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Canyonlands National Park, North Entrance

In the north portion of Canyonlands National Park you generally look down on formations or look out onto vast vistas. Right across from the entrance there’s a road for 4-wheel vehicles that almost literally DROPS down into the canyon.

road into canyon

I’ve generally been quite happy with my All-wheel drive Honda Element, but after learning that you had to have a Jeep or the equivalent to take the trail I suddenly felt the need for a new vehicle (not that I’ll ever actually replace my Element with a Jeep).

My next stop was a short walk to Upheaval Dome, an unusual formation not totally understood even by geologists, though one theory is that it was caused by the impact of a meteorite.

Upheaval Dome

The main overlook in the park offered grand vistas of the canyons.

a river flows through it

You can just make out some of the roads snaking their way south.

This shot gives you an even better perspective with the Toyota Pickup snaking around the canyon. It’s occupants must be getting a great view of the canyons and the “needles.”

Toyota Pickup

Unfortunately, my view wasn’t as great and the sun was coming from the wrong direction. A ranger told us that the best time for shots was in the evening, but I didn’t have another day to stay, especially with all the nearby campgrounds full.

Needles

Hopefully I’ll get better shots the next time I return. Now that I’ve found the park I’ll be back sooner, rather than later.

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Canyonlands National Park, Southern Entrance

The southern half of the Canyonlands National Park gives you a chance to get close to the rock formations, because you tend to look down on distant formations from the northern portion of the park.

Although you do see many of the formations at a distance

mesa

unless you’re willing to spend a day hiking, you also can almost drive right up to a number of the “needles”

needles

and walk up to others with little or no effort.

Twin Towers

Some of my favorite shots were actually taken from above structures like this one

rocky terrace

which looked to me like it had been landscaped by a zen gardener.

I loved, and was amazed, by the texture of some of this rock.

textured rock

No wonder they end up in such fantastic shapes with grain like this.

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Canyonlands National Park, South Entrance

I finally reached the southern part of Canyonlands National Park at noon after starting out from Moab at 6:00 AM. My first taste of the park was exploring a short trail that led to one of several different “granaries” constructed by the prehistoric, nomadic Indians who lived here, perhaps the same ones who had inscribed the petroglyphs I photographed earlier that morning.

granary

I’ll have to admit that after spending the morning at Needles Overlook and photographing the magnificent scenery on the drive to the park I was a little underwhelmed by this short trail. In retrospect, though, I wondered what kind of “grain” they were able to gather to fill this granary

.

As I walked back to my car and stopped to take a long shot of the granary, which was no longer visible even though I’d just visited it,

I was struck by how hard it must have been to find this place when returning after a long period of time.

I suppose seeing the petroglyphs and granaries early in my visit colored the rest of my visit because it was impossible for me to explore the park without wondering how a people could survive in this kind of harsh environment.

I was stationed in the Mojave desert while in the Army. It was a harsh environment, but not nearly as tough as this environment. For one thing, it was relatively flat. Yes, there were lots of hills and valleys, but it was nothing like this,

or this. These natural “walls” must have seemed like The Great Wall of China to Indians walking these lands.

I walked up the trailhead of one of the main trails in the park and found it daunting, and I was only carrying 30 or 40 pounds of camera equipment and water.

Trailhead

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to carry all your belongings, not to mention young children through areas like this. It’s pretty clear they wouldn’t be worrying whether or not they should buy a new 27” cinema display for their Mac Pro.

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Using HDR in Scenics

I haven’t been happy with most of the scenics I’ve taken in the past. Of course, I doubt I’ll have be truly happy with my scenics unless I can show them in 3D in an iMax theater. Let’s face it, sweeping panoramas 620 pixels wide are never going to convey the same feelings you get when you look out a scene covering hundreds of miles. That doesn’t mean, however, that my shots can’t be better.

One of the latest trends in scenic photography is using HDR. In essence, you shoot 3 to 5 shots at different exposures and then use a special program to combine them to, hopefully, produce the shot you saw when you clicked your camera. Ideally you set up a tripod to take the shots so they line up perfectly, but I’m not quite that organized yet. Still, Photoshop and Photmatix do an awfully good job of lining up hand-held shots. Photomatix suggests one shot be 2 stops over and the other 2 stops under, but I didn’t own Photomatix until after I returned from the trip, so all my shots are one stop underexposed and one stop overexposed. Needless to say, then, I still have much room for improvement, but I am happier with the shots on this trip than I’ve been on previous trips.

If I’d been using my old method, this

correct exposure

is the only shot I would have ended up with because the camera said this was the correct exposure. (Of course, since it’s a RAW shot I could adjust both the highlights and the shadows, though not nearly as much as I can using HDR.)

This shot is underexposed by one f-stop, though I actually prefer it to the previous shot.

underexposed

This last shot is on f-stop overexposed, and it’s the kind of shot that used to drive me crazy because there’s not much you can do to save it.

overexposed

There are many HDR programs, and previously I’ve generally been happy with the one in Photoshop. However, another program I use recommended Photomatix, and since it wasn’t their program I gave it a try. So far, I’m happier with it than I was other programs I’ve used.

Photomatix produces a string of previews using different presets. The one I’ve used most consistently is like this one, called “Photographic.”

Photographic preset

I prefer this shot to all the above shots, but if I was going to use it in my web site I would probably tweak it in Photoshop, especially since I really prefer the sky in the second shot above.

The greatest danger of using HDR is hyping the colors to the point where they lose any sense of “reality,” something that seems all too common for my taste. For instance, I think the “Deep” shots in Photomatix

Deep preset

are consistently overdone, though I can image that under the just the right light conditions, like sunrise or sunset, these colors might reflect what the scene actually looked like.

Ideally, I would like to edit all my photos as close to the time I took them as I could. That way I would have a much better sense of what the scene actually looked like and I could reproduce it more accurately.