Images, Thoughts on Travel, Equipment and Techniques that somehow relate to Nature & Wildlife Photography.

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"Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace"... Albert Schweitzer

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Brush Strokes

Patterns on sandstone, Butler Wash

Mineral stains, Butler Wash, Utah

The Colorado Plateau is a pretty dry place.  A desert to most.  Maybe 8″ of precip in many areas.  The water, when it comes, moves the meager mineral soils in surprising ways.  Gravity, wind and capillary action can make a plain rock wall into a canvas of beauty that would be at home in a fine art gallery.

Mineral stains on Navajo Sandstone

Navajo Sandstone, Escalante Canyon, Utah

 

Erosion forms, Crack Canyon

Wind and water create masterpieces, San Rafael Swell, Utah

Desert evokes a thin, hard place.  The canyons of  red rock country may be hard but they are anything but thin.

The Valley

 

The sky fills with Sandhill Cranes.

The Valley is flat, billiard table flat.  Oh, it’s a little rumpled along the edges. The massive, volcanic San Juan Mountains are to the west. East of here are the knife edged Sangre de Cristos.  Flat, almost treeless and now that its warmed a bit, there are dust devils scrolling across the dry alkali playas.  Sometimes the wind brings a little grit to the tongue.  All in all a very nice day.

Sandhill Cranes [Grus canadensis]

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains frame the east side of the San Luis Valley.

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Morley’s Ghost

The Church of Saint Aloysius (the Saint is the patron of those beset by plagues) overlooks the ruins of Morley.  Just to the north of the New Mexico-Colorado line, below the crest of Raton Pass sits the ruins of the old coal town.  Scattered foundations and mounds of rock mark the townsite.  Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s coal was king and the area around Raton Pass had plenty of it.

St Aloysius Church

Ruins of St. Aloysius Church

 

John D. Rockefeller owned Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) and the coal mines that furnished the fuel for the steel mills in Pueblo, Colorado.  CF&I owned the town of Morley and all that implies.  Around 600 souls lived in Morley in its heyday, the steam trains chugged up and down the pass along the route of the old Santa Fe Trail,  mule trains pulled the coal from the mines.  A church was needed and St. Aloysius was finished in 1917.

St Aloysius Church

Ruins of St. Aloysius Church in IR. We had an old Nikon D2X camera converted to Infrared. Black and White with a twist.

By 1956 the mines were closed and Morley sat empty.  For liability reasons CF&I  decided that the buildings of Morley had to be demolished, some buildings were moved, others scrapped.  When it was time for the church to come down, work began….and stopped.  The men charged with the demolition couldn’t finish the job.  Superstition?  Or the memories of weddings, baptisims and funerals?  No matter, the ghosts of Morley still have their church.

More! We Want More!

Andean-Cock-of-the-Rock at Angel Paz

The call came early, very, very early in the morning or maybe it was just really late at night.  No matter, we were up and ready for another Ecuadorian experience.

 Golden Tanager at Angel Paz

Leaving Bellavista in the dark, traveling down back roads into the Tandayapa Valley heading to Angel’s farm (Refugio Angel Paz).  This is one of those “must do” things if you are a wildlife photographer or birder.  Angel is a farmer that discovered that, when he plowed a field, a few Antpittas would follow and eat the exposed worms. This is a rare thing, Antpitas are difficult to see forest floor dwellers, not normally found out in the open.

Rufous-Breasted Antthrush at Angel Paz

With the tourist economy growing in Ecuador and people willing to pay to see wildlife Angel decided he might try to habituate some of these forest inhabitants by feeding them worms in spots where people could see them.  His idea worked very well and now we were about to experience Angel’s Farm.

Giant Antpitta at Angel Paz

The bird viewing was excellent, several species of Antpittas and other difficult to find birds  appeared at various sites, the Andean-Cock-of-the-Rock displaying at a lek being one of the highlights.

Thick-Billed Euphonia [Euphonia laniirostris] male

Thick-Billed Euphonia at Alambi

Golden Tanager [Tangara arthus]

Flame-Faced Tanager at Alambi

We were startled by the number of people that showed up at the gathering point for the tour.  Even after researching Angel’s place I had a vision of a few of us following this hill farmer around to the sites where we would view or photograph the birds. Not so much.  Birders and other photographers crowded around waiting for instructions and as it turned out, division into smaller groups to make viewing more workable.  Now we aren’t crowd enthusiasts, in fact we spend a fair amount of energy to avoid the hordes that seem to be the norm in popular parks and scenic areas.  So we dutifully (after all we paid for this excursion and did want to see and photograph what we could) joined a queue and were sheparded to various locations where we had a few moments to photograph an Anthrush or Antpitta.  Glad we went, not so thrilled with the conditions.

Green-Crowned Woodnymph Hummingbird [Thalurania fannyi ssp. vert

Green-Crowned Woodnymph Hummingbird, Alambi

BiNTHu-1094.jpg

Andean Emerald Hummingbird, Alambi

Red-Headed Barbet [Eubucco bourcierii] male

Red-Headed Barbet, Alambi

A day or two later we had the opportunity to head back down into the Tandayapa Valley to a small eco-lodge called Alambi, aka “Hummingbird Paradise”.  It was, with 32 species of hummers listed here, 12 to 15 species easily seen at any time .  We later learned that this small, laid back place was owned by our guide in the Amazon, Jairo and his family.  He wasn’t there when we visited but we were gratified by the obvious care and concern they have for this area.

Purple-Throated Woodstar [Calliphlox mitchelii] male

Purple-Throated Woodstar Hummingbird, Alambi

Western Emerald [Chlorostilbon melanorhynchus] male

Western Emerald Hummingbird, Alambi

BiNTHu-1264.jpg

Purple-Bibbed Whitetip Hummingbird, Alambi

With a few days remaining in our trip we made one excursion into Quito.  Not big, crowded city types we do like to visit places like Quito with their history and unique architecture.  Our timing worked well, Quito has a few streets in Old Town (centro historico) that auto traffic is banned on Sunday and those streets fill with vendors, musicians and crowds of people.  Kind of a street party and worth the time.

Quito Ecuador

Quito

Old Town Quito Ecuador

Old Town Quito, the hill, El Panecillo, with the Virgin of Quito in the background

Iglesia de La Compania

Interior of Iglesia La Compania Quito’s “Sistine Chapel” said to have 7 tons of gold on the ceiling, walls and altars. Built between  1605 and 1765.

One last trip before we had to endure the hassle of flying home.  Volcan Cotopaxi (Cotopaxi National Park) was calling, after all, we live near Cotopaxi, Colorado so we had to go (would have gone any way).  A day trip was hastily put together, Lincoln, our guide and driver, picked us up and as we headed down the Avenue of Volcanoes he regaled us with stories of the land and its history.

Volcan Cotopaxi

Volcan Cotopaxi

Volcan Cotopaxi

Glaciers and clouds, Volcan Cotopaxi.  No climbing needed if you have a decent telephoto lens.

Peracca's Whorltail Iguana [Stenocercus festae]

Peracca’s Whorltail Iguana at 13,000 feet in Cotopaxi National Park. You will not find a lizard of any kind at 13,000 ft. here in Colorado, guaranteed.

Andean Lapwing [Vanellus resplendens]

Andean Lapwing, Cotopaxi NP

Cotopaxi the mountain proved illusive once we got near, clouds swirled across its massive glaciered face as we hiked along Laguna Limpiopungo.  We had hoped to photograph the Ecuadorian Hillstar hummingbird visiting its major food source, the orange flowered Chiuquiraqua bush.  We did see a few of the hummers around the laguna but Lincoln knew of a better spot so we moved on.  Our luck ran out a short time later when the rain that had been threatening earlier made good on the threat.  At 15,000 feet the rain was cold and constant so we relunctantly made our way back to Quito.  For the past several months Volcan Cotopaxi has stirred from quietly steaming to erupting with some enthusiasm.  Would like to be watching that!

Here’s the thing about travel “bucket lists”, at least for us, we have never gone somewhere that we didn’t want to visit again.  So the list never gets shorter.  One trip to Ecuador just barely scratched the surface.  Everywhere we looked, everywhere we went, the abundance of beauty, of experience never diminished, gotta go back.

A Beautiful Vision

road through cloud forest

Road to Bellavista

Traveling across the Andes, I’m struck by several things, good roads, light traffic and the ever-changing landscape. Crossing Papallacta Pass, at around 14,000 feet in elevation was anti-climactic, I expected something more other than the road ceasing to climb and starting to wend its way down toward Quito.  We end up maybe an hour 45 minutes west of Quito at a unique eco-lodge, Bellavista. Read the rest of this page »

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