In defense of Bears Ears National Monument

Written by Alpenglow Images on May 11th, 2017

In my last blog post, I talked about Executive Order 13792, which orders a review of the national monuments, many of which in the West, established since 1996. This review is to ensure that they were created in accordance with the original intent of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The most pressing national monument “under review” is Bears Ears. The Department of Interior has opened the public comment period for this order, and for Bears Ears, it is only 15 days long. Please make your opinion heard; it is the only way for the the Secretary to hear our thoughts on this matter. Below is my letter about Bears Ears specifically.

Comments may be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.


Secretary Zinke,

This letter regards Executive Order 13792, and specifically Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.

Bears Ears is home to several thousand archaeological sites. The sites themselves as well as the landscape are sacred to several Native American tribes. As such, the advocacy group Utah Diné Bikeyah formed from a collaborative effort between these tribes to protect this landscape. If there ever was a place that the Antiquities Act seems “written for,” Bears Ears most certainly is it. When President Obama designated the national monument in December 2016, it was was worthy of celebration because the preservation of these sites is now guaranteed as part of our national heritage. President Obama’s proclamation was also a testament to the sovereignty of these tribes, and the importance of their history to the nation.

Within the monument, recreational activities that were permissible before the monument designation are still allowed. With a permit, people can still gather firewood, herbs, and shrubs. Thus, the use and enjoyment of the land has not been affected. However, I am writing this letter to specifically address two other arguments against Bears Ears. The first is the size of the monument, and the economic impact that could have on local communities.

thunderstorm and fiery sunset at bears ears buttes in san juan county utah

In 2013, Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz put forward what they called the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), in which they would set aside part of the Bears Ears region as a national recreation area, which would essentially provide the same protections from oil and gas development or uranium mining as a monument designation under the Antiquities Act. Utah Diné Bikeyah proposed a similar, albeit larger, set of borders for their visualized national monument.

When the Obama administration designated Bears Ears National Monument, the borders they drafted more closely matched the national recreation area proposed in the PLI than those proposed by Utah Diné Bikeyah. What’s more, GIS data from the state of Utah show that the majority of oil and gas wells currently lie outside of the monument (possibly due to low success and complex terrain for drilling). The area’s most significant coal reserves lie completely outside of the monument boundaries. No areas within the monument are currently classified as having “high potential” for uranium mines either. When the monument was created, these data must surely have been available to the Obama administration.

Finally, critics have expressed concern for Utah’s schools. There are several inholdings of state trust land parcels within Bears Ears; they cannot be developed for mineral extraction because they lie within the monument. In 1996, when President Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the federal government and the state eventually “swapped” for 139,000 acres of federal land that was outside of the monument with the Utah Trust Lands Administration for those types of private inholdings. In addition, the federal government paid the state of Utah $50 million. To date, the mineral extraction from that swapped land has yielded ~$1.7 billion in revenue for the state of Utah. Senator Bennett called this a “model for future land swaps,” and I agree with him. It was a win-win for all parties, and I believe it could work equally well in Bears Ears.

I grew up in the northwestern corner of New Mexico, and had many backpacking outings in the Bears Ears region. With my dad, and with my Boy Scout troop, we explored many of the canyons on Cedar Mesa, and saw many of the archaeological sites that are now protected. These are some of my fondest memories of time spent in the outdoors. Just like so many of our national parks and monuments, Bears Ears is one of our national treasures. As Westerners, we are bound to protect these lands; it is not in our nature to hastily exploit them for short-term gain. The preservation of Bears Ears keeps a promise to past and future generations, and is one that can transcend partisan politics. Please join me in standing with Bears Ears and making it our nation’s common ground.

photo of valley of the gods located in bears ears national monument

 

A letter to Secretary Zinke

Written by Alpenglow Images on May 8th, 2017

Dear Interior Secretary Zinke:

Last Friday, your office released a memo of the National Monuments under review per executive order 13792. This letter is regarding that order.

Much has been written about the “Western ethos.” This intangible set of characteristics enabled the pioneers to settle and explore the lands west of the Mississippi. Today that same tenacity and those values live on in Westerners who eek out a living in our arid Western landscape. Perhaps more than any of the other values, vision is the one I think is the most uniquely Western. Today, just as 150 years ago, we have a vision of what the West should be; our collective actions have been an (often unsuccessful) attempt to make the landscape to conform with our vision.

In the Antiquities Act, Theodore Roosevelt also had a vision for the West. The national monuments he and the presidents who have followed him have left behind for America are a tangible reminder of Western vision and tenacity. As Wallace Stegner said, the Western landscape–whose crown jewels are protected by our national parks and monuments–is what we as a people have built our very character against.

Much of this land has inherent monetary value, as the men who have looted archaeological sites for years on Cedar Mesa, which is now protected as part of Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, would tell you. Or the men who want to drill oil and gas wells in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii or mine uranium from Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona, would tell you. However, some of it simply has been protected for the sake of protection.

thunderstorm and fiery sunset at bears ears buttes in san juan county utah

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in southern California houses three federally-designated Wildernesses, and is home to last bighorn sheep herd in the Transverse Ranges. Carrizo Plain National Monument in California is the home of critically endangered species such as the giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens, a keystone species), San Joaquin antelope ground squirrel (Ammospermophilus nelsoni), and San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica). Finally, back to Bears Ears and moving beyond its monetary value, the monument symbolizes Native American sovereignty, and our government’s heartfelt acknowledgement that indigenous tribal history is one of the threads that holds our nation together.

antelope ground squirrel with grass in its mouth at carrizo plain national monument in southern california

In using the Antiquities Act, President Roosevelt personified the characteristic of possessing vision. He also showed incredible restraint, the rarest of virtues. The President would have remained vigilant of the landscape’s monetary value to the people, but he would have reminded us sometimes we need to protect a place simply so that future generations can experience it. In this sense, he would have worked to compromise in the creation of National Monuments. Indeed, the men who followed Roosevelt saw that that was the case in Grand Staircase-Escalante, Gold Butte, Grand Canyon-Parashant, and the others. Borders of these monuments were carefully set, with the interests of all “sides” in mind.

As a self-proclaimed disciple of Mr. Roosevelt, I’m sure you are familiar with his New Nationalism speech from 1910, in which he said, “It is of little use for us to pay lip-loyalty to the mighty men of the past unless we sincerely endeavor to apply to the problems of the present precisely the qualities which in other crises enabled the men of that day to meet those crises.” Secretary Zinke, I am asking you to look not only at our past, but also how far we’ve come as a nation as you endeavor to begin this review of our National Monuments. To paraphrase John Sawhill, you have the ability to ensure that future generations judge us by what we have chosen to protect, rather than by what we have extracted from the earth.

Keep our National Monuments intact.

apricot globe mallow wildflowers and buttes near lake mead at sunrise in gold butte national monument, nevada

 

Field Notes: 2017 wildflower season, and some thoughts

Written by Alpenglow Images on April 24th, 2017

Super bloom

After what’s been a remarkable precipitation winter here in California, we’re moving into spring. Here in southern California, temperatures are inching upwards, my morning runs are getting earlier (to escape the heat), and the hills around my house are slowly turning from green to brown. Despite the quick fade-to-brown, just a few weeks ago those green hills were home to a remarkable wildflower super bloom; the flowers have since moved north to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, where it will probably fade soon too.

photograph of a photographer kneeling in a field of wildflowers during the 2008 wildflower season

A friend snapped this photo of me in Walker Canyon in 2008 (note my not-quite-bald head for dating accuracy). Poppies for days and not a soul to be seen. Photo: Mark Chappell

I first noticed California poppies starting to dot the hillsides around my home in mid-February. It wasn’t long before the news outlets noticed as well. I managed to get out to some remote patches early on, and planned on visiting some of my other favorite spots once things got better. It turns out that “one of my favorite spots” is the Walker Canyon area near Lake Elsinore. In 2008 (the last ‘superbloom’ year), I visited several times and never once saw another person. This year, I drove by. That’s it. After being featured by multiple news sources, I found hundreds of cars parked off the freeway’s frontage road, and people in every conceivable corner of the poppies. I kept on driving.

photo of poppies and other wildflowers in southern california during the 2017 super bloom

I heard the same scenario was true in other parts of southern California; Anza Borrego Desert State Park was full of bumper to bumper traffic on its peak weekends, and I heard that the Carrizo Plain has been very crowded as well. Other commitments prevented me from getting out more, but I was content to seek out some wonderful patches of Calochortus (Mariposa lily) and apricot globe mallow in the northern Mojave without fighting the crowds.

photo of a mariposa lily in gold butte national monument, nevada

photo of apricot globe mallow in gold butte national monument, nevada

Looking back on the wildflowers–what impact did we have?

The super bloom this year was indeed super. I loved that almost every time I went to the hills I said, “wow, look at those flowers!” It’s no wonder that the news outlets picked up on it because it was indeed hard to miss. Despite not getting out to what used to be my usual spot, I’m not really that upset about it.

A few blog posts ago, I wrote in my code of ethics that “avoiding the cultivation of disorder” is important in landscape photography. This statement has meaning on several levels. First, I was referring to the mayhem of popular photography locations at peak times. When I first wrote that blog post, I was thinking specifically about Horsetail Falls, but this year’s popular wildflower locations certainly fall into the same category. If thoughtful photography or a connection with nature is your goal, I don’t see how it’s possible when trying to work around hundreds of other people.

Second, referring again to the mayhem of hundreds of people visiting a single spot, I have genuine concerns about the impact on the land, and how we contribute to it. Before I sound like a total grouch about people visiting these spots, I should say that I am happy people are getting outside. We truly need more of that. But, the impact should be spread out, not localized. Photographers are partially to blame for this, and the discussion of whether or not to geotag photographs has been had elsewhere. As the information age continues to advance, I feel the need to be more and more vague about certain image locations. This article has made the rounds a few times, and expands on the topic very well.

Finally, by avoiding crowds, you can find new locations you might not have found otherwise. I very much enjoyed scouting locations on long trail runs this spring, then coming back to a few with my camera later on. Also, consider visiting some of the more popular locations in the off season–there are still amazing things to see!

photo of wildflowers and green in hills in Box Springs Mountains Reserve, Riverside County California

 

 

Upcoming Presentation in the Coachella Valley

Written by Alpenglow Images on April 20th, 2017

Next Tuesday, April 25, I’ll be the guest speaker at the Coachella Valley Desert Camera Club’s (CVDCC) monthly meeting. The topic of my talk will be two-fold; I’ll be talking about a sense of place in landscape photography, and the importance of connection to place now, perhaps more than ever. I’ll also talk about the impacts that we have as landscape photographers, and leave an open-ended question regarding what we can do to reduce our collective footprints.

It should be a fun night; I’ll be showing several new images as well as a few old favorites. I also look forward to a lively discussion of these topics. If you’re in the area (or if you already plan on attending the meeting) I’ll look forward to seeing you there!

When: April 25, 2017, 6pm

Where: Portola Community Center, 45480 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260

whimsical sandstone formations of little finland in gold butte national monument

 

Anatomy of a desert storm

Written by Alpenglow Images on April 10th, 2017

“Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By “they” I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness.” – Thomas Merton, from Raids on the Unspeakable


Here in the desert southwest, we’re coming off an amazing winter of rain. The color green seems a color more appropriately likened to Ireland than the Mojave Desert, but the grass popping up between very happy creosote and salt bush doesn’t tell any lies: it was a good winter. The big, soaking storms are long gone as we transition into summer, but some spring squalls are still hanging on. Desert rain storms are really quite remarkable; they are swift, powerful, and incredibly rewarding.

You’re sitting on the rock in the late afternoon, enjoying the warmth of the sun, perhaps enjoying a beer after a long day of hiking. Dark clouds hang on the horizon, but they look like they are quite far away. As the wind starts picking up, you realize that your beer bottle might get blown over if you don’t take cover, and that perhaps those clouds weren’t as far as you thought.

photograph of mountain ranges and rain in nevada

Fortunately, you save your beer from a near complete loss, and as you do, you look towards the storm and realize there’s an incredible light show taking place behind it. Backlit virga hangs like tattered curtains and you stand there admiring the desert mountain ranges–which appear in various shades of blue–receding behind the squall. The wind begins to sandblast you and you start to feel the first drops of water hitting your face.

Soon, rain begins to fall in earnest, but this lasts approximately 10% of the entire length of the storm; the whole thing is really just a big tease. The clouds pass overhead, and you look towards the horizon from whence the storm came; any trace of the storm that just blew through has been hidden.  Then, you turn around, and discover what the storm has left you as it moves away into the distance.

photograph of a rainbow at sunset in the gold butte national monument

The sun is setting now, shining on the storm clouds which are no longer backlit. The trailing wisps of the storm catch the light, turning bright orange and pink, while the storm itself maintains its deep, menacing blue. You look above your head to see a rainbow arching overhead, completing this amazing sunset.

The entire thing lasts about 20 minutes and the landscape takes 25 degree temperature drop from start to end. Several times over the course of the storm you’ve nearly forgotten to take photos, but you make images, which you’re grateful for. But mostly you just stand in awe, thankful for what you’ve just experienced, and where you’re standing. This is meaningless joy, and it’s wonderful.

photograph of sunset after a rain storm in gold butte national monument

 

Towards deep ethics

Written by Alpenglow Images on April 3rd, 2017

Recently, the proliferative and educational photographers Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou unveiled their newest project, the League of Landscape Photographers. The intent was to be a voice of reason in a landscape photography culture that has become focused on “getting the shot,” or winning likes or shares on social media. I rather like the idea of bringing attention back to thoughtful photography and photographic projects; a huge amount of intentional but less “wow-worthy” photography seems get buried (and sadly, unseen) in the static of social media. I agree with Samantha and Darwin, who believe the first step away from this mentality begins with a tangible and published code of ethics.

The League offers a template code of ethics here. It includes much of the stuff that you would expect landscape photographers to already be doing. Indeed, this is a comprehensive and thoughtful list. Since reading it, I’ve been thinking about something more, something I can only think to call “deep ethics.” While I’m sure anyone reading this blog, regardless of their political leanings, can say a lot about the current political climate in the United States, one thing we probably can’t argue about is that we are all paying attention, and everything we do right now matters. It turns out this dovetails well with what I consider to be my deep ethics.

photo of rocks and bushes as the sun sets in joshua tree national park

 


“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” – Aldo Leopold

The health of the land is the standard by which we measure our work.

The popularity of photography as a hobby is at an all-time high. Combine this with the huge popularity of our national parks in general (see the most recent statistics on the top 10 most visited parks) and politically-fueled interest in our public lands; these all equate to increased impact on the land, with tangible effects.

We are responsible for the impacts on the landscape that result from our photography.  In as much as we are bound to by realism in photography, we have the obligation to ask how things will be, how we want them to be, and how they should be. When we are unwilling to compromise the health of the land as our standard, advocacy will follow in our art. My unwillingness to compromise and my commitment to advocacy is the first point in my code of ethics.

Actions make advocacy tangible.

The idea of “commitment to advocacy” is a nice notion, but how can it be made tangible? Photographers might answer by saying that they hope their work inspires others to protect a particular wild or open space. Indeed, that would be wonderful (of course, publicizing locations carries its own caveats, which I discuss briefly later). What else? Print sales would be nice, especially if they can directly benefit a grassroots activist activity or environmental group somehow. Photographers could also consider donating image usage or prints to particularly worthy groups, many of whom are working on thin budgets as it is.

Finally, one that has me particularly intrigued is that photographers and backpackers don’t really “pay to play” in the same way that other outdoorsmen like hunters or anglers do; we aren’t taxed in the same way that hunters are for their ammunition, and we don’t purchase hunting or fishing licenses. This revenue is used to make habitat better for wildlife. We certainly reap the harvest from these habitat improvements, just as we enjoy well-maintained trails, and clean campsites, but what are we putting back into the coffers to make sure these things happen?

Until something more formal is put into place, the thought I have is to practice a self-imposed excise tax on goods that I buy for use in the outdoors. If I were to buy a new lens, or backpack, or headlamp, I would “tax” the purchase price, thus donating a predetermined amount at the end of the year to a group working on the ground to make the landscape better, and consequently making my experience better. If I’m not in the position to give financially, I would volunteer my time. Regardless of what we do as photographers, “advocacy” absolutely must be a tangible thing; this is my second point in my code of ethics.

photo of sunset in box springs mountains park, riverside county california

 


“What counts finally in a work are not novel and interesting things, though these can be important, but the absolutely authentic. I think that there is a spirit of place, a presence asking to be expressed; and sometimes when we are lucky…and quiet in a way few of us want to be anymore, a voice enters our own…” – John Haines


Only by opposing the cultivation of disorder will we see a coherent body of work.

From a philosophical point of view, photography’s popularity is troublesome because–as the article above points out–we photograph everything but really don’t take the time to look at anything. Continuing on from the passage above from his book of critical essays Living Off the Country, John Haines writes, “I have come to feel that there is here in North America a hidden place obscured by what we have built upon it, and that whenever we penetrate the surface of the life around us that place and its spirit can be found.”

Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to know place. The third point in my code of ethics is to avoid passing photography fads and locations. Not only will I have become more connected with place by focusing on and producing a personal photography portfolio, it will reduce impact on places that are heavily photographed, thus improving the health of the land.

photo of wildflowers and joshua trees at sunrise in gold butte national monument nevada

 


“There is no better high than discovery.” – E.O.Wilson


Ensure the experience remains sacred.

Photographers face a tough challenge. If we are truly advocates for the land, then we must inspire our viewers to want to protect it. However, at the same time, by inspiring them, visitation increases, ultimately creating greater impact. Reconciling these two things is no small task, and much attention has been given elsewhere as to the ethics of whether to reveal photography locations. Some photographers are unwilling to share anything about any of their “secret” locations. Others are more forthcoming, and yet others have developed apps that allow for “crowd sharing” of locations. It runs the gamut.

Personally, I lie somewhere between the former two points on the spectrum. I believe that it shouldn’t really matter where a photograph was taken–it’s all beautiful, and we should be stewards for it all. However, at the same time, I also believe that sometimes a general location is appropriate to include with commentary of a particular photograph. That said, I also believe that we need to find our own reasons to love anything (landscape or not), and that sentiment just doesn’t work if the reasons to love a place are dictated to us. So, the fourth point in my code of ethics is to share relevant information as appropriate, but I refuse to spoil anyone’s joy of discovery.

It’s worth mentioning archaeological sites here. There are some, which have common colloquial names and are visited regularly by hundreds of people. Their locations are practically common knowledge, and I will refer to them by their colloquial names from time to time. Others however, I will protect the location of, and will not give details for, except privately to trusted friends.

photo of native american rock art in southern nevada

This is the beginning of my code of ethics. I’ll surely be adding things, but in the meantime what would you add? Many thanks to Samantha and Darwin for this thoughtful exercise.

 

Acts of submission

Written by Alpenglow Images on February 18th, 2017

“‘The land was ours before we were the land’s,’ says Robert Frost’s poem. Only in the act of submission is the sense of place realized and a sustainable relationship between people and earth established.” – Wallace Stegner

Stegner was probably one of the West’s most influential writers; he seemed to be deeply in tune with the mettle it took for early pioneers to build a life in the West, and the challenges today’s inhabitants face, both from an environmental and geopolitical viewpoint. He’s one of my favorite writers, and his commentary is sorely missed.

He would have been 108 years old today.

photo of a bristlecone pine and currant mountain at sunrise

 

Welcome Bears Ears National Monument!

Written by Alpenglow Images on February 5th, 2017

President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016. The greater Bears Ears region and national monument includes Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods, Elk Ridge, Beef Basin, Indian Creek and Lockhart Basin, among others.

map of bears ears national monument

Credit: Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust

In large part, the designation of this monument was due to the arduous work of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a collective of five Native American tribes, who all hold parts of the new monument sacred. Bears Ears is the first truly Native American national monument, and these tribes’ collective heritage will now be protected for generations to come.

photograph of intact native american ruin in bears ears national monument

On a personal note, having grown up in the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States, many of my early backpacking trips were on Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch. I can still remember discovering just a few of the hundreds of Ancestral Puebloan ruins and rock art in this area; these are some of my favorite memories of time spent in the outdoors. Today, whenever I visit my parents, who still live in northwestern New Mexico, the Bears Ears buttes are a landmark that I see to tell me I’m home. I’m very grateful to Utah Diné Bikéyah and others whose hard work made this monument possible. I’ve blogged many times on Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa (see posts here, here, and here, for instance).

photograph of clouds and rocks in valley of the gods utah

To celebrate the designation of Bears Ears, I’ve put together a collection of my images from the monument in one place. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit soon and add more.

Although I’ve published this gallery on social media, I have been a little bit slow in getting it to my blog. Since the monument was designated, it’s come under heavy fire (see links here and here for details). This criticism as a “land grab,” has come primarily from Utah Republican lawmakers who are also key leaders in the land transfer movement (see my blog post here for details). So, ironically, although Bears Ears has protection, it now needs your support more than ever. Please consider a donation directly to Utah Diné Bikéyah or the Grand Canyon Trust to help them combat efforts to reverse the monument designation, and contact your lawmakers to voice your opposition to it.

 

Treasured Lands, and our national parks

Written by Alpenglow Images on January 12th, 2017

“Laws change; people die; the land remains.” – Abraham Lincoln

As a nation, we have made the decision to set aside large areas of land that remain largely free of development for the sake of saving them.  This land comes in the form of national monuments, wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, and of course our national parks, which have been called America’s best idea.  In 2016, the National Park Service, which manages our national parks, celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Indeed, each year, families, hikers, backpackers, photographers, and other tourists flock to our 59 national parks to see all that America has to offer, and it was truly a landmark year, worthy of grand celebration.

One of the most noteworthy things to appear in 2016 was QT (Tuan) Luong’s book, Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey through America’s National Parks. Containing more than 500 photographs, 450 pages, and weighing in at 7 lbs, Treasured Lands is Tuan’s labor of love. Tuan is the only photographer to have made large-format images in every single national park, and the images in this book represent 20 years and hundreds of visits to all of them.

I first met Tuan on Photo.net discussion forums when I was just beginning taking photos, nearly 15 years ago. He weighed in on topics that varied from computers, to cameras, to photography locations. Then, as now, he has shown himself to be a master of the craft, the true consummate professional.  So, when I read about the upcoming publication of his book, I knew it would be wonderful, and it is.

My first national park experience was at the Grand Canyon, backpacking with my Boy Scout troop. I was in junior high school, and we visited during spring break; it was snowing hard on the South Rim when we arrived. As many first-time backpackers and novice campers are, I was woefully underprepared and remember putting plastic grocery sacks over my socks in an attempt to keep them dry, among other things. Hiking into the canyon the next day felt incredibly treacherous on the ice that had formed overnight (in hindsight, it probably was), but cold and wet, I hiked on. However, I also remember the feeling of the sun at the river the next day; it warmed me and rejuvenated my soggy spirits. When we finished the trip, I couldn’t wait to get back to it…to backpacking, to the Grand Canyon, to as many national parks as I could visit. I was sold.

Since that Grand Canyon trip, I’ve backpacked the Grand Canyon several more times, and have spent countless hours in many of our other national parks. Yet, while the Park Service’s 100th anniversary is a landmark occasion worthy of celebration, it’s left me feeling a bit conflicted. Just before Christmas, I waited in line for nearly an hour to get into Joshua Tree National Park; in 15 years of visiting, I haven’t waited in line a single time. Zion National Park is considering a lottery system to determine who gets to visit the overcrowded canyon on any given day. Arches National Park has lines of cars reaching almost back into Moab from its entrance station several miles north of town.

Visitation to our parks is at a record high. Americans are visiting their parks. I can’t help but think that it leaves the Park Service in a bit of a conundrum on their 100th anniversary. They are tasked with preserving our national treasures, but at the same time ensuring access for the public, and those two tasks often don’t overlap. Park and Interior Department officials must be asking themselves, “at what point have we loved our parks to death, and how do we avoid it?” As a photographer who works in the national parks, how am I contributing to this? How are places–like Zion or Joshua Tree–that have traditionally been places of refuge for me going to change with this surge in visitation?  None of these things is easy to reconcile, but Tuan’s book gives me hope, and a fresh perspective.

One piece of advice I would give to aspiring photographers is to look at as much photography as possible. Critique it, make lists of things you like and don’t like. Take notes on composition, lighting. This is the reason I became involved in the forums on which I met Tuan in the first place, but it’s sound advice, I think.  However, this practice of critique can often be taken so far that photographers fail to let great photographs inspire them; Tuan’s images are indeed technically sound, but for someone who has had a quarter century love affair with our national parks, they serve the greater purpose of inspiration. Looking through Treasured Lands, I felt a deep happiness inside of me. These treasured lands will indeed remain for a long time, to be celebrated by generations to come.  Thank you, Tuan, for that reminder.

cover photograph of treasured lands book by qt long

Tuan has been a friend for a long time, but I have no financial interest in the success of Treasured Lands. It is simply a lovely book that you will enjoy for hours.

 

2016 year in review

Written by Alpenglow Images on December 26th, 2016

As I write this, Christmas is only a couple of days away, rain is falling outside, and I’m putting together my favorite photos of the year feeling a bit of disbelief that another trip around the sun has already passed. In many ways, the past twelve months have represented contrast, a dichotomy. The world lost several great and inspiring artists this year, but I feel lucky to have discovered new artists who are a source of inspiration. Another contrast is the current state of division that the United States is ending the year in, but personally I feel more complete–less divided–that I’ve felt in quite some time.

Photographically, 2016 was one of contrasts as well. My travels between the desert and the coast really underscored this; two dramatically different landscapes, have–in their own way–become home to me. I finally put together a small (but growing) portfolio of ocean images this year, and of course expanded my portfolios of the deserts and mountains. Of course, in addition to new friends, I was able to enjoy these places with old friends. My girlfriend and I enjoyed several camping trips along the California coast, and I got to introduce her to some of my favorite desert landscapes. A couple of great backcountry trips with Jackson Frishman helped to strengthen my affinity for Great Basin landscapes.

To that end, contrast has certainly been a theme this year as I chose my favorite images for this annual year-end retrospective. I also have been thinking a lot about the role of landscape photography as art.  In 2016, it became more apparent to me the threats that face public lands (see my blog posts here and here), and producing art that changes the way people see the world seems more important now than ever. My friend Mark Hespenheide’s artist statement continues to resonate with me in this regard:

“Mediocre landscape photography can only reinforce the ideas about nature that we already hold. Good landscape photography can introduce us to new ways of seeing the world. Truly great landscape photography can change the way we perceive our place in the world and the way we interact with the world.”

May we all produce a truly great body of work in 2017.

bosque del apache snow geese fly in

Snow geese at dawn, Bosque del Apache NWR, January

 

montaña de oro beach

Montaña de Oro, California, June

 

Sunset in western Nevada

Sunset in western Nevada, January

 

navajo national monument sunrise

Sunrise in northern Arizona, August

 

Wildflowers in Death Valley, January

 

jalama beach sunset

Pacific Ocean sunset, June

 

Escalante River Sunset

Sunset over southern Utah, March

 

Clouds and fog in the San Gabriel Mountains at sunset

San Gabriel Mountains, November

 

winter storm and dark clouds over the salt playa in columbus valley nevada

Winter storm in western Nevada, January

 

white pine mountains sunset

Sunset in eastern Nevada’s White Pine Mountains, August

 

black and white image of the funeral mountains in death valley national park

Storm in Death Valley, January

Past images of the year:

2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015