Cottonball Basin

I spent two mornings at Cottonball Basin in Death Valley waiting for the sun to rise. Cottonball basin was noted in an ebook I purchased before the trip called ‘Desert Paradise: The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park’ by Sarah Marino and Ron Coscorrosa as being among the best locations to watch the sunrise in the park. The unique salt flat shapes that form periodically throughout the year and the mountains that surround the basin on all sides make it highly photographic. However, the area is fragile so it is important to be sure that you leave no trace while hiking there so you need to be sure the weather conditions are right or else you may leave footprints in the mud for years to come. The authors noted they were fearful of including it in the book but that photo safari/groups had popularized the area in recent years so they did not feel like they could leave it out without the book being complete. Luckily, in my several days in the park I didn’t see a single soul down in this area.

Death Valley – Morning from Cottonball Basin

Cottonball Basin in Death Valley

In this image it appears like the salt flat shapes may stretch forever but this was really a rather small area of the overall ‘Cottonball Basin’ which stretches for miles in all directions. Somehow these shapes shift periodically throughout the year so it is imperative to go out the day before with a handheld GPS and pinpoint the location or you won’t be able to find them in the morning. Unlike other national parks the ‘trails’ in Death Valley are essentially non-existent as you are free to roam everywhere – however, this means you have to work to find unique and photographic opportunities as opposed to walking up to a well known viewpoint. Without the GPS I would have been completely lost many times out there in the desert.

Window in the Garden (of the Gods)

The Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado about an hour south of Denver but a world away when it comes to the red rock formations scattered throughout the area. There are a number of relatively easy hikes (all one to three miles round trip) that I was able to knock out in half-a-day or so since they are also relatively close to one another. I’m sure there are more challenging hikes but the park is set up to really be family friendly and this would make a nice stop for someone visiting Denver and looking to get a quick day trip done (of course Estes Park – the home of Rocky Mountain National Park – is also only about 90 minutes away and I’d favor that over Garden of the Gods if I had to choose just one).

Photo of the Day – The Window of the Gods

Garden of the Gods Siamese Trail Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak in the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountain Range is visible through a rock window on the Siamese Twin trail in Garden of the Gods. A quick, well-marked trail takes you to this spot with duel rock formations with views onto the Continental Divide in the distance. Positioning yourself perfectly allows you to clearly see Pikes Peak in the distance. This was a terrific fall day in Colorado – one could really get used to living out amongst all this beauty. Each time I visit I’m really jealous of those lucky enough to live in the Denver area.

The Famous Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain in the heart of Rome, Italy is typically overwhelmed with other like minded tourists who want to get close and throw a coin in (legend has it that doing so will guarantee your return). It doesn’t matter if it is day or night – the tour groups and locals alike gather. In an effort to beat the crowd I arrived at sunrise and took pictures for about an hour. While it was less crowded there was still a handful of people lingering – some still drunk from the night before – but definitely much less rowdy than the day or night crowds. After stopping here I headed over to the Piazza Navona drank a cup of coffee and had a pastry before heading back to the hotel. On the way back less than an ninety minutes later I passed the fountain again and the crowds had gathered to the point that it would have been hard for me to get close enough to get this view.

Photo of the Day – The Trevi Fountain in Detail

Trevi Fountain in Rome Italy

I wanted to get more detail of the fountain but unfortunately when I got out here on this morning I realized I left my 28 – 270 mm ‘all purpose’ lens in my other backpack thus I only had my wide-angle lens (10 – 28 mm) with me since that is what was on my camera. Since the crowds were sparse I was able to get close enough that even the wide angle was fairly close. A little processing here to bring out the detail in the statues. All and all pretty satisfied with how it came out.

The Badlands (of Death Valley)

The view from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley of the colorful clay and mudstone Badlands in Death Valley National Park. Millions of years (nine million by the estimates that I saw) ago the area that is now Death Valley was a giant lake – these Badlands formations were once on the bottom of this lake. There was also a volcanic eruption around five million years ago that covered this rock – the hardened lava is what formed to make the dark rock in this photo.

Photo of the Day – Badlands of Death Valley

Death Valley Badlands from Zabriskie Point

Unfortunately, the clouds in the East blocked the suns rays from providing nice contrasts on the rocks and the mountain range in the distance. However, the sky was still colorful in the pre-dawn ‘blue hour’.

Who knew a mall could look so nice?

The mall in Milan, Italy – named the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. This is unlike the malls scattered around America today that are essentially an eyesore (for the most part) to architecture – built more for function than for style. This was clearly built for style.

Photo of the Day – Milan Mall

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II Milan Mall

First Light on the Grand Canyon

One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to in my life is the Grand Canyon. It is also one of the most frustrating because it is so hard to get a picture of it that tells the full story of just how amazing it is. I tried in a few pictures that I’ve posted here before – Sunset over the Grand Canyon, sunrise at Yaki Point or the view from Mather Point – but find myself constantly wanting to just expand the image left or right since in my mind I can remember the whole expanse so vividly. In some pictures while there – like the one below – I zoomed in a little bit to catch the dynamic contrast of the canyon walls as it stretched off into the distance. So many different layers, stretching for miles.

Photo of the Day – Dynamic Contrast in the Canyon

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Four client meetings this week followed up by two next week. This is certainly my busiest two week stretch of the year. Alot of travel involved as well so let’s hope that the airplane Gods are kind.

Adventures in Cancelling

My flight last night to Denver got cancelled…that was a bummer but little did I know that was only the start of my adventure. American Airlines is normally fantastic! I fly them all the time for work and last year came so close to Platinum status. I’ll get there this year! However, last night the O’Hare Airport luggage department really had me in a mindf#ck situation (excuse my French).

Photo of the Day – Sunsetting on the Rockies

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I checked my bag through to Denver and grabbed a quick bite to eat while I kept an eye on the board as I noticed that other flights – presumably due to the troubles out east – were being cancelled all over the place. I finished eating and was happy to see that my plane was still ontime and set to board at 5:15 – unfortunately at 5:10 they announced the flight was cancelled. I don’t know why it took them until five minutes before we were supposed to board to cancel the plane but whatever it happens so I got on the phone with customer service to learn that everything Chicago to Denver was booked until Friday afternoon. Realizing I wasn’t going to make my meeting tomorrow I just cancelled the whole trip and headed back downstairs to attempt to retrieve my luggage. This is where it got fun interesting idiotic (I don’t know if there is a word to describe it so let’s just go with ridiculous).

I got in the line at the luggage counter at 5:20 and when I finally reached the desk to talk to someone it was 6 PM. I explained my situation and the first guy said okay, took some information punched it into the computer, wrote it on the back of the ticket and told me to go to baggage claim 9 and they would get my bag out in a 1/2 hour. At 6:40 my bag still wasn’t there so I went back to the counter – no line this time so I was able to walk right up to the desk. I asked the lady to check on my luggage and noted that at this point I was sick of waiting and asked if they could just deliver it to my house. She said not a problem but she couldn’t schedule that so I had to call an 800 number. Well with the issues they were having out east I knew this was going to screw me but I was pleased to hear the wait time was only 8 to 12 minutes. 45 minutes later and still waiting on hold I got back in what was now a long line at the baggage counter, waiting, waiting, waiting…an hour after I last talked to someone I finally reach the front of the line and start talking to the lady behind the desk. I tell her the situation and say I want my bag delivered and she says okay takes my ticket and says:

Baggage Lady (BL): Uh oh. I can’t help you
Me: Why?
BL: You haven’t reached your final destination. This bag is going to Denver.
Me: No the flight was cancelled so I just decided to cancel my whole trip.
BL: So you aren’t going to Denver?
Me: No, not until May when I have another meeting
BL: Well you can get your bag then
Me: Wait, what? I have to wait until May to get my bag?
BL: Yes, we can’t give it to you until you reach your final destination.
Me: But I cancelled my flight so THIS IS my final destination.
BL (shows me the ticket and the baggage claim receipt – pointing to the DEN representing Denver): You see here on the ticket it lists your final destination and it says DEN for Denver. Until you make it to Denver we can’t give your bag back that is just protocol. I’m sorry I can’t help you (meanwhile she is reaching over for a pamphlet with the 800 number for me to call and file a claim) but you can call this number and you can see if they can help you.
Me: No, I see the final destination but my flight was cancelled completely and now I am not going to Denver at all
BL (Confused Look): I thought you said you were going in May (at this point as my head is about to EXPLODE the 800 number finally picks up and I am able to start this process over again with her as I begrudgingly collect my belongings off the counter and walk away)

Ultimately, I wind up filing a claim with the 800 number lady 3 hours after I started this procedure at the O’Hare luggage desk. I sigh and head out to hop in a cab and head home….just as my bag pops out onto baggage claim nine. I grab the bag and get the hell out of there. I know I’m not perfect at my job and I’m sure I have some bad days but I don’t generally deal with the public. I feel like if you are representing a major airline and dealing with their customers your IQ should be greater than that of my cat Nola. She could have been as helpful as one of the three counter people at the ORD airport. Morale of the story is – if you check your bag at ORD and your flight gets cancelled you are screwed!

I’d be catching a sunset similar to this right now had I made out from ORD yesterday. The weather in Estes Park looks amazing! 40s – 50s for highs and lows in the high 30s. This after three feet of fresh snow last weekend so it would have made for some glorious winter photos. Ah well – I’ll just have to see capitalize on the May trip.