevation of 9,677 ft [2,950m]) is picturesque nonetheless.
I only have two lenses for the GFX 100, and both of them are prime wide-angles (wide and wider). So the close up shots I achieved while there were captured with a different camera, about which I’ll write later.
The GFX 100 is easy to work with. It still takes a little hunting in the menu to find what I need, but as I wrote in a previous post, the menu is much easier to walk through than my Sony menus. The only thing I had a problem with was the auto power-off setting, and it wasn’t so much a problem as the fact that I assumed it would be like my Sony cameras, where I depress the button and the camera comes back to life. Not so with the GFX 100. I kept pressing the shutter button and nothing would happen. It wasn’t until I turned the camera button from the On position to Off and then back On again that the camera came to life. Needless to say, I changed the settings and the camera remains completely on now. I know it’s a drain on the battery life, but even with that, I was able to shoot through the entire day without needing to change to the spare batteries (the GFX 100 takes two batteries).
As long as you check the weather reports to pick out a decent day for visiting this national monument, May is a great time. I could count on two hands the number of people I encountered, and that was at a safe distance. Not many people were there early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It is a bit of a drive off of Interstate 5 (about an hour). There aren’t that many hiking trails around there, and Johnston Ridge Observatory is not open – well, the building is not open, nor are the restrooms, but you can still drive up there, park, and walk around. The nearest restrooms are accessed at the Coldwater Lake parking area, 8 miles away from the observatory. The main hiking trail (Boundary Trail) which starts at the observatory still has quite a bit of snow on it in places – deep enough for snowshoes. I had them in my vehicle but didn’t feel like putting them on and taking them off multiple times just to cross over the snowy parts. IMO, the two best view areas for really seeing this volcano are the Loowit View Area (the photo above was captured there) and Johnston Ridge Observatory area.
If you go visit, make sure you take a telephoto lens with you. I’d brought along my Sony 100-400mm lens but left it in the car and naturally, I came across a trio of mountain goats grazing around the observatory area. Sigh.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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Today’s Feature Story in the National Parks Traveler uses a number of photos I captured during my June 2017 visit to Padre Island National Seashore, where I had the privilege of photographing a couple of endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchling releases. There’s been quite a controversy over this hatchling program since the days of the trump administration, and the National Park Service is not looking so good in my eyes regarding this program. I read the article and came away feeling angry and sad.
To read this Special Report, click on the image above.
This image below is one I took while standing stock-still in the sand, surrounded by these nacho-sized little babies as they literally swam in the sand on the beach to reach the water of the Gulf of Mexico at this national seashore. The scientist in charge of this program had been gracious enough to allow me to be in the midst of this release and it was a joyful experience not only for me, but for the almost 1000 spectators who were up at 6:45 a.m. to watch these little guys head out to the sea.
Recently, I sold off quite a bit of my camera equipment that I don’t really use any longer, and managed to purchase the Fujifilm GFX100. I’d really wanted to purchase the GFX100s, but that thing is on backorder probably until 2022 (just kidding – sort of).
This morning, I took the GFX100 out for a spin around the yard. I’d already gotten it all set up, but had not actually taken any photos with it. I’m heading out to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument next week and figured I’d better do some test runs to make sure I understand how to get most of what I want from the camera.
After my 15 minutes outside, I must say I am totally blown away with the results. Editing was minimal – just some light/dark adjust and a little increased color saturation. I didn’t use sharpening for any of these images. I’m still learning and during this upcoming trip will fine-tune things (hopefully). I’d like it all to be “camera ready” for my big trip in a few months to Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite national parks.
The photos above are of a hosta plant. With that last image, I tried to crop it at 100 percent but I’m apparently not that good with cropping ratios. I managed to get to 93 percent crop and the photo looks as if I’d captured it with my Sony mirrorless – it looks that awesome even at such a crop. This makes me think it’s a landscape photographer’s dream – at least, this landscape photographer’s dream.
So, a few first impressions here:
I turned off the focus point beep so it wouldn’t be intrusive. However, I guess I didn’t turn off any noise regarding the shutter click (still learning the menu system). That said, the shutter click noise is quiet (to me), which is nice.
The menu system is pretty easy to understand – far easier than the Sony menu system but not quite as intuitive as the Canon menu system. Still, it’s easy. There’s just a lot of menu items to go through in order to find what you want (like the command for formatting the memory card).
There are dual memory card slots. I must say, the door to the slots feels kind of flimsy – as if it might snap off if I am not careful.
An acquaintance of mine who has had this camera for far longer than I, told me that attaching and removing the lens was “backward” to his Nikon. That, of course, means it’s just like my canon, which for me, is easy. So, no problems there.
The GFX 100 does not have that mode dial that my other cameras have. I miss that, but it was definitely not a deal breaker for me. I see the GFX 100s has the mode dial. And, speaking of modes, I am a total manual settings person, but I have to tell you, trying to figure out how to set the camera to manual took me quite a while to figure out, even with the instructions. You’re given a few choices for programming the front command dial (I chose ISO) and a few choices for programming the rear command dial (I chose shutter speed) then to make it completely manual, you simply twist the aperture ring on the lens to choose your aperture.
The top LCD is always on, even when the camera itself is off. I don’t know how much of a drain that puts on the batteries, but the juice to keep that LCD on has to come from somewhere, right? The LCD itself is nice and clear and easy to read.
The rear LCD is a moveable one, but, if you have the camera on a tripod and it’s low to the ground, and you’ve got the LCD flipped so you can look down to see what the camera sees, that viewfinder sticks out and actually hides a good portion of the rear LCD. Sigh.
I’ve read about everybody complaining about the joy stick. There’s a 4-way controller in the rear, and that’s what you use to move and select your focus points, among other things.
I turned off the touch screen because it tends to make selections for me when I am wearing the camera around my neck and it bumps into my clothing. I’ve done the same thing with my Sonys.
A number of photographers don’t much care for the “clunkiness” or show reaction time to the camera. Sure, this camera is not a Sony Alpha 1 in terms of speed, that’s for sure. But the resolution and resulting images make up for that, where I am concerned.
While this camera is “boxier” than my Sonys, it still feels way lighter than my former Canon 1DX and 1DX Mk II. I have small hands and it fits my hands pretty well.
The colors do tend to be understated, but – as reviewer Ken Rockwell says – that’s because this camera was made more for “people, fashion, and product photos.” So I’ve had to bump up the colors during the editing stage. Not a big deal for me. I have read about quite a few photographers getting this and the GFX 100s for landscape and I wonder if Fujifilm realized this would be a game changer for that aspect of photography. If they didn’t before, I’ll bet they know it now.
This camera uses two batteries, so I had to remember to order two spares. These batteries are supposed to last a long time for a full day’s shooting, but I always like to carry spares around.
This morning, as I was walking around with the camera around my neck (which is how I carry it when I remove it from the tripod), I realized I needed to put that vertical shutter button on lock, because it kept bumping against me as I walked and clicking that shutter.
I have an l-bracket for this camera. Actually, I use l-brackets for all of my cameras because it makes it so much easier for both horizontal and vertical shots. It was difficult to find an available l-bracket but I managed to snag a used one on KEH.com.
This is not a camera with a fast fps (remember “people, fashion, and product photos”), so it’s not anything a wildlife photographer would be using much. But for those of you landscape photographers out there who use a tripod (or, well, ok, use the burst method of handholding, which I sometimes do), then this will blow you away with the image quality.
There is in-camera image stabilization, but I keep that off since I use a tripod mostly. However, even with handholding, I keep the IS off because I’m using the burst method (aka “spray and pray”) which generally means at least one image out of the series of contiuous shutter clicks will be nice and clear. Sure, that uses up space on the memory cards, but that’s why you should always have extra cards handy, so you don’t have to waste time going back and deleting previous images to make room for new images.
There are all sorts of other pros and cons that I’ve read about things I haven’t actually needed or wanted to utilize – yet – and this post is just a sort of “first look” review. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts about this camera once I return from my Mount St. Helens trip. That’s when it will get much more of a workout.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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Here’s something interesting you might or might not have known about life in Denali National Park and Preserve, in Alaska. There are 39 species of mammals in the park, including the Big 5 (moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, grizzly bears), and 139 species of birds. But, only one amphibian has managed to adapt to life under the harsh conditions of the park’s landscape. The wood frog can actually freeze itself solid during the winter! It’s heart stops, it doesn’t breathe, but there are cryptoprotectant chemicles that keep the frog’s cells alive, and when spring arrives, the frog thaws out and starts searching for a pond and a mate. Pretty cool, huh? (pun intended).
As for this image, it was captured during my 5-day stay at Camp Denali, located near the end of the one and only road through the park. There’s a little pond right outside of the main camp building called Nugget Pond, and on this particular day, I captured three different shots of it as the morning lightened up. The first shot you can see if you look at a previous post. This is the second shot, captured a little later during sunrise, and I’ll post the final shot later on.
The National Parks Traveler has published my latest Traveler’s Checklist. This week’s helpful planner is all about visiting Glacier National Park. If you are thinking about visiting this park for the first time, or are revisiting it again for the hundredth time, check out this checklist to see if you find anything helpful, or if it jives with the list you might be making for your trip.
To read the article, click on the image above.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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If you are wondering what the National Parks Traveler is all about, then you should listen to this CNN Reliable Sources Podcast interview between Brian Stelter and my editor and Traveler founder, Kurt Repanshek. Kurt discusses what the Traveler is all about and what it’s like to run a nonprofit news organization dedicated to all things national parks. This is the organization for which I contribute articles and images, and it’s one of the things I am most proud: contributing to the National Parks Traveler for almost nine years, now.
To listen to the podcast interview, click on the image above.
As for the image above, it was captured during my last couple of days in Denali National Park in Alaska. We were walking along the park’s dirt and gravel road, looking for birds. I happened to look over to the right side of the road and saw Denali Mountain with its top wreathed with clouds. Only 30 percent of people who visit this park ever get to see Denali in its totality on a clear day. I was lucky and got to see it the entire five days I was there.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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