Exploring the Earth and Sky of the West

Posts tagged “photography

Some Statistics From 15 Years of Photography

An orange sandstone arch frames a distant mountain range at sunset
A herd of elk stand in a grassy forest

A herd of elk in Washington’s Wenas Valley.

Back at the beginning of the pandemic, I embarked on a project to finally organize and categorize my extensive photo collection. I have nearly 100,000 photos in Lightroom, but as I generally try to spend as little time as possible in front of the computer screen, I had never bothered to organize them in any meaningful way. The initial decision to fix this was a function of both time (I was stuck at home…) and practicality. I use my images extensively in my job as a community college astronomy and geology instructor, and finding that one specific photo of a rock or lunar eclipse has always been sort of a nightmare if I didn’t happen to remember exactly when it was taken. 

The project started off quickly (when I was stuck at home…) but as we re-emerged into the world a few months later, progress soon slowed, and I am just now finishing the project almost two years after I began. While tedious at times, it has also been a joy to rediscover many long forgotten photos. I hope to post many of these in the coming months. As a statistics nerd, it’s also been interesting to examine some of the data on where and when I’ve taken the most photos. For example, here is a graph showing the number of images I’ve taken each year, going back to 2007 (almost 15 years ago!) when I purchased my first digital camera: 

Graph showing the number of photos taken per year

It looks like it may have taken me a few years to fully internalize that, with digital, I could take as many photos as I wanted and not have to worry about the cost of film! As you can see, I’ve taken fewer photos this year than I have since 2008, a fact which I was acutely aware of even before making this graph. The drop-off from 2018-2020 is a little harder to explain, as we traveled quite extensively in those years (albeit closer to home in 2020 due to the pandemic). I’d like to think it’s because I’ve gotten better at capturing a good shot on the first attempt, but who knows… 

An orange sandstone arch frames a distant mountain range at sunset

A sunset view of Delicate Arch from 2012. While a somewhat cliché shot, it is also one that’s getting harder and harder to capture as crowds at popular viewpoints get larger and larger. 

My project also involved sorting photos by location. As of Dec 2021, here are the top five states in which I’ve taken the most photos:  

StatePhotos Taken
Washington21,154
Utah17,188
Colorado13,642
Arizona8,959
California3,779

No surprises here: I’ve lived in Washington for most of my adult life, with brief stints in Utah and Colorado. Arizona is where I grew up (and frequently return), while my now-wife lived in California during the early years of our relationship. 

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Basalt cliffs in Grand Coulee, Washington

Breaking things down a bit more, the specific locations where I’ve taken the most photos are also all found in one of the five states from above: 

LocationPhotos Taken
Dixie National Forest, UT2779
Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT2757
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO2703
Wenatchee National Forest, WA2122
Zion National Park, UT2014
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO1768
San Juan Mountains, CO1695

The Dixie National Forest covers a pretty wide swath of southern Utah, so its presence in the top spot is perhaps a little misleading. Cedar Breaks and Black Canyon, while relatively small parks, are places that I worked for several summers or years. I was a little surprised to see Zion National Park so high on this list. While we lived close to Zion during our time in Utah, it was generally a place we tried to avoid most of the year, given the crowds and heat. Apparently we ended up there more than I remembered! 

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A rare pink specimen of red columbine (Aquilegia formosa) in the Dixie National Forest, Utah.

Cliffs of pink, orange, and white rock, with patches of snow and a forest in the background

Sunset from Point Supreme in Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT. (I’m not 100% sure, but I think this may be the first cell phone photo I’ve ever posted on this site…)

In nearly 15 years of photography, I have taken 300+ individual images in one day just three times. Below is a list of my most “productive” (measured by sheer volume that is) days of photography:

DatePhotos TakenOccasion/Location
6/11/2012342First visit to Great Sand Dunes NP in Colorado
8/7/2009327Backpacking trip to Havasu Canyon, Arizona
5/16/2015316Black Elk Peak and Custer State Park, South Dakota
4/20/2019282Backpacking trip to Willow Gulch, Utah
7/9/2012279Yankee Boy Basin, San Juan Mtns, Colorado
Ripples in the sand are highlighted by the setting sun.

Sunset in the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. This was definitely a memorable day; the patterns of light and shadows I witnessed that evening are vivid even 10 years later. 

A small waterfall cascades over orange and brown rocks

A small cascade along Havasu Creek, Arizona.

Towering white clouds hover over a rocky ridge with a small lookout tower

Cumulonimbus clouds tower over Black Elk Peak, the highest point in South Dakota.

As far as animate objects, I have taken more photos of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) than any other animal (followed by elk, yellow bellied marmots, mule deer, mountain goats, and, in an aquatic twist, ochre sea stars.) The sheep were a fixture of our drives to and from Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park while living on the Front Range of Colorado.

A bighorn sheep ram in Big Thompson Canyon

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado

I could bore you with a detailed breakdown of the geologic features that I’ve photographed, but perhaps that is best saved for another day… 


Mountains of Summer

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Tahoma dominates the skyline as seen from a ridge above Spray Park in the northwest corner of Mt. Rainier National Park. The boggy area in the lower right was filled with splintered tree trunks, likely the results of a good-sized avalanche this past winter. 

As temperatures and cloud covers takes a decidedly fall-like turn here in central Washington, I’ve been looking back on photos from a whirlwind summer. While we were on the road for a good portion of the summer, we were able to make time for a few brief excursions to our “backyard” mountains: Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and the Goat Rocks. Here are some of my favorite images from those trips:

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Traversing the Nisqually Glacier on the south side of Mt. Rainier in early summer. I had the opportunity to take a basic mountaineering course this past spring, which culminated in a beautiful day on the ice in mid-June. A great way to kick-off the summer! 

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A view of Mt. Rainier from upper Spray Park, framed by Echo Rock (left) and Observation Rock (right).

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A lone glacial meltwater pool on the slopes of Mt. Rainier.

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Sunset light on the summit of Mt. Rainier, as seen from the Spray Park Trail.

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Ives Peak in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, flanked by clouds rolling in from the west and a sky made pale-orange by abundant wildfire smoke. 

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We spent a mostly cloudy and damp evening camped on Bear Creek Mountain in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Every 15 minutes or so, there would be a momentary gap in the low clouds passing over the peak, allowing fleeting glimpses toward the west. Here, the outline of Mt. Rainier is barely visible through the clouds at left. 

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Mt. Adams at sunset as seen from the burn scar of the 2015 Cougar Creek Fire. A small cap cloud hovers over the summit. 

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The Big Dipper over Mt. Adams.


From A(storia) to B(rookings) Down the Oregon Coast

As another summer comes to a close, I am enjoying looking back at some photos from the past few months. In mid-August we had the chance to spend two weeks in Oregon, most of which we spent along the spectacular Oregon Coast. While not my first trip to the coast, this was my first time visiting some of the more remote southern sections of the coast, and over the course of the two weeks we were actually able to drive the entire Oregon section of Highway 101, all the way from Washington to California.

We began the trip in Astoria, gazing at the mouth of the Columbia River in Fort Stevens State Park and visiting the site of Fort Clatsop, quarters for the Lewis & Clark Expedition during the winter of 1805-1806. From there we travelled south to visit with friends in Rockaway Beach for several nights before continuing on to Newport and then heading inland for other adventures. A few days later we returned to the coast at the mouth of the Rogue River in Gold Beach, just 45 minutes or so north of the California border. After a quick drive into the Golden State, we began moving north, through Coos Bay, Bandon, Florence, and the Oregon Dunes before returning to Newport. After a final few days in the Lincoln City area, it was back up the Columbia River Gorge to Washington and back to work! Here are some of my favorite images from the trip, arranged from north to south:

A sandy beach covered in footprints extends toward a horizon filled with dark clouds

Late afternoon light on the beach in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. The northern third of the Oregon Coast is characterized by long stretches of wide, sandy beach. Sand is relatively abundant here thanks to the Columbia River, though the supply has been greatly diminished since dams started popping up on the Columbia beginning in the mid 1900s. 

A person sits on a log on a sandy beach. Lights of a city are seen in the background reflecting off a thick layer of fog.

I had been hoping to do some night sky photography from the beach, but despite relatively benign daytime weather, most nights looked something like this, with dense mist and fog enveloping the shore. Here, lights from Rockaway Beach illuminate the fog.

A red and orage sky at sunset is reflected in pools of water along the beach as a bird soars overhead

Sunset from Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

A rivulet of water enters the ocean while the sky overhead is bright orange at sunset.

Sunset from Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

Over a dozen seals rest on a sandy beach alongside a pelican with a long beak and a seagull.

Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) and Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) on Salishan Spit near Lincoln City, Oregon.

Large waves crash up against a coastline made of dark colored rock

Thor’s Well is an interesting feature within the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area near Yachats. A ~10 foot wide hole in the rocky coastline, the Well connects to the open ocean via a small cave. The well alternately drains and fills as the waves roll in and out. Watching the water roll into the Well and waves crashing against the rocks was a mesmerizing experience.

A green plant with abundant translucent patches on its leaves grows out of a dense bog

Scattered bogs along the Oregon Coast host rare patches of Darlingtonia californica, the California Pitcher Plant. One of the few species of carnivorous plants native to the Pacific Northwest, the translucent patches on the leaves supposedly confuse insects trying to escape from inside the plants. 

A green plant with abundant translucent patches on its leaves grows out of a dense bog

Darlingtonia californica

The remains of a large tree stump are seen partially submerged in shallow water.

What at first glance appear to be rocks sticking up out of the water are actually the remains of a massive tree stump in Sunset Bay near North Bend. Large concentrations of dead trees, often partially buried in sand, are found all up and down the Oregon Coast, and are often referred to as “Ghost Forests”. Some of these trees, particularly the ones found in coastal estuaries, appear to have been killed by rapid subsidence associated with large earthquakes along the Cascadia Subduction Zone just offshore. Analysis and dating of these trees have revealed that large “megathrust” earthquakes are a regular occurrence in the Pacific Northwest. In the case of the trees seen here in Sunset Bay, it appears to be unclear if earthquakes or more run-of-the-mill processes (such as coastal erosion) are the culprit.  

Layers of tan rock sit tilted alongside the ocean

These tilted rocks at Shore Acres State Park near North Bend have appeared in many a geology textbook! Shore Acres is home to one of the world’s most striking examples of what geologists call an “angular unconformity,” where flat-lying sedimentary rocks (visible in upper left) rest directly on top of older, tilted sedimentary rocks. The boundary between the flat rocks and the tilted rocks represents a large chunk of geologic time missing from the rock record. Several hundred years ago, geologists recognized angular unconformities as some of the first strong evidence of the Earth’s immense age, as they require multiple cycles of sediment deposition, burial, uplift, and erosion in order to form.

A small island of rock sticks out of the ocean. Many seals and sea lions lie on the rock and adjoining sand. A boat passes by in the background.

Sea lions and seals hauled out on Shell Rock near Simpson Reef. Interpretive signs at this overlook proclaimed that this is the largest haul-out site for sea lions on the Oregon Coast. 

Sand dunes along the beach with rocks sticking out of the water in the background. Wavy white clouds fill the sky.

Coastal sand dunes mirror the clouds at Myers Creek Beach south of Gold Beach, Oregon

A view of several rocks sticking out of the ocean. One rock has an archway in it and the sunlight is passing through the archway, forming a narrow beam of sunlight on the ocean surface.

Sunset at Arch Rock, between Brookings and Gold Beach, Oregon

A large rock protruding from the ocean has an archway in it and the sunlight is passing through the archway, forming a narrow beam of sunlight on the ocean surface.

A closer view of Arch Rock.

Several large rocky islands protrude from the ocean. The sky is dark blue and the first quarter moon hovers above them.

The first quarter moon hovers over sea stacks along the Oregon Coast south of Gold Beach, Oregon.

A panoramic view of a grassy slope, a sandy beach, blue ocean, and several rocky islands

A late afternoon view of Lone Rock Beach and Twin Rocks from the Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint near Brookings, Oregon.