Moab, Utah. How can one town in the Utah desert be so close to two of the most spectacular national parks in the United States – Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. And in between these two great parks, before entering Canyonlands, Island in the Sky, there is a small state park known as Dead Horse Point. You can be forgiven for not noticing this state park as you drive down the road in the early morning, hoping to catch sunrise at Mesa Arch – a scene that is truly beautiful, truly iconic, widely photographed, widely admired. Microsoft made Mesa Arch a household name, or at least a household scene, when it included a picture of sunrise at Mesa Arch in its collection of background images in Windows 7. And I have to say, thank you, Microsoft, for bringing so much of the world’s beauty into our desktops – with the myriad of screensavers, background images, themes that you have available in your various operating systems.
And if you happen to make it down the road to Dead Horse Point State Park, especially before the sun rises (I should have done this) or as the sun sets, you will be treated to a truly spectacular view of the spectacular Utah landscape. The sun was setting and the river bend scene was not lit well enough to do it justice. A few yards to the left, however, turning eastward, where the sun’s dying light infuses the red Utah Rocks with a crimson hue, the rocks, the mountains, the desert and the sky conspire to remind all who see it that this is a planet of transcendent beauty and fragility. We have touched the sky and now we must do our best to be responsible stewards for all below it. And one look at Dead Horse Point shows us why. This is not a view to be savored by one person once in a lifetime. It is a place that makes repeated viewings a special occasion in itself, a place, like so many other places in our planet, that must endure for the generations to come.
One of the most interesting places to visit in the east coast of the United States is Bombay Hook National Wildlife Reserve. Is it by Delaware Bay and the reserve is a major stop in the Atlantic Flyway , the route that most birds take when they migrate northwards or southwards. This means that birds almost always make a stop at Bombay Hook during the spring and fall migration season. It makes it easier for non expert birders like myself to find birds to photograph.
Bombay Hook is a two hour drive from Northern Virginia. You head to Annapolis, Maryland and then cross the Bay Bridge towards the Eastern Shore. You proceed towards Wilmington, Delaware though you actually end up near Smyrna. Since you need to get to the reserve around sunrise, you generally have to leave at 4AM or a little earlier to get there on time. Every trip yields different photo opportunities. Just don’t come here in the summer. You will be eaten alive by mosquitoes, flies and other biting insects. Actually, if you have a thick skin and/or love insects (which birds apparently do), this could be the place to be in the summer. It is only a short drive from the Delaware Atlantic beaches. It is also a short drive from Wilmington, Delaware.
Bombay Hook has plenty of short walking trails that allow different views of the marshes and pools that dot the reserve. There are, of course, a lot of trees, bushes, flowers and other things that hide birds (and feed birds) quite well. My musings on Bombay Hook will be comprised of multiple postings. I only started visiting this wildlife reserve earlier this year. It will be a place that I will return to again and again.
The pictures below were taken on my first trip to Bombay Hook (late April 2017).
I haven’t been to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge since spring. I’d almost forgotten what a great place this suburban refuge is for spotting birds. Perhaps it is the massive amount of flies that are very adept at finding places to bite you during the summer time.
As I walked the trails at the refuge, a large buck with a large set of antlers jumped about fifteen feet beyond me. I have never seen anything that big so close before (at least not in the Northern Virginia suburbs) and I was stunned. I almost forgot that I had a camera with me as I struggle to see where it went. I saw it again, but instead of taking a picture, I just soaked in the experience of seeing something new. It scampered away quickly. Darn.
Fortunately, the bluebirds still sang. The woodpeckers still pecked. And a few birds that I’ve never spotted before were, surprisingly, within my camera’s view. I’ve been telling myself that even though a bird looks grey or brown, it may be something unfamiliar. When you are learning how to spot birds, one of the worst things to do is assume that if a bird looks like something you’ve seen before, you just ignore it. I am not very good at spotting birds, so imagine my surprise when I looked at the pictures of the small birds and saw a hermit thrush (above) and what I believe is a yellow rumped warbler.
And a white throated sparrow hiding behind leaves.
Of course, why not take pictures of a woodpecker and an Eastern Bluebird?
And fortunately, with the tide low, this ring billed gull was standing in the sand.
And it was wonderful! With my son (young then) looking at the pristine blue waters of Crater Lake, the beauty of the Cascades was in full view. If Bend was beautiful, the view from the snow covered edge of the caldera that forms the lake is nothing but spectacular. The blue waters. The strong springtime winds. The setting sun. And getting used to snowshoes.
My older son is in college now. His younger sibling will soon follow. Each second seems long enough, but the years spent with the children seems all too short. The transient nature of every moment. Each slice of time unique. Some joyful. Some challenging. All part of lives lived and still being lived. A lot has been told. A lot has yet to unfold.
Life is indeed beautiful. From the places that we visit and look on in awe. To the short moments that we share with each other. Each day unique. Each day a chance to appreciate the world that we live in. And hopefully, in our own way, moments lived making a world that is a better place for all who live in it.
Even in the early morning, as the planes are being deiced in the airport, the beauty of Oregon and its mountains won’t let you go. Bend, Oregon. Incredible town.
Flying across the continent, we arrived in Bend – the launching point for a mid spring visit to the Cascades. It was an ideal base to drive around the high desert and visit Crater Lake. I did not know much about the town until we landed. And for several days, it became clear to me. This is one of the great places in the United States to visit, and perhaps even live in. Mountains and lakes nearby. A river to go tubing in. And as we were leaving, the view from the window was still spectacular. Beautiful deicing? It was, in Bend.
The birds are still here. And they are at Huntley Meadows. Just look for bushes laden with berries. Or seed bearing pods.
And with autumn in the air, in the leaves, in the sky (the sun angle is far from its summer heights), the birds remind us that season after season, life is everywhere. And beautiful to behold. In all its forms.
It was a cloudy day in the D.C. suburbs. We are getting some badly needed rain. And, I had to make a short trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia. So I drive westward on Interstate 66. The clouds were hanging low as I approached the highlands of Shenandoah National Park. A little past the exit to the park, the sun peeked through the clouds. The low lying clouds, the fall colors highlighted by diffused sunlight – it was beautiful. So what kind of photography can you come up with while taking pictures from the side of a highway?
There’s only one way to find out. Slowing down from seventy miles per hour, I stopped by the roadside and glanced across the lanes of the interstate. Nestled in what looked like a small nook by the mountain was a house surrounded by saturated trees sporting saturated autumn colors. Out came the camera. One click. Another click. Another click.
It was time to go back to the highway and head westward towards Interstate 81. The traffic remained relatively light as I reached the junction to I81. Heading south towards Harrisonburg, the sun was beginning to set towards a horizon barely clear of clouds. In some spots. I saw a silo, the sun was setting behind some clouds, and I slowed down again to take more pictures from the highway.
After ten minutes in Harrisonburg, it was time to go back towards the D.C. suburbs. It was getting dark rather rapidly, but in the rear view mirror I spied upon a bright red sunset. The sun was nearly gone as I headed towards an exit at I81 and stopped by a gas station. Through some barren trees, towards Interstate 81, I saw the last vestiges of light.
Who knew that a gas station would be a good place to be to watch the sun set? Photography is incredibly rewarding. Images are waiting to be taken at almost every moment. Just keep your eyes open and your mind free. The pictures will be there for the taking.