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Storms over the Four Peaks

What I love about Arizona are the unique places that make it obvious where you are. The trademarks or characteristics of this fine state.  In reality, there are probably hundreds of these kinds of places that when you see them in a photograph, you automatically know it’s Arizona.

The Four Peaks is one of those places for me. They’ve always been there. I’ve lived here my whole life and for some reason, it’s comforting to look up and see them. Like four big brothers keeping an eye on Phoenix and the surrounding deserts. They usually get snow on them during the winter at least once or twice, which is one of the other reasons I enjoy looking at them so much. Living in the middle of a hot desert, being able to look up in January and see snow…well…it’s nice.

Come to think of it, back in January I took a picture of the Four Peaks with some snow on them…one of my favorite shots of all-time.

Sadly, I’ve probably not been much closer to them than in this picture, which is a good ways away. Someday I’m driving up there…to the top…to see what I see. Maybe I’ll do it sooner than later. Or maybe I’ll wait until that snow returns and make the journey then.

I took this back on July 22nd during one of my “Wanderings with the Monsoon” treks around Arizona.

The Flat Iron Cliffs after the storm

The credit for this photo goes entirely to my buddy Bryan Cox. If it wasn’t for his insistence that I turn the car around, I’d never have captured it. Yes, as we were driving by, I saw the light, I commented to Bryan how amazing it looked, but we were trying to catch some storms and I just didn’t think we had the time to stop, even for a few minutes.

Finally Bryan says something like, “I’m gonna have to put my foot down here…turn the car around.

This was last Wednesday…Bryan decided to tag along with me as a bunch of storms were rolling into town and the goal was to just be out all afternoon chasing, taking photos and then finishing the day with some nighttime lightning photography. I’m so glad Bryan joined me…we had a blast and saw some fun stuff.

It takes a good friend to be able to tell you to turn the car around like that, and I totally appreciated it.

So this shot contains one of my favorite places in Arizona…the Flat Iron Cliffs of the Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains, seen beyond a small field of Joshua Trees. I almost feel I take too many shots of it because those cliffs are such a gorgeous backdrop to any kind of weather or desert cactus shot, that you can spend an eternity photographing around there.

A big storm had just blown through, so the skies were a smooth, grayish-blue color, but the sun still shined from the west and the light playing off the cliffs was absolutely amazing.

This is an HDR from 6-bracketed tripod shots, tonemapped in Photomatix, polished off in CS5.

Monsoon sunset from Picacho Peak

A great photographer friend of mine, Matt Granz (see his work here on Flickr), was driving through Phoenix with his family on his way across the country to see relative in Pennsylvania. We had planned to do some monsoon chasing when he got into two and sure enough, the monsoon looked fairly spectacular so we headed out around 4:30pm and Matt got to see a little bit of what the monsoon is about. High winds, dust storms, gorgeous sunsets, awesome clouds…but sadly, no night-time lightning.

We started out in Apache Junction and by 7:30pm we were down at Piacacho Peak, halfway to Tucson. We pulled off the road to snap some photos of the clouds over Tucson, but turned around to see the sun setting behind this beautiful, dying monsoon storm.

Needless to say, we snapped about a bazillion photos of it and I was just happy Matt got to see one of our awesome monsoon sunsets.

Wandering with the Arizona monsoon

One of my goals for this summer was to chase the monsoon around Arizona and essentially create a journal of my travels in a photobook. I have no idea if that will pan out once the monsoon season is over, what it might look like, if it’s silly, whatever.  But part of the plan is to take a few day trips each month out into the Arizona wilderness and follow the storms around as they develop and move towards Phoenix. Wander around if you will, see what I see. Frame the monsoons with the gorgeous Arizona deserts and high country, then finish off the day with some lightning photography.

Well yesterday provided some great vistas for me, but the lightning part never materialized. Two days in a row of storms rolling into town and then dying out, with rare lightning strikes.

Still, I came away with some stuff I’m happy with, this is one of them. This was taken a bit northwest of Saguaro Lake which is northeast of Phoenix along the Bush Highway. A thunderstorm is developing out on the horizon and the high clouds really make for a beautiful sky. I did love how the landscape created an almost curved effect, and the cactus being as tall as it was gives an upward angle to the shot.

Sunsets, Sunflowers and Cactus

After bailing on the storms, I saw a giant monolith of a mountain jutting from the land way east of Florence. I knew I couldn’t get there, so I tried to get as close as I could…so I took off down a dirt road named East Price. Well, I never got to the mountains as the sun just set too quickly, but it didn’t stop me from pulling the car over on a few occasions and lining up a couple of shots.

A typical Arizona summer sunset right here, with debris clouds from the monsoons creating some spectacular lighting. The special part of this shot I think was the sunflowers in the foreground with the cactus and sky. Interesting all the wild sunflowers growing all over the deserts.

The dark line across the shot are some train tracks that appeared to be too old to carry a train until one came by just before this shot was taken.

And on another note, this earned me an Approver’s Choice over on Wunderground, so very awesome!

The Flatiron cliffs in black and white

Nothing but Flatiron all week, although I hope you enjoyed the interlude with the alleyway yesterday. There is a slight chance there will be nothing but Flatiron and the Lost Dutchman area next week as I may go hike it again on Saturday *grin*

I loved all the color at Flatiron last week, as you can see from all the photos I’ve posted about it. The flowers were incredible, the yellow tones and hues were rich and everywhere. But I also went out there because the sky had some cool clouds going on from a cold front moving through and everyone knows how much I love photos with awesome fluffy things in the sky.

So during the hike, I see this view. It appeared almost like a scene from Close Encounters to me. A mountain with a cloud centered directly above it. Looked spooky, other-worldly.

Something about it cried out black and white to me, so I changed things up. This is a three-bracket HDR to bring out the details, but converted to a black and white to remove focus from the wildflowers/color and instead point it to the cloud hovering over Flatiron.

Plus when you are out photographing the desert, sometimes black and white just gives you that old western look that feels natural. I adore black and white so much, yet most of what I photograph cries out for colors and tones, so this was a fun little break in the action. Hope you guys like it!

More from the Flatiron Cliffs

Hopefully no one is getting bored with photos from the Flatiron Cliffs in the Lost Dutchman State Park. I for one can’t get enough of looking at the mountains and the color of the flowers flooding the desert floor. It’s up there with some of the most favorite things I’ve photographed in my young little career.

Yesterday I posted a shot that was sort of a square, which made up the shot above and a pan to the left. But from the start I’ve always loved this single shot, with the stairs on the right, the little valley leading up to the cliffs and the clouds…man the clouds are cool.

This is an HDR photo from a single-RAW, something I usually don’t do. I’ve not found it to produce great results all the time, but in this case, I thought it worked.

More wildflowers from Flatiron at Lost Dutchman

On Friday I posted an HDR version of what I saw out at Flatiron on Thursday late afternoon. The HDR is cool, brings out a lot of textures and gives it a really deep feel, but I also love standard photography as well. The colors were so amazing, you really didn’t need to try hard to get a good shot.

If you live in the Phoenix area or close to the Lost Dutchman State Park, I highly suggest you head out there sometime soon before the flowers are gone. They are stunning…simply stunning.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’ve lived here in Arizona for my entire 35.2 years of existence and have never made it a point to see the desert wildflowers bloom. I’m so thankful for photography right now for opening my eyes up to the beauty that has always been around me.

Hope you enjoy these.

a few more shots

The Flatiron cliffs of Lost Dutchman

I almost wanted to title this, “Hey Dutchman, I found the gold!”

A somewhat stormy day here in Arizona, awesome clouds everywhere, so I grabbed up my daughter from the babysitter and headed out to the Superstition Mountains and Lost Dutchman state park to take some photos. I’ve been around there a few times, but never have gotten a shot that I really liked.

And then I saw Flatiron and the fields of gold wildflowers surrounding the base of the cliffs. They were everywhere. It was amazing to see. Contrast it with sunlight breaking through stormy cumulus clouds and it made for a dramatic scene.

I’ d like to go back in about a week to really hike the trails that lead to the top. Having my amazing 17-month old daughter along for the ride made going too far difficult, but we did walk quite aways into the flowers. I have more photos I will post at a later time.

Technical crap…two, 3-bracket HDR photos merged into this panoramic. I was going to do more than three brackets, but without the magic promote tool I want someday, the clouds were just moving too fast for anything other than 3 quick shots.

Ah, I can’t help it…here is my daughter picking little flowers amidst a sea of gold.

The Spring Wildflowers of the Arizona Desert

A good friend of ours named Ryann had been traveling along the US 60 through Superior in the last week and made sure to point out to me all the wildflowers blooming along the highways and mountains. Plus I’d been keeping up with DesertUSA.com and all their reader wildflower reports.

They mentioned how the flowers had been going nuts on Silver King Mine road just west of Superior, so I packed the wife and kid in the car Sunday afternoon and we took off.

The first thing we noticed was the highway. From when you leave the Apache Junction area until you get to Superior, the sides of the road, some of the hilltops…were just blooming flowers everywhere. Yellow, purple, orange, pink…it was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve been on in Arizona.

Now sadly…the Silver King Mine road was not made for Passat station wagons and we were only able to go about a mile. We didn’t get too close to the flowers up there, but this first shot shows the hill off in the distance and the layers of orange, yellow and purple flowers that cover the hillside. Wish I had a truck!

The rest of the shots below were taken on the way back…we stopped off the side of the road a few times.

This one above goes with the one below…the foreground is clear in the top photo, while the background is clear in the photo below.

This one above is my favorite…I love the placement of the dead tree and the field of yellow poppies surrounding it.

An obligatory shot of the road as I ran back to the car. You can’t see the flowers great here, but both sides have some yellow on them. Love the cliffs in the waaay background, I may have to get out there again one day.