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.

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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.

Calm Morning on the banks of Lake Louise (Banff National Park)

I spent a calm summer morning on standing on the banks of the picturesque Lake Louise in Banff National Park. The canoes that are rented to lake visitors made for an interesting and colorful foreground. I had to wait a few minutes for a couple ‘summer lovers’ to move of the dock as they huddled in a hoodie but once they cleared the area I took a couple pictures looking up at the Fairview Mountain Range across the lake.

Photo of the Day – Canoes on Lake Louise

Lake Louise Banff National Park

I have a meeting in Calgary at the end of March and hope to make a weekend trip up to Banff again. The Lake Louise area is likely to be closed (closed for the winter) but many of the other sights should still be open.

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.

Perfect Sunset, Perfect Location

Where else on Earth can a sunset be better than over the Pacific Ocean? The conditions were absolutely amazing as the sun set and the haze lifted. Above the clouds started to take on the oranges and pinks of the setting sun and then the Pacific Ocean (which was quite calm this afternoon) started reflecting the colors back up. The color seemed to stay for 10 – 15 minutes and I walked up/down the beach getting various angles of the pier with the clouds above. For this one I did break one of the ‘cardinal’ rules but I couldn’t decide what I liked better – the clouds or the receding waves at my feet – so I decided to give them both appropriate attention.

Photo of the Day – Santa Monica Beach Sunset

Santa Monica Beach Sunset

The temp in Chicago is -2 degrees right now with wind chills in the negative teens. Ten days ago when I took this picture the temperature in LA was 80 degrees. What a difference a few weeks can make. I’ll be putting this as my screen saver until we break 40 in Chicago!

Winter in the Rockies

I flew last year on September 11th as well but unlike last year I wasn’t at the airport for the moment of silence that all of them have. However, flying on this date is unlike any other – it is quieter, more somber (probably as it should be) – and much less busy. My flight from LA to Chicago which is normally packed is essentially empty. Sure it is a Wednesday but I typically don’t have rows around me empty as I did when I just looked to change seats. Maybe people purposely avoid flying on this date – I didn’t do it by choice – but I can’t imagine that other business travelers somehow can avoid this date completely.

Photo of the Day – Winter in the Rockies

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Winter comes early in the Rockies – when I’m in Rocky Mountain National Park in November this is probably how the Dream Lake area will look. The lake may not be completely frozen yet but the tops of the mountain will be snow covered. I’m off to Glacier National Park in ten days. It will be my first trip back to Montana since I went to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons shortly after college. Admittedly, the grizzlies scare me quite a bit so I will not be hiking (solo) before sunrise like I typically do in RMNP where bear sightings are a very rare thing (and black bears at that). However, I’ll still be out at sunrise for pictures and staying out past sunset to get that beautiful light. I’ll just make sure to stay a little closer to civilization while doing it…..just in case.

La La Land

I do love going out to LA for work – not necessarily because I love sitting on the plane but because I get to check out landscape and scenery that I don’t often see here in the Midwest. Yes, LA is much like Chicago but I only head to LA for the actual meetings. Otherwise I spend my time in Santa Monica or one of the other beaches. Tomorrow I’m going to head to Matador Beach because I’ve heard they have some pretty sweet rock formations jutting out into the Pacific Ocean that will make a nice foreground for a picture. The weather looks nice so I’m hoping I don’t get a repeat of the fog in San Diego that I had to deal with the last time I tried to head out to the coast.

Photo of the Day – Streaking Lights

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My last trip out there I spent the night in the city but it didn’t quite feel the same as my past trips to California when I’ve ventured to the Coast, Joshua Tree or elsewhere. I’ve still got to drive up to Yosemite – that trip sort of got side tracked because I decided to go to Glacier National Park in a few weeks instead. The wildfires near Yosemite played partially into that decision – the good news with the park system is you know that they should be there for a long time regardless of what mother nature throws at them. Thus, half dome will have to wait for 2014.