Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Eye Divine

A wedding photographer looks for overcast skies on wedding days, hoping to get just the right brightness to enhance the colors of dresses, grass, trees, and all the decorations that make the whole of a wedding day. That’s not unlike many photographic situations. The absence of direct sunlight allows the richness of color in outfits, foliage, and decorations to flourish. However, in the American West, an ironic situation occurs. The exact opposite happens.

In the high mountain areas, where coniferous forests choke the landscape, gray skies make for very dark landscapes. The evergreens appear black, and the views are without definition. Hiking through these forests, it is easy to feel the weight of the lack of color, and eyes often look to the sky with hope that something will break the cloud cover. When it does, the brilliant green spreads down the mountains, and a smile reaches the lips.

Of course, the sky plays a deep and lasting role in the landscape, and when the sun beats down, brilliant deep blue stretches across the horizon. Looking up, it extends without any washout that is often present in more humid environments. When the lucky traveler stumbles across an alpine lake, the reflection of sky on water will make knees buckle with beauty.

Heading deeper into canyons, moving towards the rock of the Great American Desert, ridding trees for the sake of sand, the sky deepens to the darkest of blues. It is here that the sharp lines of the landscape are at their zenith, where leaves of cottonwood trees have such precise definition it seems clearly possible the eye can count each individual leaf…and the clearer the skies, the easier the task. The sky deepens in color, the leaves so green in the trees, and the towering walls then take on a stark contrast in their reds, browns, and tans. It brings tears to the eyes embracing that silent, beautiful isolation, so divine in its spiritual presence.

Those lucky enough to view these landscapes, maybe even to catch them in fleeting photographs, will be transformed with the philosophy of the ironic, beautiful western landscapes. And their lives will never be the same.

Monday, August 3, 2009

No Weather Map Gets the Four Corners Region Right

Watching The Weather Channel, a traveler might feel eased by the sweeping forecasts for rain, snow, heat, and cold. The truth is, the maps never get the weather right. In the valleys, it’s always warmer, and in the mountains, the weather is always changing.

In the desert regions, even a 50% chance of storms is a crap shoot because the dry air just sucks the life out of storms. A quarter of an inch could fall in 15 minutes at one location, and a half mile away, the rock remains dry.

During the winter, temperatures are vastly different from the maps, as even slight elevation changes will affect the precipitation and temperatures. In just a matter of minutes, I have moved from 35 degrees to 65 degrees, just by going down a couple thousand feet in elevation.

People will always ask about the cold conditions when I’m traveling in the winter, and I always have to explain that I am avoiding the colder temps by staying in the valleys. Though an eye has to be trained on possible monster winter storms that can spread across a state at a time, it is usually better to gain a feel for the ripples in the landscape. The bends and rises become a part of a trip, and directions traveled run like rivers of relief from extremes.