Wednesday, April 22, 2015

White Sands | After the Storm

I'll share a few more images from my February visit to White Sands, NM in this post. My schedule allowed for an afternoon and a couple of hours the next morning before heading back north to catch my flight.

One of the challenges of landscape photography is the oft conflict between what one visualizes before heading out to make images and the reality of what the conditions offer. In a larger sense, this had already come into play because my original plan was to go to the opposite corner of the state. Due to heavy snow storms after I arrived in New Mexico, I had to change plans and go south where the storms were forecast to be clearing. Once I knew I would drive 4 hours south instead of 4 hours north, I began to form some ideas what kind of photos I might seek to make. I knew afterwards I would be heading to the Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley for some Black and White work so I thought I would practice some of that at White Sands. That kind of image requires strong directional light either early or late in the day. The weather did not clear in time for that, so I changes mental gears to work with what nature gave me.

The lead image was captured just after the Park Ranger opened the gate at 7am. Due to the heavy rain the previous day, there was ample moisture in the desert to form thick fog at sunrise. I don't know, but I guess fog is not a common occurrence there. The golden light demanded I pull over on the way in and take a few quick shots hand held. No time to set up the tripod. I made three quick clicks and the show was over.

The preceding two images are stitched pans from the previous evening as the storm was beginning to move off to the east.

After sunrise, there were just a few clouds left on top of the bordering mountain ranges.White Sands spans many miles and people walk over quite a wide area. In order to get past most of the foot prints, you have to be prepared to walk over the dunes a mile or two at least. I just didn't have as much time to wander as far as I would like. Because the gate opens after sunrise and before sunset, there is not enough time to get into a "clean" track free area as one might like. Ideally for photography, camping in the dunes would be ideal. The last image, below, I took on the hike back to the car on the way out. The storm was gone, leaving blue skies behind.

I have had two very brief visits to White Sands now and I would like to someday return with the luxury of more time to explore this unique place. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

White Sands, New Mexico | Shifting Light

Earlier this past winter I had some business out west. Naturally, if I was going to the trouble to travel I might as well add some photography time. My first stop was visiting friends east of Albuquerque, the McCalls, to see recent additions to their pumpkin farm. Afterwards, I had planned to visit the NW corner of the state for some photography. Alas, it was not to be as one of several storms tracked across the Southwest dumped heavy snow in the region and the sites I had planned to visit were closed. Plan B was to head south where the precipitation was rain and the system was moving out to the east. Gray sky and rain accompanied me the entire drive. When I arrived at noon, it was still raining. I decided to don the rain gear and head out to the Sands and see what happened. The weather improved as sunset drew closer.


There were a fleeting moments when the sun broke through the clouds, as in the leading image. The lower image was taken minutes apart from the first one. After walking and standing in the gypsum dunes for hours the shifting light made for an exciting experience.

I have to relate about the one that got away. Just as the light was looking like it might be a phenomenal sunset, I could hear the Park Ranger in the distance announcing it was time to exit (he had quite the loud speaker on his vehicle). After walking out to the car I began the several mile drive towards the gate. Sure enough, in the rear view mirror the sky exploded in a fantastic sunset. I stopped briefly along the road with only enough time to watch as the sun dropped below the mountains. That is what is called a "neurochrome".  Perhaps someday we'll be able to print those. Until then you'll have to take my word for it.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

East Broad Top R.R. & Coal Co. | Steam Power

Last Saturday Donna and I hit the road before sunrise to join a DC Urban Exploration Meetup in central Pennsylvania. Our destination was the East Broad Top Rail Road & Coal Company. After only a couple of hours of shooting, the group went across the street for lunch at a B&B operated by a couple with long history with the rail road: The husband had worked his entire career with the RR, retiring as the Conductor when the RR ceased operations in 2011.

Between the Conductor and another RR employee I was able to glean some of the history of the East Broad Top or EBT as they called it. In the 1850's a iron blast furnace planned with a RR planned to haul coal for the iron furnaces. The coal was 22 miles from the site. It wasn't until the 1870's that the RR construction was begun. The iron furnace never came to fruition. However, the coal deposit was of very high quality and enterprise shifted focus to being a coal mining operation. Coal mining continued until 1956. The RR was sold to a scraper who did not scrap it.  From the 1960's until 2011 the EBT RR was a tourist attraction. Since then it has sat idle with the owner hoping to find a buyer. I was told $8 million is the asking price for the lot.

The RR was built to be a self sufficient operation, complete with machine shop, black smith shop and forge facilities to maintain the rolling stock. The owner related that there are very few steam RR's left in the US with these associated facilities still standing. The various buildings cover quite an area.

The EBT is from the era of Steam Power, so naturally, the service and repair facilities (partially shown above) were also steam powered. Note the smoke stacks from the large, twin boilers that powered the machine shop. If the tracks appear narrow, that is because they are: Three feet is the gauge of this RR. Standard today is four feet eight inches.

These boilers, nearly two stories tall, provided the steam to power the maintenance operations.

Babcock & Wilcox Co. had more than a few patents, judging by the fancy name plate. Even the name plates and badges from that era were made to last. Today's stickers that manufacturers slap on pale in comparison.

Even the gauges, one for each boiler, were made with artistic flair. I don't know if they measured pressure or temperature but the information they related to the operator must be vital due to the large, dinner plate size of them.

All of the machine shop machinery- lathes, drill presses, planers, etc. - were powered by this single cylinder steam engine. I believe the apparatus with the two balls are part of the speed control of the engine. The drive belt seen here transmits power to drive lines throughout the buildings in the ceiling. Belts connect the various machines from the drive lines, as was typical from this era. One can readily appreciate the convenience of electric motors we use today. The shops have large windows for natural light to work by. I'd think electricity was a added later. I didn't think to ask as electricity is taken for granted today. To step back in time, a time predating my grandparents,  at a place like this is always fascinating.

Much more to share in subsequent posts.