Utah monument myths

Written by Alpenglow Images on December 8th, 2017

As expected, earlier this week the president reduced the size of both Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. This was the largest scale back of national monuments in history. Many are questioning not only of the legality of the president’s proclamation but also transparency behind the monument review process. During the time it’s taking to answer these questions, everyone seems to have an opinion on this move. Unfortunately, I’m reading a lot of misinformation that has helped to form many of these opinions (from both “sides” such as they are).

It’s no secret which side of the barbed wire fence I’m on, however I thought it would be helpful to put opinions aside for a minute and address some major misconceptions surrounding these national monuments, and to put some of the current state of things in a historical context. Late last year I wrote a blog post on public lands in the West, so you may want to start there.


1. The monuments were nothing but land grabs in the first place.

I’m starting with this one, because it’s the claim I have the most difficulty wrapping my head around. Both the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments were public land before and after their monument designations. The designation changed from unappropriated public lands to national monument, and with that came a change in some (but not all) management policies but it is impossible for the federal government to have grabbed land from itself.

There is one caveat to this. State trust lands represent one section in each 32-section township. They are federal land that was granted to states upon their entry into the union, and are usually considered revenue-generating land for the state. The revenue from trust lands almost always benefits public education. When both monuments were designated, some trust lands were included in those designations.

To compensate for this loss of revenue in Utah when Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated in 1996, the federal government gave the state some of its land outside of the monument in exchange for the state trust lands inside of the monument. Because of the mineral-rich quality of the new land, those parcels are now estimated to be worth over $1 billion. In addition, the US government gave Utah $50 million. This land and cash swap received overwhelming bipartisan support. A similar swap was in the plan for Bears Ears.

2. It’s good that the president gave the land back to Utah

See #1 above. There was no land to give back to Utah, since it was federal land to start with. In fact, Article III of Utah’s constitution specifically says that the land slashed from these two national monuments is not Utah’s land until it’s sold to the state.

Since it was federal land before the monument designations, it remains what is called unappropriated public land. This simply means it has no title tied to it like National Monument, National Recreation Area, National Park, etc.

3. Without national monument status, the vast landscape of the Bears Ears region will be subjected to unchecked exploitation.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert addressed this with a misleading statement earlier this week in the Deseret News. What he didn’t mention is that state trust lands can (and have) been sold off in the recent past. In 2015, a section of state trust land on Comb Ridge was sold; that could be developed, but also restricts public access. One can only speculate whether this would happen again, but no one can say that it couldn’t. Finally, interjecting here with a bit of my opinion: When these lands are sold, they create a discontinuous cultural landscape, and are gone for good.

4. Ranchers have been kicked out of their historic range.

This is untrue. The original monument proclamation at Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996 included specific language to keep grazing permits intact. See this document from the BLM regarding grazing.

5. National monuments aren’t good for the economy.

National monuments bring tourism to the area, and with that comes jobs. While some studies show an increase in per capita income, others show no change, but no studies show a decline.


However, it’s important to have correct information as you build your opinions, so what would you add? Have you heard any misconceptions regarding these monuments, or the monument review that happened earlier this year? Let me know and I can add it in to this blog post.

close-up photo of whimsical sandstone patterns in grand staircase-escalate national monument, utah

 

Giving Tuesday

Written by Alpenglow Images on November 28th, 2017

If you’re reading from the United States, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday, and that you managed to somehow survive the deluge of marketing that comes with it. Despite the commercialized insanity this time of year, I rather like the notion behind today–Giving Tuesday. Giving is truly more joyous than receiving, and that’s something we can all be reminded of from time to time.

As I’ve written about before, our public lands–and specifically our national monuments–are under threat. While the overwhelming majority of Americans rejected the idea that we shrink any of our national monuments, President Trump is traveling to Utah on Monday to announce that both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments will be reduced in size.

The president will be–in my opinion wrongly–pushing through the largest elimination of protection for land and wildlife in US history. While the Antiquities Act states that the protection of our antiquities should be confined to the smallest possible area of land, both of these monuments are contiguous wild and cultural landscapes that can’t be subdivided for the sake of development.

In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, I am writing to ask for your help. This action (and likely more in the future) by the president is likely to be met by opposition and legal action. While I can write about my own opinions, they don’t pay legal bills. As a community, we need to support those organizations who are fighting this flawed legislation on the ground. So, that’s what I’m asking you to do: donate to a group that advocates for our public lands.

What do you get in return? If you show me you donated, I’ll send you a free 8×12 print of your choice to thank you for being a supporter of our public lands.

Some Resources

Not sure who to donate to? There are a lot of groups out there; some work locally, and some–like the Sierra Club–work at a national level. I won’t tell you who to donate to, but personally I try to donate to groups who do the most with my dollar. Neutral websites like Charity Navigator tell you where your dollar goes within the organization.

If you want to donate to a local group that’s great! Pick your favorite place, and find a group who works there. Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are a few of my favorites, although there are many (many) others.

I don’t care how much you donate, or who you donate to. All you have to do is show me you did, then pick your print. It’s that easy! This offer is good through President Trump’s Utah visit next Monday.

Thank you for helping to support our public lands!

Three photos of monuments in southern utah, which are all under attack by the Trump administration

 

Saying Goodbye

Written by Alpenglow Images on November 22nd, 2017

On Veteran’s Day, my grandfather passed away. He was 92 years old, a WWII veteran and served in two branches of the armed forces during his life (the Marines and Army Air Corps). However, his main career–for nearly 40 years–was as the art teacher in his small town in southeastern Wyoming. A talented watercolorist and sculptor, he drew his inspiration from the natural world around him: wildlife, old barns, and the landscapes of the plains of southern Wyoming.

watercolor painting of an abandoned barn on a hill with ominous grey skies behind it

As a kid, I spent a few weeks each summer visiting my grandparents. We fished almost daily and never missed a baseball game on TV. Indeed, some of my best childhood memories were made with my grandparents, and because he never lost his youthful playfulness, my grandpa was easily my best friend during those summers.

Also, because he was perpetually a kid at heart, he was often caught drawing cartoons of friends–and me–often at our worst. Teasing was something you adapted to quickly in our family because it was relentless.

cartoon of a crash test dummy in a bicycle accident

My Grandpa was incredibly good at poking fun at people with his art. He had a way of making painful things (like bicycle accidents) seem funny.

Of course things change, and I grew older. I attended college at the University of Wyoming and visited my grandparents a few times a semester. After moving to California to attend graduate school, however, my visits became more infrequent. Going back to visit them, the landscape I remembered as a child seemed different: smaller and more compact. Not as wild as I once thought. But the lakes we used to visit to fish still brought happy memories.

Photo of a lone tree on the prairie at sunset near Hawk Springs Wyoming

Last week I traveled back to Wyoming for my Grandpa’s memorial service. The next day, we spent some time visiting a few of the places that were important to me as a kid. Although the ability to draw seems to have found a genetic endpoint with my Grandpa, it was nice to make a few images with him on my mind.

There’s a certain comfort in knowing someone is there, even if you can’t always see them. Now that he’s gone, there’s definitely a hole that needs filling and he’ll be dearly missed.

photo of leafless cottonwood trees and tall grasses in fall colors along the platte river in western Nebraska

 

Holiday Print Sale

Written by Alpenglow Images on October 9th, 2017

It’s never too early to start planning for the holidays; Christmas is, after all, only 77 days away! This year I’m starting my holiday print sale early to ensure delivery of your gifts by Christmas. Now through December 24*, I’m offering 25% off prints and canvases.

Why buy art as a gift?

Simply put, art is a gift that can be enjoyed every day. Viewing art reduces stress and improves mental health. With the increase in popularity of our national parks and other public lands, people to whom you give art can enjoy their favorite landscapes even when they’re between vacations.

How it works

I believe art buying should be a personal experience. Once you’ve decided which print you’d like, send me an email to tell me which print you’d like to purchase. You can visit my purchasing page for a price list, keeping in mind that prices are reduced by 25% through December 24*.  We can discuss the size you’d like and any other considerations, for instance if you’d like a canvas or a metal print, etc.

After the print is finished, I’ll inspect it personally, sign it, and ship it to you.  Shipping costs are included in the price of the print.

What you get

All of my prints are made on archival quality paper, which comes in a variety of finishes such as luster, matte, gloss, or pearl. Color prints are made on a state-of-the-art inkjet printer, and black and white prints are actually digitally projected and exposed on photographic paper. Custom canvases are stretched over a wooden frame, giving them a three-dimensional feel that can add depth to any room.

holiday print sale

Black and White prints are created by projecting the image onto photographic paper. Cute kid not included.

I guarantee canvases and prints for life from fading, provided they are displayed properly (for example, out of direct sunlight). I also include a free 5×7″ mini-card with all prints; mini-cards provide information about the image, and are included at no charge.

Greeting cards – perfect for any occasion!

I also have greeting cards available for purchase. There are 6 photographs printed as 5 x 7″ prints on sturdy card stock. A set of 6 is available $15 + $3 shipping within the US, $10 international. Quantities are limited, so contact me soon for the best selection!

Alpenglow Images greeting cards

Six greeting card photographs are available.

*Because I personally inspect every print, orders placed too close to Christmas will likely not be delivered by December 25.  Please be sure to take advantage of this holiday print sale by ordering as early as possible, and thank you for considering my photography!

 

Closing of the Mountain Light Gallery

Written by Alpenglow Images on October 1st, 2017

Last week, the Mountain Light Gallery in California’s eastern Sierra announced it is closing its doors. Showcasing the work of photographers Galen and Barbara Rowell, the Mountain Light had been a standard stop for many photographers, hikers, and tourists stopping through Bishop since they first opened their doors in 1983. To say I was taken aback by this announcement is an understatement. Gary Crabbe, a past employee of Galen’s, shared his views on the closing of Mountain Light in his blog. I can’t begin to replicate Gary’s sentiments, but I wanted to share a bit of my history with Mountain Light.

photo of a barren mountain landscape with late day sunlight with receding mountain ridges behind it

Galen Rowell was a San Francisco Bay Area photographer and climber whose images of the mountains are simply iconic. From his home range, the Sierra Nevada, to mountaineering expeditions in South America and Tibet, Galen’s work set the bar for adventure and backcountry landscape photography. In the days when I cared about such things, his were the images I compared mine against.

On August 11, 2002, on their way home from an expedition through northern Tibet, Galen and Barbara were flying into the Bishop airport when the plane they were in crashed, killing both of them. The same day as Galen and Barbara’s passing is the day I moved from California from Wyoming. I remember hearing the news that day on the radio as I unloaded boxes into my apartment. Not long after that I made my first trip to Bishop (I did graduate work at the White Mountain Research Station whose offices are in Bishop). The gallery was one of the first places we stopped. Galen’s images were always inspirational and moving, a grand welcome to the Golden State.

Perhaps most importantly, Galen’s was the first photography I became familiar with that had a “voice,” and I’ve often used his work as an example when trying to describe this somewhat abstract concept. Galen’s presence in his images was evident the moment you step foot in the gallery. His sense of adventure, eye for the subtleties of light, love of life, and even his devotion to his wife are all palpable when you walk through its doors. I have never gone to the eastern Sierra without stopping in at Mountain Light Gallery and I have never walked out of there without feeling a little choked up. Like the Rowells, their gallery will be truly missed.

photo of yellow grasses on a high altitude plateau with peaks in the distance and white cumulus clouds in the blue sky above

The images in this blog post are throwbacks to my graduate school days (probably both are from 2003 or 2004). They are scanned Fuji Sensia slides from the Barcroft Plateau in the White Mountains not far from Bishop.

 

Return to Middle Earth

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 26th, 2017

I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet, without a lot of relatives prying around, and a string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell. I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.” – J.R.R. Tolkien


Autumn is, without a doubt, my favorite season. The light is longer, even warm days have a different tone, birds make their escape to warmer climates, and to paraphrase Gretel Ehrlich, the beautiful changing leaves are the verbs that conjugate the seasons. Autumn is almost certainly the time of the year I am the happiest.

Although I should have been working on my Wilderness Project, I opted to start the season by escaping to the high country. In hopes of getting a much-needed taste of Autumn, last week I visited the Tushar Mountains, a small mountain range in central Utah. I arrived right as a fall storm was moving out of the area. In the days before my visit, it had deposited a skiff of fresh snow in the higher parts of the range. Elk were bugling in the thickets, and aspens had begun to turn. Autumn was definitely in the air!

detail of a high altitude hillside in the tushar mountains of southern utah

We first visited this lovely mountain range in July. Always struck by the way a landscape can affect–or speak to–a person, I knew instantly the Tushars had claimed another victim in me. These mountains are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Broad high altitude ridge lines, stout peaks, steep canyons, and verdant hanging valleys (“pockets”) remind me of something from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The way the light played on the ridges and snowfields extending from the summit of Delano Peak (12,169′)–the highest point in the Tushars–was simply magical. Yup, I knew I had to go back.

The Tushars are a volcanic mountain range that sit on the ecological cusp of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. They are geologically interesting; two separate volcanic events have shaped them, erosion has worn them down, and glaciers have carved their canyons. The Toquima Mountains in Nevada and the San Juan Mountains in Colorado are also good examples of  volcanic ranges. The Tushars’ white peaks–formed by ash flow–stand in stark contrast to the darker volcanic rock of the lower canyons.

photo of a small waterfall and colorful aspen trees in front of two mountains peaks in utah's tushar mountains

photo of a volcanic rock outcropping at sunrise in beaver canyon, utah

Although they are beautiful and unique, images don’t present themselves easily. Because of their nature, you don’t find majestic skylines like you would in the Tetons. To the casual traveler viewing the Tushar Mountains for the first time, they look nondescript…not especially noteworthy. As they say though, most things worth getting to know require a bit of time. The US Forest Service, which manages the public lands in the Tushars (part of the Fishlake National Forest), has a trail system in the Tushars, and off-trail travel is easy. Thus, it’s easy to “choose your own adventure.”


In addition to what was mostly solo hiking, I enjoyed talking with a couple of mountain goat hunters, locals whose families had been in the Tushars for generations. I was also fortunate to connect with a local landscape photographer, Brady Nay, who spent a day hiking with me and showing me some of the places he grew up with. It is always nice to meet other photographers whose images are driven by a sense of connection to a particular landscape. Brady’s certainly are, and it was a really fun day to explore some of the canyons in the Tushars with him. Whether it’s hunting or photography, public lands really do bind us all together.

a two-tiered waterfall with pale rock and bright green moss in the tushar mountains of southern utah

photo of a hunter leading his horse off of a snow-covered slope in the tussah mountains of southern utah

Wherever autumn finds you, I hope you find someplace you can rest, in peace and quiet, to enjoy the season’s best!

 

The Wilderness Project

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 15th, 2017

panoramic image with text and colorful mountains at sunset

The Wilderness Project is my current photographic project, launched earlier this month. Over the next several months, I will document the nineteen federally-designated wilderness areas in my backyard, Riverside County, California.

black and white photo of a slot canyon in the mecca hills wilderness of southern california

Mecca Hills Wilderness

Over the last year or so, I think we’ve become acutely aware of our public lands and what they have to offer. Our national monuments, especially, have garnered much attention, but there is still so much out there to see. The public lands-advocacy group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has declared September Public Lands Month, and I thought it was apropos to launch this project in September. What’s more, many of the wildernesses in Riverside County were created with passage of the California Desert Protection Act, which turns 25 in 2019.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, I wanted to launch this project to know my own surroundings better. As Kenneth Brower (son of famed conservationist David Brower) writes, “There is a language for terrain, just as there is a language for art.” Understanding that language is crucial for the landscape photographer who wants to create personal, introspective images.

Some of the wilderness areas in Riverside County are ones you’ve been to. In fact, the most popular one–the Joshua Tree Wilderness–is one you have likely visited. The San Jacinto Wilderness is another popular hiking destination. However, there are others that you likely haven’t heard of. I recommend starting here as you orient yourself to my project, and consider subscribing to The Wilderness Project by email to get new blog posts as I visit the far-flung reaches of Riverside County.

Thanks for coming along on this journey! Hopefully it will inspire you to get into your own backyard to discover some of its hidden gems.

 

Four Corners

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 1st, 2017

I am interested in the way a man looks at a landscape and takes possession of it in his blood and brain. For this happens, I am certain, in the ordinary motion of life. None of us lives apart from the land entirely; such an isolation is unimaginable. We do not act upon a stagnant landscape, but instead are part of it. Place is created in the process of remembering and telling stories and the ability of the receiver to understand the meanings of place encapsulated in language.” – N. Scott Momaday


I grew up in the Four Corners area of the Southwest and my parents still live there. Every summer we make a trip back there to visit. Growing up, I didn’t appreciate the incredible diversity of ecosystems that were in front of me. Most teenagers are like this, I guess. Of course piñon-juniper pygmy forest dominates the landscape, but (very) high mountains aren’t that far away, nor are rivers or badlands. In their own way, they’re all lovely, and I feel most at home in this landscape.

photo of small red and black pebbles on badlands in northern new mexico

The Navajo Sandstone we so closely associate with the Colorado Plateau is buried thousands of feet below the surface in all but a few areas of northern New Mexico. Much younger rock is exposed, primarily from the Nacimiento and San Jose Formations, formed between 38-60 million years ago. In your hand, it feels “looser” than sandstone elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau. Big sand grains and inclusions make it feel like it could easily break apart. It’s also paler in color, more closely resembling white Cedar Mesa sandstone.

photo of a sunlit arch near sunset, with piñon pines and junipers surrounding it

Whimsical rock shapes aren’t as common here as in other areas of the Plateau. Indigenous rock art and ruins (both Diné and Ancestral Puebloan are common, as well as some Apache)–while present in high densities–are more hidden. I suppose its subtle nature leads some photographers to shy away from this landscape. However, all of these things are worth searching out and exploring for; its subtleties are worth embracing. In fact, after over 30 years, I can still see the landscape in new ways and discover new things. The excitement and wonder of discovery then deepens my sense of place. And so the cycle continues.

photo of an arch in the four corners region after sunset with pink and violet clouds in the sky

The feeling of being home becomes more pervasive each time I visit. Ellen Meloy wrote often about landscapes choosing people, and if she’s right, then I’m so happy the Four Corners area chose me.

You can see more of my New Mexico landscape photography by clicking on this link.

photo of bentonite badlands and whimsical rock formations in predawn light in the Bisti Badlands of northern New Mexico

 

 

 

Kids & Photography

Written by Alpenglow Images on August 23rd, 2017

In my last post, I mentioned that Jackson Frishman and I managed to get our kids (two boys, ages 5 and 9) out for a short backpack in the Sierra last week. Backpacking with kids has its challenges and rewards, and I wrote about a few of them when my son was much younger. He’s 9 now, and can carry his own backpack (with a few small things in it), and asks often to go hiking, camping, or backpacking. Although I haven’t been able to get out with him as much as I’d like, this trip seemed fun and appropriately timed.

A couple of things I noticed on this trip were that it was great for him to have another kid to hike with. Having someone who hikes on your own level is motivating for anyone, especially little people. Additionally, having things to distract the boys was essential. Jackson had a deep pocket of jelly beans for them, and I packed a book in for my son so he could unwind after the hike, as well as a root beer for an after dinner treat. Finally, a good night’s sleep is essential. Although he was tired and–admittedly–a bit grouchy after our hike into our campsite, my son was a different kid after a solid rest.

Perhaps more than anything, finding a way to share the experience is the most important part of engaging kids outdoors. On this trip, my son asked if he could take some photos with my camera. I was happy he wanted to try, so I metered for him, but let him compose and expose his own images. When we got home, I saw that one image was one I would have liked to claim for my own! I edited it, and posted it below. So, really I’m just bragging about my kiddo here, and am happy he’s taken an interest in a form of self-expression. Make sure to foster this in your own kids, no matter how it shows up.

photograph of snow, the flanks of University Peak, and matlock lake at sunset, in the john muir wilderness of california's sierra nevada mountains

a nine year old boy wearing a down jacket takes a photo with camera and tripod at a lake in the sierra nevada mountains of california

 

Fire in the sky

Written by Alpenglow Images on August 18th, 2017

“The agent by which fire was first brought down to earth and made available to mortal man was lightning. To this source every hearth owes its flames.” – Lucretius, De Rerum Natura


The sky has long been a source of wonder for humankind. Colorful sunrises and sets, stargazing, and of course events like eclipses are all things that evoke awe and inspiration. People in certain parts of the United States are gearing up for the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, August 21. Personally, I’ll be driving across northern Arizona during the eclipse. I intend only to pull over and enjoy what will be about 75% occlusion as the moon passes between Earth and the sun.

While the solar eclipse will be the capstone of summer for many, the season–to me–is sadly becoming defined less by swimming pools and barbecues and more by wildland fires. Currently, there are 56 large fires burning in the United States; 55 of them are in the West. This is a particularly bad year for fires, but over the past few summers my own wilderness exploration has depended heavily on where smoke is not obscuring the views. Despite what Lucretius opined in his first century poem De Rerum Natura, most wildland fires today are human-caused. Only a small percentage are caused by lightning.

Earlier this week, Jackson Frishman and I managed to get our boys out for a short overnight backpack in the John Muir Wilderness. Smoke from several fires burning in the Sierra Nevada obscured views in the Owens Valley, but as we hiked up, the air seemed to clear. A few clouds in the sky made a colorful sunset seem promising.

photo of grass along the edge of matlock lake and university peak with late day light in the john muir wilderness of california

Indeed, as the sun went down, the sky started to light up. I was using a polarizing filter to help reduce glare on the lake we were camped by. As sunset got nearer, I noticed a very strange effect on the images I was making. What I can only conclude was “invisible” smoke in the upper atmosphere was showing up in my polarized images, intermingling with the pink clouds. The result, I think, is unique and pretty (despite its cause).

photo of a colorful sunset at Matlock Lake in the John Muir Wilderness, California

If you are going outdoors with family and friends next week to view the eclipse, I wish you luck. I also hope smoke does not obscure your view. Please make sure to not add to the smoke by being very careful with any fires you make.