Wednesday, July 28, 2010

First Storm Chase of the Year

In my ever expanding love for photography, I always look forward to this time of the year. The time when midday hints that there will be a stormless night, and to the contrary, a storm comes that floods the entire city. Now that I'm self employed I have put aside this time of year to do what I love most about my job, travel and chase storms. As of yet, I haven't been too lucky this year, but yesterday I made the decision to chase a storm up near Black Canyon City, for those of you who don't know where that is, its on the I-17 about 30 miles North of Phoenix. I saw this storm building on the satellite and I knew that I had a chance to intercept and get some good shots. Very quickly I grabbed my gear and took off.

40 minutes later, I pulled up over the hill and was staring face to face with this black giant looming in the air. The mountainous geography gave the clouds shapes and colors that The Valley never see's. The Sun was emanating rich, vibrant colors onto the clouds that I haven't seen in over a year, it was beautiful. But the ominous storm was threatening to overtake the beautiful sunset. My AM Radio was crackling and cutting in and out due to the unseen lightning up above. I knew this was my chance to get the shots I wanted.

I pulled off on this beat up dirt road and headed towards a mountain so I could climb it and get a little elevated to strengthen my shot. So I grabbed a towel and my gear, ran up the hill and started setting up. Like a slap to the face, the front of the storm hit me before I could even get a shot off. I held on to my tripod and towel with a death grip in hopes to not get blown away by the 50-60mph winds that overcame me.

I thought of retreating back to my car at first, but knowing how storms work, I knew that the wind would stop as the front of the storm passed me by.

Just as I thought it did, but soon to follow was rain. I had about a 2 minute window to capture the fleeting light form the sunset. The feel of rain drops told me my time was up.

In flip flops, shorts and shirt, I felt one drop, then two, before I could take another breath the flood gates opened up. I had no choice but to throw the towel over my camera and run for the car. This storm was serious.

Heading up was easy, but running down a makeshift trail burdened with rocks and small cliffs in the rain with flip flops made this move dangerous. I repeated in my head, don't fall, don't fall. I could bare a broken arm, but breaking my camera would be miserable. I made it down to the car just in time. I was soaked, but the worst was yet to come.

A little disappointed from not getting a lightening shot, I waited out the storm patiently in my car where I was able to get a few last shots of the sunset.

The rain never let up, my spot was perfect, I got there at the right time, but unfortunately the storm got there with me too, and I wasn't prepared for the torrent of rain.

But the sunset shots were great and I'm more than enthused to go out again and try my luck with the next passing storm!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Secrets of the Desert

The Secrets of the Desert

How many times do we as Arizonans just drive some place and not really understand what the geography truly holds? We just drive through appreciating what we see from the road and keep going. Being one who has lived in this desert my entire life, and one that was raised well outside the city limits of Phoenix, I can truly say that I have spent many years admiring the deserts beauty. It seems like a lifetime ago when I lived in Maricopa, but the power of the desert has never left me.

This weekend I decided to go down to Tucson to spend some time with some old friends. My friends, both avid big game hunters, and like-minded appreciators of the desert took me on what they call a “Antler Walk.” They live dead smack in the middle of the Saguaro Nation Park, where in my opinion is some of the most beautiful scenery that Arizona has to offer.

We drove only about 3 miles from their house to reach a destination in the park that they wanted to walk in to see what we could find. Knowing we couldn’t get too far into the desert with the amount of light we had left, they deemed this to be a “shorter walk.”

We took one step out of the vehicle and the next into the pure beautiful desert where the animal kingdom dominated the land far more than any human can imagine. There were mule deer, coyotes, javelina, rabbit, fox and rodent tracks everywhere to be seen. But even more prevalent was the trademark plant life that in the Arizona Desert.

Now, being one who has lived in the desert my entire life, I have come to understand much more than what meets the eye. Tracks from wild animals can be seen for months after they were there, but one thing I have never learned is how to read animal tracks to tell me what the animal was doing at the time. Doing what I have been trained to do in my time at ASU as a photojournalist, I observed the actions very closely on my desert expert leader. He showed me how the specific tracks in front of me were of a mule deer who was either spooked by a predator or another deer. He knew this because the deer planted his feet deep into the ground and stotted, or jumped with all four legs high into the air and landed nearly 10 to 15 feet away.

Walking further into the desert we came across a prickly pair cactus that had been the food of some animal within the last 24 hours. All around the base of this plant were footprints and rabbit droppings.

He told me that this is pretty remarkable. The dry arid conditions and the unusually dry monsoon season have brought the desert animals to the edge. They are eating things, which they normally don’t to get the water needed to survive.

The evidence of animal activity was everywhere. Something that I was used to seeing, but analyzing, evaluating and piecing together all the evidence to make a story of what happened to the area was absolutely fascinating to me.

The main point of the desert walk was to search for the mule deer’s antler sheds. Every year, mule deer will drop their antler’s only to grow them back longer and stronger for the following year. It is a great way to track the health and population of bucks in the area. However with as much ground shrubs, cactus, and general bramble that litters the desert floor, it takes a trained eye to spot out these antlers. If the eye is trained, the desert holds the evidence left by the deer to lead you to the right place.

White Thorn Acacia trees are apparently the tree of choice for bucks to rake their antlers within its bramble to make an incredible amount of noise. It is believed that it is an act of territorial dominance to other nearby Mule Dear, however with White Tail Deer, who participate in the same actions, do it for a completely different reason. A colony of scent glands are at the base of their antlers and “rubbing” their rack marks territory via sent. The trees that are rubbed are literally torn to shreds with braches thrown many feet away.

5 minutes after finding one of these rubs and about 2 miles into the desert from the road, we came across our first antler shed. Probably 8 months ago, this piece of history was laid down untouched by a majestic beast that wore this rack proudly. It was really cool to see it sitting there being a part of the desert floor.

My expert then went on to explain to me the importance of these antlers and how they can be used to piece together the character and health the deer holds.

Nearly 2 miles into the desert and so much already learned the Sun finally broke through the overcast evening and turned the shadow covered desert into a vibrate, radiant array of colors.

Immediately I was brought back to all the days I spent riding around on my quad in Maricopa. When I was 16, I drove out every night during the summer to photograph the amazing sunsets the desert has to offer. They will never leave my memory even though they were so many years ago. We needed to get out of there quickly before our light left us. So we about-faced and high tailed it out of the desert.

The desert had one last secret to show me for appreciating its majesty. One of the most beautiful sunsets I have experienced in a very long time.

I learned so much in such a short time. I cannot wait until I get another chance to walk in the desert and witness what secrets lie waiting for me to uncover…

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Ethereal Nomads" - Episode 3: The Journey

There is so much noise, so many distractions here. I need to find peace, solitude, and isolation. I need to go away.

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountain side to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Luke 6:12.

I immediately knew where I needed to go. He was calling me to the North, close to the border of this place we call home. He was calling me to one of His greatest creations on this earth, the Grand Canyon.

But why is he calling me there? Why do I have to drive so far just to listen? I do not question any further and prepare my trip.

I start my journey, I know it’s going to be long, but He wants me to do this. He wants me to find Him and listen to Him. I can see the Ethereal Nomads, all throughout the state from my car.

The drive is calming, but right in front of me is the largest Ethereal of them all. He is waiting for me. Lightning strikes the ground 40 miles from my position. His girth excites and giddiness takes over knowing that I’m coming right for him.

I drive right through his heart, he rumbles, flashes and spits at me as I make my way to the other side. Then he speaks, reminding me of how Jesus accepted God’s will.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42

I now know why I’m up here, to lay myself down to His will; the Canyon is the place where He will speak to me again.

I emerge from the Ethereal on the other side to witness his trail. Big beautiful clouds following in his wake, shining brightly against the deep blues of the bright summer sky. I continue on my way.

Hours later, I come upon the Grand Canyon. Thousands of people have found their way to this place long before I came. I need to find a place where I can find peace and isolation.

Four hours – it’s all that it took to feel like my problems have disappeared. Everything that hurts, all the confusion, and uncertainty that I feel in town was left there. The sight is so beautiful; I can’t take my eyes off of it.

I find a cliff, a place where not many people can reach, I ignore the “if you’re not careful, you will die” signs and hike a little ways into the canyon. I sit inches from certain death. One wrong step in any direction will lead to a 3,000 ft drop straight to the bottom of the pit. But I feel safe and comforted. My rock is sturdy. The wind cools my skin from the hot sun, it must only be 80 degrees. A juniper tree to the left of me howls from the wind blowing through.

I found my solitude. I can hear the many people that are here far behind me on the trail, but we are here together for different reasons. They are tourists, I am here to heal, grow, learn, forget, understand, listen and believe.

The canyon is so vast, it doesn’t look real, like a painting that I can reach out and touch. But as the sun makes its journey across the sky I can see the shadows dance across the cliff’s telling me that what I am seeing is real.

In Psalms, David states many times of how much he longs to hear God’s word.
“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as the apple of eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 17:6-8

I want to hear God’s voice, He told me to come up here. The Nomad told me to lay myself at His will. I’m patient and wait for his words to come to me.

I can’t help but to think of how many people have come to this very spot to talk with Him. A condor flaps his wings high above me and soars off behind the canyon wall. The storms far off to the North seem to be sneaking closer in. Are they coming for me?

Just then, I was taken hold of by a blanket of warmth that took control inside of me. I inhaled deeply closed my eyes and like the darkening of a movie theatre, and the widening of the screen; all attention was directed to Him.

A whirlwind of emotions grabbed me. I felt euphoric, like a spiritual buzz. I wanted to stand up and fly. A tear ran down my face as control was taken from me. This episode stayed for 2 or 3 minutes.

I opened my eyes, totally forgetting where I was. The beauty before me overwhelmed the senses, even more so than when I first arrived. I gasped.

Then His message, the one I drove 4 hours to hear was prepared for its delivery. Without thought or knowledge of what was happening I turned directly in my bible to Philippians 3.
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14.

“Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust in the Lord, our God.” Psalm 20:7
“My eyes are forever on the Lord, for he is the only one who can release my feet from my snare.” Psalm 25:15

The ride ended. He let go of me.

For 2 hours I sat there motionless, staring into the void. Clarity came, answers came, and I was at peace.

Finally, it was time for me to leave.

I said goodbye to the Grand Canyon and left with peace of mind knowing things are going to be different. He came directly to me, not using any of his messenger’s. The feeling was overwhelming and the message has been ingrained.

My growth with God is never ending, everyday I either get better or worse, but through it all, I choose the Lord. What has happened in the past cannot be changed, I can simply look upon my history, learn from it and be prepared to be a better person in the future.

Sometimes everyday life get’s in the way of what He wants us to do, and seeking solitude far from the reach of your establishments can be the only way get a better understanding of His will.

Thank you for your support.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

“Ethereal Nomads” – Episode 2: The Passage

The Voice of the last storm resonated in my head all day, it was all I could think about. I woke up with the sense that today another messenger was going to come into the desert with force. I looked with anxiety online as to where I would confront him. The forecast told me that he wasn’t coming, but I didn’t give up hope. He had a message for me already packaged and on it’s way. I waited patiently with little response until finally, like a warrior emerging from under his blind to make his charge, he appeared out of thin air. He was big, much larger than his sibling from the night before. He approached with such animosity and anger from the Northwest. I had to go and receive him.

He was so large and demanded respect. Where would I go to meet him? Fountain Hills? No too many low points and he could wash me away. North Scottsdale? No, his presence was already felt as a dust storm was choking the desert, and flooding there was imminent. I needed to find a place with altitude, some place to receive him without compromising his purpose.

I grabbed Trigger, my beloved camera and drove with great anticipation to hear his message. I know he is dangerous and can hurt many people. The radio told me to hunker down and stay off the roads, but I respect him and I found my way to the point higher than the barren desert floor. I arrived there just after him. He was in full force. I sat there and listened as he blew my car around and dumped what seemed like gallons of rain on me. What was he saying to me? What was his message sent by the Commander? He was angered, thrusting gales of wind trying to blow my car off the road. The wind was so unrelenting! A crack of lightning struck as the sun ceased to penetrate his dense canopy. His girth had already spread well South of me creating more dust storms in Phoenix. Night came early.

After enduring his assault, silence came. The wind stopped, the rain subsided. He granted me access to him; I escaped from my car, and looked to the West to see the sun’s last gasp before it took its plunge into darkness. It’s radiation splashed onto his underbelly warming his appearance, intimately attracting my gaze. I sat on a rock, with Trigger between my legs wrapped in plastic. The wind began to pick up again. I endured the pain of sand and debris slashing my side as I protected Trigger. I captured his last radiant moment before he continued on his tyrant into the valley under the cover of darkness. He gave me 5 minutes to sit in awe of his hidden beauty. At this moment, his message was delivered.

I sat and listened. Words came to me, like a feeder tube into my brain. The message was received.

“Listen to this passage carefully, these are my Commander’s words.”

James 4:1-3 “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You cannot have what you want. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive; because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

James 4:17 “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

“Go now, leave this place and report your findings, we will be waiting for your return to us.”

I turned my gaze to the South as he left me and he continued his path down into the valley where he drenched the arid, sand slashed desert city, I sat and watched him as he wreaked havoc on Phoenix. A few transformers blew and let out orbs of blue light visible for miles.

With this, the Western skies parted and the most amazing array of colors radiated as the sun fell behind the horizon. A few stray bolts of lightning highlighted his finest features. I stood there, numb to all senses but one; vision. He came, he made me endure his wrath, he spoke, then he showed me his beauty in the end leaving me with wisdom and peace.

This ends episode 2 of Ethereal Nomads, during this journey across the state I look forward to seeing amazing scenic views, and the majesty that is God through these storms. Despite the apparent danger that comes with chasing storms, I find peace in them and safety around them. By respecting their every move and knowing when it’s time to leave them alone, I feel confident in the safety of my pursuit.

Please pray for me during this time of discovery.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"The Ethereal Nomads" - Episode 1: The Voice

A disturbance is felt in the air, something is not right. Somewhere off in the distance, he has awakened, He is coming to me. I look out my window and the sky is stained with red, the setting sun calls out a warning. I part my gaze from the West to the South, my eyes see the start of an eventful night – I can’t see him behind the blinding haboob, but his mass is building and billowing up to the heavens, standing tall above all else, showing his size and stature to all of those in his way, his every move picks up more dust off the desert floor and spreads it to distant lands far from it’s home.

The dust blinds the city, choking it’s every breath and creates anxiety to the masses not knowing where his first step is going to fall. As the day concedes to the night, the air thickens with the taste of dirt and moisture. His first step sends a crash through the valley. He has announced his presence - He has arrived.

My first encounter of the summer with one of the Ethereal Nomads that travel thousands of miles from unknown lands to call the Southwest their home for two and a half months has started his journey.

His celestial chemistry is very unstable and unpredictable. His footsteps set off car alarms and brighten even the darkest of night. The abandoned apartment’s closet door to my left swings wide open with his first gust of wind and knocks my gaze away from him. I turn back and look up in awe as he notices my interest in him. He takes another step, very close to me. He knows I’m here. I close my eyes and take in a deep breath that is saturated with his aroma, the shock of his footstep shakes the very ground beneath me. I welcome him to me. His presence is soothing.

He came to me with such authority, moved from the South to the North in the matter of an hour. He approached me, I stared at him, not shying away. He showed me his power, I showed him respect and admiration. He tried to scare me, but I did not falter – I stood my ground. I passed his test. With a sign of mutual respect he turned from me and walked away stampeding off to the East.

As he left, a gust of wind from his change in direction whispered to me. “Follow my brother’s this summer, they are bigger, more dangerous, and demand respect.” “Do not be afraid, pursue them, for we want you to tell the world our story.”

I stood there with my eyes closed, camera in hand. Another footstep shakes the ground. I acknowledged his voice, a started photographing his magnificence as he dissipated off to the East. He had completed the mission from his Commander. His journey was over.

This starts my mission, my freelance goal for the rest of the summer. Chase down these nomads and be a messenger for them to the world to photograph their journey and write their story. As I come to them, you will know their message.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Back at it with the Academy

I got a real itching for Silhouettes last night and got a couple of really cool shots with the sunset last night. Here are a few from the shoot last night.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009