Sunday, November 24, 2013

Matt's Favorites

This blog grows as I occasionally travel, or hike, or otherwise see something I want to capture with my camera. But no matter how many photo series I add, there seem to be certain pictures that stick out to me, as my favorites. They might be particularly colorful, or possess more artistic qualities than others. Some I worked hard to capture. Some elicit wonderful memories. Some of them are merely sentimental to me, or have perhaps grown on me because I have them hanging in my own home.

This collection attempts to capture my current favorites, whatever that happens to mean at the time. I am presenting these as much larger photographs than normal, in part so that I can point out details that I enjoy in some of them. Click on the pictures to see the largest resolution images I will post on this blog. Enjoy!

This has spent more time hanging in my home than any other photo (it is also one of the most popular among those who have bought my photographs). The ironic thing is that this was the very first panoramic photo that I ever took, only a few weeks after purchasing my first digital camera. I didn't even really know what I was doing--I was still experimenting with my new toy. I was camping in the Spruces campground up Big Cottonwood Canyon and had wandered a few hundred feet away from the campsite into the quaking aspens. Struck by the beauty of the setting sun's light filtering through the woods, I took out my camera and snapped consecutive photos while I turned in a circle. I stitched them all together back at home and took a slice out of the 360-degree view, producing one of my personal favorites.

By wandering only a few dozen feet off the trail, you are rewarded with this amazing view looking down into Capitol Gorge in Capitol Reef National Park. The strikingly-colored lichens, the curious natural bridge, the surreal orange glow of the reflected evening sun on the rocks, and the dramatic angles of this photo combine to make this one of my all-time favorites in my collection.

This intimate view of a spot along the Dry Canyon trail is a sampling of the autumn-leaf wonderland my brother and I are privileged to wander through during the early-morning hikes we often take, before heading off to another day at the office. I love how this photo offers just about every color of the rainbow in one setting.

I love the juxtaposition of opposites in this photo of one of Bryce Canyon National Park's many amphitheaters: the close-up pine needles and the far-away bluffs; the green, living forest and the fiery, rock spires; the cold, blue snow and the warm red glow of reflected sunlight on sandstone.

When I was a child, our family frequented Yellowstone National Park. Despite the dazzling wonder of the numerous geysers, hot springs, mud volcanoes, streams, lakes, and waterfalls, there was one place that held a special place of preeminence: Hayden Valley. Rather than our normal habit of being always on the move to fit more sight-seeing into our limited time, my father would bring us here, park the car, and just look. We would watch the evening shadows grow longer, creeping over the valley floor, while herds of buffalo migrated along the lazy Yellowstone river or wallowed in its muddy banks. We've seen coyotes here, bears, eagles, and other wildlife. My father always spoke of this place with a reverent hush that cast the whole scene into a kind of sacred space. Hayden Valley was a sanctuary, both for the observer and the observed. This photograph is for Dad.

This shot of the Needles in Canyonlands National Park speaks of the beautiful, sublime, utter loneliness of the Utah desert. Even though the area at large is frequented by hikers, there are portions of the trail where you may wander for hours at a time without seeing another soul, with only the lizards and ravens and junipers as your companions while you cross sand and slickrock under the heavy clouds of an autumn thunderstorm.

Late afternoon sun warms up the canyon walls of Bear Trap Canyon in the Kolob Canyon area of Zion National Park. The only time I have visited this canyon much of the river bank was still covered with ice (the dark brown portion in the lower right corner, for example). In a few areas snow drifts made bridges from wall to wall. As I look at that water, my feet sting with the memory of fording it again and again until we were ultimately stopped at the waterfall.

I took this shot of one of the mountains east of Provo, Utah, on one of the many lunch breaks I spent driving the Squaw Peak dirt road to escape my cubicle for a few blissful minutes. Yes, it is pretty amazing to live and work only minutes away from scenery like this.

Chesler Park is a strange geographical anomaly in the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. The egg-shaped, two-mile-across meadow is surrounded by towering cliffs and spires. From the air it looks like a crater of some sort--but it is actually higher in elevation than the surrounding canyons. Up until 40 years ago, ranchers brought their cattle to graze on the unusually lush grasses of this raised valley. Now it is closed to all traffic except hikers, and it takes advanced planning to reserve one of the few designated back-country campsites here. This view captures the long, narrow, rock island that bisects Chesler Park. I love the color of the retreating thunderstorm clouds, the striking colored banding of the rocks that tower more than a hundred feet above the grassy plain, and the sliver of blue sky that is visible through a deep cave in the tower that is about 2/3 to the right. For scale perspective, the juniper and pinyon pine trees along the base of the rocks are about 15-20 feet tall.

I drive past the majestic Mount Timpanogos Mormon Temple every day on my way home from work. This particular day was one of those wintry, heavy-atmosphere days where the first direct sunlight of the day came as the sun was about to set, finally dipping below the dark blanket of clouds that hung low over the valley. I was awestruck at the way the white stone exterior of the temple glowed in the flood of strong, yellow light. As a lifelong Mormon, there was inspiring symbolism in the warmth and refuge that the temple seemed to offer from the harsh, winter elements outside. This has long been my favorite picture of "my" Mount Timpanogos Temple.

Autumn has always been the most romantic season to me, encompassing the biggest extremes that Nature offers in color, temperature, sound, and even the scent and taste of the air. Driving the Alpine Loop is famous among locals here as being one of the best ways to soak in the season. I took this picture on my way home from work on the loop (I took the long way that day), capturing the clearing clouds of the first dusting of snow, juxtaposed over fields of dry grass and layers of aspen hills that were in transition from green, to gold, to fiery red. Looking at this photo, I can almost smell the sweet decay of mottled leaves and mud underfoot, and almost see and hear the flutter of shaking aspen leaves and the animated swirl of the storm clouds.

A rain puddle on moon-like bedrock reflects the brilliant, banded hues of the towering Needles of Canyonlands National Park.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is perhaps the most photographed of any natural wonder in the world. Its iconic, bow-legged form adorns endless mugs, t-shirts, posters, and even Utah license plates. This is all for a very good cause--the thing absolutely defies reason, imagination, gravity, you name it. It is magnificent. In all my years, I have never seen a shot of this particular angle of the arch, from the midst of the eastern hoodoos looking west. This 120-degree view captures some wonderful detail, including South Window on the distant horizon, and perhaps the most inexplicably bizarre shadow I have ever seen from this arch: the sun was at the optimal angle to project the shape of the thinnest part of the arch onto the opposite side. This shot also gives a unique perspective of the arch's precarious perch on a cliff, hundreds of feet above a vertical drop to the sloping topography of the valley floor below.

I don't know if there is a campground anywhere in the world quite like Devil's Garden campground in Arches National Park. The setting is both breathtakingly surreal and extremely accessible. It's both a child's playground (with a few strict rules about climbing and cliffs) and a photographer's wonderland. It's a place to set up camp between massive fins of cold, lifeless sandstone crawling with lizards, while snakes, deer and rabbits wander among the tents. This photo was taken from the top of a fin directly adjacent to one of our favorite sites, looking off a sheer drop of a hundred feet or so. Getting the kids up here was only slightly less nerve-wracking than actually having them up here with me. But for a few, silent minutes we all sat on the edge of the cliff, our hands gripping the warm sandstone beneath us in an effort to calm the butterflies in the pits of our stomachs, mesmerized by the striking colors of the rays of the setting sun on the fins and trees across the way. Pure magic.

Navigating down one of the several waterfalls in the Kanarra Creek narrows. Something about the perspective of this view of the adventure, the green leaves on the right, the gritty sandstone and lichen detail on the left, and the mysterious red canyon twisting away into the darkness makes this picture irresistible to me.

The massive sandstone spires of Bryce Canyon National Park appear to catch fire in the morning sun, while snow dominates the shadows at their bases. The sheer scale of this place always leaves me awe-struck. The trees along the central ridge are all hardy, old giants--some probably 30 or 40 feet tall. And the view captured here is but a small portion of the vast, panoramic landscape. The abstract beauty and austerity of this amphitheater never cease to amaze me.

A new love, I recently experienced for the first time the wonders of Zion National Park's West Rim trail. We walked for about two miles along the edge of a ridge, looking west towards this wild country of cone-shaped monoliths, isolated plateaus, and deep slot canyons whose bottoms lay over 2000 feet below us. To me, it was breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and photogenically irresistible. This 4x1 aspect-ratio photo takes in about 150 degrees of one perspective of the panoramic view we soaked in while walking for a few hours on the top of the world.

Laverkin Creek flows high with sandy water during a heavy spring runoff, churning violently through narrow slots in the bedrock. During previous hikes we swam in this pool, but not today. I love the bright salmon-colored sandstone that makes up the Kolob Canyon area of Zion National Park.

One of my earliest photographs, the gardens of Thanksgiving Point, in the late evening. My wife and I spend many of our weekly dates wandering among the daisies and hollyhocks, or whatever flowers happen to be in season. This place means peace and serenity to me--because we left the kids at home!

This view of Canyonlands National Park's Needles just south of Chesler Park was taken during my favorite time of day in the desert: the shadows of the evening sun accentuate the fine details of the rocks and shrubs in the foreground, while in the background rock and spire, grass and tree, and sand and shadow begin to fade together in gentle, pastel hues.

It is frustrating when you are visiting a place of magnificent beauty only once, and the weather just won't cooperate for pictures. So it was with my one and only trip along the famous road to Hana on Maui. It was gray and drizzly all day, and even though I was enthralled with the journey (it's the only place I've been where you can actually get waterfall fatigue), the color was poor on every photo I took. Even so, this waterfall stood out with its photogenic qualities. Converting this one to black and white transformed this scene from drab to dazzling.

The contrasting colors in this view of a waterfall in Kanarra Creek's narrows are another example of the breathtaking beauty that seems to hide around every corner in Utah's canyon country. The water splashes on the canyon walls are the result of the turbulent, rushing stream--not human intervention. I do like the slight hint of rope visible to the right of the upper falls--the only way up, and one I wasn't willing to risk with my camera. On a subsequent trip I had hoped to get another shot of this spot with my newer camera, but when I arrived here the waterfall was disrupted by a step-ladder log that both allowed easy access to the canyon upstream and ruined the beauty of the falls. I got some great photos farther upstream, but was unable to improve on this spot.

The iconic view of Delicate Arch at sunset in Arches National Park that you and 300 of your closest friends will share on any given day. This particular day had the benefit of a setting sun sinking below heavy overhead clouds, which always adds extra drama to the lighting. While it's not original or secluded, it is always spectacular.

A favorite view of fins in Devil's Garden's back-country in Arches National Park. When I was a boy we discovered a perfect campsite location wedged between a couple of these fins, complete with its own secret, large arch perched on a precarious slope that led to a treacherous drop-off. We spent numerous nights backpacking here, enjoying the seclusion of the desert. We would stretch out with our backs on the warm, baked sandstone and watch the stars come out, while wandering herds of deer would travel down the main washes of the canyon a stone's throw away. Since then, the bureaucrats have made camping here illegal.

One of many breathtaking views along Oregon's southern coast. The cliffs topped with sweet peas tower above a lonely beach below, while the pyramid sea stacks cast their evening shadows over sand and foam. The tenuous, fleeting beauty of the illuminated blooms seems to be an appropriate match to the limited lifespan of the rocks being relentlessly pounded to rubble by the almighty surf.

I love the textured mud and the reflection of fins and spires in this rare view of a flooded wash in Arches National Park's Fiery Furnace.

Even though the light colors are washed out, I love this picture of my Dad as a lone hiker in Buckskin Gulch. This canyon is home to some of the longest, unbroken sections of narrows to be found anywhere.

I took this photo along the Squaw Peak road, off the main Provo Canyon road, on the day of the first snowstorm this year. I had a hard time finding the chance to get up the canyon and see the colors, and was afraid the coming cold would wipe them out, so I went up into the mud and snow flurries on my lunch break (I brought no jacket that day, of course). I was treated with the spectacular and somewhat rare harmony of both the maples and aspens turning at the same time, while heavy clouds swirled above the scene.

During a visit to Bryce Canyon National Park it is easy to be utterly overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the surrounding landscape. But zooming in on a smaller scene like this one allows for more appreciation of the fine detail, such as the shapes of the snow on the badland ridges or the arch in one of the towers on the left. Above all else, I love the colors here.

The Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park is a twisting, multi-layered labyrinth of sandstone fins and spires and sandy washes, and is perhaps my number-one favorite place to hike anywhere. In my opinion it packs the most excitement, adventure, surprise, and breathtaking scenery per square foot of any place I've ever been. This patch of poison ivy sits on the edge of a pool at the bottom of a dry fall at the end of Raven Canyon, just past Skull Arch.

A windy day on the north shore of Oahu. Among the many photos I snapped of waves and surfers, this one in particular grabs me with its dramatic lighting, brilliance of color, and the way the wind blows spray up from the crests of the waves. Many of these waves were ten feet tall or more.

Natural abstract art carved into sandstone at Arches National Park. I can't decide which I like more: the cheese holes in the bottom half of the frame, or the wavy relief sculpture that dominates the top half.

I love this view looking down Zion Canyon after climbing 2100 feet to the East Rim. I love the colors, the shadows, and the strong diagonal lines.

On an early-morning hike with my brother in Battle Creek canyon we wandered off the trail for a while, enjoying the maple and oak forest in the autumn morning stillness. We came across this meadow, which was unique in that the center of it holds a muddy seep that was chock-full of prints from the various animals that frequent its waters: an oasis in the drier, south-facing foothills of mighty Timpanogos mountain. And need I say, I love the colors, including the red northern slope of Baldy in the background.

A couple hundred feet of the East Rim Observation Point trail, as viewed from a bluff along the Hidden Canyon trail in Zion National Park. I love the serpentine line the trail makes, following the contour of the mountain from which it is cut. I love the purple sandstone and the audacity of that healthy, brilliantly-green pine tree growing out of solid rock.

The fern-soaked ground of Redwood National Park provides a carpet of green, while the mammoth trunks of towering giants extend into the fog. This photo speaks of lush, crisp coolness; of the vibrant, living earth; and hints at the mesmerizing spell that may overcome the unwary intruder in this space, leading him to wander into a dream-world of utter solitude, from which he may never emerge and where he may never be discovered.

Looking out a micro-slot canyon, too narrow for my shoulders to pass through facing forward, into the "big" canyon of Kanarra Creek. The colors, textures, and shapes presented here are, to me, utterly delicious.

I love this photo of a waterfall in the upper Zion Narrows because of the colors and textures. I also love the fine details, including the wet, angled wall segment just to the left of the bottom of the falls, which reflects the spectrum of blues of the waterfall and foamy pool like a mirror.

Wall Arch in Arches National Park was a difficult one to shoot because of its location, wedged between parallel fins of sandstone. At 71 feet long and 33 feet high, Wall Arch was the 12th largest among over 2000 arches in the park at the time I took this photo. At the same time I also took a picture of each of my children sitting on the boulder centered under the arch. Before a year had passed, this arch had collapsed into a pile of rubble (killing the tree), and the hiking trail that used to pass beneath it has been permanently redirected. Now a part of documented history, I am glad I snapped this photo when I had the chance; but I am infinitely more glad that my kids weren't sitting under the arch when it collapsed!

This photo deep inside the Zion Narrows appeals to me because of its large blocks of color and negative space. The fine details of the farther, illuminated wall, compared to the flatter shadowed walls, almost make the sunlit portion seem to pop out, as if it were closer.

The soft moss, the delicate ferns and ground cover, the rough, gray bark of the center tree, and the brown path twisting out of sight invite me back into the adventure of wandering among the stoic giants of Redwood National Park.

A view of sea stacks from a forested bluff along Oregon's southern coast. In this photo I particularly love the varied shades of color presented by the cliffs and sand; lovely details such as the rolling wave's evening shadow and the reflection of the rocks on the water; and the striking diagonal lines that divide this panoramic view into manageable chunks.

I love the way the tall arms of a giant cottonwood frame the view of a narrow slot canyon along the Burr Trail, outside of Capitol Reef National Park.

View from Haceta Head lighthouse near Florence, Oregon. The pyramid rock forms a funnel against the cliff where I stand, amplifying the waves that roar through the channel between us. You can see the wave as it crashes through, leaving wet rock dripping with miniature waterfalls behind it. So much to see, to hear, to smell, and to feel!

Similarities between the close-up rocks in a sea of flowing sand, and the sea stack islands, are striking to me. This was taken along the southern coast of Oregon.

Detail of Capitol Reef National Park in the fall. I absolutely love the color palette presented here: purple and orange cliffs and bright yellow autumn leaves. The wallpaper-like regularity of the desert varnish dripping down the cliffs and the diagonal line bisecting this photo seal the deal.

Something about the interesting "skyline" of this canyon, the time of day, the shadows, the pastel hues, and the glow of reflected light make this picture in Capitol Reef National Park a little bit magical to me.

One of my first attempts at closeup photography. I love the way the petals of these back-lit daisies at Thanksgiving Point gardens cast shadows on each other.

Though this image is cliche by now, littering the ranks of free wall calendars from your local friendly insurance agent, I had never seen this view when I took this picture. Thus, it's original to me. And cliche or not, these nested windows in Arches National Park are breathtaking.

This isn't the best picture of Timpanogos basin that's ever been taken, but it does capture the feeling of an early spring day, where the snow has only recently retreated and the first carpets of green are draping the high, alpine valley. Timpanogos peak itself, of course, is ever photogenic.

This weeping wall in the lower portion of the Zion Narrows has always fascinated me: where does the water come from? How long does it take to seep out of the bedrock? As it catches the late afternoon sunlight, the wall turns into liquid gold.

Panoramic view looking down Elephant Canyon, from where it ends at Druid Arch in Canyonlands National Park. Being here is like walking through miles of hand-sculpted art. This area is so vast, so beautiful, and so intricately carved that it seems to me that God made it specifically for us to enjoy.