The Beauty of Big Bend

The Big Bend National Park area was as beautiful in late March as ever. Five photographers and I spent three busy days traveling about the vastness that is Big Bend. Most of our photography was done at sunrise, sunset and after dark in iconic locations like Santa Elena Canyon, Boquillas Rim, Rio Grande Village, The Window at Chisos Mountains, Terlingua cemetery and the Rio Grande in Big Bend Ranch State Park. Unlike recent years, we saw only a handful of wildflowers and blooming yucca, but there was plenty to photograph.

I still want to go back and kayak or float the river gorge, but I got plenty of exercise hiking to Balanced Rock and scaling down a rock slide in the Rio Grande canyon at Big Bend Ranch State Park. The journey from south Texas to the park takes a FULL day, but the reward is great. For those of us living in the city, the west Texas night skies are reward enough for the effort. Come along with me on a brief photo trip to the Big Bend.

Click on a photo to enlarge and sharpen it for viewing. 

Black Hawk in Cottonwood, Big Bend National Park.

A beautiful pair of black hawks are nesting in a cottonwood at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park.  After many visits over the years, I was finally able to see and photograph them from the road.  The nesting area is closed to visitors.  Canon 7D mark II, 100-400 mm lens, hand held.

Chisos Mountains and Rio Grande at Big Bend Natl. Park, Texas.

That same afternoon, we journeyed on to the campgrounds at the east end of the village and climbed the hill for a view of the sun setting behind the Chisos Mountains  in the west and the glowing pinks of Boquillas rim to the east.

Boquillas rim at sunset, Big Bend National Park.
Pebbles in the Rio Grande surrounded by 1500′ walls of rock. Mexico on left, Texas on right in Big Bend National Park.

The walls stay the same but the river is ever changing.  I’d like to return in summer and catch the sun setting down the canyon at Santa Elena.

Photographing the Rio Grande near Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

After leaving the canyon shortly after dawn, we stopped downstream to look back at the big picture…miles of cliffs towering above the river.  I used HDR toning on this image to jazz up the look of it.

Verbina and Chisos Basin, Big Bend NP.

Evening in the Chisos Basin provides many angles and subjects.  These verbinas were about the only cluster of wildflower I spotted that week.

Oak and sotol in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park at sunset.

I like to work on foreground subjects near the Window near Big Bend NP Lodge and Restaurant.

Sotol in “The Window” of Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park at sunset.

The photo group got many nice images of The Window with clouds at sunset.

Sunset on Casa Grande with piñyon pines.


Sunrise on the Rio Grande canyon east of Presidio, Texas in Big Bend Ranch State Park.


Looking west, Presidio, Texas is upriver and out of sight by a few miles from this point in the canyon.   A well timed sunset visit would make me very happy.  I’ll have to plan for that one on the next trip.

Ocotillo and prickly pear catch the first light in this canyon.
Canoeing the Rio Grande at Big Bend  Ranch State Park, Texas.


Just downstream toward Lajitas, there is a take out for these canoes and a really cool roadside park with tepees shading the picnic tables.

Ocotillo in bloom near Tepee Roadside Park on the Rio Grande, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas, hwy. 170 to Presidio.
Robert Halbrook chasing Gambel’s quail through binoculars just after the birds flushed to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande from Big Bend State Park, Texas.
Robert Halbrooks, Dr. Pat Faubian, Sherry Halbrook, and Mike Faubian on the Rio Grande in Big Bend State Park, Texas.

This is the first group I’ve had with so many naturalist/birders.  Everyone had to get in on the act of seeing Gambel’s quail drinking at the Rio Grande.

Balanced Rock at sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

We walked and climbed to Balanced Rock in the Grapevine Hills at Big Bend National Park one morning.  I could see His glory in every direction.

Looking south from Balanced Rock in the Grapevine Hills at Big Bend National Park, sunrise.
Terlingua historic cemetery, Terlingua, Texas
Terlingua historic cemetery, Terlingua, Texas

Subtle differences in the amount of light painted onto these sepulchers make a huge difference in where the eye is drawn.  In the latter, I see the stars first.  A warm and slightly weak flashlight was used for both.

Ocotillo with blooms after sunset at Study Butte, Texas.

In spite of some stormy weather at the start of our week, this Big Bend IPT was one of the best I can remember.



March at Laguna Seca

Jumping from January into March, I found myself back at Laguna Seca Photo Ranch.  These trips sandwiched many days of working on photo files and shooting magazine assignments.  Winter just slipped by while I was housebound.

Anyway, the following shots reflect a day of wonderful  photography, mostly from the regular blinds.  I kept only one photo from the raptor blind shoot in the morning.  About mid-afternoon, a batch of wild turkeys began coming and going from the pond at my afternoon blind.  The flock included several large gobblers who were strutting and gobbling for about two hours.

Crested Caracara juvenile in flight.

I really like the curled primary feathers on the landing bird.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker landing on prickly pear.
Northern Cardinal, male, bathing, s. Texas.
Orange-crowned Warbler bathing.
Strutting turkey gobbler.
Strutting wild turkey gobbler and reflection.
Wild turkey gobblers on the alert.
Wild turkey gobbling.

It takes some skill to work a box call and then grab the camera to capture the gobbler’s reply.  In this case, I handed the call to another photographer and asked him to give it one squawk.  I was ready.

These turkeys were a total surprise for me.  It’s the first time I’ve seen gobblers at Laguna Seca Ranch, but hopefully not the last.


Catching Up on Winter and Spring

It’s been so long since I put together a newsletter, I almost forgot my password.  But, here we are, so lets review.  Way back in January, I spent a day at Laguna Seca Photo Ranch and got some nice shots early.  We were hoping the white-tailed hawks would make an appearance; that didn’t happen.  A plethora of caracaras came to the bait, so we had fun while that lasted.

Black Vulture landing as crested caracara flies away.
Crested Caracara coming in for a landing at photo blind.
juvenile Crested Caracara grooming adult.
Caracara display.
Crested Caracara displaying.
Juvenile crested caracara landing.

This young bird is coming back for more even though it obviously got a crop full on an earlier visit.

Crested Caracara turning in flight.
Crested Caracara and black vultures on deer carcass, s. Texas.
Eastern Meadowlark in grassland, s. Texas.
Heavily cropped image of adult white-tailed hawk that never came close to the photo blind.

Most of these flight shots were done with the Canon 100-400 lens while the ground shots were made with the 500 mm lens.