Saturday, May 28, 2016

Into the Needles, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The Needles, named for spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that stick into the sky like pointing fingers, is an area of profound beauty and geological wonder. This southeast corner of Canyonlands National Park is about 70 miles drive from Moab and therefore less crowded than the Island in the Sky region or nearby Arches National Park.
There are numerous hiking trails to take your deep into the rock formations. We chose a 7.2-mile loop consisting of the Squaw Canyon Trail south with a return via the Big Spring Trail. Some online guides rate this as strenuous, but the elevation change is only about 500 ft, and the trail is easy walking. This loop demonstrates the ecological and geological diversity of the southern part of Canyonlands Park.
There was water in the streambed. This is a pleasant benefit of trekking in April. By mid-summer, I suspect the beds are dry and dusty.
Here water was flowing through the grass.
The desert trees continue to fascinate me. How can they tolerate the months of dry and heat? The bark is so craggy and gnarled, it is a study in texture and shadow.
The thunderheads developed in the early afternoon, but we did not have a storm.
The cliff on the right marks the drainage divide between Squaw and Big Spring Canyons. The trail leads up on the slick rock and through a gap in the ridge. It then drops steeply into Big Spring Canyon. The walk back to the Squaw Canyon trailhead is straightforward and passes some camping sites. All in all, a great way to spend a day.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera with polarizing filter on some exposures to enhance the sky. I processed the RAW files with PhotoNinja software.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Short Tour of Vicksburg with the Rolleiflex

I recently decided to buy another Rolleiflex camera to replace one that I should never have sold ten years ago. There was one listed on eBay with a possible focus problem, but after writing the seller, I concluded that a previous buyer simply did not know what he was doing. Anyway, the price was right and the unit came in a Priority Mail box. Nice camera! This is a 3.5E from about 1959. The Schneider Xenotar taking lens is pristine and the body overall is very nice. According to Schneider Optics, the Xenotar is a 5-element, 4-group design, giving a 60° angle of coverage. The 75mm focal length has adequate coverage for the 6 × 6 (or 2¼ × 2¼ inch) film size. Film in 120-size is still readily available from major mail-order photo suppliers such as B&H in New York or Freestyle in Los Angeles. So many medium format cameras using 120 film are still in use, I am confident this size film will continue to be packaged for a few more decades, especially if the film revival continues.
Two rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400 confirmed that the shutter was reasonably accurate, despite the camera probably having not been used for years. I used a tripod for all these tests. The American Queen was moored at the Vicksburg waterfront. The light was harsh, but the old Xenotar lens recorded impressive exposure range. Click any photograph to expand to 1600 pixels wide.
Some of the stop logs are still in place across Levee Street near the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Depot. The sky is dark in this photograph thanks to a polarizing filter. The stop logs are a barrier placed across the street to keep out flood waters from the Yazoo Canal. At this site, the railroad tracks must be cut and removed to place the vertical steel I-beams and the timbers.
Just up the hill at the corner of Washington and Grove Streets is the Highway 61 Coffeehouse. This is the best coffee shop in Vicksburg, and you can spend all afternoon playing chess if you want.
My charming friend Cammie makes me an espresso each time I visit. This was a 1-second exposure.
A block uphill, historic commercial buildings at 721 and 723 Grove Street are being restored. I wrote about these buildings in a 2012 post (click this link).
Walk north to 916 Walnut Street and you reach the old Fidelity Lodge. Part of the building is Victorian-era, but an ugly square section was added to the front much later. In 2015, the city placed a condemned sign on the property, but it is gone now. But I see no signs of renovation or maintenance. Some of the windows have lost their glass. The turret may have its original slate roof.
The Strand Theater at 717 Clay Street features foreign and art films as well as an occasional Hitchcock film and live theater. My friend Burhman stood for a ¼ sec exposure. I wrote about the Strand in 2011 when it was being restored (click the link).
There are two very unusual houses at 1229 and 1231 West Magnolia made of concrete blocks that were molded to resemble limestone. I have forgotten what this type of manufactured stone was called. These houses have been painted bright blue, which is hard to appreciate in these monochrome photographs.
Number 1235 W. Magnolia is a more traditional wood cottage or shotgun shack. I photographed more houses in this neighborhood many years ago, but many have been torn down since then.
Finally, here are two cottages on Pearl Street. This photograph is from a 6×9 Tri-X negative taken with my Fuji GW690II camera. This is a big beast of a camera. It is not as much fun to use as the Rolleiflex, but is better optical quality (there, I said it). The lens is higher contrast, so you need to reduce development time 10 or 20 percent compared to Rolleiflex development time.

North Coast Photographic Services in Carlsbad, California, developed the Tri-X film. They process their black and white film in a Hostert Dip & Dunk system using Clayton F76+ developer. I found that the regular development is too contrasty, so I requested to pull one stop (or N-1). The negatives are still a bit hard but close enough. If in doubt, you want the development to be low-contrast or soft because you can add contrast with software adjustment later, but with a hard negative, you might have lost details in the shadows (totally black) or the highlights (totally white).

I still have a few rolls of the super fine-grain Ektar 25 color negative film in the freezer. When the Rolleiflex comes back from its cleaning and overhaul, the Ektar 25 can go on a tour of the Mississippi Delta. For more information about how a Rolleiflex works, see this older post.

Dear readers, borrow or buy a film camera and try traditional photography. The results might surprise you. You might find it more rewarding than the "spray and pray" and instant gratification of digital imaging, the taking of a thousand photographs over a weekend that you soon file and forget.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rain in the desert - Corona Arch, Utah


During my recent stay in Moab, Utah, most days were clear and sunny. But one day, a front was approaching from the west and rain threatened. We decided we better not be too ambitious in our hiking plans. Corona Arch is an easy 1.5-mile walk that takes you north up from the Colorado River. The parking lot and trailhead is below the railroad embankment off Utah Scenic Byway 279 (the Potash Road), about 10 miles west of the Utah 279/US 191 junction.
The trail goes through a culvert under the rail embankment and ascends steadily to the north. The light became softer and softer, giving the desert landscape pure colors and a softness not seen on the typical sunny days.
This notched arch is known as the Jeep Arch and can be accessed via the Culvert Canyon.
Corona Arch is a beauty, and you can walk right under it on the slickrock. We had a quick picnic and headed back down.
After midday, the rain began to fall heavily. We were surprised that the rock was not slippery. In this environment, there is very little clay in the sediment because almost all the rock consists of sandstone. Even the loose sand provides reasonably high friction on the rock slabs. If there was clay, it would be a slippery and dangerous mess.
With the heavier rain, the slickrock shimmers in the soft light. In this scene, the Colorado River is in the distance.
We were concerned that we might not be able to pass through the culvert back to the parking lot, but the stream was barely flowing along the concrete trough.
I seldom have trouble finding my car; invariably, it is the smallest one in the parking lot. Hmm, gasoline must be cheap in the United States.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Walking the Syncline Loop, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Dear readers, no urban decay this time, but a short description of a hike in an amazing geological terrain.

The Upheaval Dome is a circular geological feature in southern Utah in Canyonlands National Park. There are two major hypotheses for its formation. One is that the rock strata in this area is underlain by a salt dome. The salt is slowly rising because it is of lower density that the overlying sand- and siltstones, therefore causing an circular uplift. The other hypothesis invokes an impact from a meteorite about 60 million years ago. Some of the strata near the center of the area are almost vertical, which is anomalous for this general area. At the end of the post are some paragraphs from the National Park service which provide more details. The aerial photograph above is from NASA (via the National Park Service). 
Even in person, it is difficult to appreciate the enormity of this terrain. The air was brilliantly clear in April, and from the overlook, we had few references that the other side of the dome was miles away.
One of the most interesting hiking trails in Canyonlands National  Park is the 8.3-mile Syncline Loop Trail. It takes you from the Upheaval Dome parking lot around one side of the the outer rim (select south or north side), drops about 1300 ft into the canyon, and then ascends up to the other rim. My friends and I walked it in a clockwise direction (if viewed from above).
The descent down to the Canyon Trail is steep, with ledges and some rope-protected sections.
Down in the canyon is a different world. Water trickles in the deeper parts of the stream beds (at least it did in April). Rather impressive lizards scurry around the rocks. The only sound is the wind blowing through the leaves.
The Crater Spur trail will take you into the bottom of the crater that you were able to see from the Overlook some 1,500 ft above. We did not take the spur and continued to the north rim.
I love the Cottonwood trees, with their ridged and creased bark. Some are surprisingly massive, indicating that their roots get enough water from the streams, even through the long hot summers. For us, the maximum temperature was only about 80° F., but summer can easily exceed 100°.
The desert flowers are spectacular, and the bees active.
This is one of the most rewarding day hikes I have walked in a long time. The terrain is rough but   no worse than many trails in the Alps or Dolomites. Just be careful and take plenty of water.
For your return to Moab, if you are adventurous, take the Shafer Trail downhill, which connects with the Potash Road. The Shafer Trail road was originally built by uranium miners in the 1950s and zig-zags precipitously down from the Island in the Sky plateau, eventually connecting to the Potash Road. I recommend you not try it uphill in a 2-wheel-drive car, or downhill in the rain, but on a dry day, downhill is fine in a normal car as long as you are cautious and avoid some of the ruts and higher rock outcrops. For the steepest sections, I left the manual transmission in 1st gear and let engine braking keep the speed under control. The brakes stayed cool. (If you only use automatic and don't know what gears do, don't try to learn here.)

Photographs taken with a Nexus 4 telephone (sorry, no real camera this day). I thank my friends Fred and Ben for being such cheerful companions.


The following information about the formation of the Upheaval Dome is from the National Park Service:
Canyonlands is a place of relative geologic order. Layers of sedimentary deposits systematically record chapters in the park's past. With some exceptions, these layers have not been altered, tilted or folded significantly in the millions of years since they were laid down by ancient seas, rivers or winds.
Upheaval Dome is quite a different story. In an area approximately three miles (5 km) across, rock layers are dramatically deformed. In the center, the rocks are pushed up into a circular structure called a dome, or an anticline. Surrounding this dome is a downwarp in the rock layers called a syncline. What caused these folds at Upheaval Dome? Geologists do not know for sure, but there are two main theories which are hotly debated.
Salt Dome Theory
A thick layer of salt, formed by the evaporation of ancient landlocked seas, underlies much of southeastern Utah and Canyonlands National Park. When under pressure from thousands of feet of overlying rock, the salt can flow plastically, like ice moving at the bottom of a glacier. In addition, salt is less dense than sandstone. As a result, over millions of years salt can flow up through rock layers as a "salt bubble", rising to the surface and creating salt domes that deform the surrounding rock.
When geologists first suggested that Upheaval Dome was the result of a salt dome, they believed the land form resulted from erosion of the rock layers above the dome itself. Recent research suggests that a salt bubble as well as the overlying rock have been entirely removed by erosion and the present surface of Upheaval Dome is the pinched off stem below the missing bubble. If true, Upheaval Dome would earn the distinction of being the most deeply eroded salt structure on earth.
Impact Crater Theory
When meteorites collide with the earth, they leave impact craters like the well-known one in Arizona. Some geologists estimate that roughly 60 million years ago, a meteorite with a diameter of approximately one-third of a mile hit at what is now the Upheaval Dome. The impact created a large explosion, sending dust and debris high into the atmosphere. The impact initially created an unstable crater that partially collapsed. As the area around Upheaval Dome reached an equilibrium, the rocks underground heaved upward to fill the void left by the impact. Erosion since the impact has washed away any meteorite debris, and now provides a glimpse into the interior of the impact crater, exposing rock layers once buried thousands of feet underground.
Upheaval Dome Today
Whatever the origin of Upheaval Dome, it is the result of erosion of a structural dome. Rock layers now at the surface within the dome were once buried at least a mile underground and are not visible anywhere else in the nearby area. While some call this feature a crater, it is not a crater in the traditional sense of the word, but simply another example of the erosion which created Canyonlands National Park.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Tom's Farm, Clifton, Virginia

Many years ago, Tom and his family lived in an old farmhouse on Clifton Road, in Clifton, Virginia. The house dates from the late-1800s, but had many additions and renovations.
When Tom moved to Clifton in the 1970s, the countryside was still rural and pastoral. But, by the mid-1980s, the Washington megalopolis urban sprawl was beginning to overtake Clifton, and the rolling hills were bulldozed to build cheesy McMansions and condominiums. Sadly, you will not see many pastures there now. The lower photograph shows two beauties checking each other out.
The house was covered with both aluminum siding and asphalt siding. The asphalt was similar  to roof shingles and was durable and low maintenance because it did not need painting.
Tom had a number of barns and sheds on the property. They were interesting to explore, but some were so overgrown, it was hard to get inside.
There was a lot of old farm equipment on the property, although the land had not been used for agriculture in decades. It was an interesting place. Tom passed away some years ago, and I have not been back to Clifton since then.

All photographs (except the lady with the curious horse) were taken with a Rolleiflex 3.5E twin-lens reflex camera with a Schneider 75mm Xenotar lens using Kodak Panatomic-X film. I developed the film in Agfa Rodinal 1:50. I scanned the negatives but decided they looked a bit cold. Many years ago, I printed the frames optically (meaning with  an enlarger) on Zone VI paper and toned with selenium. The genuine prints fit the mood best; there was something magical when a negative was printed on a traditional high-silver-content printing paper. The toned frames above are scans of the paper prints (scanned on a Umax scanner using SilverFast Ai software).

I sold the Rolleiflex years ago, which was dumb. So, as of April 2016, I have purchased another Rolleiflex 3.5E via eBay. Some Vicksburg, Mississippi, examples with this new Rolleiflex are here.