Saturday, April 5, 2014

E = Exhilarating Elena Experience

E

It’s pitch black and quiet in the Rio Grande campground at 4:29am.  A minute later, my alarm clock is rudely piercing the silence, and Millie is sleepily looking at me as if I’ve finally and forever gone completely mad.  At this hour, I wonder that as well!  Was the plan I had schemed up a few days before actually going to be worth it? 

An hour later, my little yellow Tracker is the only car hurling down the highway in probably a 300-mile radius!  Suzanne and I are headed to Santa Elena canyon on the far west corner of Big Bend National Park-- just a mere 90 miles away!  The full moon is still high in the sky and illuminates the mountains in the distance, but there’s no doubt about it, it’s still a very long and very dark drive!  Big Bend has the darkest skies in the US due to it’s distance from any major (or any minor) cities.

If my photo app research has been correct, on this morning of Tuesday, March 18th, the full moon will set in perfect twilight conditions shortly before sunrise.  Now, that phenomenon is not so special—it happens every month on the morning after a full moon.  But, according to my TPE app (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) with its sun and moon path lines overlaying Google Maps, on this particular month and morning, the moon should be setting pretty close to the mouth of Santa Elena canyon.  Now, THAT might be something worth waking up and driving 90 miles to see!

As we make our way closer to the canyon, the moon begins setting more rapidly.  By the time we turn into the trailhead parking lot, the moon has now just sunk down below the ridgeline.  “Ut oh! Perhaps the app was wrong about the times!”  Still, with mountains and canyons you just never know. 

Suzanne and I quickly lace up our hiking boots, get our flashlights, and start heading to the canyon’s trailhead out at the banks of the Rio Grande.  As we come out of the trees, we begin to see a reflection on the water.  A few more steps and we now see that the moon is still a few minutes from setting— and it appears to be setting right into the dead-center of Santa Elena canyon!!!

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I move quickly to find a spot where the reflection will show in the water.  Meanwhile, Suzanne walks a bit further down the river and happens to get a few photos of me as I’m shooting (what a treat!).

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Words can simply not describe this exhilarating moment…nor can these photographs.  Suzanne ranked this as her #1 Big Bend adventure, and I’d go even further to say it was well within the Top 10 of my most amazing nature experiences ever! 

We also could simply not believe that we were the only ones here on this perfect morning watching such a rare scene, one that would not happen again for a full year!

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Try as I might, I just couldn’t stop photographing it!  When my arms got tired of holding up my big Canon (I could just kill myself for forgetting my tripod back at the RV!), I started snapping a few desperation shots with my point-and-shoot.  The view was still Un..be…liev...able!

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With the moon show now over, we ready ourselves for the next big show— the sunrise into Santa Elena canyon!

First, the long ridgeline becomes illuminated..

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and then, the canyon itself, with the river sitting still nicely to provide a perfect mirror reflection!

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I suppose on any other day, I would be jumping for joy with this kind of sunrise shot, but after just witnessing such an extraordinary moonset, this sunrise feels a bit anticlimactic.  We still sit and enjoy it for a bit, though, and pose for a few photos.  It’s hard to put into perspective how big the 1500-foot canyon walls are, so Suzanne suggests this shot!

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We follow with a few more traditional poses…

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and then Lucy & Ethel each take their turns imitating the hiker sign!

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After more than an hour since our arrival, we finally begin hiking into the canyon itself.  The hike quickly ascends to about midway up the side of the canyon before returning back to river level again deeper within the canyon.  The views (and temperature!) in the early morning light are absolutely perfect!

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A few more hikers now join us on the trail— just in time to give us this nice shot of the two of us!

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As we reach the end of the trail, Suzanne gets another shot of me preparing to take my next round of photos with “the big camera”!

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The big camera does not disappoint!

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At the end of the trail, the canyon wall overhang almost make you feel as if you’re in a cave!  The rock patterns here are simply amazing!

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We chat with a dad and his young son from Tennessee for awhile, laughing as we each take turns shouting and listening to our voices echo against the canyon walls.  What a hoot!

Our return trip does not yield as many spectacular photos as the sun is now getting a bit too high in the sky, but we stop for the big camera to take a couple more shots of new hikers coming down the trail, and of canoes now down on the riverbank preparing to launch.  If they only knew what they had just missed!!!

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I don’t have many hikes under my belt yet, but this one will surely be the most memorable for quite some time-- an extraordinary, exhilarating experience!

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49 comments:

  1. Oh man! You’re killing me here! I used to spend quite a bit of time in Big Bend, (Never caught the moon-set in Santa Elena canyon though, thanks for sharing.) so much time that I eventually decided I needed to start spreading my precious free time away from work out among some of the other places I wanted to see so haven't been back in a while. (Retired now but somehow still so very busy. . .) Your photos take me back to the last time I hiked Santa Elena canyon. My dad and uncle were still alive and my uncle, with bad emphysema by then, surprised us all by making it over the hump and joining us at the end of the trail. I didn’t know then that was to be the last time I would have the opportunity to camp with Mom & Dad, Aunt & Uncle. You never know what the next day will bring so I make an effort to appreciate each one as it goes by. (Though some are easier to appreciate than others. . .)

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    1. How ironic...after Suzanne and I met the father and son at the end of the trail, on our way back we met an older man (who was related to them) who listed off all his major health ailments but said "doggone it" he was gonna finish this trail and catch up to them! Sounds like that young boy is going to remember that special hike for years to come!

      Yes, I agree that life is so short we need to see and experience all the new places we can while we still can, but it is comforting to revisit a few of the golden oldies here and there as well! Hope you get to see the full moon set into Elena one day!

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  2. I totally understand you not wanting to stop snapping pictures. This is gorgeous!

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  3. Amazing pictures. It's great that you found out about this opportunity.

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    1. Yes, sometimes those apps are not quite accurate, or the weather doesn't cooperate with clouds, etc. We just could not believe our good fortune to see it all come together so perfectly on this day!

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  4. Gorgeous, yeah, amazing, stunning.....wonderful shots of a great place. We've seen the canyon but due to having a dog never hiked it.

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    1. Yeah, fortunately, visiting in the cooler Spring/Fall makes it a bit easier to leave a dog at the RV for a cooler morning or late afternoon. Had to be back at mid-day though as, even then, the heat was a bit too much to leave her. I think it'd be nearly impossible to visit this park in the summertime with a dog (or even without one!) due to the heat.

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  5. Wonderful and beautiful photos and now memories, thanks for sharing..

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  6. OMG, OMG. Yes, I am yelling - those are absolutely intensifying and reverberating to my eyes and tantalizing to the mind.

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  7. Stunning photos. Worth getting up at 4:30 a.m. That's what I call a "nature moment."

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    1. Yes, as much as I absolutely hate those early alarm clocks, almost every time I actually do make the effort to get to a special sunrise location, it's worth it. Must get myself to do it more often!

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  8. Lynne you definitely have to get these published in a book or a magazine. They are simply stunning. So happy you had this experience of a lifetime.

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    1. Well, I only wish I had remembered my tripod. The image quality would have been much more publication-worthy. This is my lesson to not walk out the door without a tripod the next time!

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  9. Amazing! Totally worth getting up early for. And I had to laugh at the photo imitating the hiker sign, we've done that a few times :)

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    1. Ha ha! Good to know there are other goofball hikers in the world! But, I must admit, the idea came from Suzanne-- she's the "Lucy" red-headed trouble-maker. My "Ethel" just goes along for the ride!

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  10. Incredible photos. I agree with another commenter. You need to submit these to some publications and sell them.
    My son backpacked around the world for 3 years. When he returned, he sold the photos of the spice markets in Kathmandu to a food publication. The amount of money was more then the 3 years backpacking cost! Go for it. Really!

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    1. Wow! What a great story Barbara! Well, perhaps I should start photographing more markets that "dime-a-dozen" National Park nature photos!

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  11. This post makes me say "wow, Wow WOW!" all over again!! Your pictures really bring out the essence of that morning. Great memories, indeed!

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    1. It would sure not have been the same experience seeing it solo! I'm so glad we both got to see it together. And, thanks for the great portrait shots-- a rare treat to get any photos of myself when at a gorgeous location!

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  12. Have to agree Santa Elena is one of the best. I was there in February, but didn't make it until after sunrise. Still a breathtaking experience though.

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    1. Yes, indeed. I'd love to go back to kayak it someday!

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    1. Thanks Sue Ann! Glad you're enjoying A-to-Z too!

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  14. Stunning photos of majestic natural landscapes of Santa Elena Canyon. Thanks Winnie! The hiker imitation photo is funny :)

    Best wishes
    ServicefromHeart.blogspot.com
    #AtoZChallenge 2014 participant

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  15. Lynne, these pics are just beyond words! So glad you guys made it in time for the moonset. We loved that hike, though we did it in broad daylight! From your pics it looks like there was a bit more water in the river at the start of the hike than when we were there. We met a hiker who said he had done this section of the river in a canoe many years before, but there was no where near enough water to do that when we were there. It was nonetheless a spectacular hike, but capturing this unique moment is really something special. Thanks for sharing these!

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    1. You're welcome! Well, your gushing posts of Big Bend last year were partly responsible for making it a "must-visit" stop for me this year. So, thank YOU!!!

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  16. What a gorgeous sight to behold! I think your pictures are great. :)
    http://mauldinfamily1.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/f-is-for-fatigue-fever-and-first-aid/

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  17. Sierra Club calendar. 2015. I've seen the moon set over the Pacific but it was nothing like this!! Thank you!

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    1. Ah, my dream one day to have a photo worthy of the Sierra Club calendar! (but perhaps a spread in National Geographic would be ok too...ha ha!)

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  18. Wow. I was thinking calendar too. I'm so glad the moon was behaving sometimes she can slip away too quickly. What a glorious day.
    Thanks soooo much for sharing!!!
    Pound of Flesh

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    1. Oh, that moon was up to her tricks-- I had literally dozens of shots that were ruined by bad reflections of the moon on my lens filter, and many where the moon was just a blurry mess! Incredibly hard to get good photos of a full moon!

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  19. OMG, that's early though back when we were younger and hiked and camped we did some similar things. When hiking in the desert areas you need to hike before it gets hot. Nice pictures. My brother recently went to the darkest place in US, somewhere in Desert Valley. There's also some records saying a place near Desert Palm, CA is the darkest place in the US. Here through A-Z traveling suitcase A-Z

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    1. Yes, that's the mantra of a serious nature photographer-- getting up earlier than any sane person would normally ever do! There are a few top-tier dark sky locations in the cont US (sadly, getting fewer all the time due to light polution). We really need to fight hard to keep them that way-- the stars are simply amazing in these dark skies!

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  20. Stopping by from the A-Z and a new follower. We like to travel too, but in a Vans RV7 that my husband built. We're planning to fly to the canyon lands in May. Your pictures are wonderful, and I love your dog! Visit me at wordsworldandwings.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Cathy, welcome! Canyonlands is on my list to return to (hopefully this Fall). I bet you'll have an incredible time! Happy A-to-Zing!

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  21. Every photo is a winner - there's no way I could pick a favorite. I agree - well worth getting up early and taking a drive in the dark. What a day! :)

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    1. I really do try my best to whittle these photo-heavy posts down, but sometimes I just can't do it! Glad you liked them!

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  22. PS - is that a new header? I love it - the yellow title with the yellow Tracker and yellow swoop on the View are so perfect. :)

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    1. Yes it is! Seemed to take me forever to get the yellow in the title to match up somewhat to the Tracker and the View!

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  23. Simply magical! Your photographs were amazing!

    http://www.door2lore.com/3/post/2014/04/fantastical-fans-in-storytelling.html

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  24. Thanks for getting up so early. It sure was worth it to me!!

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  25. Goosebumps! As a West Texan that has never been deep into Big Bend, it is high on my bucket list. I believe it just got higher.

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