Mike recently picked up a series of three books on Photographing the Southwest by Laurent Martres. The books also make great travel guides and thus inspired, we recently made a long weekend trip out to Moab, Utah.

Packing lunches (and lots of water!) in our small cooler worked well since there is no food service in Arches National Park or Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky district). We ate dinner out twice, first at the Moab Brewery, which was really bustling, and then at the more laid back Buck's Grill House with live music. We'd recommend either spot. We had a very late breakfast one day at the Moab Diner, which was typical diner food.

Mike at a Canyonlands overlook
So on to the sightseeing.

The Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands was new to us so we went there first. The Y-shaped road through the Park offers trailheads as well as many pretty viewpoints easily accessible by a short walk from the car. We stopped at them all, including the two mile out and back Grand View Point walk and the two mile White Rim overlook hike. We also hiked to see Upheaval Dome and enjoyed the relatively lush vegetation along the Neck Spring Trail.

We got up early one morning to see the sunrise glow under Mesa Arch, which easily met or exceeded our expectations. While it was still dark, I had an encounter with a tiny Kangaroo Rat. When he first jumped onto my knee, I startled and chased whatever that was with the pointy nails away. Soon enough I got a better look at the cute little guy with my headlamp as he repeatedly ran out onto a log next to me, no doubt hoping to get a nibble of my Iced Gingerbread Clif Bar!

Mesa Arch sunrise

Buck Canyon overlook

We'd been to Arches National Park over the July 4th weekend in 2005 and it was too darned hot! This time Delicate Arch was much easier to reach with high temps in the mid 70s. After arriving at the redrock bowl at the Arch, we joined the row of tripods bearing cameras, set up to capture sunset on the iconic license-plate-adorning arch, and had our evening snacks of sharp cheddar and apples. The mood was really festive and fun.

Delicate Arch

The bowl at Delicate Arch
There were as many photographers wanting to get a shot of the Arch with no people in it as there were families wanting a picture of themselves under the Arch! As the sun was about to set, the "serious" photographers were yelling, "Move! Move!" and then the other people would retreat from the Arch. It was fun and good-natured, with laughter and applause as everyone managed to cooperate and still get the photos they wanted. Before the light got really good, Mike shot about 15 minutes of time-lapse of people at the Arch.

After the sun set and the gorgeous light disappeared, people came back under the Arch for their photos again. We're not sure what goes on up there after dark, but on our way down, we passed maybe 50 people coming up the trail.

Susan at the Devil's Garden trailhead
The next day we spent hiking in the Devil's Garden area. The route past Landscape Arch was more challenging now, as the path was rerouted up along a fin after the collapse of Wall Arch in 2008. Not a fan of heights, I suggested we take the primitive loop trail back, even though the trail was said to be difficult, in order to avoid that high fin walk on the way back. We really enjoyed the views along the primitive loop, and while it really wasn't all that primitive, I did need a hand from Mike now and again.

Landscape Arch (304 feet across)

Double O Arch

While the National Parks may get more press, nearby Dead Horse Point State Park should not be overlooked, with particularly striking views in either morning or late afternoon. DHP is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, only with more red rocks. Unlike Arches and Canyonlands, food and drink are available at the visitor center here.

View of the Colorado River from Dead Horse Point

We saw our first Juniper Titmouse at DHP, but if you keep your eyes peeled, they're all around. Other birds spotted on this trip include Grey-headed Juncos, a Peregrine Falcon, Scrub Jay and possibly some Bushtits. We also enjoyed shooting the very cute and very busy Canyon Wren. Looking down into Shafer Canyon we saw a Desert Bighorn Sheep along the White Rim Road. I also saw a bat fly through Mesa Arch at sunrise. Tiny lizards which we have yet to identify were often along the trails, but we'll have to look harder for the Collared Lizard next time.

Shafer Canyon viewpoint

Other "next times" for this area includes False Kiva in the Canyonlands, and a visit to local photographer Tom Till's studio. Matheson Wetlands Preserve would also be interesting.

Click here for more captioned photos.

Canyonlands Grandview Point panorama (click for larger version)

HawkQuest Photo Shoot

Peregrine Falcon
We learned that Wolf Camera was sponsoring a special event at Bear Creek Lake Park with the raptor educational organization, HawkQuest. Founder and Master Falconer Kin Quitugua and other HawkQuest handlers brought six rehabilitated raptors for us to observe and photograph early one October morning. Although we prefer to watch birds in the wild, this was a fantastic opportunity to see these beauties at close range. None of them could survive in the wild, either due to injury or imprinting on humans.

We were divided into smaller groups in order to circle through stations where a volunteer tended a tethered bird. We saw a Peregrine Falcon, Great Horned Owl, American Kestrel, Bald Eagle and Barn Owl.

Bald Eagle

Barn Owl

American Kestrel
Great Horned Owl

After these birds were returned to their cages it was time to fly the Harris Hawk. Unlike the other birds, the more intelligent Harris Hawk flew untethered, returning to Kin time and time again. Quite a remarkable demonstration!

Harris's Hawk flying

On our way out, to support Hawkquest we bought Birds of Prey of the West Field Guide by Stan Tekiela, a great little pocket ID guide packed full of photos.

Click here for more photos.

Balloon Fiesta!

Sandhill Cranes at Monte Vista NWR
A large weather system was stuck over much of the Rocky Mountain region when we left Crested Butte, so we decided to minimize the impact by heading south to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

On the way, we stopped by the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge to check out the birds while we ate lunch. We ended up seeing a few early bird Sandhill Cranes there. The Monte Vista NWR is special to us, as it's one of the first places we visited in our bird-watching hobby starting in the spring of 2010. And we still love Sandhill Cranes!

We arrived in Albuquerque Wednesday evening ahead of the storm and it was still sunny and mild. At Papa Nachos, a dubiously named but highly reviewed family restaurant, we had a good meal, topped off with homemade sopaipillas for just 99 cents.

Thursday the winds picked up, causing all Balloon Fiesta events to be cancelled, so we visited the wonderful Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum (AAAIBM). Late in the day we drove up to Sandia Crest where the high winds mercilessly hurled clouds up at us from the valley below. We braved the cold until dark, fascinated by the proximity and whirling shapes of the clouds at sunset.

Sunset rays over Albuquerque; viewed from Sandia Crest

Mike in raingear with tie-dyed fractal ballooon
Friday we had high hopes for improved weather, but in spite of the optimistic forecast, the day was mostly a rainout. In the morning a few balloons were inflated and a couple took off, but the evening session was cancelled altogether. We spent the afternoon napping, as we did every day to catch up on sleep missed by waking up at 4:30AM to beat the crowds.

No worries though -- the weekend brought calm sunny days and we were able to see a "dawn patrol", two mass ascensions and one evening "glow," plus an evening's fireworks display. Strolling around the park amongst hundreds of balloonists preparing to launch, their balloons slowly swelling up, eventually towering overhead before they lift off high into the sky, is an experience not to be missed. It was definitely worth fighting the traffic. And the crowds, usually an issue for us, were not so bad in this open air venue where everyone walked around wearing contagious smiles.

Hot inflation for Dawn Patrol

Mass ascension in the morning

Evening glow

End of day fireworks

On Sunday Kirtland AFB had its first visit from the USAF Thunderbirds since 2006. Reluctantly saying goodbye to the balloons, that afternoon we drove out to the base along with what seemed like thousands of other folks for this overdue air show. As always, the Thunderbirds put on an exciting, crowd-pleasing demonstration.

US Air Force Thunderbirds

Tarantula at the Whiterock overlook
We headed for home Monday on the highly scenic Route 14, dawdling here and there to explore. Skirting Bandelier, which was still largely closed because of summer wildfires, we stopped at a wonderful lookout point east of Whiterock. A local suggested Hill Diner in Los Alamos, and after a tasty lunch, we drove straight home, making for one very loooong day.

Overlook at Whiterock, NM

Click here for more pictures from the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and USAF Thunderbirds.

Fall in Crested Butte

Guanella Pass
As happens so often when we travel, when we visited Crested Butte at its wildflower peak earlier this summer, we both said, "We've got to come back here in the fall!" I'm so happy to report that we actually did return to Crested Butte this fall and managed to hit the peak of color in the aspens!

Cottonwood Pass
Leaving on the last day of September, we enjoyed lots of golden aspens on our way along the Peak to Peak Highway, Guanella Pass and Cottonwood Pass, and it occurred to me that we might have our fill of fall color before we even arrived at CB. Not a chance! The areas around Kebler Pass and Ohio Pass are truly spectacular.

Flock of birds flying through a rainbow south of Crested Butte

We arrived in CB in light rain which soon produced a beautiful rainbow. On our way out photograph it, we spotted a totally white hawk atop a pine tree. Steve and Lauren joined us later Friday evening, and we turned in early in order to be ready for an early start.

Saturday morning we hiked from Horse Ranch Park to a viewpoint overlooking the Kebler Pass stand of aspen, said to be the largest living organism on earth. The short (3.36 miles round trip) trail took us through meadows and mature aspen forests, interspersed with mountain vistas. We'll do this hike again, for sure! The morning worked great for having good light at the west-facing viewpoint, as well as avoiding the afternoon crowds.

Horse Ranch Park viewpoint

After lunch at The Last Steep, we drove up Gothic Road to Paradise Divide then back down Slate River Road. Awesome high mountain views everywhere. Our late dinner at The Secret Stash was worth the lengthy wait, but next time we'll get a reservation!

On the road to Gothic

Sunday after Steve & Lauren left, we decided to walk the ditch road trail around the east side of Mt Crested Butte (the mountain, not the town) in hopes of seeing the white hawk we'd seen the evening we arrived. No luck with seeing the raptor, but we did encounter a herd of horses grazing in an aspen grove, a first for us on a hike. The largest male stood in front of the rest and seemed to challenge us, but when approached, he allowed Mike to pat his head.

We'd heard that McClure Pass north of Paonia State Park on CR 133 was also beautiful, so we drove out there later in the day. Many of the aspens there had already lost their leaves, and the leaves remaining were a disappointingly dull yellow. But the sunset on Kebler Pass was great on our way home.

Coming down from McClure Pass
Small waterfall we stopped to enjoy

Monday we explored the area around Lost Lake. First we did the three lake loop - Lost Lake Slough, Lost Lake and Dollar Lake.

After refueling with sandwiches back at our car, we headed up to Beckwith Pass. Back in June we tried to reach it from the Cave Creek side but were rained out. This day we had fine weather, and made it to the summit with ease sharing the trail with only a handful of hikers, one Cattleman searching for some strays, two cattle dogs and a small herd of cattle ... charging right at us!

View from Beckwith Pass
At the near-360ยบ summit/pass we caught our first glimpse of The Castles, rock formations to the east. Curious Gray Jays checked us out but never got too close. After the hike, we drove back to the Cliff Cave Trailhead just a little late for the "golden hour", but the spot was beautiful all the same.

Exploring Ohio Pass was the plan for Tuesday, and boy was it great! CR 730 is a beautiful drive with outstanding viewpoints including the Castle peaks, and several short hikes along the way. We opted to start with the Beaver Pond hike, which is a lovely walk through the aspens.

View from Ohio Pass
Castle Mountain, viewed from Ohio Pass (telephoto)
Next we drove south as far as the Mill Creek Trailhead which we decided to save for another because threatening clouds had moved in. On the way back, we hiked the Old Railroad Grade trail, and were able to enjoy some views and history before we were rained out.

We weren't really ready to leave Crested Butte yet, but the weather forecast for the next few days was for snow and wind. We weren't quite ready to come home yet either, so we discussed our Plan B options while we packed up to head out in the morning.

Click here for a few more pictures from this trip.

To be continued...