Sometimes in photography, as in life, things just come together perfectly.
I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, located in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico. The Preserve lies on one of the largest volcanic calderas in North America; this supervolcano (as it’s classified) has the capability of altering weather patterns to the point of causing a small ice age if it ever erupts. Try to imagine 1,000 km³ of rock and debris spewing from the earth–1,000 km³–I can’t quite wrap my mind around that.
The land was acquired by the federal government in 2000 as a trust, with a board of trustees making decisions about its management. Still a working cattle ranch, the Caldera is administered using a combination of those policies used in national forests, as well as in national parks.
The thing that strikes me the most is that any event on the Caldera–whether it is hiking, sightseeing, or even hunting–is kept very small. The idea is to give the visitor a sense of solitude. Quiet contemplation. Can you imagine if only 25 people were allowed into Yosemite Valley at a time? That’s a very novel idea indeed.
Visiting this historic place, I knew I wanted to come home with both memorable and meaningful images. First of all, I knew I may never get to visit here again, and second, it was important to me to make images of my home state that carried a sense of belonging. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I hoped for dramatic light, and the time to let the landscape present itself. Great light is often caused by crummy weather. Fortunately, I got it.
Arriving late in the afternoon, rain was already beginning to fall from the thunderheads that had been building strength all day. After looking at the map, we decided on a small pond that looked like it could get good sunset light. By the time we drove up the mountain to our location, the rain had turned to sleet, the ambient temperature was in the mid-30s, and it was indeed beginning to feel a bit like autumn.
The rest of that afternoon was spent watching the fog rolling through the trees, constantly evolving, moving, transforming the landscape. I thought of Sigurd Olson as the fog galloped through the trees like a herd of white horses. The hauntingly beautiful bugles of bull elk looking for a fight came out of the mist from all directions.
A feast for the senses.
As sunset neared, the clouds cleared just a bit, and as I’d hoped, the fog settled in on our little pond, our small corner of the world. All ours…tonight anyway. The sky lit up giving us a perfect sunset. Few things could have made it better.
So it went for the rest of the weekend: New Mexico autumn. Wildlife abounded. Rain brought a last bit of summer life to the forest before winter’s grip tightens. Light danced at the perfect times. And, of course, green chiles were on the menu. Thank you, New Mexico, for the perfect start to my favorite season.